Delaware’s participation in the Civil War has received limited coverage in the annals of history in comparison with other states. Yet, the First State’s sons and daughters played important roles in the outcome of the four-year-long national trauma.
Wilmington’s Samuel Francis DuPont won naval victories along the South Atlantic coast early in the war, established Union military bases in that region and merited promotion to the rank of admiral. He served as commander of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron and effectively closed Confederate ports to military supplies from abroad. Sophie Madeleine DuPont maintained the homestead, “Louviers,” near Brandywine Creek while her admiral husband fought the war. (Coastal Point, Aug. 28, 2011, and Aug. 22, 2014)
West Point graduate Brig. Gen. Alfred T.A. Torbert, born in Georgetown and resided in Milford, led a New Jersey regiment at the outset of the war and commanded the Army of the Shenandoah at its conclusion. His contributions led to the brevet rank of major general. Like Sophie DuPont, Mary Elizabeth Currey Torbert kept the home fires burning while her husband Alfred campaigned with the Union army. (Coastal Point, Aug. 12, 2011, and Nov. 7, 2014)
Lt. David Stewart Hessey of Seaford left Delaware to join 13th Virginia Infantry Regiment and received a commission for bravery during the Seven Days battles in July 1862. Julian Robinson of Georgetown joined Brig. Gen. John Bell Hood’s 5th Texas Regiment and suffered a serious wound at the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1864.
The sons of former Delaware governors William H.H. Ross of Seaford (Caleb) and William T. Cooper of Laurel (William Barkley) also served in the Confederate army. Caleb died, and William Barkley was imprisoned and escaped from Fort Delaware. (Coastal Point, June 7, 2013)
Wilmington-born Commodore John Prichett Gillis led a naval supply expedition to the Union contingent defending the beleaguered Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, S.C. He later commanded the West Gulf Blockading Squadron under Rear Adm. David G. Farragut. (Coastal Point, Sept. 23, 2011)
The man Judge John P. Nields labeled “Delaware’s greatest soldier,” Maj. Gen. James Harrison Wilson, was an adopted Delawarean who married his West Point roommate John Andrews’s sister, Ella, who was from Wilmington. Rising from second lieutenant to brigadier general, Wilson gained glory for his victory over Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s command at Selma, Ala., and the capture of Confederate President Jefferson Davis at Irwinville, Georgia. (Coastal Point, Nov. 25, 2011)
Capt. Charles Corbit, married to Louisa “Lou” Anderson of Odessa, merited a place in Civil War lore. On June 29, 1863, at Westminster, Md., he led a charge of less than 100 Delaware cavalrymen against Maj. Gen. Jeb Stuart’s three cavalry brigades in a desperate attempt to halt their march northward toward Pennsylvania. Many Delawareans became casualties of this daring venture, including Corbit, who was wounded and captured. (Coastal Point, Nov. 2, 2012)
Kent County product Henry Hayes Lockwood, an 1836 West Point graduate, resigned his commission to become an instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy. He rejoined the army when the Civil War erupted, became a major general and led a brigade at Gettysburg. He later resumed teaching at the Naval Academy, where he is buried with honors as one of its founders. (Coastal Point, Feb. 15, 2013)
Few men had a reputation for bravery during the Civil War exceeding that of Brig. Gen. Thomas Alfred Smyth. Smyth emigrated to the U.S. from Ireland at 21, and later joined the 1st Delaware Regiment. He commanded a regiment, brigade and eventually a division with “courage and endurance.” Smyth became the last Union general officer killed during the war while pursuing Gen. Robert E. Lee’s retreating army in April 1865. (Coastal Point, March 22, 2013)
The service of Lt. William James Fisher of Seaford ended when he died at Gettysburg. Upon learning the sorrowful news, Fisher’s father wrote his wife that “William is no more.” (Coastal Point, July 5, 2013)
George Alfred “Gath” Townsend from Georgetown went to war as a young reporter and gained a reputation for writing about what was happening behind the lines rather than about the battles. Townsend penned classic stories of the Lincoln assassination and its aftermath. (Coastal Point, June 15, 2012)
These Delawareans served with distinction to advance a cause they believed critically important. Some made the ultimate sacrifice.
Tom Ryan is the author of the award-winning “Spies, Scouts & Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign.” Signed copies are available at Bethany Beach Books and Browseabout Books in Rehoboth. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his website at www.tomryan-civilwar.com.