Visitors to Fort Delaware State Park travel back to 1864 and the Civil War.

THE UNION SOLDIERS HAVE JUST FIRED THEIR MUSKETS, and the sulfurous smell of gun smoke hangs in the air. I can hear the sharp banging of the blacksmith’s tools from inside his shop as I ascend the spiral staircase two flights to the top of the fort for a glimpse of the mustard-colored POW barracks on the other side of a moat filled with muddy water. 

When the ferry Delafort had left Delaware City, Delaware, the year was 2017. But after journeying just a half-mile across the Delaware River, we passengers had arrived 153 years in the past, in the summer of 1864, a time when Pea Patch Island was home to about 8,000 Confederate prisoners of war, in addition to some 300 Union infantry who guarded them and another 800 artillery who lived inside the small, pentagon-shaped granite-and-brick-fortress known as Fort Delaware. Hundreds of civilians also lived on Pea Patch Island, all working to support the fort and its day-to-day functioning. There’s even record of a hotel and cookhouse here during the war, staffed by a Mrs. Patterson.

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