Fort Delaware State Park

Delaware City, Delaware

Access to Fort Delaware is by ferry.

Prison Camp Trail Guide

Brief History of Fort Delaware

Author's note: The story of Fort Delaware's history is told using primary and secondary research sources. Some, such as diaries and journals, can often be skewed based on when they were written. A memoir written 30 years after the war may be based on memories that could be fuzzy at best, while a person with an axe to grind or self-promotional agenda may also present a skewed perspective. The best way to interpret the history of Fort Delaware is to look at sources as a collective whole.

In April, 1862, with the arrival of 258 Confederate prisoners captured at the Battle of Kernstown, Fort Delaware's role was transformed from protector of ports, to a prison camp. Although not designed for this purpose, the fort housed prisoners of war, political prisoners, and Union deserters throughout the Civil War. During its four-year tenure as a prison camp, there were nearly 33,000 prisoners. The most prisoners on the island at any one time was shortly after Gettysburg in late 1863, with nearly 12,000 'guests of the government.'

With the exception of the early years, most high ranking Confederate officers were confined inside the Fort, with the vast majority of regular enlisted men and officers of lower ranks kept in the barracks area outside the fort. Sometimes officers would conceal their rank in an effort to stay with their men- it also provided more opportunity for escape. These men were often discovered, as is mentioned in Rev. Isaac W.K. Handy's diary.

"...I, with the brigade, was captured at Gettysburg July 1, 1863. We arrived at Fort Delaware about the 5th of July, and were put into newly built barracks consisting of long rows of buildings. The outer row of buildings formed a square... "

Dr. W.H. Moon, Company I, 13th Alabama Regiment, Archer's Brigade

Prison Accommodations

In 1862 when Captain Augustus Gibson, commander of the fort was made aware that he was receiving prisoners, he protested to Washington that he had no room to house them. He was told to "find room".

The first prisoners were housed in the fort, but as more captives arrived, it became overcrowded and inadequate. Sheds were built on the parade ground, in the center of the fort. Next wooden barracks were constructed outside the fort to accommodate the increasing number of captured Confederates.

During the time of Brigadier General Albin Schoepf's command of the fort beginning in 1863, barracks were erected to house 10,000 prisoners. These barracks covered a large part of the area on the northwest side of the island.

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