Fort Delaware

Fort Delaware is situated on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River. The island is about 178 acres (50 acres are fast land). It's about 2 miles in length. In 1813 a wooden fort was built and eventually torn down and in 1821 a mason fort was constructed. This was destroyed by fire in 1832.

The present fort was started in 1846, but a huge tidal wave washed everything off the island and in 1847 the Congress passed an appropriation of $1,000,000 to construct the fort that was to be the largest and most modern in the country (even the White House didn't have flush toilets at this time).

However, the cost to drive the pilings used up all the money (U.S. Army Corps engineer George B. McClellan came up with the design for the pilings), so Congress passed another million dollars to build the fort, completed in 1859.

The walls are of solid granite blocks surrounded by a 30-foot moat crossed by a drawbridge (early in the Civil War a postern gate was cut into the NJ side for another bridge across the moat).

The fort was first occupied by one company of Marines in 1860, but it wasn't fully garrisoned until 1861. After the firing on Fort Sumter, the Commonwealth Artillery of Pennsylvania moved in. After the Battle of Kernstown in 1861, about 250 men of Stonewall Jackson's army (mostly Virginians) were captured and brought to the island as prisoners of war. According to records, all dates were April of 1862, and all gave Virginia regiments as their outfits.

By July of 1862 there were 3,000 prisoners on the island. On the night of July 16, nineteen prisoners escaped. Three days later, 200 escaped. During the winter of 1862, most of the prisoners were exchanged. But by June of 1863, some 8,000 prisoners were on the island. After the Battle of Gettysburg, the largest number ever to be held at any one time--12,595--were captives on the island. After that time there was never less than 6,000 until July of 1865 when the last of the prisoners were released.

During the Civil War, Fort Delaware was garrisioned in part by the 5th Delaware Regt.

Among the political prisoners quartered at one time or another were Burton H. Harrison, private secretary to Jefferson Davis, and Gov. F.R. Lubbock of Texas (the last prisoner at the fort). One Delawarean was imprisoned for playing "Dixie" in his front yard.

Generals confined on the island included:

  • BGen TJ Churchill (1862, captured at the Battle of Arkansas Post);
  • MGen Franklin Gardner (1863, captured at Port Hudson on the Mississippi);
  • MGen James J. Archer (1863, Gettysburg);
  • BGen M. Jeff Thompson (1863, captured at Memphis);
  • BGen Robert B. Vance (brother of the Gov. of N.Carolina, 1864, captured in Tennessee);
  • MGen Edward Johnson (1864, Spottsylvania);
  • BGen George H. Stewart (1864, Spottsylvania);
  • BGen Rufus Barringer (April, 1865);
  • LGen Joseph B. Wheeler (commander of Cavalry Forces)

Disease, especially outbreaks of smallpox, was always a problem. Therefore, deceased soldiers were buried on the NJ shore, where today stands the Finn's Point National Monument to the 2,436 Confederate veterans buried in a mass grave. Their names and units are located on metal tablets at the base of the beautiful white stone monument.

This is where I first saw the name of Robert M. Streetman, 2nd GA Reserves, captured in 1865 at Savannah, who died at Fort Delaware (age 16).

I'll be happy to provide you with additional information. I can mail you photographs and a reproduction of one of the fort's newspapers (at its peak, Fort Delaware was the most populated place in Delaware).
Lee G. Streetman
P.O. Box 255
Odessa, DE  19730-0255

Member of Fort Delaware Society and has access to their limited records.


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  This site  was last updated 06/10/2004 09:32:38 AM CDT

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