Civil War Profiles: Delaware’s restrained reaction to the Civil War’s conclusion


As cited by Harold Hancock in “Delaware History,” April 1961, Wilmington native Anna Ferris noted in her diary on July 4, 1865, “Now we have ‘Victory & Peace’ & feel thankful & happy but not jubilant as we expected & there are few illuminations & public rejoicings. Our large cities try to make a display, but there is not fervor & no enthusiastic or controlling impulse in the public mind.”

This restrained reaction to the end of hostilities in the Civil War was reflected in the grim statistics of dead, wounded and missing soldiers who had volunteered for military service at the beginning of the war. Of some 1,700 members of the 2nd and 3rd Delaware regiments, for example, only 65 remained in service at war’s end. (However, some had not reenlisted after their three-year term of service.)

Still, soldiers who had been reported killed or missing began returning from Confederate prisons. Many were seriously ill and emaciated.

In his political history titled “Delaware during the Civil War,” Hancock wrote about attempts to aid the returning veterans in a version of the modern-day “G.I. Bill.” This included the establishment of a commission to help these former soldiers to find employment and arrange for scholarships in schools of higher learning.

Delaware soldiers sent petitions to their congressmen for support in obtaining federal bounties for their wartime service. These men established committees and coordinated their efforts with veterans from other states with the same objective.

In Sussex County, the Georgetown Union noted poetically that soldiers were arriving home to beat swords into plowshares. The paper optimistically claimed that these men were helping to redeem the honor of the state by voting the Union (i.e., Republican) ticket in elections.

While substantially true as far as the soldiers were concerned; nonetheless, the Democratic Party dominated politics in Delaware and would continue to do so. In July 1865, however, the Republicans did do well in the Wilmington municipal elections.

Following the surrender of Confederate forces and termination of the war, many Union officers desired to remain in the army. Some of these officers were disappointed by a substantial reduction in rank due to the inevitable shrinkage in the number of troops remaining under arms.

Sussex County native Alfred T.A. Torbert learned, upon cessation of his service in the volunteer army as a brigadier general, his rank in the regular army would shrink to that of a lowly captain. A.D. Slade points out in his biography of Torbert that, by October 1866, rather than accept this humbling turn of events, he chose to resign his commission in the U.S. Army.

One Delawarean who benefited by the cessation of hostilities was the effervescent journalist and novelist George Alfred Townsend. Like Torbert, Townsend was born in Georgetown. Some 20 years after the Civil War, “Gath,” as he often signed his newspaper articles, reflected on his post-war experiences.

“The events at the close of the war were so widely read, and gave me such unexampled opportunities, that in a few weeks I found my box filled with letters of application to write and to lecture, and there began my connection with the newspapers of the West, which have had such an important influence to change the status of the newspapers in the East.”

This statement is drawn from “Recollections and Reflections,” published in a national magazine and included in Jerry Shields’ 1996 compilation of Townsend’s literary works. He had reference to the settlement of immigrants from Japan and China in the West, thereby making San Francisco a primary base for stimulating literary and journalistic change in America. Townsend benefited from these transformations and became a popular syndicated columnist.

Anna Ferris explained the restrained mood on the part of Delawareans at the war’s conclusion was “partly because everybody has had enough of excitement & chiefly on account of the nature of the conflict, & a feeling that as the South is still a part of our country, we will not humiliate them further, by an ostentatious triumph, but everybody is thankful & ready to enjoy the blessings of peace.”

This feeling of reconciliation would be short-lived, however, as the inexorable desire for retribution would eventually emerge on the national political landscape.

Bethany Beach resident Thomas J. Ryan is the author of recently released “Spies, Scouts & Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign” and “Essays on Delaware during the Civil War.” Contact him at pennmardel@mchsi.com, or visit his website www.tomryan-civilwar.com.