Fort Delaware
Prison Smallpox

     In late October 1863 during a prison transfer from Fort Delaware to Point Lookout, the commanding general of the hospital prison in St. Maryís County, Maryland reported to Washington having receipt of these prisoners, twenty-six had been found to be contagious with smallpox.
     The nature of this seriously spreading disease caused quite an alarm as Colonel William Hoffman, the Commissary-General of Prisoners wrote to Brigadier General Albin Schoepf commanding at Fort Delaware, asking for a count of such cases.  He reported back that they possessed one hundred and thirty mild cases among the prisoners that they received from Camp Chase, Ohio.  Doctor Henry R. Silliman had been providing the smallpox vaccination to the Confederate Surgeons incarcerated there while the barracks were being scoured with chloride of lime and Ridgewood Disinfecting Powder.  The outbreak apparently was steadily decreasing since the arrivals from Camp Chase.  So it was reported.
     Pea Patch Island sits out in the Delaware River, the War Department had ordered that out buildings on the New Jersey side of the river be erected for housing such diseased prisoners.  Surgeon Silliman had still been admitting cases into his main facility at a rate of one or two a day, now having nearly three hundred and seventy prisoners die as a result.  It was his suggestion to the War Department that prompted the order for the new facility.
     The death toll at Fort Delaware during the months of September and October, due to smallpox, had been approximately seven hundred.  By Novemberís end such cases had been moved east across the river.  In these sixty days, Fort Delaware had lost nearly one third of its total in prisoners that would pay the ultimate price before exchange.  In March of 1864, Brigadier General Shoepf would report the epidemic completely vanquished.

     Off at Point Finn, New Jersey roughly one mile from the ferry landing sits a cemetery, with a gigantic obelisk marking the graves of over 2,400 Confederate Soldiers who had died while serving time at Fort Delaware.  Many of these are counted among the numbers of smallpox deaths in September/October 1863.

     Fort Delaware is the last standing prison monument in the northern states that memorializes the prisoner of war during the great conflict.

Daniel Moran 
© 2001

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