Civil War Profiles: The duPont family’s service during the Civil War


Prominent names from the Civil War era are often associated with particular states: Lincoln and Davis were natives of Kentucky; Lee and Jackson fought under the banner of Virginia; and Grant and Sherman were Ohio-born. The name most often associated with the state of Delaware is duPont.

The reason why the duPont name is aptly synonymous with Delaware during the Civil War is that several members of the family gained recognition for their contributions to the war effort. Samuel Francis “Frank” DuPont is arguably the foremost among the duPont clan to have served during this period. Others include Frank DuPont’s wife, Sophie Madeline DuPont; Henry, Henry Algernon and Lammot duPont; and Charles duPont Bird.

These family members were descendants of the legendary E.I. duPont, who founded gunpowder mills along the Brandywine Creek near Wilmington. These mills were destined to play an important role in the Union victory over the Confederacy during the Civil War. (Coastal Point, Aug. 2, 2013)

E.I. duPont’s son Henry attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1833. After a short stint in the service, he joined his father as a partner and, later, president of the duPont Company. Gov. William Burton appointed Henry duPont adjutant general of Delaware, and he served in that capacity for 15 years prior to the outbreak of Civil War in 1861.

Burton then selected Henry duPont to head the state militia, at the rank of major-general. Henry duPont helped organize more than 14,000 volunteers for the Union army and led the effort to disarm militia companies in Delaware that professed support for the secessionist movement.

Maj. Gen. duPont guided the state through four years of military conflict. He acquired arms to protect the gunpowder mills from seizure by hostile factions and put in place measures to secure the mills from attempts at sabotage.

Henry duPont and his wife, Louisa Gerhard, produced a son, Henry Algernon, who followed in Henry duPont’s footsteps to West Point. He graduated in 1861 and served during the conflict. Henry Algernon duPont’s performance in the Shenandoah Valley under Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s command in 1864 led to his selection for the Medal of Honor, which his “distinguished gallantry, and voluntary exposure to the enemy’s fire at a critical moment.” (Coastal Point, April 12, 2013)

Samuel Francis DuPont (the only one to spell his name with a capital “D”), a grandson of E.I. duPont, gained prominence as a rear-admiral in the Union navy. He earned the two-star rank as commander of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron that captured Port Royal, S.C., in November 1861.

Following the war, the U.S. Congress named DuPont Circle in Washington, D.C., after Admiral DuPont, for his distinguished service. He was the only naval officer to be so honored. (Coastal Point, Aug. 26, 2011)

The admiral’s wife, Sophie Madeleine DuPont, was Frank DuPont’s guiding light and “anchor” on the home front. She nurtured his adherence to the Episcopalian religion, in which he became a prominent member, and maintained their Louviers estate despite his lengthy absences at sea over a naval career that lasted a half-century.

Sophie DuPont was accomplished in her own right and sustained an interest in national politics and foreign affairs. As did many women of the day who lived through the tumultuous hostilities between the states, she contributed toward the war effort through patriotism and self-sacrifice. (Coastal Point, Aug. 22, 2014).

Lammot, another E.I. duPont grandson, enlisted in the Union army in 1862. He received a commission as captain of Company B, 5th Delaware Infantry Regiment. Lammot duPont served at Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island off Delaware City. In post-war years, he led the duPont Company in supplanting gunpowder with dynamite, to become a force in this new industry.

One dissenter from pro-Union leanings of the duPont family was young Charles duPont Bird of Dover, a student at Loyola College in Baltimore. On April 24, 1861, he wrote the former governor of Virginia, Henry A. Wise, advocating that Delaware join the Confederacy. He said the powderworks on the Brandywine “owned by relations of mine” should be secured or, if necessary, destroyed. Wise forwarded this letter to Gen. Robert E. Lee for consideration. (Official Records, Series 1, vol. LI, part 2, p. 46)

Most Delawareans are knowledgeable of the duPont family’s philanthropy and enterprise. They may not be as aware, however, of the courage and dedication demonstrated during the national trauma from 1861 to 1865 as described in these brief sketches.

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.