Henry Algernon du Pont (July 30, 1838 – December 31, 1926), known as "Colonel Henry", was an American soldier and politician from Winterthur, near Greenville, in New Castle County, Delaware. He was a veteran of the American Civil War, and a member of the Republican Party, who served two terms as U.S. Senator from Delaware.
Early life and family
Du Pont was born July 30, 1838 at Eleutherian Mills, near Greenville, Delaware, son of Henry and Louisa Gerhard du Pont and grandson of Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, the founder of E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company. He married Mary Pauline Foster in 1874 and had two children, Henry Francis du Pont and Louisa Evelina. They were members of Christ Episcopal Church in Christiana Hundred and lived on the Winterthur estate near Greenville, Delaware. He attended the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and graduated first in his class from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York in 1861.
Du Pont was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant of Engineers. Later he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant in the 5th Regiment, U.S. Artillery and served as a light artillery officer in the United States Army during the American Civil War, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. At the beginning of the war he was assigned to the defenses of Washington and New York Harbor, but in 1864 was part of General Philip Sheridan's army in the Shenandoah Valley of northern Virginia.
In 1864, he was a colonel, overseeing all the artillery in Brig. Gen. George Crook's VIII Corps.
DuPont proved himself in battle at New Market on May 15, 1864, when he used his artillery to slow the advance of Confederate forces, buying valuable time for the Federals to escape to the north.
At Piedmont on June 5, 1864, DuPont's 22 guns drove back the Rebels and helped break the Confederate lines. The Union army won the day.
The Valley Campaign took DuPont to Lexington on June 11 and 12, 1864, where Gen. David “Black Dave” Hunter ordered DuPont to burn VMI in retaliation for the school's cadets joining in the fight against the Federals at New Market. DuPont, who had applied to the school seven years earlier, protested the order, but Hunter overrode his objections and torched the institute.
A few months later, on the morning of Oct. 19, 1864, DuPont and the rest of the Army of the Shenandoah were encamped along the banks of Cedar Creek. He was right at the center of the attack when the Rebels swarmed in at dawn. Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early, commander of the Confederate forces, had noticed the Union's southern flank was not protected by cavalry, so that's where he concentrated his initial assault.
DuPont positioned his two artillery batteries between Cedar Creek and the Valley Pike, south of Belle Grove. The Confederates moved in quickly and took control of the first battery.
Stationed at the second battery, DuPont ordered his men to fire on the enemy, but the thick morning fog shrouded the Confederates' positions. In desperation, he told his lieutenant: “Fire to the left in the direction of the sound.”
Confederates quickly overran the federals. DuPont's priority shifted to saving his battery's remaining five cannons and keeping them out of enemy hands. Under heavy fire, DuPont's brigade disassembled the weapons, moved the parts back to the Valley Pike, and reassembled them. He later said the escape “seemed absolutely miraculous.”
“He got all his guns out,” Whitehorne said, “and then, in the course of the day, he took control of nearly every piece of artillery on the field.”
The Union army survived the initial assault and then rallied to victory later in the day.
Medal of Honor
But it would take another 34 years for his actions to be recognized. Following the Civil War, Whitehorne said, Congress stiffened the standards for awarding the Medal of Honor. In the 1890s, a review board was asked to evaluate all medal nominees to determine their worthiness under the new guidelines.
He received the Medal of Honor for his handling of a retreat at the Battle of Cedar Creek, allowing Sheridan to ultimately win a victory in the battle. He stayed in the U.S. Army for ten years after the war.
Medal of Honor citation
Rank and organization: Captain, 5th U.S. Artillery. Place and date: At Cedar Creek, Va., October 19, 1864. Entered service at: Wilmington, Del. Birth: Eleutherean Mills, Del. Date of issue: April 2, 1898.
Citation: By his distinguished gallantry, and voluntary exposure to the enemy's fire at a critical moment, when the Union line had been broken, encouraged his men to stand to their guns, checked the advance of the enemy, and brought off most of his pieces.
In 1875 he returned to Delaware became president and general manager of the Wilmington & Northern Railroad Company from 1879 until 1899. During that time, and for the remainder of his life he operated an experimental farm on his estate now known as the Winterthur Museum near Greenville, Delaware.
Du Pont was elected to the U.S. Senate on June 13, 1906, to fill the vacancy in the term beginning March 4, 1905. During this term, he served with the Republican majority in the 59th, 60th, and 61st U.S. Congress. In the 61st Congress he was Chairman of the Committee on Expenditures in the Military Affairs Department.
He was again elected to the U.S. Senate in 1911. During this term, he served with the Republican majority in the 62nd Congress, but was in the minority in the 63rd, and 64th U. S. Congress. In the 62nd Congress he was again Chairman of the Committee on Expenditures in the War Department, in the 63rd Congress he was a member of the Committee on Military Affairs, and in the 64th Congress he was a member of the Committee on Transportation and Sale of Meat Products.
In the first popular election of a U.S. Senator in Delaware, du Pont lost his bid for a third full term in 1916 to Democrat Josiah O. Wolcott, the Delaware Attorney General. In all, he served most of two terms from June 13, 1906 to March 4, 1917, during the administrations of U.S. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William H. Taft and Woodrow Wilson.
Death and legacy
Henry A. du Pont died at his home, Winterthur, and is buried in the du Pont Cemetery at Greenville. His son, Henry Francis du Pont, developed his home into the well known Winterthur Museum. Archival materials relating to him are part of the Archives owned by the museum at Greenville, near Wilmington.