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At the tender age of 18, Grandfather served as a "screw" in this federal prison for Confederate soldiers located on Pea Patch Island, Delaware.


Pea Patch Island, Delaware —
Where Southern Soldiers Died “Like Flies”

This Yankee prison for Confederates, originally designed as a fort to protect Northern cities, was completed at a cost of $2 million two years before the war, when it was converted to a prison.

A 12-foot-deep, 30-foot-wide moat surrounds the prison’s granite walls, which range in thickness from seven to 30 feet.

Thirteen Southern generals were held there, but Confederate troops never attempted a raid, perhaps because Union troops had a mechanism for flooding the cells with river water in the event of an attack.

Stories about the suffering—from scurvy, smallpox, pneumonia, malnutrition—have been passed down through the generations, making Pea Patch Island difficult to erase from the minds of descendants. Many visit to look for the signatures of their ancestors on the brick walls of cell blocks.

Relatives searching for clues start with a roster of the dead in a book titled “To Those Who Wore the Gray.” The prison held up to 12,595 inmates at a time, and a total of 33,565 passed through it during the war. In all 2,436 inmates died at the prison.

One prisoner’s diary on display at the fort’s museum reads: “We get hardly enough food to keep us alive, three slices of bread a day, a cup of unsweetened coffee, a cup of very thin soup and a cup of gruel. Soldiers are dying like flies all around us.”

When prisoners died at the fort, their bodies were transported by boat to the New Jersey side of the Delaware River and buried in trenches at a place called Inns Point. A towering granite obelisk marks the spot, and at its base are plaques with the names of soldiers in the common grave.


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