By Joanne Lamm. U. S. Army Military History InstituteApril 16, 2009
Exactly 166 years ago today on April 26, 1843, Quartermaster Captain George H. Crosman penned a letter to Quartermaster General Thomas S Jesup in Washington regarding the importation of camels to the United States. Crosman was serving in Boston at the time and had received a letter from E.F. Miller, Esq. (son of General James Miller) regarding his extensive study of camels. This information was ultimately used by the U.S. Army to introduce the camel into military service in 1856.
Camels had been utilized in military service since ancient times. Native Americans had adopted the horse as a major part of their military capabilities. Crosman believed that camels would have a definite advantage over the native horses by intimidating them before any confrontation could even begin, thereby giving our soldiers the upper hand in battle from the very beginning. Major Crosman used the knowledge he had gleaned from E.F. MillerAca,!a,,cs studies of 1836 in suggesting the idea to the authorities, including Henry Wayne - a fellow camel enthusiast.
In 1848 the importation of camels for military purposes was suggested to the War Department by Henry Wayne, by then a Quartermaster major. Six years later, in 1854, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, in his report to the senate, tried to persuade Senators to look into the use of camels for the U.S. Army.
During this same time period the southwest territory of the U.S. was greatly expanding and in dire need of transportation means and for reliable beasts of burden. Camels could both transport troops and carry heavy loads without being too taxing on their keepers and required minimal upkeep. Camels were known for their ability to endure climates similar to that of our southwestern deserts and for their surefootedness traveling uneven, steep terrain. They could carry at least twice the amount of weight as horses or mules and could last longer periods without water and required only prairie grasses for sustenance.
On March 3, 1855, Congress appropriated $30,000 to Secretary Davis for the camel experiment. Following that passage, Secretary Davis sent Major Wayne to the eastern Mediterranean to purchase camels deemed worthy for use by the army.
It was a joint effort between the Army and the Navy, as Naval Lt. David Dixon Porter, commanding the transport vessel USS Supply, traveled with Major Henry Wayne to the East in search of military camels. After a successful mission, Wayne and Porter set sail on February 15, 1856, with 33 camels and five Arab handlers on board. Landing on May 14, 1856, at Indianola, Texas, the entire entourage of Soldiers and handlers ended their journey by marching to their base, Camp Verde, on August 27, 1856. Porter traveled overseas a second time, returning on January 30, 1857, with an additional 41 camels. The camels were used primarily for transportation and supply needs as the U.S. Army helped America expand westward.
After a few successful years with the Army, outside forces changed the camel experiment dramatically. In February, 1861, Camp Verde fell to the Confederates. By the time the Union army regained possession of the camp, the Federal government seemed to have lost interest in the whole camel project, and their role quickly diminished during the months that followed.
The Civil War had come and gone; the railways were fast replacing the camel trails; and the War Department was now dealing with Reconstruction and no longer had the resources to expend upon the camel experiment. In 1866, the Army Quartermaster at New Orleans sold the remaining 66 military camels at auction. Most of the camels ended up in various carnivals and zoos throughout the country. Some were abandoned in the southwest wilderness to survive on their own. Ultimately, only ten years after it began, the military career of the once progressive camel corps had ended.
ABOUT THIS STORY:Many of the sources presented in this article are among 400,000 books, 1.7 million photos and 12.5 million manuscripts available for study through the U.S. Army Military History Institute (MHI). The artifacts shown are among nearly 50,000 items of the Army Heritage Museum (AHM) collections. MHI and AHM are part of the: Army Heritage and Education Center (AHEC), 950 Soldiers Drive, Carlisle, PA, 17013-5021.