Fort Delaware "Bent On Exacting Revenge"
Fort Delaware, the prisoner-of-war camp on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River, was a pesthole and death camp for the Confederate inmates. Eating rats to supplement their starvation diets, they desperately clung to life in spite of the policies of the U.S. government and prison officials who seemed bent on exacting revenge on helpless men whose only crime had been to fight and be captured in the service of their country. U.S. prison inspector reports of inadequate medical facilities, deplorable living conditions, and overcrowding were ignored by the Commissary General of Prisoners Col. William Hoffman and Commandant Gen. Albin F. Schoepf.
Though prisoner rations in Fort Delaware were supposed to be the same as those of the guards, medical reports from November 1863 to February 1864 reveal 365 cases of scurvy among the prison population of 2,747, with only three cases of scurvy reported among the 1,068 guards. By further cutting the meager rations of the prisoners, Schoepf had amassed $23,000 dollars in a prison fund. The medical director recommended that some of the money be used to purchase fresh vegetables, which would quickly cure the inmates' scurvy, but Schoepf refused.
Prisoner diaries are full of blistering diatributes about Schoepf, whom they called "General Terror", and others among the guards who made prison life even more miserable than it naturally was. On orders from Schoepf's adjutant, Capt. George Ahl, a lame prisoner was shot and killed while returning from the privies because he moved too slowly. Ahl's assistant, Lt. George Wolfe, was as sadistic as his superiors and delighted in eating fresh fruit in front of the prisoners, and watching them scramble for the peels he would throw into the mud. For trivial offenses these prison officials would have inmates hung by their thumbs for an entire day.
Across the river from the prison on the New Jersey shore lie the mass graves of 2,436 Confederate soldiers who died during their incarceration at Fort Delaware.
Fascinating Fact: As the last inmates were leaving Fort Delaware in July 1865, high-ranking Confederates captured after the end of hostilities were arriving. The last of these men were not released until January 1866.
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