The U. S. Camel Corps: How a Camel Fought in the Civil War

Just when you think you’ve seen it all!
U.S. Camel Corps – The Texas Camel Experiment! That’s right…camels!


Illustration for Jefferson Davis’ report to the Senate in 1857 (Senate Documents, 34th Congress, 3d sess., serial 881, pp. 179) – loading the camels on the ship for the U.S. Texas Camel Experiment – public domain –

Well, this is a nifty story! Back in the days when they were settling the Western States the U.S. government decided they need to try an experiment to see if they could find another animal that would be able to better endure through the dry, desert conditions and long distances between watering holes. Mules, burrows and horses, the governments’ main staple of transportation, were dying due to severe dehydration. During the years 1856-1866 the U.S. government ran a program called the U.S. Camel Corps – the Texas Camel Experiment.

Last known surviving Camel Corps Veteran – California – Rudolph D’Heureuse, who published a series of forty-one photos in 1863 – public domain –

“Hi Jolly” and his wife – public domain –

After the passing of the U.S. Camel Appropriation Act, on February 10th, 1857, the first camel corps arrived in the U.S. on the Ship USS Supply with 41 camels. Another trip to acquire more camels brought the total camels in the Camel Corps up to 70.  A Camp was established in Texas called Camp Verde where the camels and caretakers lived for approximately 10 years.

Camp Verde, Texas – historical marker – Creative Commons –

A man named “Hi Jolly” or “Hadji Ali” was brought with the camels to the United States and hired as the main camel driver with 7 other men for the camel experiment. The experiment involved driving the camels, horses, burrows and mules across the Southwest desert from Texas to California and to observe how they could travel as pack animals with infrequent watering. The camels in the experiments faired well and survived the trips with very little problems, the mules and horses however often died during the trips.

The camel experiment failed primarily because the size of the camels would scare the horses and mules and often times cause horse stampedes. Another kink in the plan was that the current Secretary of State in charge of the Camel Corps was Jefferson Davis who in the middle of the experiment appointed himself as the President of the Confederate States. These two things lead to the conclusion of the experiment and the camels were sold off at auction.

One of artist Patrick Westphal’s series of murals, painted on walls of a lumber company in Ingram, Texas, reflecting the history of Kerr County. This one depicts the surprising arrival of camels at the U.S. Army’s Camp Verde in the county. The Army imported camels in 1856 and 1857, using them with some success in extended surveys in the Southwest. The camels did not, howevever, get along with the Army’s horses and mules, which would bolt out of fear when they smelled a camel. The soldiers, too, found the camels difficult to handle and they detested the smell of the animals. During the Civil War in 1861, Confederate troops captured more than 80 camels and two foreign drivers at Camp Verde. A Texas Ranger company was assigned the camp in 1862, and J.W. Walker was in charge of the camels, some of which were used to transport salt from San Antonio and Brownsville and San Elizario, while some transported cotton to Mexico. – Mural – The camels arrive in Camp Verde, Texas.

“Old Douglas” – the Confederate Civil War Camel – Mississippi – 43rd Infantry
(unknown – 27 Jun 1863)

Old Douglas memorial stone – Vicksburg, Mississippi  Cemetery – Creative Commons

This story would not be complete without a nice little antidote. The camel experiment was during the Civil War years and a camel named “Old Douglas” somehow wound up in Mississippi. He served in the Mississippi 43rd Confederate Infantry. “Old Douglas” was a dromedary camel and he was officially assigned to the band unit carrying instruments and packs. He survived several Civil War battles including the Battle of Corinth.

Old Douglas pictured in the Civil War (Doug Baum photo Collection – public domain.)

Apparently there may have been other camels that were used in the Civil War. Old Douglas was killed by the Union army in the Battle of Vicksburg in 1863.

A military headstone was placed in his memory in the cemetery at Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Click below to see Old Douglas’ listing!

Old Douglas the Civil War Camel –

“Hi Jolly” continued to live in the American Southwest and tried to start a camel freight service but was unsuccessful. He became a U. S. citizen in 1880 and released his camels into the desert near Gila Bend, Arizona. He continued to work for the U.S. government handling burrows for the Geronimo campaign. Camels from this project were known to be living in the Southwest desert for many decades to follow. He is buried in Quartzside, Arizona.

HadjiAliMonument20080707 creative commons
“Hi Jolly” monument in Quartzide, Arizona – Creative Commons.

You might be surprised but there IS a lot of information about the Camel Corps!
Additional Reading can be found in the following links:

The Last Camel Charge: The Untold Story of the America’s Desert Military Experriment by Forrest Bryant Johnson –

The U.S. Camel Corps: An Army Experiment by Odie B. Faulk –

Camp Verde – Texas Frontier Defense by Joseph Luther –

Old Camp Verde –

The U.S. Camel Corps –

“Hi Jolly” –

And if you LOVE Camels in the Desert – there is a really nice Archival Print of El Morro National Monument – Camel Drive available here – El Morro Camel Print –

This entry was posted in Battle of Corinth, MS, Civil War, family tree,, gravestones, history of the west, texas and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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