Fort Delaware State Park

Delaware City, Delaware

Access to Fort Delaware is by ferry.
Call the Park Office for this season's schedule.

Prison Camp Trail

"Preparing for a daring adventure -- tonight. "
July 24, 1864

"The enterprise failed -- last night, and I do not think it will be tried again shortly. "
July 25, 1864

from the diary of William B. Alburtis, prisoner

"Nov.14 - Five Rebels left on a raft. Three were drowned and two were picked up. "

from the diary of Private A.J. Hamilton, Union garrison, 1864

"Some four or five of our number have been contemplating an escape from the Island. The wind and tide are favorable tonight; and as they are in readiness to start, they will be likely to do so, unless prevented at the proper hour, by too much light. It is quite an undertaking to cross the Delaware on boards; and I am really apprehensive for the success of the party. The thing has been done, however, a number of times, and it is possible they, too, may get over."

Rev. Isaac W. K. Handy, Confederate Pastor and political prisoner


Escape was the exception rather than the rule at Fort Delaware. The deterrents were serious, the greatest being the simple fact that Fort Delaware is on an island. Any escape attempt would necessarily involve a swim or a boat trip across the less than hospitable waters of the Delaware River. Given a little luck, a lot of nerve and some help from Southern sympathizers, however, escapes did occur. Prisoners built rafts from wood scavenged from the barracks or wood walks crossing the ditches, used canteens as makeshift flotation devices, jumped into the river through privy holes, masqueraded as Yankees or simply paid off a greedy guard to gain freedom from the island.

Union reports from the period indicate a total number of 273 escapes from Fort Delaware. Accounts from Confederate diaries and Southern newspapers differ considerably, claiming anywhere from 500 to 1000 escapes. The true number probably lies somewhere in between. By far the most popular escape route was through the privy that stood at the edge of the island, over the river. Men would jump through the hole and await a convenient time for escape by loitering in the water in the pilings area. The Union caught on fairly quickly, responding by putting a large searchlight on one privy, building a second roof-less privy, and stationing extra guards. The prisoners affectionately referred to the heavily guarded facility as "Fort Sumter".

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