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America's Civil War Beasts of Burden: Elephants and a Camel

Updated on May 21, 2018
Gerry Glenn Jones profile image

Gerry Glenn Jones is a writer of fiction and nonfiction, as well as scripts for theatre and film. This is a factual article.

American Zouave ambulance crew demonstrating removal of wounded soldiers from the field with horses and a wagon during the American Civil War. between 1862 and 1865
American Zouave ambulance crew demonstrating removal of wounded soldiers from the field with horses and a wagon during the American Civil War. between 1862 and 1865 | Source
African Bush Elephant
African Bush Elephant | Source

America's Civil War

With the outbreak of the American Civil War came things that Americans had never dreamed of. Some of these things included Americans fighting Americans, fathers fighting sons and the inclusion of women dressed as men in order to defend what they believed in. However, it wasn't just the men and women that played a big part in the war; it was also their animals, such as horses, dogs, mules, and camels - "yes camels." There was also a proposed gift of elephants to the Union Army.

King Mongkut  of Siam
King Mongkut of Siam | Source

Elephants for the Union Army

The King of Siam actually offered the gift of a male and a female elephant to U.S. President James Buchanan in a letter dated February 14, 1861. However, due to the long distance, and the fact that the letter had to be carried by a sea vessel of the times, it did not arrive at the White House until Abraham Lincoln was elected President.

In part, the letter from King Siam reads, "Elephants are regarded as the most remarkable of the large quadrupeds by the Americans so that if anyone has an elephants' tusk of large size, and will deposit it in any public place, people come by thousands crowding to see it, saying, it is a wonderful thing. . .." It further reads, "It has occurred to us that, if on the continent of America there should be several pairs of young male and female elephants turned loose in forests where there was an abundance of water and grass, we are of opinion that after a while they will increase till there be large herds."

At the time of President Lincoln's receipt of the letter from the king, the American Civil War was in full throttle, with many daunting tasks on the President's mind. However; Lincoln, did in fact, write back to the King of Siam, and part of that letter is as follows. "I appreciate most highly Your Majesty's tender of good offices in forwarding to this Government a stock from which a supply of elephants might be raised on our own soil. This Government would not hesitate to avail itself of so generous an offer if the object were one which could be made practically useful in the present condition of the United States.

Our political jurisdiction, however, does not reach a latitude so low as to favor the multiplication of the elephant, and steam on land, as well as on water, has been our best and most efficient agent of transportation in internal commerce.
Meantime, wishing for Your Majesty a long and happy life, and for the generous and emulous People of Siam the highest possible prosperity, I commend both to the blessing of Almighty God.
Your Good Friend, ABRAHAM LINCOLN"

Even though we did not attempt to use the elephant as a bearer of war materials in the Civil War, it was indeed used in other wars, such as World War II and Vietnam.

A Camel Chewing
A Camel Chewing | Source

Douglas: The Confederate Camel

Before the America Civil War began, the United States Military experimented with the use of camels in the desert Southwest, where water was scarce, and even though they proved valuable, the Civil War came along, and the camel program was laid to rest. Many of the camels were sold to the private sector, and many think this is how Douglas ended up in Mississippi, and eventually into the ranks of the Confederate Army.

Douglas gained the nickname of "Old Douglas" from the men of Company A of the-Third Mississippi Infantry, where he initially served as a Mascot to Colonel W. H, Moore, and later as instrument bearer for the regimental band's instruments.

Old Douglas saw much active duty and soon was a veteran of the war. He was present at the battle of Iuka, Miss. and the Battle of Corinth, Miss. Then came his final campaign at the siege of Vicksburg, where he wandered into the open and was shot and killed by a Union sniper. Some accounts say that six Confederate snipers were sent out in retaliation, and severely wounded the Union sniper.

Some accounts say that Old Douglas was eaten by the Union forces, and some of his bones were taken home as souvenirs, and some say that he was eaten by the starving Confederate soldiers, while another story says he was eaten by stray dogs. Whatever, the case, he was not forgotten and has his own grave marker in Soldier's Rest, a cemetery in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

In closing, I think we need to salute Old Douglas, a camel who did his duty and died gallantly on the battlefield.

© 2018 Gerry Glenn Jones


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