‘Old Douglas’ returns to battlefield

Published 12:06 am Sunday, June 26, 2016

The memory of “Old Douglas” was revived Saturday at the Vicksburg National Military Park with an appearance by two camels of the Texas Camel Corps, a re-enactment organization that teaches people about the use of camels by the U.S. Army in the 19th Century.

“I’m happy to fulfill the role of ‘Old Douglas’ as long as no one fulfills the role of the sharpshooter (that killed him),” said Camel Corps founder and director Doug Baum, who said the camels will also be available Sunday for public view at the park.

The Camel Corps was founded in 1997 in Valley Mills, Texas, to teach people about the U.S. Army’s experiment during the 1850s to use camels instead of horses in the southwest to fight Indians. The program, which was pushed by then-Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, was later disbanded and most of the camels set loose to roam wild in the Southwest.

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“And while doing my research on the experiment, I came across the story of ‘Old Douglas,’” Baum said.

“Old Douglas” was one of the few camels kept with the army, and later served with the 43rd Mississippi Volunteers during the Vicksburg siege and campaign to carry the instruments of the 43rd’s band. He was killed by a sharpshooter during the siege and eaten by the troops, who had very little food. He is honored with a headstone in the Soldiers Rest section of Cedar Hill Cemetery.

The Camel Corps’ appearance at the park is its third. The first was in 2011, and the second was for the Sesquicentennial in 2013.

Baum said caring for the camels is an easy job.

“If you compare them to horses, they don’t have to be shoed, you don’t have to clip their hooves, and you don’t have to deal with the neuroses that horses can have,” he said, adding camels are very mild-mannered creatures.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about camels, that they’re mean and temperamental,” he said. “We in the U.S. get a lot of our education about camels from stories and movies, which have a lot of action.

“I spend a lot of my time dealing with the myths about camels — like they don’t spit, and they don’t store water in their humps. When I lecture to groups, the first part of my program deals with dispelling the myths about camels. Once we get that out of the way, we can talk a little history.”

The camels will be available to the public at the Old Superintendent’s Quarters inside the park Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The event is free, but visitors will have to pay the entrance fee to the park.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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