2nd Manassas - Aug. 1862
The Battle of Gettysburg - July 1863
Prisoners of War

Fort Delaware
The frequently cited casualty figures for the Battle of Gettysburg often focus on the killed and wounded for those terrible three days. The 10,000 or so dead were buried on the field, interred elsewhere, or lost among the nooks of the vast battlefield. The about 30,000 wounded received what care they could. Some lived. Others died. But the prisoners of war from that epic battle. What became of them?

The Parade Grounds inside Fort Delaware.A good number of the Confederates captured during the battle would find that their ordeal had hardly ended. In a informational pamphlet issued by the Fort Delaware Society, they state, "By June 1863, there were 6,000 prisoners on (Pea Patch) Island, and the prison compound had been expanded to house 10,000 men. Most of the Confederates captured at Gettysburg, including General James J. Archer, were imprisoned at Fort Delaware after the battle, and by August 1863, there were 12,500 prisoners on the island." According to Fort Delaware staff, captured officers often stayed in the brick buildings seen in the image here. They may even have had a union soldier assigned specifically to them to tend to their needs. Southern enlisted men were not so fortunate. They stayed through the stifling summer heat and the bitter, damp winter cold in wooden barracks which provided little shelter from the temperature and weather extremes.

Reconstructed prisoner barracks.The fort itself presented a strikingly formidable presence on Pea Patch Island amidst the waters of the ever widening Delaware River. Situated between the states of Delaware and New Jersey, the fort's granite and brick walls range in thickness from 7 to 30 feet and stand an intimidating 32 feet high. An interpretive marker at the island explains that the fort's builders used granite around the guns' embrasures because granite, "could absorb the shock of enemy fire", protecting the men inside. As is obvious from the initial image above, despite having almost a mile of treacherous water flowing between the island and either of the two shorelines, the fort itself was also enveloped by a 30 foot wide moat, several feet deep, with a draw bridge providing the only access inside.

Original Columbiad Cannon Barrel at Fort Delaware.Along with the sturdy structure, the fort, when fully armed, held 135 guns, some of which could fire with accuracy up to three miles. Pictured here is an original 32 pound Columbiad cannon barrel with a replica carriage. Note the semi-circular tracks on the floor towards the front of the gun just below the gun port. These allowed those manning the gun to shift its position for better aim. Just out of view towards the back of the Columbiad is another larger set of tracks to allow the rear of the gun to swivel with the front. (Click on the image of the cannon to see a replica Columbiad at Fort Delaware which clearly shows these tracks.) Along with the 135 large guns, the fort also held 20 flanking 24 pound howitzers. [5] Given the overwhelming firepower, it likely comes as no surprise that the current caretakers of the fort proudly state that it was never challenged.

The threats to both the prisoners and their caretakers came not from armed adversaries but lethal diseases of unknown origins. Shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg, a Confederate Agent of Exchange wrote to his Union counterpart about a concern with the prison camp.

"SIR: I beg leave to call your special attention to the two inclosed communications from our Surgeon-General. Will you be so kind as to return me a speedy answer to the letter of the 28th ultimo, addressed to me? The other is no less worthy of your notice. Can nothing be done to stop the fearful mortality at Fort Delaware? Is it intended to fill our land with mourning by such means of subjugation?" [5]

Fort Delaware walkwaysSeveral United States surgeons would conduct inspections of the fort over the following months. They found death, misery, and disease. Included in one report was a description of both the island and then men housed there.

"Fort Delaware, which I visited on the 10th instant, stands on an island in (the) Delaware River. The island has an area of about seventy-five acres. Its surface is flat and below the lever of high and tide waters. A dike surrounds it and prevents overflow...The soil is humid and the subsoil in a state of saturation, water standing in excavations eighteen inches below the surface. Drainage is of course out of the question...The island is well exposed to sun and air, but the winds which come to it in autumn and winter are from passing over the surrounding water apt to be damp and chilly. The prisoners of war are in barracks outside the fort. The barracks are T-shaped and single storied...Bunks range one above another round both sides. The floors are in some instances loose, so that the reek of the wet earth beneath may find its way into the barracks.

Fort Delaware Officer's QuartersAt the time of my visit 1,505 men were in one of these barracks, so that each man had about 176 cubic feet of space. The barracks were at that time damp and not comfortably warm, and I suspect they have been so a part of the time during the winter...Some, perhaps a large majority, were comfortably clad. Some had a moderate and still others an insufficient supply of clothing. The garments of a few were ragged and filthy. Each man had one blanket, but I observed no other bedding nor straw. Nearly all the men show a marked neglect of personal cleanliness. Some of them seem vigorous and well, many look only moderately well, while a considerable number have an unhealthy, a cachectic appearance." [5]

Included in this report, a thorough discussion of the impact and prevalence of disease stated that, between September and December of 1863, 177 Confederate prisoners admitted to the "Contagious Hospital" died from disease. The following March, a US Army Medical Inspector issued a summary report of those who contracted a variety of diseases between November 1863 through February 1864. The report noted:

Disease No. of cases in 3 months No. of Deaths in 3 months
Scurvy 365 15
Smallpox 226 112
Varioloid 136 0
Typhoid Fever 18 12
Typho-malarial fever 185 9
Malarial fever 189 0
Diarrhea, acute & chronic 169 60
Dysentery, acute & chronic 62 10
Erysipelas 91 11
Pneumonia 91 45

Although the Union troops who garrisoned the fort fared better, 8 also died of smallpox during the 3 month period.  [5]


Finns Point National Cemetery Grounds

Finns Point National Cemetery, New JerseyAt war's end, Fort Delaware began the process of releasing its prisoners for their long journey home. They would of course leave behind those of their fellow soldiers who died while in captivity. Union soldiers had already buried many of the Confederate deceased on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River on a parcel of land originally purchased by the US government to secure the river and protect Philadelphia upstream. When unable to cross the Delaware River, they interred others on Pea Patch Island itself. In 1875, Virginia Governor James Kemper, the same former Brigadier General who lead one of Major General George Pickett's brigades at Gettysburg, protested the lack of care given the remains of Confederates who died on Pea Patch Island. In response, Finn's Point, near present day Salem New Jersey, was made a National Cemetery. Confederates originally buried on Pea Patch Island were reinterred to join their comrades already buried on the new Cemetery's grounds. Today, of the 2,990 buried at Finn's Point, 2,436 are Confederate soldiers who have this United States National Cemetery as their final resting place. In 1910, in the continuing spirit of reconciliation, the US Federal Government erected the 85 foot tall monument, pictured here, to honor the southern men who would forever rest on Northern soil. Oddly enough, the Confederate soldiers are not the only unlikely residents of this National Cemetery. The headstones pictured in the foreground mark eight of the thirteen graves of German prisoners of war who died while in captivity at Fort Dix New Jersey during World War II. [53]