What happened to the US Army Camel Corps? Did the Camel Corps fight in the civil war? If it was closed down, what happened to the camels?
The United States officially ordered the camels sold in 1863, approved by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.
The U.S. Army Camels were transferred to Benicia Arsenal in late 1863 for public auction. These camels were herded from Fort Tejon and Camp Drum, near Los Angeles, to Benicia. They were sold at auction on February 26, 1864. These camels ended up being put to use in salt pack trains, zoological gardens, or for circus attractions by their private owners.
Earlier in the Civil War, Texas Confederate forces had captured Camp Verde which was the original base for the Camel Corp experiment.
On March 7, 1861 about 80 camels and 2 of the camel drivers were surrendered to the Confederates.
One confederate camel known as “Old Douglas” became The 43d Mississippi Infantry's mascot. The camel was used to carry company baggage until it was shot by a Union skirmisher at Vicksburg. Douglas is honored with his own grave marker in Vicksburg's Cedar Hill Cemetery.
When Union troops reoccupied Camp Verde in 1865, they found 66 camels remaining, which they auctioned off to Bethel Coopwood. Bethel sold five to Ringling Brothers Circus and other circus owners in Mexico. However, when he brought the remaining camels back into the U.S., the government seized them as "stolen property". The camels were sent to Arizona where they were released to "gradually perish".
Feral camels continued to be sighted in the Southwest through the early 1900s, with the last unconfirmed sighting in 1941 near Douglas, Texas.
Sources and suggested reading:
Walter Lynwood Fleming Ph.D Jefferson Davis's Camel Experiment, Louisiana State University, 1909, 151-153.
Faulk, Odie B. The U.S. Camel Corps: An Army Experiment, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 1976.
Confederate Veteran Magazine, vol. 11, no. 11: “’Old Douglas’ –The Camel Burden Bearer.”
Fowler, Harlan D. Camels to California; a chapter in western transportation, Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA, 1950.