Touring Civil War Delaware
Those who have been to well-known Civil War sites, such as national military battlefields at Gettysburg, Pa., Antietam, Md., and Fredericksburg, Va., may be interested in learning about lesser-known Civil War-related locations right here in our state of Delaware.
For example, a drive up to Georgetown would be a good starting point.
At 510 S. Bedford Street, you will find the Georgetown Historical Society and the Marvel Carriage Museum (302-855-9660). In addition to many 19th century artifacts on display, a monument to Delaware Confederate Veterans is located there — which includes the names of all from this state who served the South.
While in Georgetown, drive down Bedford Street to the square and visit Georgetown Town Hall, which features murals depicting Civil War scenes and personalities. Plan to stop for lunch right across the square at the Brick Hotel (302- 855-5800), which dates from Civil War days, and be sure to check out the artifacts on display from that era.
For a tour of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, from Georgetown drive some 35 miles northwest to Sandtown, on the Maryland border. The tour runs some 98 miles all the way to the Pennsylvania border. From Sandtown, the Byway passes through Camden, Dover, Smyrna, Clayton, Townsend, Middletown, Odessa, Port Penn, Delaware City, New Castle, Wilmington and Centerville, among other locations. (For more information about this interesting tour, go to the website at http://www.tubmanbywaydelaware.org/.)
This Byway actually begins in Maryland, before it crosses into Delaware at Sandtown. To travel the entire circuit, drive to the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park located at 4068 Golden Hill Road, Church Creek, Md. (410-221-2290) — download a driving tour map of the Byway at https://www.visitmaryland.org/sites/default/master/files/Tubman-Map.pdf.
Along your tour, once you reach New Castle, you will find a town that boasts being second only to Williamsburg, Va. for its authentic Colonial structures. Here you can learn more about the Underground Railroad that ran through Delaware at the New Castle Courthouse Museum, 211 Delaware Street (302-323-4453).
Upon reaching Wilmington, high on your list should be a visit the Hagley Museum, 200 Hagley Creek Road (302- 658-2400). Located on 235 acres along the banks of Brandywine Creek, Hagley is the site of the gunpowder works known as Eleutherian Mills that was founded by E.I. duPont in 1802.
These works played a significant role during the Civil War, since it was here that 4 million barrels, or nearly 50 percent, of the gunpowder for Union weapons was manufactured and sold to the federal government. The buildings and grounds have not changed significantly since the mid-19th century, and include restored mills, a workers community and the ancestral home of the duPont family.
The home and surrounding complex of buildings and gardens served as the center of family and business life for five generations after its completion in 1803. E. I. duPont, founder of the duPont Company, built this Georgian-style structure that sits high above the bank of the Brandywine River overlooking the powder mills.
Today, you will see it much as it was when the last family member lived there, filled with furnishings and collections of American folk art, alongside family items brought from France when they came to America in 1799. Plan to spend at least two to three hours at Hagley in order to take a guided tour that includes demonstrations and exhibitions.
From May through September each year, Fort Delaware State Park (302-834-7941) hosts visitors to the pentagonal-shaped fort that served as a prison for Confederate POWs during the Civil War. Located on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River, just off Delaware City, Fort Delaware personnel greet visitors in mid-19th century period dress and conduct tours of the prison facility.
Access to Pea Patch Island is by water taxi, which also continues over to the New Jersey shoreline. Located not far from the dock on the New Jersey side is a cemetery where nearly 2,500 Confederate military personnel who died at Fort Delaware are buried — as well as a monument that lists their names.
Although no battles were fought in Delaware during the years 1861 to 1865, the citizens of this state were engaged on behalf of both the North and the South during this period. Learn more by visiting these sites one at a time, or by setting aside a week or more to go on a Civil War-related tour of Delaware.
Tom Ryan is the author of the award-winning “Spies, Scouts & Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign,” of which signed copies are available at Bethany Beach Books, at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach and at Allison’s Card Smart in Milford. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
or visit his website at www.tomryan-civilwar.com.
By Tom Ryan
Special to the Coastal Point