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Discharges from Fort Delaware

April 1865 through December 1865

by R. Hugh Simmons©

One of the most moving and memorable times in any soldier's life is the moment of his release from duty and his return home. In the excitement of going home, few soldiers of the American Civil War actually kept diaries or accounts of their release and home coming. Remembrances shared by veterans and their families in their later years were often blurred by the mists of time.

Union Army regiments were generally, but not always, sent back to their states of origin and "mustered out" quite often at the same encampment where they had been "mustered in" earlier in the war. Individual soldiers whose terms of service expired before the war ended were discharged from their regiments in the field and given government transportation home.

Confederate soldiers received official discharges from the army from time to time during the war. But at the end of the war, all Confederate soldiers became military prisoners of war under the four surrender agreements. But that did not mean they were taken to POW camps such as Fort Delaware. Soldiers with their units (or away on detachments and or special details) at the time of their surrender were accounted for and released on parole to go home (or where ever else they might choose to go) to await exchange. The possibility of exchange which would have permitted them to return to duty would seem to have been a moot point, except that General Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865 did not cover all of the Confederate armies. Although officially Commander-in-Chief of all Confederate armies in the field since February 1865, General Lee made it clear to General Grant that he was only surrendering the Army of Northern Virginia and those forces in the State of Virginia under his immediate command.

Three more surrenders were needed to stand down all Confederate forces in the field and thus bring the Confederate government to an end. Confederate soldiers "at their posts" when surrendered under four different surrender agreements, were accounted for and released on parole. This parole was the standard personal promise to refrain from any activities hostile to the interests of the United States until "properly exchanged" in return for their release. So long as they observed the terms of their parole, and did not violate any civil codes or laws, they were not to be molested by Federal authorities. In this context, soldiers "at their posts" means soldiers on duty in the field with their units, plus those away on detachment at some other duty station, and the sick and wounded in CSA hospitals. Absentees at home were required to report into Federal parole centers, or local Provost Marshal offices, where they were accounted for and released on parole.

Confederate prisoners of war and civilians detained in POW camps before the surrenders began had to take an Oath of Allegiance to gain their individual freedom. The POWs released at Fort Delaware were mustered in an open space near the prison pen where, with raised right hands, they verbally repeated the words of the Oath. Afterwards they signed their names to a muster roll with the Oath preprinted at the top, and signed an Oath of Allegiance certificate. After May 29, 1865, they could ask to swear to and sign President's Johnston's Amnesty Oath certificate. But everyone first swore to the Oath of Allegiance and signed the muster roll. They were then given their preferred Oath certificate upon departure along with their transportation orders.

The purpose of the following time line is to document those events and orders impacting the release of Confederate prisoners of war and civilian detainees from Fort Delaware, and the departure of the Union army units stationed on Pea Patch Island to guard them. Notes are included on the Union army courts-martial cases [Company "Q"] at Fort Delaware to do hard time. External events which impacted the decisions to release certain POWs from captivity, such as the dates of the four major Confederate surrenders, are included to give context to the time line. The timing and pattern of these surrenders impacted decisions made in the War Department to release the prisoners.

April

1865

2

Richmond abandoned. President Jefferson Davis and the Confederate government evacuated to Greensboro, North Carolina.

9

Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia and those forces within a 20 mile radius of Appomattox Court House under his direct command to Lieutenant General U. S. Grant.

A formal surrender ceremony was held on April 12th. Paroles were issued in their camps and the Confederates dispersed to their homes.

14

President Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theatre and died early the next day.

15

Vice President Andrew Johnson took the Oath of Office as President of the United States upon the announcement of Lincoln’s death.

26

Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered the Confederate Army in North Carolina and the Confederate military departments covering the states of  North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia to Major General William T. Sherman at Greensboro, North Carolina. The two armies were widely separated at the end and there was no "Appomattox style" grand surrender ceremony. The Confederates stacked arms, turned in equipment, and were paroled in their own camps. There were barely enough Federal officers present to witness these final musters. The army marched to nearby Salisbury on May 3rd, drew rations for the trip home, and disbanded.

Paroling and disbanding of Confederate forces in the field at places other than Greensboro which were also covered by General Johnston's surrender took place over the next three weeks. Major General Sam Jones, commanding Confederate forces in Florida, was personally paroled on May 12, 1865. The "surrender" in Florida was in reality a disbanding process taking place between May 17th and May 20th under the April 26th surrender agreement. The disbandment was delayed by competition between two separate Federal commands over which would have the honor of accepting the "surrender" and supervise the paroling process.

May

 

4

Confederate Lieutenant General Richard Taylor surrendered the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana, and all Confederate forces operating within the department, to Major General E. R. S. Canby, Department of the Gulf at Citronelle, Alabama. Most of the troops in the field were gathered at Meridian, Mississippi where they were mustered and paroled. Stragglers reported into Provost Martial offices at major towns near their homes to be paroled. All Confederate territory east of the Mississippi River was now under Federal control.

8

War Department issued General Orders No. 85 which directed that all who asked to take the Oath of Allegiance prior to the fall of Richmond on April 2nd were to be allowed to do so, and released with transportation provided to their homes.

Surviving statistics show that 1,072 prisoners of war were released from Fort Delaware in the month of May 1865. Some were released under War Department special orders, but most were released under G. O. #85 on or about May 10, 1865.

10

Confederate President Jefferson Davis was captured at Washington, Georgia.

22

Confederate Lieutenant General Joseph Wheeler, Colonel Francis Lubbock, and Colonel William Preston Johnston who were captured with Confederate President Jefferson Davis in northern Georgia were delivered to Fort Delaware. President Davis' personal secretary, Burton N. Harrison, was first sent to Old Capitol Prison and then held in the District Penitentiary in Washington, DC. After several weeks of solitary confinement, he was sent to Fort Delaware.

26

The Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department was surrendered at New Orleans to Major General E. R. S. Canby, Department of the Gulf. The surrender agreement was signed aboard a Federal warship in Galveston Bay by Confederate Lieutenant General E. Kirby Smith on June 3, 1865. Those still present at their duty stations throughout the T-M Department were paroled and released to go home. However, aware of the surrenders east of the Mississippi River and the capture of President Jefferson Davis, many of the Trans-Mississippi infantry and cavalry units had already disbanded and the men dispersed to their homes prior to May 26, 1865.

Parole centers were set up in major towns in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas, and the disbanded men required to report into a parole center nearest their homes to be accounted for and released on parole. Absentees from units east of the Mississippi River who were at home in the Trans-Mississippi, and who had not been paroled before returning home, were also required to report into these parole centers where they were accounted for and released on parole.

27

General Orders No. 98civilian and Confederate military prisoners tried and sentenced by military tribunals during the war were ordered to be released upon taking the Oath of Allegiance. This did not include the Union prisoners sentenced by Union army courts-martial to hard labor, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and dishonorable discharges at the conclusion of their sentence. These were remitted on a case by case basis under special orders issued from the War Dept.

29

President Andrew Johnson issued his Amnesty Proclamation

See Article IV of General Orders No. 109 below. The Amnesty Oath was worded differently from the standard Oath of Allegiance used by the War Department and the amnesty program was to be administered by the State Department.

30

The 11th Maryland Infantry departed Fort Delaware and were mustered out at Baltimore on June 15, 1865. They were replaced by the 215th Pennsylvania Infantry. [Hamilton's Diary, Dyer's Compendium, Bates' PA Volunteers]

31

Brigadier General William Hoffman, Commissary General of Prisoners, recently brevetted to brigadier general, wrote directly to General Grant proposing a “fifty per day” release plan for the balance of the prisoners of war being held: “There are seventeen military prisons at which are confined over 50,000 prisoners, and at the rate of fifty per day it will take near sixty days to vacate the prisons. There are about 5,000 officers in confinement, all of whom might be excluded from release, except on special application, if thought advisable.”

June

 

1

The 165th New York Infantry (850 men) departed Fort Delaware for the Department of the South. The regiment was mustered out at Charleston, South Carolina on September 1, 1865. [Hamilton's Diary, Dyer's Compendium]

2

General Orders No. 104 issued from the Adjutant-General’s Office by order of Lieutenant General Grant: “The Quartermaster’s Department will furnish all prisoners of war and citizen prisoners who have been or may be released from confinement by reason of their taking the Oath of Allegiance to the United States with transportation to their homes, or to the nearest points thereto which it may be practicable to reach by the usual routes of water and railroad transportation. All officers of the Quartermaster’s Department who may be called upon to provide transportation under this order will require the parties applying for the same to produce satisfactory evidence that they were released upon the condition specified, and for this purpose such prisoners will, at the time of their discharge from custody, be given by the commanding officers a written statement setting forth that they are entitled to transportation to their homes.”

6

General Orders No. 109 issued from the Adjutant-General’s Office by order of the President of the United States:

“The prisoners of war at the several depots in the North will be discharged under the following regulations and restrictions:

“I. All enlisted men of the rebel army and petty officers and seamen of the rebel navy will be discharged upon taking the Oath of Allegiance.

“II. Officers of the rebel army not above the grade of captain and of the rebel navy not above the grade of lieutenant, except as such as have graduated at the United States Military or Naval academies and such as held a commission in either the United States Army of Navy at the beginning of the rebellion, may be discharged upon taking the Oath of Allegiance.

“III. When the discharges hereby ordered are completed, regulations will be issued in respect to the discharge of officers of higher rank than captain in the army or lieutenant in the navy.

“IV. The several commanders of prison stations will discharge each day as many of the prisoners hereby authorized to be discharged as proper rolls can be prepared for, beginning with those who have been longest in prison and from the most remote points of the country; and certified rolls will be forwarded daily to the Commissary-General of Prisoners of those so discharged. The Oath of Allegiance only will be administered, but notice will be given that all who desire will be permitted to take the Oath of Amnesty after their release, in accordance with the regulations of the Department of State respecting amnesty.

“V. The Quartermaster’s Department will furnish transportation to all released prisoners to the nearest accessible point to their homes, by rail, or by steamboat.”

10

General Order No. 109 was announced in the enlisted men’s prison pen at Fort Delaware. Soldiers from Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Texas took the Oath of Allegiance and were sent away. [Berkeley's Diary]

11

Enlisted POWs from Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and South Carolina took the Oath of Allegiance and were sent away. [Berkeley's Diary]

12

Balance of the enlisted POWs from Mississippi sent away. [Berkeley's Diary]

600 Confederate officers took the Oath a day prior to departure. [Roberts' Diary]

13

“At the hour of 8 AM, our prison doors were unbarred, and we were ordered to get ready with all possible dispatch to take a steamer in waiting for Philadelphia, where we would be transported over the most direct and available lines of railroad and waterways, or by both to our homes --. All things ready, we bid adieu to Fort Delaware and her prison and boarded at steamer anchored at the wharf or pier, sporting the name ‘Meteor’ and landed at the wharf at Philadelphia at 30 minutes after 12 o’clock.” [Roberts' Diary]

Pittsburgh’s Independent Battery G was released from duty and sent to Philadelphia by boat, and from there by rail to Harrisburg. The Battery was mustered out of service at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on June 20, 1865. [Hamilton's Diary, Bates' PA Volunteers]

14

"Alabama boys called out, but did not get off."  [Berkeley's Diary]

A post-war report to Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs stated that in June 1865, some "3,000 released rebels from Point Lookout and Fort Delaware" were sent by ocean going vessels to Mobile, Alabama. [OR III, Volume 5, p 289]

15

“Taliaferro and Mercer left this morning for their homes, also all the Alabama boys. All the Virginians from the Valley were carried out, but had to be brought back as the boat was too much crowded for them to get on.” [Berkeley's Diary]

Philadelphia’s Independent Battery A [Captain Mlotkowski’s battery] left by steamboat for Philadelphia. They were mustered out of service at Camp Cadwalader near Philadelphia on June 30, 1865. [Bates’ PA Volunteers]

201st Pennsylvania Infantry sent from Pea Patch Island to Harrisburg where it was mustered out of service on June 21, 1865. [Bates’ PA Volunteers]

16

“All the Georgia boys left for home. -- Yet there are some two or three thousand prisoners still here.” [Berkeley's Diary]

17

No releases were made on June 17th or June 18th because the boats had not returned from Baltimore and Philadelphia. [Berkeley Diary]

A Circular was issued from the Office of the Commissary-General of Prisoners to all POW camp commanders: "Pursuant to instructions from Lieutenant General Grant, commander-in-chief, you will immediately release, on their taking the oath of allegiance, all citizen prisoners in your custody who have no charge against them, or against whom there are no serious charge upon which they may be immediately brought to trial. Doubtful cases will be referred to this office. [OR, II, Volume 8, 656]

18

“Some six hundred officers, who, up to this date, had declined to take the Oath of Allegiance, accepted it and were given the freedom of the island on their parole. Some of them visited our barracks. [Berkeley's Diary]

19

“Today we have been ‘galvanized’ into true and loyal citizens of Yankeedom. – At 9 A.M. all officers under grade of a Major were called out upon the grass plot in front of the two prison pens.” The prisoners were formed into a hollow square, lectured on the solemnity of the Oath, and then required to repeat the Oath with hands raised as a group. They were soon placed on board a river steamer with copies of their transportation orders and a duplicate of their Oaths and sent upriver to Philadelphia. [Shotwell's Diary]

“Special Orders No. 1167: In accordance with General Orders No. 109, War Department, Adjutant General’s office June 6th, 1865, R. A. Shotwell, prisoner of war, is hereby released confinement at this post. The Quarter Master’s Department will furnish him transportation to Charlotte, North Carolina, by command of Brig. General A. Schoepf, signed George W. Ahl, Captain and AAAG.” [Shotwell's Diary]

“I signed the Oath of Allegiance today to the United States government. God grant I may be enabled to keep it, without any temptation to break it.” [Berkeley's Diary]

20

“North Carolina boys went home this morning. About fifteen hundred [1,500] of them”. [Berkeley's Diary]

“About dark I was called out with some thousand [1,000] other prisoners and given [a copy of] my Oath of Allegiance, which I had signed, and transportation to Richmond, and put on board the Baltimore boat. – When we left Fort Delaware, the Yanks gave us three days’ rations of hardtack and mess pork. We came through the canal which connects Delaware and Chesapeake bays and reached Baltimore about 7 A.M.” [Berkeley's Diary]

Statistics show that 6,977 Confederate POWs, captains and below, were released from Fort Delaware in June 1865. Most of these releases took place over the 11 day period from June 10th through June 20th.

27

Confederate field grade officers (colonels, lieutenant colonels, and majors) were excluded from release under General Orders No. 109. It took the intervention of General Grant to get them released. On June 27, 1865, General Grant wrote to Secretary Stanton: “I would respectfully recommend that all of the officers now at Fort Delaware be discharged on taking the Oath of Allegiance. All coming within the range of existing orders for the discharge of rebel prisoners have already been discharged from the place. I would also recommend that general direction for the discharge of all remaining prisoners be given, to be executed by commanders of prisons as present orders for the discharge of prisoners are carried out. This will enable us to discharge a great many soldiers and diminish expenses materially.”

31

There were 316 Union army convicts [Company "Q"] sentenced to hard labor at Fort Delaware still on hand at the end of June 1865. The sentences of these men were periodically reviewed in the War Department and remitted as appropriate, and individuals ordered released by Special Orders. [NARA Tape 302]

July

 

 

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton's response to General Grant's "respectful recommendation" was not preserved for history. However, statistics show that the final 105 Confederate POWs were released from Fort Delaware in July 1865 and that there were 14 civilian prisoners still being held at the end of the month. [OR, II, Volume 8, 1003]

General Orders No. 109 had excluded all army and navy officers of any rank who were graduates of the academies at West Point or Annapolis and who had held commissions in the Confederate service. The President's Amnesty Proclamation required persons fitting this description to apply personally to the President for a pardon. These men were released on special orders issued by the War Department.

Companies K and L of the 4th U. S. Artillery were sent to Fort Delaware in the month of July 1865 to resume responsibility for the Artillery Post.

4

Colonel William Preston Johnston, military aide-de-camp to Confederate President Jefferson Davis was held in solitary confinement inside Fort Delaware from 23 MAY 1865 until his sudden and surprising release on special orders from the War Department on 19 JUL 1865 upon taking the Oath of Allegiance. In a letter written to his wife and smuggled out of his cell by one of his guards on July 4th, Johnston stated that "We are not treated so rigorously as at first. There are only 16 prisoners [here] and four of them in my fix."

25

Ahl's Battery, 1st Delaware Heavy Artillery composed primarily of "galvanized Yankees" (ex-Confederates recruited from the prison pen in July 1863) was mustered out at Fort Delaware on July 25, 1865. [David Price]

28

Companies D, F, and I of the 196th Ohio Infantry arrived from Baltimore.

31

The 215th Pennsylvania Infantry was sent back to Philadelphia sometime in July 1865, presumably to Camp Cadwalader where it had been mustered in. The regiment was mustered out of service on July 31, 1865. [Bates' PA Volunteers]

Company "Q" (Union army convicts) was reduced to 50 men. However, Union army prisoners sentenced by court-martial to hard labor continued to be sent to Fort Delaware replenishing Company "Q" from time to time.

Confederate Lieutenant General Joseph Wheeler and Colonel William Preston Johnston were released from Fort Delaware in July 1865.

Colonel Francis R. Lubbock and Burton N. Harrison, President Jefferson Davis' private secretary, continued to be held at Fort Delaware as political prisoners. Lubbock was released November 23, 1865. Harrison was on January 16, 1866.

August

 

13

Company G of the 196th Ohio Infantry arrived at Fort Delaware.

24

Company G of the 196th Ohio Infantry departed for Baltimore via Wilmington.

September

 

7

Three remaining companies of the 196th Ohio Infantry departed Fort Delaware for Baltimore, Maryland where the entire regiment was collected and mustered out on September 11, 1865.

October

Companies K and L, 4th U. S. Artillery continue to garrison Fort Delaware.

November

 

December

War Department General Order No. 128 dated December 4, 1865 directed the release of all prisoners confined at Fort Delaware. Special Orders continued to be received from the War Department remitting the sentences of individuals convicted by U. S. Army courts-martial.

Primary Reference Sources

Bates, Samuel P., compiler, History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865. See http://quod.lib.umich.edu/

Dyer, Frederick H., Compendium of the War of the Rebellion. Union regimental histories. See the National Park Service's Civil War Soldiers & Sailors System on line at http://www.itd.nps.gov/cwss/regiments.cfm

Hamilton, J. G. de Roulhac and Rebecca Cameron, editors, The Papers of Randolph Abbott Shotwell (North Carolina Historical Commission, 1931)

Hyman, Harold Melvin, Era of the Oath: Northern Loyalty Tests During the Civil War and Reconstruction (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1954)

National Archives Microfilm Records pertaining to Fort Delaware, Society Archives & Library.

Official Records, Series II, Volume 8. See http://cdl.library.cornell.edu/moa/moa_browse.html

Roberts, Bowlin E., Captain, 6th Kentucky Cavalry, Prison Life at Fort Delaware (Privately transcribed by Jerry Selby of Fredericksburg, Virginia and presented to the Society in 1994. Archive No. 94.027)

Shaw, Arthur Marvin, William Preston Johnston, A Transitional Figure of the Confederacy (LSU Press, 1943)

Trudeau, Noah Andre, Out of the Storm: The End of the Civil War, April-June 1865 (LSU Press, 1994)

Virginia Historical Society, editors and publishers, Four Years in the Confederate Artillery: The Diary of Private Henry Robinson Berkeley (UNC Press, 1961)

Wilson, W. Emerson, editor, A Fort Delaware Journal: The Diary of a Yankee Private, A. J. Hamilton, 1862-1865 (Fort Delaware Society, 1981)

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