When he served as the U.S. Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis had the grand idea of importing camels. The camels, Davis reasoned, would be perfect animals to use in fighting among the far western reaches of America’s deserts, and thus he acted to bring shipments of the unusual animal in 1856 and 1857. While the proposed Camel Corps of the U.S. Army never took off, one of those camels did see extensive service in the Civil War. Named Old Douglas, the camel became the mascot of the 43rd Mississippi Regiment until its death during the Siege of Vicksburg. The Mississippians’ association with Old Douglas earned them the nickname of the “Camel Regiment,” and that unit’s story is the focus of a newly published regimental history.
Written by W. Scott Bell, The Camel Regiment introduces the reader to the lives, trials, and tribulations of both the fighting men and officers of the 43rd Mississippi. As the dustjacket attests, Bell’s inspiration for the book comes from his own ancestor who served with the 43rd.
As a regimental history, Bell tells a good story, full of rich first-person testimony drawn from a plethora of sources that give the reader a solid outline of the regiment’s service during the Civil War. From fighting at Corinth, to Chickasaw Bayou, Vicksburg, and beyond, Bell’s narrative brings the men of the 43rd through the war’s bloody fields. Other chapters outline the regiment’s everyday life in camp, or the experiences of men captured on the battlefield. The book has but a handful of maps, which can make following along to all the towns and cities mentioned sometimes difficult.
While Bell is to be commended for his research and telling of the travails of the 43rd Mississippi, some readers will be turned off by the partisanship of the writing. Within his first pages Bell writes, “A majority of modern-era historians point to slavery as the sole cause of the War of Northern Aggression” (11). “In regard to the 43rd, would poor plowboys leave their families and farms to stand against the overwhelming manpower and resources of the populous industrial North for the sake of Southern aristocrats?” (11-12). To answer this rhetorical question, as historians like Gordon Rhea have pointed out, yes, those southern boys would, and did, do exactly that. The same type of writing appears in the epilogue, when Bell writes of a South “infested with carpetbaggers, stabbed in the back by scalawags, and enduring twelve years under the thumb of Federal Reconstruction” (237). These word-choices prove distracting and pull the reader away from the larger story of the 43rd Mississippi’s service during the war.
With that being said, those still looking for a regimental history of a typical Confederate regiment in the Western Theater will find it within Bell’s pages.
W. Scott Bell, The Camel Regiment: A History of the 43rd Mississippi Volunteer Infantry, CSA, 1862-1865
288 Pages. Endnotes, Bibliography, Index
Appendix: Regimental Roster.
Pelican Publishing Company, 2017.