Civil War Profiles: Delaware's military units in the civil war


When civil war erupted in the United States in 1861, residents from the State of Delaware rushed to join military units. Since Delaware was politically affiliated with the North, most men entered the Union ranks. Delaware’s African-Americans also later joined the Union service but had to go outside the state in order to do so. Some white and black Delawareans cast their lot with the South, as well.

The Southern attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861 prompted President Abraham Lincoln to call for 75,000 volunteers from the loyal states, and Delaware’s quota was 780 men for 90 days’ service. These troops mustered in at Wilmington under Col. Henry Lockwood as the 1st Delaware Regiment and served from May to August. They primarily performed guard duty in Maryland and suffered no casualties.

After the 90-day unit mustered out, a three-year regiment, also designated the 1st Delaware, took its place. It mustered in at Wilmington under Col. John Andrews and served throughout the war, mostly with the Army of the Potomac. It saw action at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and the during Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign in Virginia.

As a result, its casualties were high. The number killed, wounded, missing or dead from other causes totaled 564.

Meanwhile, the 2nd Delaware, known as the “Crazy Delawares” for their intrepid performance in battle, entered the service for three years under Col. H.W. Wharton at Wilmington. They fought the entire war, later joining the 1st Delaware to form the Veteran Volunteers. They also served with the Army of the Potomac and suffered a total of 574 casualties.

The 3rd Delaware was another three-year regiment, which mustered in at Camden with Col. Samuel Jenkins in command. They served in a variety of units and did hard campaigning at Cedar Mountain, South Mountain, Antietam and elsewhere. They also took a substantial number of casualties – 288 in all.

The 4th Delaware was the last of the state units that engaged in sustained combat and suffered significant casualties, with some 354 killed. They mustered in for three years at Wilmington under Col. A.H. Grimshaw and served the entire war, mostly with the 4th Corps in Virginia. The regiment campaigned on the Virginia Peninsula and at Cold Harbor and Petersburg.

The 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th Delaware Infantry Regiments were short-term units that saw little action and suffered few casualties.

The 1st Delaware Cavalry was an undersized unit that served for two years with the 8th Infantry Corps, headquartered at Baltimore, performing patrol and guard duty. They saw action at Westminster, Md., in June 1863 by engaging Jeb Stuart’s Confederate cavalry on its way to Pennsylvania. During this encounter, the 1st Delaware Cavalry sustained heavy casualties.

Delaware also had an artillery battery under the command of Capt. Benjamin F. Nields. This battery served in both the Eastern and Western theaters, including combat in Texas and Louisiana.

Special units included Milligan’s cavalry, which served for only 30 days in the 8th Corps at the time of Gen. Jubal Early’s raid on Washington in 1864. Another was Ahl’s Artillery Battery, which was made up of Confederate prisoners of war whom Capt. George W. Ahl recruited for the Union army. These “galvanized Yankees,” as they were dubbed, served for two years at Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River near Delaware City.

Some of Delaware’s African-Americans saw heavy combat, but they had to leave Delaware and join units in other states, since the political atmosphere in Delaware prevented United States Colored Troop (USCT) regiments being formed within the state. To date, existing records have identified 954 Union African-American soldiers and sailors, but estimates range as high as 1,500.

These Delaware African-Americans served mostly in the 8th, 22nd, 25th and 32nd USCT regiments that were organized in Philadelphia in 1863 and 1864. Estimated casualties among these black soldiers were more than 200. An unknown number of blacks also served the Confederacy, including David White, who was a member of the crew of the fearsome C.S.S. Alabama that preyed on United States’ shipping on the high seas.

While only some 100 Delawareans have been positively identified as having gone south to join Confederate service, estimates range much higher. One who did was Lt. Samuel Davis, who was wounded and left behind at Gettysburg but later escaped from a Union hospital. Another was Russell Hobbes, who served on the crew of the Alabama and was rescued when the U.S.S. Kearsarge sunk the Confederate ship off the coast of France in June 1864.

The number of Delawareans who joined the ranks of the North and South totaled more than 14,000, and battle and non-combat casualties exceeded 2,100. Although this figure is about 15 percent of the total that served, the average losses for the four most active units – the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Delaware Regiments – reached 50 percent. That is stark testimony to the sacrifice that Delawareans made during the bloody four-year-long Civil War.

Thomas J. Ryan lives in Bethany Beach, and is the former president of the Central Delaware Civil War Round Table. Contact him at pennmardel@mchsi.com.