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Fort Delaware 

Civil War Prison

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Photo of Fort Delaware Prison          1964 Photo          Map of Pea Patch Island

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 John Swann's Story - Prison LIfe at Fort Delaware

Fort Delaware was completed in 1859 on the marshy island known as Pea Patch Island.  This stout Union fortress constructed in the shape of a pentagon and covering approximately 6 acres was used as a prison for Confederate prisoners of war during the Civil War.


General Albin F. Schoepf was commandant of Fort Delaware Civil War Prison and was dreaded by the Confederates.  He was known by the soldiers as "General Terror".


The majority of Confederate prisoners contained within Fort Delaware during the Civil War were captured at Gettysburg.  Many of these were men from the 26th Georgia Regiment, CSA.


Prisoners were held in wooden barracks, providing shelter unlike many other Civil War prisons during the Civil War however,  after the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, the ranks of prisoners swelled to almost 13,000, leading to horrible conditions.  Water became putrefied and food scarce.  Scurvy, smallpox and severe malnutrition were prevalent.  

According to Captain John S. Swann (a prisoner at Fort Delaware) "We formed in line and marched to the mess hall, in which were several long rows of plank tables with pieces of bread and meat arranged along the sides at intervales (sic) of some two feet. When we were in place each prisoner took one ration. The bread was made of rye and wheat flour, well cooked, but the piece very small, about half enough for a well man. The meat a small chunk of beef. Occasionally all sinew or mostly bone. It was cut up very carelessly and very small, not half a ration. Some days the bread was substituted with crackers, and these were hard days on us. We were permitted to take these rations to our bunks. I ate mine but remained very hungry. When dinner came the same thing was repeated, except there was occasionally a tin cup of what was called corn soup very tasteless and insipid, with little or no grease."  


He also wrote: "Not long after my arrival I heard a cry "Rat call! Rat call!" I went out to see what this meant. A number of prisoners were moving and some running up near the partition, over which a sargeant (sic) was standing and presently he began throwing rats down. The prisoners scrambled for the rats like school boys for apples, none but some of the most needy prisoners, and the needy were the large majority, would scramble for these rats. Of course but few were lucky enough to get a rat. The rats were cleaned, put in salt water a while and fried. Their flesh was tender and not unpleasant to the taste."

 See more of John Swann's Story


According to Cox, one prisoner, Randolph Shotwell, wrote:  “The bacon was rusty and slimy, the soup was slop…filled with white worms a half inch long.”  One prisoner from Georgia wrote that the food was of such poor quality and so scarce that he shrank from 140 pounds to 80 pounds during his sojourn at Fort Delaware. 


According to Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, July 1863:

"The prisoners were afflicted with smallpox, measles, diarrhea, dysentery and scurvy as well
as the ever-present louse. A thousand ill; twelve thousand on an island which should hold four; astronomical numbers of deaths a day of dysentry and the living having more life on them than in them. Lack of  food and water and thus a Christian nation treats the captives of its sword!"


Some famous Confederates who saw the inside of Fort Delaware Civil War Prison were Burton H. Harrison (private secretary of Jefferson Davis) and General James F. Archer.


Approximately 2700 Confederate soldiers died while being held captive at Fort Delaware.  About 2400 Confederates are interred at Finn's Point National Cemetery located across the Delaware River near Fort Mott State Park.  

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Unlikely Allies: 

Fort Delaware's Prison Community in the Civil War

Fetzer has written and interesting and well researched book on Ft. Delaware, located on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River.

For the Delaware enthusiast, this book will fascinate. For the Civil War buff, this book provides an interesting view of post life and northern prison administration -- topics not well covered in the popular literature.



 Tracing Your Civil War Ancestor
Experienced historian Bertram Groene shows you step by step how easy it can be to trace your ancestors' role in the Civil War.   Learn about the battles they fought.  Learn about your ancestor's experiences in the war that affected every aspect of your forbears' lives. ORDER

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