September 1862

LETTER 3

Brief description of Fort Delaware and a request for clothing.

Fort Delaware ♠
[Delaware City, Delaware]
September 4, 1862

Dear [Mr.] Richards,

Sept_1862-1I have sent you by Express to Scranton a package containing some money from me, William Davis and Frank Long. ♣ Mine and W. D. checks are $27 value each, which you will please dispose as directed in the package.

I should feel greatly obliged if you would please send me by Express to Fort Delaware my brown coat, two pair drawers & one undershirt. Also buy me a fancy woolen shirt – dark color preferred. You can send also a white shirt & collar. We can’t buy anything here nor anywhere else. We will be some 3 or 4 weeks yet without our uniform. I brought no coat along with me, and I am greatly in need of it – the sea breeze night and morning being so cold here. If I have the drawers and shirt, I will not need them of the government and will be credited for them. Also they are and look so mean and uncomfortable. You will please charge them also to the Ex Changes.

Sept_1862-2The soldiers here are dressed to kill – cleanliness and neatness being the order of the day.

Hoping that you and family are all well & that everything is as well as it is with me.

I remain, yours truly, — William B. Phillips

LETTER 3 NOTES

Fort Delaware

Fort Delaware

♠ Fort Delaware was located on Pea Patch Island in the middle of the Delaware River near its mouth. As the Civil War drew inevitably closer, Congress appropriated funds for its renovation and transformed it into a formidable military garrison. Troops were moved to wartime status and construction efforts began to focus on the interior under the direction of its commander, Captain Augustus A. Gibson. By April 1861, the work of mounting the sea coast artillery began in earnest. In July 1861, Confederate prisoners began arriving at Fort Delaware for what was thought to be temporary imprisonment. Tourists flocked to the Fort to sneak looks at the prisoners (and actually helped to facilitate the Fort’s first prisoner escape). Civilians paid laborers, who were still working on the construction of the fort, more than their day’s wage to cruise them to the island so they could watch the drills as if they were an exhibition. Fort Delaware was the country’s most modern wonder – a feat of engineering to behold – and citizens were understandably in awe. 1862 brought the first political prisoners to Fort Delaware. The state’s tenuous position as a border state and the army’s crackdown on civilians who expressed secessionist sentiments contributed to arrests of dissidents. By the fall, 129 political prisoners were being held at the Fort. Batteries of heavy artillery troops were being assigned to Fort Delaware and the long days of drills, formations, and exercises that would continue throughout the Civil War began. As the battles of the Civil War became bloodier and more frequent, the need to house surrendered or captured Confederate troops grew more urgent. Fort Delaware was a logical choice for prisoner confinement – it was remote enough to hinder escape, strong enough to withstand any attack by the weak Southern navy, and near enough to the Southern states to facilitate the business of prisoner exchange. Fort Delaware’s place in history was assured…not as the site of a brave stand in battle, as originally conceived, but as an infamous prison for the unfortunate flotsam of America’s bloodiest war. While the facility was ill equipped to house the numbers of prisoners who came to inhabit the island, Fort Delaware was not as cruel or deadly as other Civil War era prisons. The statistics show that a smaller percentage of men died there than in most other prisons. Even though disease, dirty drinking water, and poor nutrition were rampant at Fort Delaware, they did not engulf the population as drastically as they did in other prisons. Confederates were given a wooden bunk in a barracks, and were exposed to the elements. The accommodations differed very little from their guards, who were housed in similar quarters. Overcrowding and the swampy nature of the island led to infestations of lice, rats, malaria-infected mosquitoes, and other vermin. Dysentery, small pox, and other diseases were common and even epidemic on occasion. A 600-bed hospital and a separate pestilence residence were constructed to better deal with the various maladies that afflicted the island residents.

♣ There is a Jacob Frank Long who served in Company M of the 2nd Heavy Artillery Pennsylvania Volunteers.

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