A Fascinating History

During the Civil War, Delaware was a divided place. Many residents were slave owners who sympathized with the South. Others believed in a strong Union. The state managed to remain neutral, and no battle was fought here. Yet Delaware—especially its famous du Ponts—played a larger role in the conflict than most of us realize.

Learn the story at Hagley Museum, where “An Oath of Allegiance to the Republic: The du Ponts and the Civil War” explains the company’s role as a supplier of gunpowder to the Union forces, as well as the glorious and almost tragic stories of the family.

Chief among them is Henry A. du Pont, who graduated first in the West Point class of 1861. For commanding the 5th U.S. Artillery Division and cutting off Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s supply lines in the Shenandoah Valley, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. He later wore it proudly every day during his time in the U.S. Senate. You can see the medal now at Hagley.

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Then there is the less glorious story of Admiral Samuel F. du Pont, who helped found the U.S. Naval Academy. A smart, knowledgeable, highly esteemed officer who helped coordinate the naval blockade of the southern coast, he was first to score a naval victory for the Union in the South, at Port Royal, South Carolina. Nonetheless, he later lost a critical engagement in Charleston, South Carolina, though he had tried to forewarn the Navy that the effort was doomed. He spent the rest of the war years trying to persuade the Navy to restore his reputation, which it later did.

“An Oath of Allegiance” tells these and other stories through artifacts such as a Sharps’ New Model 1859 Rifle—standard issue for Union soldiers—and other arms, Confederate and Union uniforms, a foot officer’s sword and more. Part of the story is told through documents such as an officer’s autograph book signed by some of the most famous military men of the day, such as General Ulysses S. Grant and his commander-in-chief, Abraham Lincoln. His signature in that book is said to be one of the last he ever made. Of special interest is a 35-star flag that flew over Wilmington for the duration of the conflict. According to Hagley director Joan Hoge-North, this is its first time on display.

Hagley is the birthplace of E.I. du Pont de Nemours, so the main story is that of the company’s role in the war. DuPont operated around the clock to manufacture half of the gunpowder sold to the Union, and company leaders were instrumental in making sure Delaware remained part of the Union. The exhibit title comes from Henry du Pont’s insistence that militia members under his command swear allegiance to the Republic.

Clawson, a reference archivist with Hagley’s manuscripts and archives department, assembled 90 percent of the exhibit from Hagley’s museum collection and material from its library, which is a tribute to the museum’s underappreciated store of historically important artifacts and documents. Among those discovered while curating the exhibit is a sketch by the famed war artist Xanthus R. Smith, which shows a naval battle between the Rebel Atalanta ironclad gunship and the Union monitors Weehawken and Nahani in Wassaw Sound. Like the flag, many of the objects are displayed for the first time.

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With interactive touch-screen displays, the exhibit is as fun as it is enlightening and important. It runs until July 22. See it while you can, and make time to stroll the beautiful grounds. For more, call Hagley at 658-0568, or visit hagley.org.

Be Nice to Mom

Mother’s Day is here. If you couldn’t make brunch reservations at the Hotel du Pont, don’t despair. Sundays mean free admission at Brandywine River Museum until noon. Tour the galleries, find a terrific gift at the annual Wildflower, Native Plant and Seed Sale, then have breakfast in the cafeteria-style restaurant. The view, of Brandywine Creek and beyond, is a perfectly lovely one for the occasion. Call the museum at (610) 388-2700, or visit brandywinemuseum.org. Or celebrate with a special tea at Delaware Art Museum. Seatings are noon and 1:30 p.m. Enjoy fine teas, scones, pastries and sandwiches, and pastries, then take a gallery tour, stroll the sculpture garden or walk the labyrinth. For more, call 571-9590, or visit delart.org. Doesn’t Mom deserve a day and celebration as beautiful as she is?

A Really Biggs Show

On Friday, May 6, The Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover will host a juried members exhibition of the Delaware Watercolor Society. Featuring a variety of artistic views, the show will run through May 29. Award-winner Kass Morin Freeman of the American Watercolor Society and National Watercolor Society is the juror and awards judge. “Our goal is to introduce and broaden the community’s perspective of watercolor while supporting artists of the Watercolor Society,” says Biggs curator Ryan Grover. “I encourage everyone to take the time to view these remarkable works of art.” Meet the artists during the awards reception on Dover’s First Friday, May 6, from 5 p.m. till 7 p.m. For more, call 674-2111, or visit biggsmuseum.org.


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