‘Delaware History’ documents the Civil War years

Date Published: 
July 28, 2017

I previously published a column titled “Read all about it! — A guide to Civil War Delaware.” (Coastal Point, Aug. 31, 2012). It included a list of publications that dealt with Delaware’s involvement in the Civil War.

Included among these historical works were: “Delaware During the Civil War: A Political History” by Harold Bell Hancock, “History of the First Regiment Delaware Volunteers” by William P. Seville, and “Slavery and Freedom in Delaware, 1639-1865” by William H. Williams. These studies cover the state’s political, military and social aspects, respectively.

More recently, Jeffrey R. Biggs updated Seville’s publication with a version titled, “They Fought for the Union: A History of the First Delaware Volunteers in the Army of the Potomac.”

Beyond these basic works, over the years, the Delaware Historical Society published a number of articles in its journal “Delaware History” on a variety of Civil War subjects, including:

• “The Civil War Diaries of Anna M. Ferris,” edited by Harold B. Hancock (April 1961). Ferris was a thoughtful, outspoken resident of Wilmington on the issue of slavery, and the importance of preserving the Union. Her diaries are held in the collection at the Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College.

• “The Brandywine Home Front During the Civil War, Part 1: 1861,” (April 1961); Part II: 1862 (April 1963); Part III: 1863 (October 1964); and Part IV: 1864-1865 (October 1965), by Norman B. Wilkinson — who was a research associate at the Hagley Museum. This four-part series discusses the roles of prominent individuals in the New Castle County area, and their impact on the outcome of the Civil War.

• “Confederate Prisoners of War at Fort Delaware” by Nancy Travis Keen (1968-1969). Keen, a doctoral candidate at the University of Delaware, documents the fate and fortunes of 32,305 Confederate POWs who spent time at Fort Delaware prison on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River.

• “Delaware Military Academy, 1859-1862,” by B. Franklin Cooling, III (April 1971). Cooling, who was chief of the Historical Research & Reference Division, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, describes the brief life of this military academy that provided “a small coterie of alumni to the bloody battlegrounds” of the Civil War.

• “The Vallandighams of Newark: A Delaware Copperhead Family,” by Jan Joseph Losi (1978-1979). The author, who held master’s degree in history from the University of Delaware, narrates the difficulties experienced by the Rev. James L. Vallandigham and his family, who were pro-South in their political leanings while living in a state that fought for the Union.

• “A Confederate View of Prison Life: A Virginian in Fort Delaware, 1863,” by Walter L. Williams (1978-1979). Williams, an assistant professor of history, University of Cincinnati, quotes from a diary that Joseph Edward Purvis, 19th Virginia Regiment, kept for two months during his stay at Fort Delaware prison after capture on July 3, 1863, at Gettysburg. It provides a description of the privation and boredom experienced at the island prison.

• “Alexander B. Cooper’s Civil War Memories of Camden,” edited by Harold Hancock (1982-1983). Hancock relates Cooper’s personal recollections of the Civil War’s effect on his quiet community of Camden that, as a result, “was never again the same.” This came about because of political divisions among those in the community who chose to support either the North or the South.

• “The Civil War Letters of S. Rodman and Linton Smith,” by Robert F. Crawford (1984-1985). The author, the great-grandson of Linton Smith, describes the Civil War through the eyes of two Wilmington Quakers, brothers Rodman and Linton Smith, who served the Union after enlisting in the 4th Delaware Infantry.

• “Camp Life of Delaware Troops in the Union Army” by Annette Woolard (1984-1985). Woolard, who graduated from the University of Delaware with a master’s degree in history, relates behind-the-scenes stories of what life was like in military camps for Delaware soldiers when they were not engaged in combat on the battlefields of Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

The author emphasizes that Delawareans did not “display the culture shock, the anger against Confederates, and the hatred of the land that other Yankee soldiers exhibited,” because their proximity to Delaware permitted them to travel between camp and home more readily than soldiers from other states.

For information about obtaining copies of the Delaware History articles, contact the Delaware Historical Society Research Library at (302) 655-7161.

Tom Ryan is the author of the multiple award-winning “Spies, Scouts & Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign.” Signed copies are available at Bethany Beach Books. His latest book, “Eleven Fateful Days in July 1863: Meade Tracks Lee’s Escape after Gettysburg,” is due out in 2018. Contact him at pennmardel@mchsi.com or visit his website at www.tomryan-civilwar.com.