Confederate Camps in Fannin County
Bonham Daily Favorite, July 11, 1993
In the spring of 1865, as the Civil War wound down, confusion and disorder reigned in many areas of the South. Desertions were common at some military establishments as soldiers, abandoning some of their equipment and records, simply left for home. Even after official word of the surrender at Appomattox, little effort seemed to have been made to preserve official records and orders at established military installations. As a result of this lack of control, records of the many smaller military camps throughout the Confederacy were destroyed and the only evidence of their existence is to be found in brief, occasional references in other dispatches or orders.
Four such installations were evident in Fannin County during most of the course of the war. Two of these were in Bonham, the Commissary attached to the Northern Sub-District, and the military hospital.
The Commissary is a matter of record in the dispatches and orders issued to and from General Henry McCulloch. Occasionally mention is made of the officer in charge, or certain supplies which were issued, but no specific records of the activity of this installation have been found. Later references by citizens of Bonham locate the Commissary somewhere in the vicinity of present day North Main and Sixth Streets. An often told story concerns the destruction of the unit, by fire, which resulted in the 11 bar-be-cuing" of a large quantity of meat and an invitation to the citizens of Bonham to attend a feast.
The Confederate hospital is less documented. When McCulloch took command of the Northern Sub-District he reported, in his initial communique to headquarters, that the hospital was short of supplies and the only surgeon in attendance was a local civilian doctor.
The only other evidence of the hospital is to be found in scattered Confederate pay vouchers which indicate that certain soldiers were confined to the "Confederate Hospital in Bonham, Texas." Various claims have been made for the location of the hospital but nothing official seems to exist. Logically, the hospital would probably have been located in the vicinity of the Sub-District Headquarters which were in west Bonham at the present site of Willow Wild Cemetery.
Another of the named military installations was Camp Roberts. The nature and components of this site are unknown. In fact there are only a few references to be found among the remaining Confederate records. It appears to have been some sort of training camp. A letter from a soldier assigned to the post mentions some specific training which he had received. Some suggestions have been made over the years that the camp was located northwest of Bonham, possibly in the vicinity of Ravenna.
In 1864 a resident of Grayson County, by the name of Bradley, wrote to his wife mentioning that he was stationed only a few miles down Red River from her but was unable to get leave for a visit. The Bradley homestead was just miles west of present day Denison. Although Bradley failed to mention the name of his camp, this may well have been Camp Roberts.
In all likelihood, the camp was named for Colonel Samuel A. Roberts. Roberts was active in a number of positions and commands throughout the war.
The other military encampment in Fannin County is one for which a number of substantial documents are extant, but one which has caused something of a controversy and still leaves many unanswered questions. In dispatches the installation is called Camp Benjamin, very likely named for Judah P. Benjamin, Confederate Attorney General, Secretary of War, and Secretary of State.
On November 26, 1861, then Colonel Samuel Bell Maxey of Lamar County organized the Ninth Texas Infantry at Camp Rusk in southern Lamar County. The Ninth was composed of ten companies of 100 men. Two of the companies were organized with men from Fannin County. Company E, headed by Captain James Hill also listed men from Lamar County as well as Fannin County. Captain Wright A. Stanley was Captain of Company H, all from Fannin County. Stanley, it may be remembered was elected Captain of the Stanley Light Horse organized in Bonham in June of 1861.
Almost from the beginning the ranks of the Regiment were decimated by illness, pneumonia and an epidemic of measles. The water supply at Camp Rusk was deemed to be impure and Colonel Maxey decided that a change of locale would remove the men from the possible infections rampant at the site.
In the December 21st edition of The Northern Standard published at Clarksville, Editor Charles DeMorse reported that "Maxey's Regiment is encamped at Onstott's Lake, eight miles from Bonham, from which however it will soon moved. Some 50 or 60 sick, mostly with measles."
On November 28th, Maxey wrote to Major Samuel B. Davis from his headquarters at Camp Rusk. The next communique of record, again to Major Davis, carries the heading, Headquarters, Camp Benjamin, Fannin Co. (near Bonham) December 21 , 1861.
It is not known how long the Regiment remained at Camp Benjamin. Another dispatch from Maxey, dated December 28th carries the same heading. In the official records there is also a requisition for stationery for Captain James Hill's Company for the quarter beginning January 1, 1862. The requisition indicates that at least Captain Hill's company was still garrisoned at Camp Benjamin. At any rate, Maxey's Ninth Regiment was on the march toward Memphis around the beginning of the new year.
Of particular note concerning Camp Benjamin is from an examination of the muster rolls compiled at the end of 1862 for all the companies of the Regiment. Information contained in the rolls show that seven men died at Camp Benjamin in the last few days of December 1861. One of the men Silvester Howe was from Bonham.
In the same time frame there are at least six other men whose listing indicates that they died in Fannin County on those same days as the recorded deaths, and also listed are a number of men who were "left sick at Camp Benjamin."
It seems clear that for a time Camp Benjamin was a viable military site in Fannin County and it also seems evident that somewhere in the vicinity of the camp there lie the bodies of several men who died not as a result of war, but victims of a child's disease.
The majority of the research on Camp Benjamin was done by the late Dan Hembree who spent many years searching out the true story of a forgotten part of Civil War history in Fannin County.
Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas