Henry Algernon du Pont was a soldier, businessman and politician from New Castle County, Delaware, and a member of the famous Delaware du Pont family. Born July 30, 1838 near Greenville, Delaware, Henry attended the University of Pennsylvania in 1855, before graduating first in his class at the United States Military Academy at West Point just after the beginning of the Civil War in 1861.
One of his closest West Point classmates was Stephen D. Ramseur from North Carolina, who graduated in 1860. Du Pont described Ramseur as "a young man of strong character and great good sense, as well as a most excellent soldier" and remembered their relationship as "not only the strongest but the most enduring." At the outbreak of the war, of course, du Pont and Ramseur remained loyal to their native states, little realizing they would eventually meet three years later in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.
Du Pont served as an artillery officer at various posts throughout the war, before being promoted to captain and being assigned to the Army of the Shenandoah, commanded by Maj.Gen. Philip Sheridan, in the fall of 1864. Du Pont would eventually receive a brevet promotion to major for gallant service at the battles of Third Winchester (September 19, 1864) and Fishers Hill (September 22, 1864). By early October he was serving as chief of artillery for the 8th Corps, commanding three batteries, totaling 16 cannon.
At the Battle of Cedar Creek, fought on October 19, 1864 the Union army was routed from its camps by a pre-dawn surprise attack. This assault first struck the army's left wing, held by the 8th Corps and achieved complete surprise. Leading one of the Confederate divisions spearheading this assault was Maj. Gen. Stephen D. Ramseur.
Despite the fact that the 8th Corps' entrenchments and camps were completely overrun, with many men being killed or captured in their tents, Captain du Pont managed to save two of his three batteries. Amid the confusion of battle, and a thick fog that blanketed the area, du Pont skillfully withdrew his cannons from a seemingly hopeless trap, and then used them to conduct a fighting retreat with the rest of the army.
By mid-morning, the Union army had re-grouped north of Middletown and began to prepare a counterattack. That counterattack came at 4:00 p.m., with Capt. du Pont's batteries taking an active part in providing supporting fire to advancing Union infantry lines, and later, assisting in the pursuit of the retreating and demoralized Confederate army. Henry du Pont had been active the entire day, from the pre-dawn Confederate attack, until darkness covered the final withdrawal of the Confederate forces.
Du Pont recounted later that evening:
Ramseur, only 27, died the next morning, leaving his young wife a widow and his only daughter fatherless.
Years later Henry A. du Pont recounted the battle's personal significance:
Maj. Gen. George Crook was the 8th Corps commander, who noted in his official report, "Captain Du Pont, chief of artillery, and the officers and men of his batteries are deserving of particular mention for their conspicuous gallantry and the valuable services rendered that day."
Medal of Honor
Thirty-four years later, in 1898, du Pont's actions at Cedar Creek were officially recognized when he received the nation's highest military honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor. The official citation reads:
Henry du Pont continued his military service until 1875, when he returned to Delaware, where he served as the president and general manager of the Wilmington & Northern Railroad Company from 1879 to1899. Du Pont was also twice elected to the United States Senate (1906-1917).
Henry du Pont returned to Cedar Creek one last time to honor his old West Point classmate, Stephen Ramseur. On September 6, 1920 du Pont delivered the key-note address during the dedication ceremony to a monument erected in Ramseur's memory. The monument is located at the end of Belle Grove lane, within sight of the house where the young general, husband and father had died. Du Pont described Ramseur as "a close friend of my youthful days" and "held him in most affectionate remembrance..." Du Pont also recalled their last meeting, almost 56 years before:
Last updated: December 2, 2022