Fort Delaware - Delaware City, DE
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member 94RedRover
N 39° 35.375 W 075° 34.053
18S E 451265 N 4382360
Quick Description: In 1817, Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island was orignally built for protection of the ports of Wilmington and Philadelphia, but soon became a feared prison for Confederate Soldiers during the Civil War.
Location: Delaware, United States
Date Posted: 6/28/2009 7:23:16 AM
Waymark Code: WM6NT3
Published By: Groundspeak Regular Member Rayman
Views: 0

Long Description:

"East by water from the Old Canal to the Delaware River; around the south end of Pea Patch Island and N. to the wharf of FORT DELAWARE, 2 m. (No person is permitted to land on the island without authorization; cameras are not permitted on the island.)

On a marshy island in midstream, is the grim and bleak gray mass of Fort Delaware, a huge granite pentagon commanding a southward sweep of river and bay. Tiers of empty gun ports look out from casements in the walls and jutting bastions above an encircling moat filled with dark water. On the earth-covered upper battlements trees have grown fantastically, their roots twining into dungeon ventilators, their branches twisted by gales. Only the flag and the Monday wash of a noncommissioned officer's wife flutter gaily in the breeze to relieve the sullen melancholy of the great old fortress. The silence is usually heavy and unbroken. A small detachment of soldiers from Fort Du Pont is stationed here, to warn off trespassers, to paint mines and other equipment, and to care for the modern guns.

Visitors are guided through the main sally port into the spacious courtyard within, where three-story brick buildings formerly barracks, officers' quarters, and guard rooms stand with their tops at a level with the top of the masonry battlements. Great rooms are empty that during the Civil War rang with the footsteps and shouted orders of the garrison of nearly 300 men and officers. Irregularly garrisoned since then, Fort Delaware attained its greatest importance during those four years when a Confederate invasion was feared, 131 guns were in place, and barracks on the island held thousands of Confederate prisoners of war. Within the granite ramparts the guide's flashlight shines into damp and black dungeons, where prisoners who defied authority or plotted to escape were confined in the fetid air. In the occasional niches in the corridor walls, guards were stationed. Here and there an arched ceiling has fallen into a mass of bricks on the floor.

At one time during the latter part of the war 12,000 prisoners were quartered in the wooden barracks to the north and west of the fort within a barbed wire stockade, under the cannon trained on them day and night. Sleeping in three tiers on rough planks, they were tortured by mosquitoes in summer and half frozen in winter; mortality from cholera was as high as 331 in one month. The ground was too marshy to bury the bodies here, and except when river ice prevented a crossing, they were taken for burial to the New Jersey shore, where the 8 5 -foot Confederate Monument marks Finn's Point National Cemetery (s& NEW JERSEY GUIDE).

Despite all precautions hundreds of prisoners escaped to the Delaware State shore, where Confederate sympathizers harbored them and sent them south. Those in confinement tried to amuse themselves playing poker, making toys, and reading or Studying; from their soup bones they fashioned elaborate sets of delicately carved knives, forks, and other small objects. Before the war ended, about 700 Confederate prisoners took the oath of allegiance to the United States, and many were doing guard duty over their former comrades.

The legend of the origin of Pea Patch Island is that a vessel loaded with peas foundered on a bar in the river, the peas sprouted, catching floating debris, and little by little the island was formed. Testimony that "in 1773 the island was only the size of a man's hat" appears in the record of the suit brought by the State of Delaware in 1839 against a New Jersey resident who claimed the island. In 1814, when an Army captain with 100 soldiers and 30 laborers had taken possession, dykes had to be built to keep the tide out of much of the area. In 1831 the first small fort was burned at a $100,000 loss, and work on a new fort was suspended for four years while the suit was in progress. In 1843 the suit was decided in favor of the State of Delaware, represented by John M. Clayton, and a valid deed was given the Government.

In 1846 a tidal wave swept the island clean, and in 1848 work began on the present fortress. It took nearly three years to settle the foundation of 6,000 piles 45-foot tree trunks disappeared and others had to be driven down on top of them. In 1860 the new fortifications were finished, having cost more than $1,000,000, and the work of mounting the guns commenced at the outbreak of the Civil War. Within recent years these guns were removed and with hundreds of cannon balls were sold for scrap iron."

--- Delaware: A Guide to the First State, 1938

When the guide was written describing the fort, it was still under military control. After the Pentagon demilitarized it, they opened it up to anyone that wanted it. It was vandalized terribly, brass fittings, copper wire, artifacts and more were stolen and by 1950 there were cherry trees growing on top of the ramparts, and vines covered the walls. Piles of plaster lay in the many rooms, now restored thanks to the Fort Delaware Historical Society. I was lucky enough to meet the President of the society while we were on the island, and he had been around through the saving and restoration of the American Historical gem.

The State of Delaware acquired the fort in 1947 and opened Fort Delaware State Park. Access to the island is by ferry only, leaving from Delaware City in Delaware or Fort Mott in New Jersey. Volunteers at the park, dressed in period garb, reenact life at the fort in 1864. Each "character" is based on a real person who was housed here. Artillery and 19th century lifestyle demonstrations are conducted throughout the day. Vistors can walk through the fort, including the officers quarters, mess hall, kitchens and cannon turrets.

As you can imagine, there is much suspected paranormal activity on the island. Ghost Hunters and even Britain's Most Haunted have done specials on the fort. The fort was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

The Guide itself has a wonderful picture of the fort on page 473.

Book: Delaware

Page Number(s) of Excerpt: 472-473

Year Originally Published: 1938

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