It is rare in this part of the country to be able to say that August 31 may have been the most beautiful day of the year. But it is the first day this summer that I really felt like being out in the sun for hours – hence the first sunburn. But after finding out that Delaware State Parks close Fort Delaware after Labor Day, and since it was very much “on my list” I had to make a run for Delaware City. There I caught the ferry to what was once a Civil War prison that has been featured on “Ghost Hunters” for the presence of paranormal activity. In view that about 2,700 of the up to 12,500 prisoners held on the island died there, most to be buried in nearby Finn’s Point, New Jersey, there is small wonder that it might be thought that ghosts are still attached to the place. Little remains of the prisoner barracks, and it is unclear to me if the one standing is original or a reconstruction (I rather suspect the latter) but given the time period, the prisoners who poured
onto the island from battles like Kernstown, Vicksburg and Gettysburg could not have received adequate life saving medical attention. So ghosts. Yes, I can believe it. More on Ft. Delaware later.
But it was a stretch to even think of ghosts on a day like today. No humidity, bright sunshine – if I had designed the day, I could not have hoped for more. The ferry ride out to the island was far too short, which made me opt for the extension to Fort Mott on the New Jersey side.
I had a great conversation that was filled with information with Todd, a seasonal Park Ranger who went ahead and unlocked the Battery Harker Tower so everyone could go up and get a look at the vantage point provided for those whose job it was to have the big guns find their marks. It was a fascinating and altogether unexpected couple of hours in a beautiful place. Back on the ferry, which had to negotiate unbelievable debris left over from Hurricane Irene, we returned to Pea Patch Island to Fort Delaware. A masonry fort built there in 1819 was destroyed by fire in 1832. Construction on the present fort began in 1849 and was completed just two years before the outbreak of the Civil War, in 1859. They say there were some 25 million bricks used to build the 32 foot high walls and the buildings contained within, and it is pretty easy to believe. The last prisoner to be held at Fort Delaware was Govenor F.R. Lubbock of Texas, in 1866. After that, the fort was fitted with disappearing guns for the Spanish American War, then saw little use until it was fully garrisoned for World War I, then left with only a maintenance force, then reactivated again for World War II, but by 1943 the big guns were cut up for scrap and the maintenance was done by German POW’s from Fort DuPont. It was closed and declared surplus property in 1944 and turned over to the State of Delaware in 1947. In all the time and with all the money spent, none of the three forts guarding the Delaware (Fort Delaware, Fort Mott, and Fort DuPont) ever fired a shot in anger.
Today the fort seems to be garrisoned by a lone Union soldier. Actually, there are several people who are lost in 1864 who serve as tour guides and local color. This particular soldier, in his full kit of a wool uniform helped me catch the ferry when I misunderstood which ferry was actually leaving – he ran to the dock (not an insignificant run, I must say) to send back someone who could pick me up in an all purpose vehicle and deliver me to the waiting ferry. He did everything but actually drive me on board, but when I ran down the gang plank and onto the boat, the ferry crew very nearly piped me aboard. It was actually kind of a perfect ending. Next time though, I want to spend more time in actual Delaware City – it looks intriguing …