Civil War Profiles: Texas brigade scout/spy escapes from Fort Delaware


Mike Read’s great-great-grandfather, John J. Haggerty, was a Texan who served under Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood in the famed Texas brigade during the Civil War. A resident of the Salt Pond community in Bethany Beach, Read learned that his ancestor was a courier for Hood and evidently engaged in clandestine activities.


Read’s wife, Jennifer, has Delaware roots, through the Trimble family that owned property in Seaford and Bethany Beach in the early 20th century. The Texas connection is through Mike, who was born and raised in Houston.

John Haggerty was a native of Ireland who arrived in this country at the port of New York in 1846 from Liverpool, England, where he had been working as a laborer. He eventually made his way to and settled in Texas.

In June 1861, after the Civil War had erupted, Haggerty enlisted as a private in Company A, 4th Texas Regiment of Hood’s brigade, at Camp Clark in Guadalupe County. Becoming ill, he remained in Texas and did not rejoin his unit, which had moved to Virginia, until August 1862.

Haggerty received a special duty assignment as a courier for Hood, who was now a division commander in Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Haggerty took part in the Battle of Gettysburg, where the Union forces captured him during the fighting on July 2, 1863.

Sent as a prisoner to Fort Mifflin in Philadelphia, Haggerty remained there for four months. The Union provost marshal questioned him and determined that he may have been a Rebel spy.

Having pinned that label on him, Union authorities sent Haggerty to the prison at Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River. From that point on, the records are murky about Haggerty’s fate; yet it appears he successfully escaped from the island prison — a difficult feat to accomplish.

In a letter to Jennifer Read, who inquired about Haggerty, Fort Delaware Society historian R. Hugh Simmons explained that, absent evidence to the contrary, it appeared that the Texas prisoner managed to escape captivity and make it back to the mainland, eventually returning South.

Simmons indicated that prisoners typically received their release from Fort Delaware near the end of the war, after taking the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. If they died while in captivity or were transferred to another prison, their names would be included on a list specifying those events. No such record exists for Haggerty.

Although his surname was misspelled as “Hagerty,” Read’s ancestor surfaces again in Confederate military records following admittance to the Receiving & Wayside Hospital in Richmond on July 23, 1864, (a year after his capture at Gettysburg). Evidently still medically sound, he returned to duty with the 4th Texas the next day.

Little else is known about Haggerty from that point on, but the suspicion of his service as a Rebel spy is intriguing. It is documented, however, that Gen. Hood sent scouts — another name for spies — around the left flank of the Union position on Cemetery Hill prior to the Confederate assault at Gettysburg.

In his post-war memoirs titled “Advance and Retreat,” Hood wrote that, having received orders from his corps commander, Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, to attack the enemy, he “sent forward some of my picked Texas scouts to ascertain the position of the enemy’s extreme left flank.” The scouts returned and “reported to me that it rested upon Round Top Mountain; that the country was open, and that I could march through an open woodland pasture around Round Top, and assault the enemy in flank and rear.”

Despite persistent effort, Hood was unable to convince Longstreet that movement around the rear of the enemy was preferable to an attack against the Union’s imposing position, centered on the Sherfy peach orchard and a rocky outcropping labeled Devil’s Den. Nevertheless, it very well may be that one of the scouts who brought this information to Hood on July 2, 1863, was Pvt. John J. Haggerty, Mike Read’s ancestor.

Thomas J. Ryan is the author of “Spies, Scouts & Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign,” winner of the Bachelder-Coddington Literary Award for 2015. Signed copies are available at Bethany Beach Books and Browseabout Books in Rehoboth. Contact him at pennmardel@mchsi.com, or visit his website at www.tomryan-civilwar.com.