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Union POW camp on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River

Fort Delaware
Fort Delaware
Bob O'Connor

There was a large Union Civil War prison on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River south of Philadelphia. The prison was located adjacent to Fort Delaware.

In April 1862, over 200 prisoners from the battle of Kernstown (just south of Winchester, VA) were housed at Fort Delaware. During their incarceration there, prison officials were told to prepare for more prisoners.

Barracks were built in the shape of a pentagon to hold up to 10,000 prisoners. Each barrack had one coal burning stove for every 200 men.

Like most Civil War prisons Union and Confederate, they ended up housing many more than they were designed to hold. At its peak, the prison on Pea Island held as many as 33,000 prisoners.

The largest single influx of Confederate prisons came right after the early July battle at Gettysburg, PA when over 12,000 captured soldiers were received as prisoners of war.

The prison was known for having poorly made barracks, sparse rations, and unsanitary water sources, though the Delaware River flowed on both sides of the island.

Disease took many lives. Over 2,400 died on the island, mostly from smallpox, measles, dysentery, diarrhea, and scurvy. Those who died were interred in the Finn’s Point Cemetery in New Jersey directly across the river from the prison and fort.

The prisoner of war camp at Pea Patch Island has been called the “Andersonville of the North”. While the number of prisoners at each facility was comparable, Andersonville had over 12,000 deaths compared to 2,400. And at least the prisoners at Pea Patch Island had stoves for heat and barracks to live in. Andersonville prisoners had neither.

Today, visitors may tour Fort Delaware which is a Delaware State Park. While there is information at the fort on the prison and prisoners, there is nothing left of the prisoner of war camp.
The state park is accessible from Delaware City, DE and from Fort Mott, New Jersey by ferry boat. There is no other access to the island and fort.

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