Unsung Delaware Civil War commanders


The biographies of several high-ranking Delaware army and naval officers who served during the Civil War are generally well known. These include Brig. Gen. Henry H. Lockwood, Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Smyth, Maj. Gen. George Sykes, Maj. Gen. Alfred T.A. Torbert, Adm. Samuel F. DuPont and Commodore John P. Gillis.

Less is known about a number of other native or adopted Delaware soldiers. “Delaware During the War Between the States” by Thomas J. Reed, et. al., sketches the lives of these men.

Daniel Ullman was born in Wilmington in 1810, graduated from Yale, became a lawyer in New York and was active in the Republican Party. With the outbreak of hostilities with seceded Southern states, Ullman organized and became the colonel of the 78th New York Regiment, known as the Highlanders, “complete with kilts and bagpipes.”

After the 78th was engaged in the Battle of Cedar Mountain in the Shenandoah Valley in August of 1862, Ullman was afflicted by typhoid fever and became a prisoner of war. After being exchanged, he went to Washington to urge President Abraham Lincoln to authorize regiments of African-Americans. Lincoln made him a brigadier general and sent him to Louisiana to raise a brigade of black troops.

Ullman’s efforts resulted in the “Corps D’Afrique,” a brigade of more than 3,000 men. The unit saw action in the assault on the Confederate works at Port Hudson, La., and gained a reputation for valor under fire. That led to a promotion for Ullman, to brevet major general.

Levi Clark Bootes, born in the District of Columbia in 1809, became a Delawarean following his marriage to Mary Louise Bird of Wilmington. As a Mexican War veteran, he was serving with the 6th U.S. Infantry Regiment when the Civil War erupted in 1861. He served in the Army of the Potomac under the command of Delaware native Maj. Gen. George Sykes.

Bootes earned the rank of captain after service at Gaines Mills, Va., in 1862 against Gen. Robert E. Lee’s forces. His “gallant conduct” at Antietam and Chancellorsville led to his promotion to major in 1864. Continuing his military service for several years after the war, Bootes returned to Wilmington, where he established his residence at 8th and Washington Streets.

Daniel H. Kent, born into a family of Quakers, apprenticed as an ironmonger with Thomas Garrett in Wilmington. (Garrett is historically recognized as a leading stationmaster on the Underground Railroad.) Despite his religion’s pacifism, Kent enlisted in the 4th Delaware Regiment “to free the slaves.”

Kent earned recognition for “conspicuous gallantry” during the bloody battle at Cold Harbor, Va., and received promotion to the rank of major. During the siege of Petersburg, he led a storming party against an enemy position in which the entire number was killed, except Kent.

Kent was elevated to command of the 4th Delaware, and suffered a disabling wound while attempting to capture a heavily-defended bridge. After mustering out of the army, he returned home to Wilmington and started his own iron business, D.H. Kent & Co.

Charles Eugene LaMotte, born in Delaware County, Pa., in 1839, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and became a lawyer. In 1861, he joined the 90-day 1st Delaware Regiment as a captain and company commander, before receiving an appointment as a major in the 4th Delaware.

His skill as an officer caught the eye of superiors, who promoted him to lieutenant colonel and then colonel — he led the regiment at Cold Harbor. LaMotte would go on to command the 6th U.S. Veteran Volunteers, and later received a post-war brevet promotion of brigadier general. Late in life, he returned to Wilmington, where he died in 1887.

Ullman, Bootes, Kent and LaMotte are examples of lower-ranking Delaware commanders who served proudly and courageously during the Civil War. Largely unsung, these men performed their duty then inconspicuously returned home to resurrect their lives interrupted by our national crisis.

Bethany Beach resident Thomas J. Ryan is the author of “Essays on Delaware during the Civil War” (available at Bethany Beach Books). Contact him at pennmardel@mchsi.com, or visit his website www.tomryan-civilwar.com.