By Robert Hancock, Head Curator
According to one wartime visitor to the White House, “The walls and mantels of her (Varina Davis, wife of President Jefferson Davis) reception room were almost covered with chains and all kinds of knick-knacks, made and presented to her by those who had been captured and imprisoned by the enemy.” (Emma Lyon Bryan)
This ring is believed to have been made for Varina by a Confederate prisoner of war at Fort Delaware Military Prison, based upon the interior inscription: “Ft Del Pris.” The first fort erected on what was locally known as Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River was started around 1817. The fort occupied by Confederate prisoners during the Civil War was built between 1848 and 1860.
Enlisted men were kept in a barracks—known as the “Bull Pen” by the inmates—that held about 10,000 men. Officers had separate quarters. Many of the soldiers captured at Gettysburg were incarcerated here. By Civil War standards, living conditions on the island were more than tolerable, the death rate from disease and other causes was approximately 7.6% of the total inmate population. This percentage includes a small pox epidemic which hit the area in 1863, infecting prisoners and guards alike.