View Full Version : Confederate officers hiding amongst enlisted at Ft. Delaware?

01-11-2007, 12:26 AM
I'm currently reading Rev W.K. Handy's journal he kept while imprisoned at Ft. Delaware for 15 months. He keeps mentioning from time to time new gentlemen who are added to his barracks from amongst the general prison population of enlisted troops. These gents new to his barracks are apparently all officers who were hiding as privates in other areas of the prison.

Most of the officers in hiding were found out or turned in by the "galvanized rebs", or men who took the oath, and saw it as a good deed to the Federal command to let them know about these hidden officers.

My question is this: Why would Confederate officers try to hide themselves among the troops while imprisoned?

Rev. Handy does not explain this from what I can tell, just that it was a common occurance to see new officers show up who had been hidden as privates. I would think they would receive better treatment as officers while being imprisoned.

I would be glad to hear if anyone knows or has read about officers doing this before.

01-11-2007, 10:13 AM
I'm confused, do you mean there were not to be any officers at Ft. Delaware? Because, I know the Captain of the 5th Va co. K, George. W. Kurtz was sent there after Spotsylvania.

01-11-2007, 11:47 AM
Could it be that the enlisted stood a better chance of being exchanged quicker than the officers?


01-11-2007, 12:21 PM
There were a large number of officers at Ft. Delaware, however they were kept separate from the enlisted troops being quartered in a different area of the Fort.

That was my guess about the exchange rate being higher for enlisted after reading more about the exchange situation in the Immortal 600 book I'm reading as well. Also I'm guessing that they didnt want to give the satisfaction to the Federals of having a higher number of important officers who could potentially come from well to do families.

01-11-2007, 03:37 PM
I have done some research on the subject and have a copy of the service record and relevent abstracts of letters for Captain Sam Willson, Co. F, 1st TX. He was captured at Gettysburg on 3 July 1863 and sent very briefly to Ft. McHenry, then to Ft. Deleware where he had successfully disguised himself as a private. Some of the men from Co. K, 5th TX recognized him, shared their rations and kept their mouths shut. Officers did not stand nearly as good a chance of being exchanged.

Captain Willson escaped between July 7th and 12th and found his way back to his unit. I reckon if the Yanks knew the date, he would not have been successful.

More information on the subject might be available from the Ft. Deleware Society.

Joe Allport
Co. F, 1st Texas Inf.

01-11-2007, 10:55 PM
A very interesting post here. Living here in Delaware I know the Historic Site Manager out at Fort Delaware. I will copy the posts here into a email and see what I get back.

01-12-2007, 09:19 PM
Folks, this is what I received today on this discussion. Dan said he would send more information as he is going to re-study the diary.

Hi John,

I would like to look into this question that you have sent me a little bit more. However, here is a preliminary answer for you. We have several instances of wealthy Confederate Officers having their wives and other family members writing directly to the War Department and/or President Lincoln to request their release or exchange. In some cases, these requests were granted. I don’t know the percentages of officer vs. enlisted being exchanged, but from some of the diaries and letters I have seen from the POWs, it does not seem to be that the enlisted had a better chance of being exchanged. If anything, my guess would be the opposite. Again, we need to do more research to see if the actual numbers still exist.

Officers were definitely treated better than the enlisted troops, especially the higher ranking officers. That is what makes it so puzzling that officers would disguise themselves as enlisted. From reading I’ve done, my best guess is that the POWs didn’t always know which camp they were going to be sent to. Many camps did not hold both officers and enlisted personnel. It could be that the officers would rather stay with their men, and perhaps attempt to escape with them, than be separated and imprisoned with a bunch of people they didn’t know.

I have read memoirs of men who mentioned such things. Two of these memoirs that stick out in my memory were filled with many factual errors and were written at least 20 years after the war. One of them was written by a man who was never at the fort, “but had heard from a man who was”. If someone were to read this memoir, but not see the first paragraph, one wouldn’t realize this man had never been within 50 miles of Fort Delaware in his life. However, Rev Handy’s accounts line up almost perfectly with the official records and other diaries and letters from both prisoners and guards. He does have a bias against the government, but I would think anyone would if they were thrown into prison like he was. He does exaggerate from time to time due to this bias, but the basic facts are still there. Rev Handy definitely does not like the “galvanized rebs” (or “galvanized greybacks” as they were called by some of the Federal troops). I need to go back and read Rev Handy’s journal again, and that may be able to give me a better answer to this question.

Let me know if I can be of any more help.

Daniel Citron

Lead Historical Interpreter

Fort Delaware State Park

01-12-2007, 10:02 PM
Thanks for the post! I really appreciate the inquiry with Ft. Delaware. This subject caught my attention when I read about it in the diary, it seems odd that this occurred so I'm just trying to see the intent behind it.


Gary of CA
01-13-2007, 06:53 PM
Can't recall which diary I or memoir I read it in, but it concerned a Union officer who hid among his men. He wanted to remain with his men who were captured at the same time and to share their hardship. They respected him for it and didn't reveal his rank.