Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Civil War Home Front in the Brandywine Creek Area

Kevin Impellizeri
Hagley Museum and Library
Wilmington, DE

Greetings, fellow museum enthusiasts, from the photogenic grounds of the Hagley Museum and Library. The Library is preparing to host an exhibit highlighting the home front of the Brandywine creek area during the Civil War. I have been tasked with compiling a narrative on the subject, examining how the region responded to and was impacted by the War Between the States. The region played a significant role in the Union war effort, as E.I. Du Pont de Nemours and Co. supplied over fifty percent of the federal government's gunpowder. Moreover, I will be calling attention to useful primary sources and potential exhibit objects from Hagley's impressive collection.

I began my internship last week (June 14) and spent most of the week getting myself acclimated with the material, researching general histories of the Du Pont family, the powder mills of E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, and the local communities (such as Eleutherian Mills, Squirrel Run, Henry Clay Village, Rising Sun and Waters Banks). Harold Hancock put together some fascinating studies on the subject during the 1950s and 1960s, which provided an excellent starting point for me. By the end of the week I had begun to investigate the correspondence of members of the du Pont family, beginning with Sophie du Pont, the wife of Commodore (and later Rear Admiral) Samuel Francis du Pont.

Some of the topics I plan on investigating include the following:

Defense of the community, and especially the gunpowder mills: For the people of Delaware, the Civil War was never far from their doorsteps, and the region faced the persistent threat of Rebel invasion. The powder mills were an especially lucrative target for Rebel invasion or sabotage.

The role of the du Pont family: The du Pont family was intensely pro-Union and several members of the family contributed to the war effort. A number of the du Pont men served in the military. For example, Henry Algernon du Pont served in the Union army, where he earned the Congressional Medal of Honor. Several of the du Pont women joined charitable organizations and coordinated relief aid for Union soldiers.

The efforts of the Brandywine community: The du Ponts were not the only people involved in the war effort. Local residents joined volunteer regiments, held fund raisers, sewed winter clothes for soldiers, and participated in various other activities during the war.

Public celebrations and commemorations: I would like to see how residents responded to the activity of the Civil War through their celebrations. For example, the Union naval victory at Port Royal, led by Samuel F. du Pont, and Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox.

The powder mills during the Civil War: Workers needed to keep up with larger than average orders for gunpowder. Moreover, the mills were subject to no less than eight explosions during the course of the war, exacting a heavy cost on production and human lives.

Other topics I plan on investigating include the everyday lives of community members during the war and the handling of residents sympathetic (or suspected of being sympathetic) toward secession or the Confederate war effort. Over the next few weeks I will provide periodic updates on my progress and what you can expect in my final report. It is an exciting project and I feel fortunate to be playing a part in it.

Keep choppin'