The Civil War in the Delaware

When war came, Delaware stayed in the Union, yet its citizens remained divided in their loyalties. Partisan feelings ran so high in Delaware that no major election could be held in the state without the supervision of federal troops at polling places. The war tore apart towns, old friendships, and even families, as Delawareans learned firsthand what a "house divided" really meant.

There were no battles fought in Delaware and Delaware's loss was about 5% of the 12,000 +/- who served in the war.

Delaware is most remembered for its prison - Fort Delaware.

Ship-loads of new prisoners arrived at Fort Delaware with great frequency during the Civil War. The facility was ill equipped to house the numbers of prisoners who came. Disease, dirty drinking water, and poor nutrition were rampant at Fort Delaware. Hundred of civilians who opposed the war and Confederates were given a wooden bunk in a barracks exposed to the elements. Overcrowding and the swampy nature of the island led to infestations of lice, rats, malaria-infected mosquitos, and other vermin. Dysentery, small pox, and other diseases were common and even epidemic on occasion. A 600-bed hospital and a separate pestilence residence were constructed to better deal with the various maladies that afflicted the island residents.

Following the battles of Vicksburg and Gettysburg in the summer of 1863, the prison population swelled by more than 12,500 new arrivals. Including the guards, garrison troops, construction laborers, and other residents, the population on Pea Patch Island approached that of Wilmington, Delaware's largest city. All were huddled together on 75 swampy acres. In three and a half years, more than 30,000 unfortunates passed through the gates of the island fortress. More than 2,400 died on the island, the vast majority of whom were buried at Finn's Point, New Jersey, just across the river from the fort.

Fort Delaware

The bacon was rusty and slimy (sic), the soup was slopfilled with white worms a half inch long." - Randolph Shotwell

"the food was of such poor quality and so scarce that I shrank from 140 pounds to 80 pounds during my sojourn." - a Georgia soldier

"Of course but few were lucky enough to get a rat. The rats were cleaned, put in salt water a while and fried. Their flesh was tender and not unpleasant to the taste." - John Swann

"The prisoners were afflicted with smallpox, measles, diarrhea, dysentery and scurvy as well as the ever-present louse. A thousand ill; twelve thousand on an island which should hold four; astronomical numbers of deaths a day of dysentry and the living having more life on them than in them. Lack of food and water and thus a Christian nation treats the captives of its sword!" - Dr. S. Weir Mitchell