When President Abraham Lincoln called for troops to put down the rebellion of Southern states that seceded from the Union in 1860-1861, he assigned a quota to each of the loyal states. He called for Delaware to contribute 780 men for three months. Thus was born the 1st Delaware Infantry Regiment. Capt. William Penn Seville, the 1st Delaware’s assistant adjutant general, published the unit’s history in 1884, and Jeffrey R. Biggs edited Seville’s work and recently reissued it for public consumption.
Although Capt. Alfred Pleasonton, whose family was from Delaware, sought the job of commander, the honor of leading the 1st Delaware at the rank of colonel went to Henry H. Lockwood. The native of Kent County had graduated from West Point in 1836 and commanded the regiment from April through July 1861. In so doing, he earned a promotion to brigadier general — the first Delawarean to achieve that rank. He later led a brigade at Gettysburg and would survive the war.
With the conflict prolonged beyond original expectations, the 1st Delaware reconstituted in September 1861 for a three-year term, with Col. John W. Andrews at the helm. He would lead the regiment during the bloody fighting at Antietam and Fredericksburg — where he sustained a wound from an artillery shell. He resigned his commission in February 1863, after contracting chronic rheumatism as the result of difficult campaigning and exposure during the harsh winter months.
Following Andrews’ departure, Maj. Thomas A. Smyth — a native of Ireland who made his home in Wilmington — assumed command of the 1st Delaware and led them at Chancellorsville in May 1863. In his post-action report, Smyth’s brigade commander, Col. Charles Albright, cited him for his deft handling of the regiment during the battle.
Smyth rose to the rank of brigadier general and progressed to brigade and division command. The well-respected officer suffered a mortal wound in April 1865 — the last Union general to die in combat.
Three men led the regiment during the Gettysburg campaign in June and early July 1863. The first was a 25-year-old from Sussex County, Lt. Col. Edward Harris. On July 3 — resulting from a misunderstanding between Harris and Second Corps commander Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock regarding Harris’s orders confronting the Rebels at the Bliss Farm, strategically located between the battle lines — Hancock placed Harris under arrest.
Given the death, wounding or absence of higher-ranking 1st Delaware officers during the fighting at Gettysburg, including Maj. Daniel Woodall (absent — wounded at Chancellorsville), Capt. Thomas B. Hizar (wounded) and Capt. Martin W.B. Ellegood (killed), command of the regiment devolved to 1st Lt. William F. Smith.
The brave young Dover native captured a Rebel flag during Pickett’s Charge on July 3. His ill-starred fate, however, was death on the field, struck by an artillery shell while carrying his prized possession to brigade headquarters.
The continued loss of so many leaders meant that the 1st Delaware was now under the direction of a lowly junior officer, Lt. John T. Dent. According to Seville, with Dent now in command, the regiment “sprang over the stone wall in mass and charged with the bayonet upon the rebel fugitives” retreating after the repulse of the Confederate assault.
The stone wall ran along Cemetery Ridge, where the 1st Delaware made a stand as part of Hancock’s Second Corps that repulsed Confederate Brig. Gen. J. Johnston Pettigrew’s division during Pickett’s Charge. Biggs allows that Seville likely engaged in “post-battle bravado” in his rendition of the alleged bayonet charge.
Dent would again command the 1st Delaware as a major during the siege of Petersburg in 1864. On July 4, following the battle of Gettysburg, Lt. Col. Harris resumed command of the regiment after release from arrest.
Lt. Col. Daniel Woodall, recovered from his wound at Chancellorsville, took command from Harris in October 1863. Woodall received promotion to the rank of colonel and at times served as brigade commander. In his stead, Lt. Col. Joseph C. Nicholls led the 1st Delaware, but suffered severe wounding in the face at Farmville, just prior to Appomattox and the end of the war.
Thus, during four years of service during the Civil War, at least eight men bore responsibility for command of the 1st Delaware Regiment, while others received the call to lead the regiment on an emergency basis. Of these, Thomas Smyth and William Smith gave their lives for the Union cause; John Andrews and Daniel Woodall sustained wounds during combat.
The commanders had the good fortune to lead a loyal, hard fighting unit. Of those who joined the 1st Delaware, 279 would make the ultimate sacrifice.
Bethany Beach resident Thomas J. Ryan is the author of “Spies, Scouts & Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign.” (May 2015) Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his website www.tomryan-civilwar.com.