Ford City Herald (TX, 1864), front page

Publication History:

Place of Publication: Camp Ford, Tyler, Smith County, Texas

Frequency:  Unknown; only one extant issue known, but in the extant edition the editors promise “Our Next Herald” (page four, bottom of column two)

Volume and Issue Data:  Vol. 1, No. 1, July 4, 1864

Size and Format: 8 1/2 x 11; four pages; three columns; pen and ink

Editor/Publisher:  Probably Capt. William H. May (and J.P. Robens?), also editor(s) of The Old Flag; a 12-page facsimile edition of The Old Flag, published by J.P. Robens and William H. May entitled, The Old Flag: First Publication by Union Prisoners at Camp Ford, Tyler, Texas includes some items and advertisements from the Ford City Herald

Title Changes and Continuation:  Related to the Old Flag, but continuation unknown

General Description and Notes:

While reference to The Herald was made in the facsimile edition of The Old Flag , the Handwritten Newspapers Project was unaware of any extant copies of The Herald until October 2012 when Renee M. Savits, of the Library of Virginia’s Civil War 150 Legacy Project notified us that a donor, the great-great-granddaughter of Capt. William H. May, editor of the Old Flag, had supplied the project with a framed copy of The Herald and a collection of letters from Capt. May before his capture near New Orleans in the summer of 1863.

Letter re. Capt. Wm. May, July 5,1863, explaining he has been taken prisoner (p.1)

Letter re. Capt. Wm. May, July 5,1863, explaining he has been taken prisoner (p.1)

Capt. May served with Co. I, 23rd Infantry Regiment, Connecticut, in Brashear City, LA, and New Orleans in 1863. A two-page letter dated July 5, 1863 (right, courtesy of the CW 150 Legacy Project) indicates his capture and transport to Houston, TX.

The Herald is closely related to the The Old Flag, which was published at Camp Ford, the Confederate prison at Tyler, Texas, during an imprisonment of 13 months.  On page two, under “Herald Job Printing Office,” the editor indicates the relationship between the two papers when he writes,

“This branch of our imense (sic) establishment is now complete. The new Type and Materials of The Herald, in addition to the well stocked Office of

Letter re. Capt. Wm. May, July 5,1863, explaining he has been taken prisoner (p.2)

Letter re. Capt. Wm. May, July 5,1863, explaining he has been taken prisoner (p.2)

the “OLD FLAG,” removed and refitted, enables us to give notice that we are fully prepared to execute all kinds of Plain and Fancy Job Printing with neatness and dispatch. Terms, CASH.”

Under “Terms” (first page, top left column), the editor of The Herald also wrote, “The Herald is published Semi-Occasionally; subscription, Two Bits, payable in Lincoln Green at time of Publication.”

Ford City Herald (TX, 1864), Camp Ford, Tyler, TX

According to the editor of The Old Flag, each issue was read aloud in the various cabins by some member of the “Mess.”  When all had read or heard it read, the paper was returned by the “subscriber” to the “office publication.”

The Old Flag’s primary goal was to relieve the almost unbearably eventless and monotonous life of Camp Ford.  Contributions commented on local news and camp issues, displayed poetry and art, and played with satire, jokes and chess problems.  Advertisements, which appeared in every issue, were genuine.  Most offered the services of skilled prisoners for the benefit of the others.  For example, pipe makers, barbers, cigar makers, shoe shines and “job printing” (by the editor) were all available in the prison city.

Ford City Herald (TX, 1864), pages 2-3

Camp Ford was the largest Confederate military prison in Texas during the Civil War.  The prison held both officers and enlisted men from 1863 until the end of war.  The prison held as many as 4,900 prisoners by July 1864.  Living conditions in the tented enclosures were generally good compared to some other Civil War prison camps.  Fresh water, adequate shelter and plentiful food supplies made the prison a relatively healthy place; during its 21-month existence, roughly 250 soldiers died in the camp.  Most soldiers were allowed to keep many of their possessions, to manufacture items for sale and to purchase food and supplies from local farmers and merchants.[1]  To facilitate these economic transactions, The Old Flag published a “REVIEW OF THE TEXAS MARKET-for the Month of February, 1864” in its March 1 edition.

Capt. William H. May, of the 23rd Connecticut Volunteers, with the assistance of other Union soldiers, published and edited the Ford City Herald in July 1864 and at least three issues of The Old Flag between February 17 and March 13, 1864,[2] during their 13-month confinement in the Confederate prison camp. According to J.P. Robens, one of the prisoners, The Old Flag was published on sheets of “unruled letter paper, in imitation of print, a steel pen being employed in the absence of a Hoe Press.”[3]  The three-column, four-page paper made liberal use of large headlines and graphic elements.

The Old Flag’s primary goal was “to contribute as far as possible towards enlivening the monotonous, and at times almost unbearably eventless life of Camp Ford–and to cultivate a mutual good feeling between all.”  Contributions were solicited on matters of local news and camp issues.  The Old Flag published poetry and art, and included satire, jokes and chess problems.  Display advertisements appeared in every issue, and “most of them bona fide, genuine.”  Most of the ads promoted the services of skilled prisoners for the benefit of the others.  For example, pipe makers, barbers, cigar makers, shoe shines and “job printing” (by the editor) were all available in the prison city.[4]

The lithographed reproduction of The Old Flag was published in New York in 1864 and included a “List of officers, prisoners of war at Camp Ford . . . giving rank, regiment, where and when captured.”

After prisoners were released from Camp Ford, the editor published a lithographed reproduction of the handwritten version.

According to Mary Witkowski, of the Bridgeport Public Library, Bridgeport, CT, Captain May was a newspaper man in civilian life.

Information Sources:                                                        

Bibliography:  F. Lee Lawrence and Robert W. Glover, Camp Ford, C.S.A.:  The Story of Union Prisoners in Texas(Austin:  Texas Civil War Centennial Advisory Committee, 1964), 36-37;  The Old Flag (privately published, 1914); see also Roy Alden Atwood, “Captive Audiences: Handwritten Prisoner-of-War Newspapers of the Texan Santa Fe Expedition and the War Between the States,” Annual Convention of the American Journalism Historians Association (AJHA), Salt Lake City, UT, Oct. 1993.


Library of Virginia’s Civil War 150 Legacy Project (thanks to Renee M. Savits, of the CW 150 Legacy Project), William H. May papers (Leonora Schmidt, great-great-granddaughter, collection); for Old Flag, see Barnum Museum, Bridgeport, CT; The Old Flag, lithographed reproduction:  DLC

[1].  Patricia L. Faust, editor, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War, p. 110.

[2].  The date on The Old Flag, 1:3, is March 13, 1864, but a poem on p. 3, “To Mrs. Col R.T.P. Allen,” is dated March 14.  The poem was likely a day-late insertion.

[3].  J.P. Robens, “Preface,” The Old Flag, lithograph reproduction (New York:  W.H. May, [1864]), n.p.

[4].  The Old Flag, 1:1 (Feb. 17, 1864), p. 2.