Delaware Civil War History

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Delaware in the American Civil War

Delaware Civil War History


Delaware was one of the Thirteen Colonies that participated in the American Revolution and on December 7, 1787, it became the first state to ratify the Constitution of the United States, thereby becoming known as The First State. Delaware is located in the northeastern portion of the Delmarva Peninsula and is the second least extensive, the sixth least populous, but the sixth most densely populated of the present-day 50 United States. The state is organized into three counties—from north to south, New Castle, Kent and Sussex—all established by 1682. While the southern two counties have historically been predominantly agricultural, New Castle County has been more industrialized.

Delaware is a U.S. state located on the Atlantic Coast in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. It is bordered to the south and west by Maryland, to the northeast by New Jersey, and to the north by Pennsylvania. The state takes its name from Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr, an English nobleman. Delaware is 96 miles in length and ranges from 9 miles to 35 miles across (or in width), making it the second-smallest U.S. state, with Rhode Island being the smallest.

Before its coastline was first explored by Europeans in the 16th century, Delaware was inhabited by several groups of Native Americans, the Eastern Algonquian tribes, including the Delaware (called in their own language Lenni Lenape) throughout the Delaware valley. It was initially colonized by Dutch traders at Zwaanendael, located near the present town of Lewes, in 1631. In 1664, the Dutch were conquered by the English. By the mid-18th century, the Native Americans who did not relocate out of the State of Delaware were baptized, became Christian and were grouped together with other persons of color in official records and in the minds of their non-Native American neighbors

Delaware was one of the Thirteen Colonies which revolted against British rule in the American Revolution. After the Revolution began in 1776, the three counties became "The Delaware State," and in 1776 that entity adopted its first constitution, declaring itself to be the "Delaware State." Its first governors went by the title of "President." Following the American Revolution, statesmen from Delaware were among the leading proponents of a strong central United States with equal representation for each state.

Delaware Civil War Map
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Delaware Slavery Map


Many colonial settlers came to Delaware from Maryland and Virginia, which had been experiencing a population boom. The economies of these colonies were chiefly based on tobacco culture and were increasingly dependent on slave labor for its intensive cultivation. Most of the English colonists arrived as indentured servants, hiring themselves out as laborers for a fixed period to pay for their passage. In the early years the line between indentured servants and African slaves or laborers was fluid. Most of the free African-American families in Delaware before the Revolution had migrated from Maryland to find more affordable land. They were descendants chiefly of relationships or marriages between servant women and enslaved, servant or free African or African-American men.  As the flow of indentured laborers to the colony decreased with improving economic conditions in England, more slaves were imported for labor.

At the end of the colonial period, the number of enslaved people in Delaware began to decline. Shifts in the agriculture economy from tobacco to mixed farming created less need for slaves' labor. Local Methodists and Quakers encouraged slaveholders to free their slaves following the American Revolution, and many did so in a surge of individual manumissions for idealistic reasons. By 1810 three-quarters of all blacks in Delaware were free. When John Dickinson freed his slaves in 1777, he was Delaware's largest slave owner with 37 slaves. By 1860 the largest slaveholder owned only 16 slaves.
Although attempts to abolish slavery failed by narrow margins in the legislature, in practical terms, the state had mostly ended the practice. By the 1860 census on the verge of the American Civil War (1861-1865), 91.7 percent of the black population, or nearly 20,000 people, were free.
The independent black denomination was chartered by freed slave Peter Spencer in 1813 as the "Union Church of Africans". This followed the 1793 establishment of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, which had ties to the Methodist Episcopal Church until 1816. Spencer built a church in Wilmington for the new denomination. This was renamed the African Union First Colored Methodist Protestant Church and Connection, more commonly known as the A.U.M.P. Church. Begun by Spencer in 1814, the annual gathering of the Big August Quarterly still draws people together in a religious and cultural festival, the oldest such cultural festival in the nation.

President Abraham Lincoln pursued a state-driven emancipation plan beginning with Delaware in late 1861, in which he promised Federal compensation to the state's slaveholders in return for voluntary abolition--but Delaware's legislature rejected it. Delaware then refused to ratify the 13th Amendment on February 8, 1865. The state did, however, free its remaining slaves with the ratification of the 13th Amendment on December 6, 1865. The lethargic state symbolically signed the amendment on February 12, 1901.

Delaware Civil War Map
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Delaware Civil War History


Delaware was a slave state during the Civil War (1861-1865), but it remained loyal to the Union and it voted against secession on January 3, 1861. As the governor stated, "Delaware had been the first state to embrace the Union by ratifying the Constitution and would be the last to leave it." While most Delawareans who fought in the war served in the regiments of the state, there were many who served in the Confederate Army in Maryland and Virginia. Delaware is notable for being the only slave state from which no Confederate regiments or militia units were assembled.

Delaware Governor William Burton (January 18, 1859 – January 20, 1863) was a democrat, but he maintained a cautious politcal stance. The aged Burton (October 16, 1789 – August 5, 1866) tried to steer a course down the middle of all the competing interests. Like a majority in the state, he was strongly sympathetic towards the South, and a strong opponent of abolition, but he opposed Delaware’s possible secession.

Although Delaware, a Border State, embraced the Union, it nominally supported President Lincoln. The state was not a Republican stronghold, and in the presidential elections of 1860 and 1864, the state supported the “Peace Platform” offered by the Democrats. In the presidential election of 1860, Delaware voted as follows: (D) John C. Breckinridge (7,339: 45.5%); John Bell (3,888: 24.1%); Abraham Lincoln (3,822: 23.7%); and Stephen Douglas (1,066: 6.6%). The total vote count for Delaware was 16,115, and it heavily favored Breckinridge.

As the war dragged on, the Peace Platform became more appealing to the war-weary masses.

In 1864, with 16,922 total votes cast, the state preferred (D) George McClellan (8,767: 51.8%) over Abraham Lincoln (8,155: 48.2%). In 1864, furthermore, the war-weary states of Kentucky and New Jersey voted for McClellan, and, while New York cast a total of 730,721 votes, Lincoln won the Empire State by a meager 6,749 votes.

Delaware in the Civil War
Delaware in the Civil War.jpg
Civil War Border States: Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, West Virginia

Civil War

According to the 1860 U.S. census, Delaware had a free population (including blacks) of 110,418 and an additional 1,798 in the bonds of slavery. Whereas the government of Delaware never formally abolished slavery, a large portion of the state's slaveowners voluntarily freed their slaves.

Delaware, considering its small population, nevertheless, provided fighting men to the Union cause during the Civil War. The best sources within the State archives indicate that there were 11,236 white soldiers, 94 sailors and marines and a total of 954 black soldiers from the First State. A total of 12,284 Delawareans fought for the Union out of total state population (male and female) of slightly more than 110,000. This number includes all branches of service: artillery, infantry, cavalry, as well as marines and sailors. To the Union Army the state contributed 9 regiments and 4 companies of infantry, 8 companies of cavalry, and 1 company and 1 battery of artillery. As a result of the Civil War, Delaware suffered nearly 1,000 in killed and hundreds more returned home wounded.

Delaware was neither a Northern nor Southern state, but it was a Border State that sided principally with the Union. Present-day, however, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Delaware is indeed a Southern state. Delaware, unlike other Border States, did not experience any battles on its soil. The state during the war was known principally for its imprisonment of Confederate soldiers at Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island.

Fort Sumter having fallen and the president having called for troops, in compliance with the requisition of the Secretary of War, Delaware Gov. William Burton issued a proclamation on April 23, 1861, calling for the enlistment of volunteers. In 1861, a regiment, known as 1st Delaware Infantry Regiment (3 Months), was promptly formed and mustered into the service of the United States. It consisted of three-months' men, and numbered about 775. Subsequently two regiments, containing about 2,000 men, were enlisted for the war, equipped by the state, and mustered in the United States army.

The state also raised its quotas for the volunteer army under the calls of July and August, 1862, without resort to drafting, and in all about 5,000 men had been furnished by the state at the close of that year. The draft was ordered to take place on Aug. 12, 1863, and its proceedings were watched with anxious interest. The quota demanded 1,636 men, but the state easily exceeded it quota with a total of 2,454. Commutation was permitted at the rate of $300 per man.

The 1st Delaware (3 months) mustered in at Wilmington under Col. Henry Lockwood as the 1st Delaware Regiment and served from May to August of 1861. They primarily performed guard duty in Maryland and suffered no casualties. After the 90-day unit mustered out, a three-year regiment, also designated the 1st Delaware (1861-1865), took its place. It mustered in at Wilmington under Col. John Andrews and served throughout the war, mostly with the Army of the Potomac. It saw action at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and the during Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign in Virginia. As a result, its casualties were high. The number killed, wounded, missing or dead from other causes totaled 564.

Meanwhile, the 2nd Delaware (1861-1864), known as the “Crazy Delawares” for their intrepid performance in battle, entered the service for three years under Col. H.W. Wharton at Wilmington. They fought the entire war, later joining the 1st Delaware to form the Veteran Volunteers. They also served with the Army of the Potomac and suffered a total of 574 casualties. The 3rd Delaware (1861-1865) was another three-year regiment, which mustered in at Camden with Col. Samuel Jenkins in command. They served in a variety of units and did hard campaigning at Cedar Mountain, South Mountain, Antietam and elsewhere. They also took a substantial number of casualties – 288 in all. The 4th Delaware (1862-1865) was the last of the state units that engaged in sustained combat and suffered significant casualties, with some 354 killed. They mustered in for three years at Wilmington under Col. A.H. Grimshaw and served the entire war, mostly with the 4th Corps in Virginia. The regiment campaigned on the Virginia Peninsula and at Cold Harbor and Petersburg. The 5th (1862-1863), 6th (1862-1863), 7th (1864), 8th and 9th Delaware Infantry Regiments (1864-1865) were short-term units that saw little action and suffered few casualties.

The 1st Delaware Cavalry was an undersized unit that served for two years with the 8th Infantry Corps, headquartered at Baltimore, performing patrol and guard duty. They saw action at Westminster, Md., in June 1863 by engaging Jeb Stuart’s Confederate cavalry on its way to Pennsylvania. During this encounter, the 1st Delaware Cavalry sustained heavy casualties. Delaware also had an artillery battery under the command of Capt. Benjamin F. Nields. This battery served in both the Eastern and Western theaters, including combat in Texas and Louisiana.

Special units included Milligan’s cavalry, which served for only 30 days in the 8th Corps at the time of Gen. Jubal Early’s raid on Washington in 1864. Another was Ahl’s Artillery Battery, which was made up of Confederate prisoners of war whom Capt. George W. Ahl recruited for the Union army. These “galvanized Yankees,” as they were dubbed, served for two years at Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River near Delaware City.

Some of Delaware’s African-Americans saw heavy combat, but they had to leave Delaware and join units in other states, since the political atmosphere in Delaware prevented United States Colored Troop (USCT) regiments being formed within the state. To date, existing records have identified 954 Union African-American soldiers and sailors, but estimates range as high as 1,500. These Delaware African-Americans served mostly in the 8th, 22nd, 25th and 32nd USCT regiments that were organized in Philadelphia in 1863 and 1864. Estimated casualties among these black soldiers were more than 200. An unknown number of blacks also served the Confederacy, including David White, who was a member of the crew of the fearsome C.S.S. Alabama that preyed on United States’ shipping on the high seas.

William Cannon (March 15, 1809 – March 1, 1865) succeeded Burton as Delaware's governor in 1863. Cannon, in his early years was a member of the Democratic Party, but was a republican when he was elected as the state's governor (January 20, 1863 – March 1, 1865). Cannon served the Union faithfully, only to die one month prior to General Robert E. Lee's surrender to General U.S. Grant.

Delaware Civil War Map of Battles and Battlefields
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High Resolution Map of Delaware

Although Delaware supported the Union during the Civil War, Lincoln, however, was not well-received within the state. As one resident proclaimed, "We remain loyal to the Union and Federal Constitution, but we do not support the president." An example of such opposition to Lincoln and his administration was displayed on Nov. 17, 1863, in a public meeting held at Newcastle, at which a resolution was passed, "that the following address be issued to the Democrats of the county:"

To the Democrats of Newcastle County, Delaware:

"To our astonishment and regret, however, we are informed by a public military and civil order, dated Nov. 13, 1863, and made known to us on the 16th of the same month, that the constitutional and legal rights of the citizens of the state of Delaware to regulate their own elections, and make and prescribe all qualifications for voters at the ensuing special election on the 19th instant, have been utterly subverted, and new qualifications and tests, unauthorized by the constitution of the United States, and contrary to the constitution and laws of the state of Delaware, imposed upon her citizens by military power.

With the several and collective knowledge and belief of the undersigned, they utterly deny the existence within this state, now or in any past time, of associations or individuals hostile to the welfare of the government of the United States, and of its constitution and laws; and considering the said military order (to which the unauthorized recognition of the executive of Delaware gives no sanction) as uncalled for, illegal, and unjust, do earnestly protest against the same -- and against the interference of the Federal government in the election held within our state -- and in view of the presence and intimidation of a large military force of the United States in our state, and the indisposition of our people to produce collision with the armed forces of the general government, do hereby recommend to the Democrats of Newcastle county, whether officers of election or voters, to submit to their disfranchisement and take no part in the said special election, but to rely upon the official oaths and consciences of the next House of Representatives in the Congress of the United States, to declare null and void an election so held, and conducted contrary to the laws of the state of Delaware in that behalf, and controlled by a power unknown to the constitution and laws of our state."

In March, 1864, another draft was ordered by Lincoln to fill the aggregated quotas for 500,000 men, and Delaware was called on to furnish 1,676 men. Under the call of the president on July 18, 1864, for 500,000 men, Delaware was required to furnish 2,445 soldiers. This quota was to be furnished by Sept. 5, 1864.

As of Aug. 12, 1864, Delaware had a credit at the war department for 8,743 men. Fully 1,000 had enlisted in Pennsylvania, 500 in New Jersey, and 500 in Maryland -- making a total of nearly 11,000 men from a population of a little more than 112,000 souls, white and black, free and slaves. As the latter were not then liable to enlistment, it will be seen that even at that period Delaware had contributed an unusually large percentage of its citizens for the defense of the Union. Subsequently the proportion of soldiers given by the little Diamond State to uphold the flag of the Republic was equal to if not greater than that of any other state. This is a record which may well cause the hearts of its loyal citizens to rejoice. Under the last call of the president for 300,000 men, Dec. 19, 1864, the quota of Delaware was 938 men. By 1865, Delaware had raised approximately 12,000 troops.

In 1865, the conclusive victories achieved by the Federal armies removed the necessity for further levies of men, and those who last entered the service were, after a short experience in military life, restored to the homes from which some of them had been taken against their will or inclination to perform the duties of a soldier, no matter how noble the cause which called them.

The number of Delawareans who joined the ranks of the North (at least 12,000) and South (estimated 2,000) totaled more than 14,000, and battle and non-combat Union casualties exceeded 2,100 (includes killed, wounded, and missing.). Although this figure is about 15 percent of the total that served, the average losses for the four most active units – the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Delaware Regiments – reached 50 percent. That is stark testimony to the sacrifice that Delawareans made during the bloody four-year-long Civil War.

Because of the small population in 1860, Delaware, compared to other Northern states, contributed only a small number of troops to the Union Army. The Delaware regiments, however, fought bravely from minor engagements to major battles such as Gettysburg. The Battle of Gettysburg, consequently, witnessed sixty-three Medal of Honor recipients, including three soldiers from Delaware. See also State of Delaware during the American Civil War (1861-1865).

Delaware in the Civil War
Fort Delaware.jpg
Fort Delaware, aka Delaware Prison

Fort Delaware

Fort Delaware, aka Delaware Prison Camp, was a harbor defense facility, designed by Chief Engineer Joseph Gilbert Totten, and located on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River. The nearest city or port is present-day Delaware City, Delaware. During the Civil War, the Union used Fort Delaware as a prison for Confederate prisoners-of-war, Confederate sympathizers, political prisoners, Federal convicts, and privateer officers.

The first prisoners were housed inside the fort in sealed off casemates, empty powder magazines, as well as two small rooms inside the sally port. In those small rooms, names of confederates can still be seen carved into the brick. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the island "contained an average population of southern tourists, who came at the urgent invitation of Mr. Lincoln." The first Confederate general to be housed at the fort was Brig. Gen. Johnston Pettigrew. During the war, approximately a dozen generals were held within the fort as prisoners-of-war.

The first Confederate prisoner to die at Fort Delaware was Captain L. P. Halloway of the 27th Virginia Infantry. He was captured at Winchester, Va. on March 23, 1862, only to die a few weeks later on April 9. Captain Halloway, a Freemason, was given a full Masonic funeral by Jackson Lodge in Delaware City. The funeral procession was led by fort's commander, Captain Augustus A. Gibson, from the town's lock on Clinton Street, and ending in the cemetery on Jefferson Street. According to church records, Halloway's body was reclaimed by family after the war.

By August 1863, there were more than 11,000 prisoners on the island; by war’s end, it had held 33,565 men. Nearly 2,500 prisoners died at the Pea Patch Island facility. Half of the total number of deaths occurred during a smallpox epidemic in 1863. Inflammation of the lungs (243 deaths), various forms of diarrhea (315 deaths) and smallpox (272 deaths) were the leading killer amongst the prison population. Approximately 215 prisoners died as a result of Typhoid and/or Malaria, according to records in the National Archives. Other causes of death include scurvy (70 deaths), pneumonia (61 deaths) and erysipelas (47 deaths). Five prisoners drowned, and seven died from gunshot wounds. Also, during the war, 109 Union soldiers and approximately 40 civilians died on the island. Fort Delaware is listed and registered with the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.


Delaware was not included in Reconstruction; thus, its post-Civil War transition went smoothly. Delaware, however, could not compete with larger states' agriculture and industry, but both sectors grew within the state during and after the war. The DuPont Company, which had supplied a large percentage of the Union Army's gunpowder, was -- and still is -- one of Delaware's major businesses.

Two months prior to the end of the Civil War, on February 18, 1865, Delaware voted to reject the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution and so voted unsuccessfully to continue slavery beyond the Civil War. Delaware symbolically ratified the amendment on February 12, 1901–40 years after Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Slavery ended in Delaware only when the Thirteenth Amendment took effect in December 1865. Delaware also rejected the 14th amendment during the Reconstruction Era.

See also Delaware, Slavery, Secession, and the American Civil War (1861-1865) and Civil War Border States: A History.

Sources: National Park Service; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; Library of Congress; National Archives; US Census Bureau; The Union Army (1908); Civil War Regiments from Delaware, Maryland, and West Virginia, 1861-1865; Fox, William F. Regimental Losses in the American Civil War (1889); Phisterer, Frederick. Statistical record of the armies of the United States (1883); Dyer, Frederick H. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion (1908); Hancock, Harold Bell. (1961). Delaware during the Civil War. Wilmington, Delaware: Historical Society of Delaware. ISBN 0-924117-24-9;  Hoffecker, Carol E. (2004). Democracy in Delaware. Wilmington, Delaware: Cedar Tree Books. ISBN 1-892142-23-6;  Martin, Roger A. (1984). A History of Delaware Through its Governors. Wilmington, Delaware: McClafferty Press; Martin, Roger A. (1995). Memoirs of the Senate. Newark, DE: Roger A. Martin; Munroe, John A. (2004). The Philadelawareans. Newark, Delaware: University of Delaware Press. ISBN 0-87413-872-8; Munroe, John A. (1993). History of Delaware. Newark, Delaware: University of Delaware Press. ISBN 0-87413-493-5; Scharf, John Thomas (1888). History of Delaware 1609-1888. 2 vols.. Philadelphia: L. J. Richards & Co.; Wilson, Emerson. (1969). Forgotten Heroes of Delaware. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Deltos Publishing Company.


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