Friday, August 26, 2016

The 4th Delaware, Company E Reunion

Cpt. David E. Buckingham
Without question, the defining event for the United States in the 19th Century (if not ever) was the Civil War. For the soldiers involved, as well as their families, it was the most exciting and terrifying period of their lives. I'm sure anyone around now who has endured more recent military service can attest to this. One of the big differences, though, between the Civil War and more recent conflicts is the scale. About 10% of the population served in the war and about 2% died. This would be equivalent to over 32 million people in the service and almost 6.5 million dead today. The only thing that remotely compares was World War II, where the service percentage was comparable but the death toll was much lower.

War is, as I've heard, hell, but even through the carnage that was the Civil War the soldiers found at least one positive experience to take away from it -- camaraderie. These predominantly rural men, many of whom who lived on isolated farms, suddenly found themselves surrounded 24/7 by their fellow soldiers. They did everything together, relying on each other for companionship and, often, their very survival. When they eventually returned home to their farms, many had no one to talk to about their experiences and missed the brotherhood in which they had been immersed in the army. It's no wonder that in the decades following the war many attempts were made to rebuild the kind of camaraderie the men had felt in the service.

One manifestation of this desire was the rise of fraternal organizations, which is why the latter 19th and early 20th Century has been called the Golden Age of Fraternalism. Groups like the Elks, the Knights of Pythias, the Moose, and the Knights of Columbus were formed, while older organizations like the Freemasons, the Odd Fellows, and the Red Men all saw their numbers rise. Some were social and service groups, while others like the Grange worked to improve the social and economic standing of its membership. Many of the early labor unions also grew out of this movement. One of the first groups and easiestly identifiable as being war-related, the Grand Army of the Republic, became a strong supporter of Republican social policies.

It is against this social backdrop that I see the events that took place in a little corner of Mill Creek Hundred 140 years ago last week. On the afternoon of August 17, 1876, a reunion was held for members of the 4th Regiment Delaware Volunteers, Company E. The 4th Delaware Company E was comprised primarily of recruits from MCH, put together by Cpt. John Harper. Long-time readers of the blog may remember them as key players in the story of the Battle of the Mermaid. On this day, though, there was no tension and no threat of shots being fired in anger. What there was, was a very large celebration that included a huge chunk of MCH's residents. The entire article can be seen at the bottom of the page, but this paragraph sets the stage nicely:

Business of all kinds was almost entirely suspended yesterday, and at an early hour crowds of country citizens were seen winding their way on foot, on horseback, and in carriages to Eastburn's Grove, until there could not have been less than 1000 persons present. Banners and flags were strung from tree to tree, and the platform and stand were almost hidden in a labyrinth of flowers and flags. At some distance from the stand was spread a table nearly 100 feet long, around which flitted fairy forms, depositing loads of substantial luxuries to strengthen and cheer those who had borne through many a heated battle their country's banner. There stood a tall Union pole 110 feet high from which floated the stars and stripes at half mast, significant of the fact that not all of those who marched off with Captain Harper to join the Army of the Potomac were present to take part in the festivities of the day -- festivities which alternated with much of joy for the living and more of sorrow for the dead.

The article goes on to tell how David Buckingham read a history of the Company, his brother Richard did a roll call, and other speeches were given including several by regiment commander Col. A.H. Grimshaw. During the roll call, special notice was given for 23 company members who had perished during the war. It's stated that 80 names were called in all (with about 30 present), so if that was the full roll of the company it represents more than a 25% mortality rate.

A few additional thoughts now about the gathering, now seen 140 years on. First, the location for the festivities, which the reporter only describes as "Eastburn's Grove". While there were Eastburns living in several locations around MCH by that time, I have to believe that this took place near the main family tract southeast of Corner Ketch. Today it would be on the southeast corner of Polly Drummond Hill Road and Paper Mill Road. This makes sense if for no other reason than it also happens to be basically across the road from the Buckinghams.

From the description of the event, the grove must have been fairly large. If we take the figure of 1000 attendees at face value, it represents somewhere between 1/3 and 1/4 of the entire population of MCH at the time. It's quite possible that this might have been the largest crowd that some of the residents had ever been a part of. That assumes there weren't other reunions similar to this, which there very well could have been. I imagine that scenes similar to this took place all over the country in the decades following the war. In fact, the article notes that there were plans being made for a reunion of the full regiment in Wilmington in the fall. I do not know if that ever came about. Either way, the 4th DE, Co. E gathering is a great example of how, even more than a decade later, the country was still trying to process and come to terms with the trauma of the Civil War.

Below is the full text of the article, which appeared in the August 18, 1876 edition of the Wilmington Daily Commercial. Thanks go out to Donna Peters for finding and sending the article to me.


  1. You meant David Eastburn Buckingham but wrote David Eastburn. David Eastburn Buckingham was a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient. He's my Eastburn 1st cousin 2 times removed.

    1. Thanks. It's been corrected.

  2. Thanks Scott. Nice Job! When I first read this article, I was struck by the number of attendees.

  3. it appears that the Gregg family from Landenberg sacrificed greatly for the war effort.

    1. Yes, I noticed that, too. I don't know if they were all brothers, but even if they were cousins that's a big loss. And at least two of them likely on the same day. I'll be the first to admit that I'm no expert on this, but my gut feeling is that it's probably almost impossible for us to fully understand how the war affected people, even in a quiet area like MCH.