Delaware’s Prisoner of War Camps
Traditionally, the definition of a prisoner of war camp is a location for containment of combatants which have been captured by their enemy in a time of war. It is based similarly on the principles of an internment camp which would be used for the civilian population.
Although a prisoner of war is usually a member of the military it is likely that in a time of crisis the civilian population as well as the POW’s could be intermingled. Like any country in the world America has had its share of prisoner of war camps throughout its history. During the American Civil War there were established POW camps all along the eastern seaboard from New York to Georgia and they were populated with enemy combats of various nationalities such as English, French or German.
During American’s Civil War, the prisoner of war camps were widespread on both the union and confederate sides. The prison camps on both sides fueled many rumors and facts setting forth the atrocities that resulted from mass starvation and famine, abundant infectious diseases, cold and they ultimately resulted in many cases of deaths involving hundreds of prisoners daily. Usually the high death rates were attributed to malnutrition, extremely poor sanitary conditions, and the lack of fuel. The shortage of medicines contributed greatly as well as the grouse maltreatment displayed of the prisoners on both sides. With the vast amount of hate generated from both sides the unlivable conditions escaped the scrutiny of the media at all levels.
Delaware has been home to several POW camps over the years. Of particular note is Fort Delaware located near Delaware City. Fort Delaware was originally devised as a harbor defense facility in 1859. It is located on Pea Patch Island along the Delaware River. During the Civil War the Union had control of Fort Delaware and used it as a prison to house captured Confederate prisoners of war within its walls.
The fort is in effect a massive fortress composed of granite and brick. Surrounding the fort are its hefty 30 feet thick walls which stand 32 feet high. During the 19th century it was equipped with the most modern defenses of its time. To enter the fort one enters the sally port crossing a drawbridge and transverse a 30-foot wide moat which surrounds the fort on all sides.
Fort Delaware today is currently a park maintained by the State Park Service. It was over one hundred years ago that the thousands of captured confederate soldiers would be brought to nearby Delaware City to await transportation to the fort location on Pea Patch Island. Life on the island has been recreated to display what it was like during 1863 complete with the Union troops practicing their daily drills to the various craftsmen needed to live day to day activities.
The second major location of POW activities in the state of Delaware was at Fort DuPont. This fort is separated by the branch canal from Delaware City. This is another park maintained by the Delaware State Parks agency. Many of the current buildings are the actual ones which were used when the facility was employed to house captured German soldiers during World War II.
Located upon the shores of the Delaware River the fort was active during the War of 1812 where cannons were mounted on it in defense of the Delaware River communities against the oncoming British. During the American civil war construction was begun on the installation of the Ten Gun Battery. The fort has seen use as a training garrison in the 20th century for both WWI and II. Its fame was during the Second World War where there were over 3,000 military personnel stationed there. At its height of being a temporary POW camp it contained both German and Italian soldiers. In 1945 there were two waves of German prisoners who were transferred to Boston from the fort. The first wave consisted of 1,750 while the second wave which followed shortly was composed of another 2,000. After the successful transfer of the POW prisoners the fort was decommissioned by the Army and turned over to the State of Delaware. It is now the location for the Governor Bacon Health Center, while in 1992 a portion of the fort area was dedicated as a state park.
While Fort Delaware and Fort DuPont may now be nothing more then a recreational area for vacation enjoyment, I have to ponder the thought that in times of infrastructure breakdown could the two forts perhaps be once again converted to either a POW camp or possibly a containment for civilians suspected of various trumped up crimes? Only time will tell.
Copyright @2010 Joseph Parish