Count Them Too: African Americans from Delaware and the United States Civil War Navy, 1861-1865

Article excerpt

Sellano L. Simmons [*]

The United States Civil War remains one of the most gruesome, but significant events in the nation's history. For four years, from 1861 to 1865, as this war waged on, human beings killed one another in unprecedented numbers. Some eighty percent of the able-bodied population of the South and nearly fifty percent of a similar population of the North joined the military of these two regions of the United States. [1] Although the vast majority of these participants had no military experience, they still decided to join the war effort. Never before or since have so many persons been mobilized for war on United States territory. However, not all the personnel recruited for this war were Americans.

The Records of the United States Civil War Navy reveal that many persons who were recruited came from Africa, Europe, Asia, other areas of the Americas and as far away as the Pacific region and Australia. Among the Americans who served in this navy from 1861 to 1865 and contributed to the war effort were approximately 19,000 African Americans. [2] Of this number, just over 300 came from Delaware. The efforts and contributions of this group that served in the United States Civil War Navy from 1861 to 1865 need to be recognized. Small numbers of African-American participants must be counted too. [3]

South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, New York, and Massachusetts were among the leading areas from which African Americans enlisted. Other states such as Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi also provided a significant number of participants of African descent. [4]

At the time when the Civil War broke out, the United States of America was made up of large and small territories and states. The larger divisions of the country tended to account for more participants in this war; therefore, smaller states such as Delaware usually accounted for smaller numbers of war personnel. Delaware measures approximately 100 miles in length and varies in width from nine to thirty-five miles. There are three counties in this state, namely Kent, Sussex, and New Castle. Delaware shares borders with Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, and the Atlantic Ocean. (See Figure 1.) When the Civil War began, the entire population of Delaware was 112,216. Of this number, 1,798 were slaves and 19,829 were free blacks. [5] This paper examines the contributions of the population of African descent from Delaware in naval warfare during the American Civil War.

The war pitted twenty-three Northern states with a population of 21 million against eleven Southern states with a population of more than nine million. The North was in a more advantageous position as far as potential fighting men were concerned. Estimates suggest that over 800,000 men fought for the Confederacy while 2,100,000 fought for the Union. Persons of African descent accounted for nearly 200,000 of these persons in the Union forces. [6] The majority of persons of African descent participated in the army during the Civil War.

In Delaware an increasing number of slaves ran away as the Civil War approached. When the war began, a greater number of them escaped. Of these runaways, many joined the Union army. Additionally, former slaves were often the majority of inductees for the army unit stationed at Wilmington. [7]

General Order # 309 was issued in 1863 by the War Department. It stipulated that the states of Tennessee, Missouri, and Maryland could allow those of African descent to enroll. As a result, the governor of Delaware requested that his state should also be included. Consequently, a total of 954 African Americans from Delaware enlisted in the army in 1863 alone. [8] However, the United States Navy records show that the number of these persons who served in the navy were less than in the army. Thus, Delaware, one of the smaller states, provided less navy pesonnel than the larger areas of the country. …