John Brown

Photo above: John Brown. Courtesy National Archives. Right: Engraving of U.S. Army raid against John Brown's fort led by Robert E. Lee. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Harper's Ferry

U.S. Timeline - The 1850s

Expansion and the Looming Divide



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  • Timeline

  • Detail - 1855

    March 3, 1855 - The United States Camel Corps is created with a $30,000 appropriation in Congress.

    Camel Corp


    It would be a relatively short experiment, although to think about it, is rather cool. In 1855, with foreign forays in War with Tripoli at the beginning of the century, but more so the thought of use in the desert southwest for troop movements and supplies, the United States Congress appropriated thirty thousand dollars for camels. Democrats were in control of the House of Representatives with one hundred and fifty-seven members; there were seventy-one Whigs, four Freesoilers, an Independent, and an Independent Democrat. No, that wasn't Bernie Sanders. And no, there were not yet any Republicans represented. The Republican Party had just formed the year before. The debates in the House and Senate were centered around more important, and difficult topics. They had just passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 on the topic of expansion of slavery. Camels seemed a much easier and safer bet, and March 3 was the last date of the 33rd Sesssion of Congress anyway. Why not appropriate money for camels. Although we jest about the thought today, it was a serious proposition, studied for nearly two decades prior to the first appropriation.

    The idea had been at first broached by Major George H. Crosman in 1836, after the Seminole Indian Wars. Major Henry C. Wayne thought the idea intriguing and studied it further, recommending to the War Department and Congress in 1848 that the plan might have merit. Jefferson Davis, a Senator, and soon to be Secretary of War in 1853, agreed. Once Secretary of War, Davis thought the difficulties of transportation in the American Southwest needed a new alternative and he recommended it in December of 1853. Nothing happened over the next year, but in his reports of 1854, the Secretary of War called for the camel experiment again. However, the Army appropriation committee did not include it in their budget, although Senator Shields of Illinois, an advocate, would add an amendment, "$30,000 to be expended under the direction of the War Department in the purchase and importation of camels and dromedaries to be employed for military purposes."

    The measure passed in March 1855, and Secretary of War Davis made plans for their importation to Texas.




    Timeline of the Camel Corp, Tunis to Texas


    March 3, 1855 - Appropriation of $30,000 by Congress.

    August 1855 - First camel bought in Tunis by Major Wayne.

    Feburary 15, 1856 - Voyage home on ship USS Supply brought thirty-three animals.


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    Introduction of the Camel


    With the southern route for the intercontinental railroad blocked, introduction of the camel as the beast of burden took hold in Texas with seventy-five animals shipped to Indianola, first shipment on May 14, 1856 with thirty-four camels and dromedaries. They were marched to a ranch in San Antonio one hundred and twenty miles away, then another sixty miles to Green Valley. Initial tests were run, showing that three camels could perform the same task as six mules and a wagon and do it in half the time. From Camp Val Verde in Texas to California, tests were continued to be run to determine whether the pack mule or camel were best suited to make the trips to remote Army Posts. New Secretary of War John Buchanan Floyd, 1857-1860, was also impressed by the success of the initial trips, stated in his December 1958 report that the Army should buy one thousand camels. He repeated that statement in 1859 and 1860. However, Congress did not appropriate any money for the expansion. These trips and the camel experiment essentially ground to a halt with the advent of the Civil War, now waged against a Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, who had initiated the Corps.

    On September 9, 1863, the remaining thirty-five camels that had been housed in California were ordered sold. In March 1866, the remaining herd at Camp Verde in Texas, forty-four in number, were advertised for sale. It is rumored that many ended up in circuses and zoos with the U.S. Army brand on them, seen up until the time of the below report of 1903.

    Portion of the Government Report on the Importation of Camels, 1903


    THE GOVERNMENT'S IMPORTATION 0F CAMELS: A HISTORICAL SKETCH. By Cnanuas C. CARROLL, A. M., Editorial Office, Bureau of Animal Industry.

    "In the early "fifties" the Government was sorely beset with di?iculties in protecting the vast frontiers of the country from the ravages of hostile Indians. The transportation of men and supplies over the great reaches of plain, mountain, and desert that stretched between the Mississippi River and the Paci?c coast was a problem that swallowed liberal appropriations of money and used up thousands of mules, and was in the end so poorly solved as to chafe and fret the spirits of successive commanders. The roving Indian, with his agile pony that enabled him to make deadly swoops on isolated settlements and escape with ease, was a continual nightmare to the War Department; while the unprotected condition of the Paci?c coast, so remote and so painful of access, disturbed it no less. Under these circumstances it occurred to the military o?icials that the use of the camel might at least aid them in performing the dif?cult duties of protecting the expanding frontier and of keeping open a line of communication between the Mississippi and the coast."

    Image above: Only remaining photo of the U.S. Camel Corp, captioned, "A member of the legendary southwestern "Camel Corps" stands at ease at the Drum Barracks military facility, near California's San Pedro harbor," 1863, Rudolph D'Heureuse. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Below: Training of the Camel Corp, 1916, Menangle Park, New South Wales, Australia. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Info source: "The Camel Experiment, June 24-August 15, 1860," Texasbob.com; History of the House; "Report of the Chief of the Bureau of Animal Industry, United States Department of Agriculture: Volume 20," 1904; Wikipedia Commons.


    Camel Corp





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