Fort Delaware
Fort Delaware is a harbor defense facility, designed by Chief Engineer Joseph Gilbert Totten, and located on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River. During the American Civil War, the Union used Fort Delaware as a prison for Confederate prisoners of war, political prisoners, and federal convicts. The fort and the island currently belong to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and encompasses a living history museum, located in Fort Delaware State Park.

In 1794, the French military engineer Pierre Charles L’Enfant was surveying for defensive sites. He identified an island that he called Pip Ash "as an ideal site for the defense of the prize of American commerce and culture". The island that L'Enfant called Pip Ash was locally known as Pea Patch island. This island was mostly unaffected by humanity with one exception. Dr. Henry Gale, a New Jersey resident, used Pea Patch as a private hunting ground. Gale was offered $30,000 for the island by the US military, but he refused. The military was determined to get the island, so they appealed to the Delaware state legislature, which seized the island from Dr. Gale on May 27, 1813.

Second System Fort Construction
Construction of a star fort on Pea Patch island began sometime before Dec 8, 1817. Chief Engineer Joseph Gardner Swift mentions a fort on the "Pea Patch in Delaware river" among forts that are progressing nicely. Construction was delayed years past the proposed date due to uneven settling and the marshy island environment. In 1831, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent Pt. Stephen Tuttle, West Point Class of 1820, to evaluate the foundation issue and offer solutions. On February 8, 1831, A fire originating in Lt. Stephen Tuttle's quarters, destroyed much of the work, burning until the next morning. Major Benjamin K. Pierce, post commander, was allowed to use the arsenal in New Castle, Delaware as barracks until "Fort Delaware can be reoccupied." Captain Richard Delafield asked for $10,000 to tear down the remaining structure the following year. The structure was torn down in 1833.

Third System Fort Construction
Captain Delafield desired to "erect a marvel of military architecture on Pea Patch." Delafield's fort was never built due to a decade long legal battle over island ownership which halted construction. The present structure was erected between 1848 and 1859, becoming the largest fort in the United States at the time. Major John Sanders, Captain George B. McClellan, Major John Newton, Lieutenant William Craighill, and Lieutenant Montgomery Meigs are a few of the army engineers that were involved with the project. According to official records, Major Sanders even utilized the rubble from the old star fort to reenforce the seawall around the island. The sandstone remnants can still be see today. In 1862, during the Civil War, the island became a prison for captured Confederate soldiers and sailors, convicted federal soldiers (Company Q), and local Southern sympathizers. Originally prisoners were housed inside the fort and later in wooden barracks that soon covered much of the island. Most of the Confederates captured at Gettysburg were imprisoned there. By August 1863, there were 11,000 prisoners on the island; by war’s end, it had held some 33,000 men. The conditions were decent, but about 2,400 prisoners died at Fort Delaware. Statistically, confederates had a better chance of dying from disease on the battlefield than a prisoner at Fort Delaware. (See also: Civil War POW Prisons and Camps) The fort was also used to organize and muster troops from the first state. Ahl's Independent Battery of Heavy Artillery was organized there for garrison duty and served there during its entire service. Other units stationed at Fort Delaware during the Civil War include, Collis' Zouaves de Afrique, 19th New York Volunteers, Mlotkowski's Independent Battery A, Young's Independent Battery G Pittsburgh Heavy Artillery, 5th Delaware Infantry, 6th Delaware Infantry, 9th Delaware Infantry, 5th Maryland Infantry, 11th Maryland Infantry, 6th Massachusetts Infantry, 157th Pennsylvania Infantry, 201st Pennsylvania Infantry, 215th Pennsylvania, 157th Ohio Infantry, 196th Ohio, and zouaves of the 165th New York Infantry.

Notable Fort Delaware Personalities

The Fort today
Delaware acquired the fort from the United States government in 1947 after the Pentagon declared it a "surplus site". Today, Fort Delaware State Park encompasses all of Pea Patch Island, including the Fort. Transportation to the island is provided via ferry. Once at the island, visitors are brought to the fort on a jitney. Tours and special programs are available to visitors. For example, visitors may see, daily, the 8 inch Columbiad gun fired which is located on the northwest bastion. Park staff, AmeriCorps members, and Fort Delaware Society volunteers interpret the roles of people who were at the fort during the Civil War. Beach erosion affecting Pea Patch Island was recognized as a potential threat to the Fort in 1999. The United States Army Corps of Engineers erected a 3,500- foot-long seawall during the Winter of 2005-2006 which now protects the historical fort site and a migratory bird rookery, considered to be the largest such habitat north of Florida. Each year in the second week of June, there is an "Escape from Fort Delaware" triathlon, where entrants follow in the footsteps of the 52 escapees from the Civil War prison. A boat shuttles the athletes out to Fort Delaware, a Civil War historical interpreter fires a musket to start the race, the swimmers jump into the Delaware River, and swim back to land and then do the bike and run events, finishing on the town green in Delaware City, Delaware. Fort Delaware has its share of ghost stories and has recently been under investigation for paranormal activity. The Sci-Fi Channel investigation series Ghost Hunters conducted two cases there including a live televised investigation on Halloween in 2008. The British series Most Haunted also did an investigation of the fort in their 11th series of the show.

  • William J. Fletcher, 6th Massachusetts Infantry, wrote "A Soldier for One-Hundred Days" published in 1955.
  • Isaac W.K. Handy, former political prisoner, wrote "United States Bonds Or Duress By Federal Authority: A Journal Of Current Events During An Imprisonment Of Fifteen Months, At Fort Delaware" in 1874. It is published by Turnbull Brothers.
  • Bruce Mowday and Dale Fetzer wrote Unlikely Allies: Fort Delaware's Prison Community in the Civil War in 2000. It is published by Stackpole Books.
  • Laura M. Lee and Brendan Mackie wrote "Images of America: Fort Delaware" in 2010. It is published by Arcadia Publishers.

Name Allegiance Year(s) Notes Captain George B. McClellan North 1851 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Captain Charles H.T. Collis North 1862 Collis' Zouaves de Afrique, Medal of Honor recipient Julia Anne Jefferson North 1862”“1865 Contributed to health and welfare of confederate prisoners Lydia Anne Jefferson North 1862”“1865 Contributed to health and welfare of confederate prisoners Private Alexander J. Hamilton North 1862”“1865 Independent Battery G, Pittsburgh Heavy Artillery Sergeant Bishop Crumrine North 1862”“1865 Independent Battery G, Pittsburgh Heavy Artillery Brigadier General James Johnston Pettigrew South 1862 First Confederate general imprisoned Robert Wood North 1863 Civilian contractor, Robert Wood & Co. Iron Works John McArthur Jr. North 1863 Philadelphia Architect, designed fort's "U.S. Hospital" Captain Lammot du Pont I North 1863 Company B, 5th Delaware Infantry Private Max Neugas South 1863”“1865 Jewish Confederate and sketch artist Brigadier General James J. Archer South 1863 & 1864 Captured at battle of Gettysburg Major Washington G. Nugent North 1863”“1865 Surgeon, "My Darling Wife: Letters of Washington Nugent" Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson South 1864 Known as the "Missouri Swamp Fox" Brigadier General Robert B. Vance South 1864”“1865 Longest imprisoned Confederate general Major General Franklin Gardner South 1864 Captured after the fall of Port Hudson Major General Edward Johnson South 1864 Captured at battle of Spotsylvania Court House Brigadier General George H. Steuart South 1864 known as George "Maryland" Steuart John Lawrence Gihon North 1864”“1869 Extensively photographed soldiers, prisoners, and fort Private Baldwin Coolidge North 1864 6th Massachusetts Infantry (fort sketch artist) Private William J. Fletcher North 1864 6th Massachusetts Infantry (published letters post-war) Brigadier General Robert Page South 1865 N/A Brigadier General Thomas James Churchill South 1865 Held as POW during the Mexican-American War Brigadier General John R. Jones South 1865 N/A Lieutenant General Joseph Wheeler South 1865 Highest ranking Confederate general held Reverend Isaac W.K. Handy South 1863”“1864 Political prisoner, published "United States Bonds" (1874) Colonel Francis Lubbock South 1865 Ninth Governor of Texas (when captured) Colonel Burton Harrison South 1865”“1866 Last Confederate prisoner released Lieutenant McHenry Howard South 1864 grandson of Francis Scott Key Captain Samuel Taylor South 1864 grandson of President Zachary Taylor Colonel Basil W. Duke South 1864 General John Hunt Morgan's brother-in-law Private Bailey Peyton Key South 1864 Youngest (14-years old) Confederate combatant held

Building Activity

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