Fort Delaware Society holds annual meeting


“To foster an awareness of the existence and significance of historic Fort Delaware and to preserve its legacy” is the stated mission of an organization known as the Fort Delaware Society. Founded 66 years ago, the FDS held its annual meeting at the Hilton Wilmington/Christiana Hotel in Newark on Jan. 31.

A number of dedicated individuals form the nucleus of this group who set the parameters for accomplishing its ambitious goals. President David P. Price opened the ceremonies with a Pledge of Allegiance, and Vice-President Edith Mahoney offered the invocation.

Following a luncheon, the talented soloist and folklorist Charlie Zahm (www.charliezahm.com/CivilWar.html), who features Celtic, maritime and American traditional music, entertained the gathering with “Music of the Civil War.” Accompanying himself on the guitar, Zahm performed several of his distinctive compositions, including selections from his CD “Americana” (www.charliezahm.com/albums13.html).

Zahm stimulated the crowd with a rousing version of “Dixie Land,” the Southern national anthem, and followed with a stirring rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” His animated recitation of poetry and songs of both the North and South brought the audience to its feet upon conclusion of the performance.

Price described recent efforts to review and identify the extensive collection of documents and artifacts that FDS maintains at its headquarters in the Robelen Building at Fort DuPont State Park, a restored 1940 quartermaster building (33 Staff Lane, Delaware City — see www.fortdelaware.org/).

During the past year, three of the historic documents were restored, thanks to funding from the Longwood Foundation and the Central Delaware Civil War Round Table, and are framed and on display at the headquarters building.

Price lamented the necessity to cease operations of the gift store known as the “Sutler Shop” on the grounds of Fort Delaware, due to the aging of the membership and lack of sufficient volunteers to staff the shop. He encouraged an enhancement of volunteering to help with projects such as document restoration and maintenance of Fort Delaware.

Price also introduced Rachael Phillos, recently assigned as park superintendent at Fort Delaware and Fort DuPont State Parks, as well as the Port Penn Interpretive Center. Phillos is a naturalist with a degree from the University of Delaware. The FDS will support her work in conjunction with Fort Delaware.

The society publishes studies and reports related to prisoners and staff who spent time at Fort Delaware during the Civil War years. Annually, it issues “Fort Delaware Notes,” which editor R. Hugh Simmons compiles.

The February 2016 “Fort Delaware Notes,” with copies given to meeting attendees, includes an article by the Rev. John A. Kowalewski titled “Captain Stanislaus Mlotkowski of Fort Delaware.”

Mlotkowski was a Union artillery officer who served four years at Fort Delaware and earned a reputation for “his respect for the rights of others and his determination to recognize the goodness of human beings,” including Confederate prisoners.

Another article addresses the case of “Captain Leon Jastremski, Immortal 600: Escaped at Fort Delaware.” Simmons addresses Confederate officer Jastremski’s incarceration at Fort Delaware on two occasions. When captured on May 12, 1864, at Spotsylvania Court House and returned to Fort Delaware, Jastremski became one among 600 prisoners shipped from Fort Delaware to Fort Pulaski, Ga., as hostages, ostensibly in retaliation for Union prisoners placed in harm’s way by the Rebels. Upon return of the survivors of the 600 to Fort Delaware, Jastremski managed to escape.

Simmons also writes about William A. McKown, a resident of Smyrna, who was arrested for his “Copperhead” (anti-war) sentiments. Under martial law imposed in those days, “seditious language … tending to the encouragement of rebellion” was considered traitorous and punishable by incarceration.

Authorities arrested McKown, a civilian, at St. Georges in New Castle County and confined him without trial at Fort Delaware from September to November 1863. He gained release upon taking the Oath of Allegiance.

These and other stories inform the readership of the Fort Delaware’s integral role as the war unfolded from 1861 to 1865. For more information about FDS membership and publications, call (302) 834-1630 or send an email to society@fortdelaware.org.

Thomas J. Ryan is the author of “Spies, Scouts & Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign” (available at Bethany Beach Books). It is a History & Military Book Club selection and has a five-star rating on Amazon. Contact him at pennmardel@mchsi.com,
or visit his website
www.tomryan-civilwar.com.