Collecting Delaware Books

The Civil War at Ft. Delaware

isaac w k handy
Isaac W K Handy
handy-prisoners (15K)
Plate from book
showing prisoners at work

Books about the Civil War and Delaware are scarce. One of the most interesting is United States Bonds or Duress by Federal Authority: A Journal of Current Events During an Imprisonment of Fifteen Months, at Fort Delaware, published in Baltimore 1874 by Turnbull Bros. The author was Isaac William Ker Handy, 1815-1878, a Virginia-born Presbyterian minister .

Though Handy loudly protested his "unjust" imprisonment as a southern sympathizer, there is some evidence he had himself to blame. The Presbyterian church opposed slavery. Handy was one of the founders of a southern branch of the church that favored Secession. He was said to have been outspoken in his beliefs, even when visiting relatives in the North. On one such visit, he was arrested and imprisoned with the officers at the military prison camp at Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River. Following Gettysburg, 17,000 rebel soldiers were imprisoned there.

Southerners have painted Ft. Delaware as the northern equivalent of Andersonville. It may not have been that grim or lethal, but it was certainly bad. In a series of chapters Handy tells of everyday life in the prison camp — food, bed bugs, prisoner self-government, prison justice, and the like. The book has 670 pages and about 25 listed but unnumbered plates. Copies today sell for $300 and up. It is well worth owning. (The plates tend to get separated from the book. Get a guarantee from the seller, then check the plates against the list of plates.)

Other than his imprisonment, Isaac W. K. Handy has brief Delaware and Maryland connections. He was pastor of several Eastern Shore churches and in 1848 accepted a call to the joint pastorate of the Port Penn and Drawyers congregations in Delaware. Soon thereafter, he was instrumental in the erection of a new brick sanctuary for the 1st Presbyterian Church in Middletown, Del., assuming its pulpit. During these years he served as a trustee of Delaware College. He returned to Virginia in 1854.

There is plenty of material on Handy. The William L. Clements Library of The University of Michigan has 22 lineal feet of Handy family papers. In 1992 this library published Isaac Handy's Annals and Memorials of the Handys and Their Kindred, extensively edited by his descendants Mildred Handy Ritchie and Sarah Rozelle Handy Mallon. It contains 817 pages of text and 44 pages of plates and maps.

An excellent, scholarly book on the prison is The Union Prison at Fort Delaware A Perfect Hell on Earth by Brian Temple, 2003, McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. It is available in Delaware libraries.

The Fort Delaware Society has a Web site at The fort is a state park and information can be found at There are many other Web references

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