The 150th anniversary of the Civil War began in April, and all over the country, museums and historical societies are eager to share their collections. Delaware is no different! Except that—and maybe I’m biased—our state has one of the most fascinating stories. As a border state, Delaware experienced an identity crisis. Some sympathized with the Confederacy while others staunchly backed President Lincoln. Union armies were raised in Wilmington while pro-Southern forces organized in Kent and Sussex Counties. Thus, Delaware was a microcosm of what was happening across the nation during the 1850s and 1860s.
Your Delaware Historical Society boasts quite a Civil War collection including the letters of Julia Jefferson, a woman who advocated for Confederate POWs at Fort Delaware, manuscript books kept by regiments of the Delaware Volunteers, documents of Benjamin Nields, the Wilmington lawyer who raised one of the earliest companies for the Union, and hundreds of photographs, just to name a few.
While cataloging these collections, a book of meeting minutes kept by the Haslet Guard caught my attention. The Haslet Guard was a pro-southern military group formed in Dover in 1861. At first glance, the book doesn’t look like much…mostly mundane organizational records. I learned more after consulting Harold Hancock’s books on Delaware in the Civil War and the history of Kent County. There, I discovered that in December 1861, General Henry Hayes Lockwood, a Kent County native, solicited advice from Major-General Henry du Pont on what to do about armed Confederate groups in the state: “My views are that a citizen who is not loyal is not entitled to hold the arms of the state—a citizen’s rights are guaranteed to him under the Constitution, on the presupposition that he is loyal—if he becomes disloyal, he forfeits his rights.” In March 1862, a regiment of Maryland Volunteers arrived in Dover to forcibly unarm disloyal groups and individuals, the Haslet Guard among them. Weapons were also collected in Smyrna and New Castle.
This anniversary provides us a unique opportunity to discuss how the Civil War continues to impact us today. I think Delaware is a great place to start looking. Be sure to continue checking the library’s website as we add new items every day. And make a trip here to see some of these amazing collections first hand—I promise you won’t be disappointed!