The Fort Delaware Society’s headquarters and library, located on the grounds of Fort DuPont State Park, not far from Delaware City, has a sketch of Pea Patch Island and Fort Delaware hanging on the wall. This detailed drawing is dated 1864.
Fort Delaware, part of a network of installations built along the east coast of the United States primarily to protect major cities from attack, housed Confederate prisoners during the Civil War. The sketch was the handiwork of a POW named Max Neugas.
An article by R. Hugh Simmons in Fort Delaware Notes, January 1976, describes Neugas as a Jewish soldier. Rabbi David Geffen, executive director of the Jewish Historical Society of Delaware, conducted research at the time and found a letter in the Cincinnati Isrealite newspaper in which Neugas and two other Jewish prisoners at Fort Delaware requested co-religionists to assist them in their need for food and clothing.
Receiving aid from people outside the prison was not unusual, because religious groups from New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore were active in supplying Fort Delaware prisoners with essentials for survival.
Geffen located information at the National Archives that Neugas had enlisted in a South Carolina regiment early in the war and been captured in 1863. He remained at Fort Delaware until June 1865, receiving his release after taking the oath of allegiance to the United States.
Neugas’ drawing of the structures that existed on Pea Patch Island during that era demonstrates that a thriving community was active in and around the prison. In addition to the mammoth fort where some prisoners were housed, an extensive network of barracks existed to incarcerate thousands of enlisted POWs. Confederate officers were kept in a separate barracks area. Nearby was an extensive hospital compound where medical personnel cared for a multitude of sick and wounded POWs.
Other buildings, each numbered and identified in the sketch, included barracks for the Union guards and a stable for the horses. There was a gymnasium for Union officers. A number of houses were identified as quarters for the commanding officer of the prison, the chaplain, physicians and engineers.
An engine house existed for safety against fires, and the blacksmith’s shop undoubtedly was kept busy. The all-important commissary store supplied the island with food and other essentials.
A bakery turned out bread daily for the prisoners. If they had money to purchase necessities, a sutler shop (i.e., a general store run by an itinerant merchant) was available to the prisoners for this purpose.
Also included in Neugas’ sketch was a church centrally located on the island. It provided for the spiritual needs of the inhabitants.
Other structures not identified in the drawing were shops and dwellings for civilian workers employed maintaining life on the island. The total population of prisoners, guards, military staff and civilians at times totaled 15,000 or more — larger than most cities in the mid-19th century.
Later research discovered that Max Neugas was a private in the 1st South Carolina Regiment, and an immigrant from Bavaria, Germany. He joined the regiment in 1862 and was captured along with thousands of other Rebel soldiers at Gettysburg in July 1863.
Neugas had sketched the island as part of a book of drawings he did for Lt. George Wolfe, a guard at the fort.
Artifacts of this type are in demand by collectors of Civil War memorabilia. For example, a Sotheby’s advertisement online features a pair of Civil War watercolor drawings of officers’ barracks at Fort Delaware attributed to Max Neugas. The estimated value was $15,000 to $20,000, and they sold for $18,750 (http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2012/americana-n08880/lot...).
This should motivate everyone whose ancestors served during the Civil War to search the attic for personal mementos from that era. These items may be valuable.
Thomas J. Ryan is the author of “Spies, Scouts & Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign: How the Critical Role of Intelligence Impacted the Outcome of Lee’s Invasion of the North, June-July 1863.” Contact him at email@example.com or visit his website www.tomryan-civilwar.com.