Civil War Profiles: Delaware during the Civil War: A Confederate viewpoint

Date Published: 
May 13, 2016

The May 2016 meeting of the Georgetown Historical Society hosted Jeffrey Plummer, commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Camp #2068, based in Seaford. Plummer updated the audience concerning acknowledgment in Delaware, as well as around the country, of the Confederate role in the mid-19th century war between the states, and the SCV’s desire to preserve the history and legacy of Southern soldiers.


Plummer, who has two ancestors — Thomas Givens and J.D. Givens — who fought for the Confederacy in the 23rd Tennessee Regiment, identified a number of Delawareans who favored or served the South during the Civil War.

Foremost was former Gov. William Henry Harrison Ross, who assisted those seeking to exit the state to join Southern fighting units. At the time, it was illegal for Delawareans to join Confederate service; therefore, their journey out of state was often perilous and could lead to arrest.

Although Ross wisely decided to spend the war years in Europe to avoid potential prosecution for pro-South activities, his son Caleb joined the 9th Virginia Cavalry and succumbed to typhoid — a common cause of death during the Civil War years. The Caleb Ross Chapter of the United Daughters of Confederate Veterans #2635, also based in Seaford, is named in his honor.

Arrest was the price to be paid by any citizen who spoke out against the federal government. A number of prominent men met this fate, including Thomas Bayard, the son of Delaware U.S. Sen. James A. Bayard Jr. Nonetheless, in the post-war years, Thomas followed in his father’s footsteps by representing Delaware as a U.S. senator.

When hostilities erupted in April 1861, Delaware Gov. William Burton straddled the fence about his loyalties. Plummer identified the governor’s brother Benjamin as the largest slave-holder in the state, yet Gov. Burton did not believe that Delaware would be best served by joining the secession movement.

In the 1860 presidential election, Delaware and Maryland gave their vote to the secessionist candidate John Breckinridge from Kentucky. Ironically, for a variety of political and geographic reasons, both states chose to remain in the Union.

The SCV commander bemoaned the movement around the country of late to do away with flags and monuments that were symbols of the Confederacy. He cited a number of Congressional acts that recognized Confederate veterans as equivalent to Union veterans. He also emphasized that historically famous members of the U.S. military were descendants of Confederate veterans.

These included Marine Gens. John A. Lejeune and Lewis “Chesty” Puller, and Army Gens. George S. Patton III and Simon Bolivar Buckner, who both were killed during World War II, and Army Air Corps Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was shot down and killed over Germany in 1943. In addition, Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Harry S. Truman were sons of Confederate veterans.

At the Georgetown meeting, Plummer displayed Civil War-era artifacts, such as rifles and pistols. Unusual items included a surgeon’s saw used for amputation and a “body hook” employed in dragging dead soldiers to their burial places. “Horse cripplers” were one of the cruelest items, because these small, insignificant, but hard items scattered on a road caused horses to go lame.

Plummer told a story about less well-dressed Confederate soldiers who rescued belt buckles from enemy soldiers and wore them upside down. In that way, the “U.S.” looked like “S.N.” which they interpreted to mean “Southern Nation.”

Another story concerned enterprising Southern flag makers who produced Confederate battle flags with 15 stars, rather than the traditional 11 representing those slave states that seceded from the Union. The additional four stars were intended to recognize four slave states that remained loyal to the North, yet demonstrated adherence to the Southern way of life: Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware.

The SCV is dedicated to ensuring that the “true history of the 1861-1865 period is preserved.” The members are available to groups for speaking engagements.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp #2068 and its sister organization welcome queries about their units. Jeff Plummer can be reached by email at delreb@earthlink.net, or access their website at descv.org. They meet the first Monday of every month at the Seaford Public Library. For questions about the United Daughters of Confederate Veterans #2635, contact Laura Wilson by phone at (302) 632-1261.

Thomas J. Ryan is the author of “Spies, Scouts & Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign” and “Essays on Delaware during the Civil War” (signed copies available at Bethany Beach Books and Browseabout Books in Rehoboth). Contact him at pennmardel@mchsi.com, or visit his website at www.tomryan-civilwar.com.