By April 19th, 1861, Delaware was in something of an uproar over the impending roar. Fort Sumter, a federal military installation off Charleston, South Carolina, had just surrendered to the burgeoning forces of the new Confederacy, the group of states that had seceded from the Union that spring. Some Delawareans owned slaves and sympathized with the South, and a few even advocated secession. Others, especially in the northern part of the state, remained staunch Unionists. In Washington, D.C., the Lincoln administration realized just how important it would be to keep Maryland and Delaware in the Union, if only because without those states the capitol would be cut off from the rest of the northeast.
Delaware’s Governor William Burton, born in 1789, was something of a political moderate. He helped keep Delaware in the Union, albeit somewhat unenthusiastically. Nonetheless, he signed officers’ commissions for the many small militia units that proliferated in the early days of the war. Middletown resident Samuel Pennington earned one such commission on April 19th, 1861, making him a First Lieutenant in the Clayton Light Guards.
As an officer in the 5th Delaware Infantry Regiment, Pennington oversaw various guard duties, including on Fort Delaware, the military installation and prisoner-of-war camp that held Confederate soldiers on a small island in the Delaware River. After the war, he was a prominent businessman and citizen in Middletown, Delaware. And it is there, in the Middletown Historical Society, that you can see Pennington’s commission, signed by William Burton over a century-and-a-half ago.
Visit the Middletown Historical Society
Location: 216 N. Broad St. Middletown, DE 19709
Phone: (302) 378-7466
Hours: Friday, 9AM-3PM; first and third Saturday of month, 9AM-3PM; third Wednesday of month, 12-4PM.