In commemoration of the Civil War sesquicentennial


In May 2011, the Coastal Point initiated a column called “Civil War Profiles” to focus on Delaware’s role in the Civil War. The decision was timely, considering in April the entire nation became riveted on commemoration of the 150th anniversary of hostilities that began with the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, S.C., in April 1860.

The first of these columns, dated May 27, 2011, dealt with Delaware’s reaction to the election of Abraham Lincoln as president in 1860. Since then, articles have covered the gamut, from internal politics to military involvement and societal reaction, to the Civil War’s impact on the state whose population was divided in its loyalties.

“Civil War Profiles” introduced Delawareans who made contributions to both the Union and Confederate war efforts. The Union side included Brig. Gen. Alfred T.A. Torbert, Rear Adm. Samuel Francis DuPont, Commodore John P. Gillis, Maj. Gen. James Harrison Wilson, Brig. Gen. Henry Hayes Lockwood, Maj. Gen. Henry duPont and Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Smyth.

Stories about Delaware politicians who favored the Confederacy and/or opposed the Lincoln administration described former Gov. William H.H. Ross, Gov. William Burton, Sen. Willard Saulsbury and Sen. James A. Bayard. These men represented a population that gave Delaware’s three electoral votes to secessionist candidate John C. Breckinridge in the 1860 presidential election.

A number of columns described people on the home front who made contributions to the war effort. Wilmington diarist Anna M. Ferris recorded the work of women dedicated to the cause by making and collecting needed items for troops in the field. Military wives, such as Mary Currey Torbert and Sophie Madeleine DuPont, encouraged and supported their husbands away serving their country.

Georgetown native, correspondent, political columnist and novelist George Alfred Townsend became a familiar name to Coastal Point readers. Townsend’s unique career and contributions, especially a series of articles in the New York World about the Lincoln assassination and its aftermath, were grist for the mill.

Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River made frequent appearances in the column. Union authorities converted the fort into a prison for captured Confederates during the Civil War. Noteworthy inmates included Brig. Gen. Jeff Thompson, known as the “Swamp Fox” for his maneuvering in the Missouri swamplands, and Brig. Gen. James J. Archer, captured on July 1, 1863 at Gettysburg. Of the 33,000 Rebels housed at Fort Delaware, some 2,500 would not survive imprisonment.

Columns frequently featured military units, especially the 1st and 2nd Delaware Regiments. Black Delawareans also volunteered for military service, but for political reasons were compelled to join regiments from other states. A number of men fled into the South to join Confederate units, and a monument constructed in Georgetown in 2007 testifies to their service.

Several articles highlighted ancestors of current Delmarva inhabitants, including Ocean View resident C. Elwood “Doc” Johnson and Mary Ann Norris Welsh, who resides in Ocean Pines, Md. Doc is proud of his great-grandfather Pvt. John C. Gray, 1st Regiment, Pennsylvania Artillery, who was with Grant when he accepted Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Va. Mary Ann’s great-grandfather Jordon Marion Norris, 48th Georgia Regiment, was grateful that he survived the war without being “touched by a Yankee bullet.”

Columns dealt with subjects ranging from slavery and the Underground Railroad, spies and secret agents, martial law and political protesters, shipbuilding and gunpowder mills, as well as flag restoration, historical murals and commemorative monuments.

While the four-year sesquicentennial has run its course, other stories await discussion in future issues. There is always something new to consider, given the Civil War’s endless font of relevant subject matter.

Thomas J. Ryan is the author of “Spies, Scouts & Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign,” a History Book Club selection available at Bethany Beach Books. Contact him at pennmardel@mchsi.com, or visit his website at www.tomryan-civilwar.com.