Sussex County historian discusses Delaware's role in Civil War at NARFE luncheon

Local Civil War author Thomas J. Ryan speaks at the February monthly luncheon of Coastal Sussex Chapter 1690 of National Active and Retired Federal Employees. Looking on from the dais is NARFE Chapter 1690 President Larry Trombello. SOURCE SUBMITTED
February 23, 2014

Sussex County historian and civil war expert Thomas J. Ryan told federal retirees that Delaware played a key economic and manufacturing role for Union forces during the Civil War, citing specifically the provision of gunpowder made at the DuPont powder plant and output from other industrial plants in the Brandywine Valley.

Ryan was the luncheon speaker at the February meeting of Sussex Chapter 1690 of National Active and Retired Federal Employees held at 1776 Steakhouse, Rehoboth Beach.

The local Sussex Chapter 1690 is part of NARFE, a national organization that represents federal employees, retirees and annuitants, promotes their general welfare, and provides advice and advocacy services with respect to their rights and benefits under federal and state retirement laws and regulations. Any federal retirees interested in joining the Sussex chapter should email Ron or Carol Weber at for information.

Ryan said Delaware had a “split personality” in the war, with both northern and southern sympathizers. He said, “People in New Castle County were strongly pro-Union, but did not support the abolition of slavery. People in Kent and Sussex county were more pro-South, but were not in favor of secession from the Union.”

Ryan told the federal group that Delaware’s Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island off Delaware City was a major military prison operated by the North. He said at one point in 1863 it held more than 12,000 Confederate prisoners, and that during the four-year-long war, a total of more than 32,000 Confederate prisoners were held there.

“Delaware was a key route on the Underground Railroad,” he said, and he urged members to visit the memorial in Wilmington created in honor of abolitionist Harriet Tubman and Underground Railroad conductor Thomas Garrett. Ryan also related how Delaware was a major trade and supply route for the Confederate Army from New York to Virginia, through Dover and Seaford, until the Union Army snuffed the activity out.

Ryan is the author of a book, “Essays on Delaware During the Civil War: A Political, Military and Social Perspective.” For more information go to