It all started with an order that no one really saw coming, “Sir: [you are] assigned to special duty in connection with the appropriation for importing camels for army transportation and for other military purposes.” It was a message written and sent by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to Brevet Major Henry C. Wayne on May 10, 1855. Thus, the beginning of the attempt of the United States to establish the US Camel Corps.

Strength in Carrying Burdens

In the 1830s, the expansion of the United States to the west was hindered by the inaccessible terrain and climate encountered by the settlers and pioneers, specifically in the southwest with arid deserts, mountain peaks, and impassable rivers. That’s why in 1836, US Army LT George H. Crosman came up with an idea,

For strength in carrying burdens, for patient endurance of labor, and privation of food, water & rest, and in some respects speed also, the camel and dromedary (as the Arabian camel is called) are unrivaled among animals.  The ordinary loads for camels are from seven to nine hundred pounds each, and with these they can travel from thirty to forty miles a day, for many days in succession.  They will go without water, and with but little food, for six or eight days, or it is said even longer.  Their feet are alike well suited for traversing grassy or sandy plains, or rough, rocky hills and paths, and they require no shoeing…

The embarkation of a Bactrian on the USS Supply. Since Artist Heap took the trouble to record the loading of this particular animal, it is possibly the gigantic Bactrian that required Lieutenant Porter to modify the Supply. (Drawing by G. Wynn Heap, artist with the first expedition to acquire camels from the Mid·East. From Reports Upon the Purchase, Importation and Use of Camels and Dromedaries, 1855-‘ 56-’57/