Salem County During the Civil War

An account in the booklet published by the Salem County Tercentenary Committee describes the area at the time of the Civil War.

After the Revolutionary War’s skirmish at Quinton’s Bridge and the massacre at Hancock’s Bridge, Fenwick’s Colony enjoyed almost a century of peace. The tragic North-South “War of Brothers” came to mar the calm. The Civil War never really touched Salem County, but feelings engendered left deep scars here. Before the start of actual hostilities in April of 1861, the county was an active link in the Underground Railroad. Records still exist of runaway slaves helped to freedom by citizens of Salem, Pennsville, and other towns. The general trail led from Delaware across the river to Elsinboro, then from farm to farm across the townships until the fugitives reached the Gloucester County line.

Just thirteen days after the bombardment of Fort Sumter, the Johnson Guards left Salem to help preserve the Union. They were the first of many local units to serve with valor in the Northern cause. Men from Salem County fought in every battle in the Eastern Theater of the war. They fled at Bull Run, splashed through swamps on the Peninsula, and rushed to their deaths at the bloody stone wall at Fredericksburg. Jerseymen died at the Bloody Lane, met Pickett on Cemetery Ridge, struggled through the dense thicket of the Wilderness, and eventually shared the tears of victory at Appomattox.

Some of Salem’s wealthier citizens weren’t quite so patriotic, however, and indulged in the prevalent practice of hiring a substitute. The Men thus hired then fought in service for their employer who was immune to further calls to action.

Not everyone in the County displayed Union sympathies. In Alloway a meeting was held to discuss quitting the war effort. Meanwhile a letter appeared in a local newspaper the “Standard” condemning a relative of the author serving as a general in the Confederate Army. Years after the war ended, suspicion and jealousy marred local relations.

On the whole, Salem’s war effort was both sincere and generous. Her sons lie buried on many a forgotten Virginia field. The long scars healed slowly, but the land of peace became peaceful once again.

During the Civil War, Fort Delaware, the Union fort on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River, served as a prison camp. Although it did not receive the notoriety of Andersonville in the South, the conditions were equally inhuman. Nine thousand Confederate prisoners of war were crowded into an open stockade with only the barest means of survival. In 1863 a cholera epidemic struck, and over two thousand prisoners died.

Lacking burial space on the island, the bodies were transported on barges and rowboats across the Delaware to two acres of land set aside on Finn’s Point as a Cemetery. There they were buried unmarked in long trenches hastily dug for the purpose.

In 1875, the Federal government acquired the land as a National Cemetery for both Union and Confederate dead. An obelisk monument bearing the names of the 2,436 Southern dead was raised in 1912. A small monument erected by Ulysses S Grant III, a replica of the original Grant Memorial, stands in dedication to the Northern dead.

Ft. Mott: In 1837, the Federal government purchased land on Finn’s Point from John Mason, a local farmer. Here a Delaware River battery was to be constructed for the defense of Philadelphia. The temporary fortification was to be in support of the battery already established in the Delaware River on Pea Patch Island. Plans for a permanent emplacement were made in 1870 and the construction begun in 1872. Finally, in 1878 the battery boasted of two eight inch guns.

With the approach of the Spanish-American War, the emplacement was in need of strengthening. In 1896, a new shore battery was constructed and garrisoned for the first time a year later. On December 16, 1897, the fort was dedicated in honor of Maj. Gen. Gersham Mott who held command of the New Jersey Volunteers during the Civil War. Fort Mott was then effectively operative from the Spanish-American War to World War I.

In 1922, however, all active forces were withdrawn. New Jersey acquired the emplacement from the Federal government in 1947; the fort now stands as a state park.

The Woodstown-Pilesgrove contribution to the Civil War

The Pilesgrove-Woodstown historical Society contains a letter written by Benjamin Borton, a leader of one of Woodstown’s two units of the “Grand Army of the Republic.”

According to the letter, on August 13, 1862, 117 young men from Woodstown and Pilesgrove voluntarily joined the 12th New Jersey Regiment of the Union Army and marched off together to fight and win the Civil War. He makes a special point to highlight the sacrifices made by African-American volunteer soldiers from the area. At that time the voting population of the two communities was a little over 500 and 172 men volunteered as soldiers and went to the front, 44 of them were killed in action or died of their injuries in the hospital.

Captain Clement H. Shinnickson; First Lieutenant, George T. Ingrham; Second Lieutenant Henry F. Chew; Sergeants Edward Acton and 5 others, corporals 4 ,and 62 privates They became Company I, Fourth New Jersey Volunteers.

Out of concern for the lack of vigilance at Ft. Delaware, companies of home guards were organized to meet any emergencies. Many from Salem County joined the war effort including some members of the Friends. A Ladies Aid Society was also formed.

Like this one in the Woodstown Historic Society many interesting documents can be found and seen at the Salem County Historical Society and in local societies throughout the county.

Cornelia Hancock (1839-1926) was a celebrated civilian nurse serving the injured and infirmed of the Union Army during the American Civil War. She was born a Quaker at Hancocks Bridge, Salem County, NJ the sister of Captain William Hancock. She began her Civil War nursing career inauspiciously when she arrived with other women volunteers in Philadelphia, in July 1863, shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg. At the time, the army was looking for older women to be nurses, and at 23, Hancock was judged to be too young. She was the only one of the group not to be accepted as a volunteer nurse. Nonetheless, she found her way to Gettysburg, PA and began what became a well-known and respected service as a nurse in the field. After the war she was engaged in many charitable works. For more about Cornelia Hancock see Faces in History document.

The financial costs of war

In August of 1863 258 volunteers were each paid $300 by the freeholders, another 202 were paid in May 1864. At first money for the payment of bounties was raised in the usual way; then loans were effected to meet emergencies as they arose, finally here, as in other parts of the country, county bonds were issued. The total expenditures for bounties and pay to families of volunteers reached the round sum of half a million dollars. Added to this were the incidental expenses which amounted to a large sum, making a grand total of probably not less than five hundred and fifty thousand dollars which the people of Salem County raised by taxation to support the war for the Union.