One of the most frequently asked questions about the DuPont Company during the American Civil War is whether or not they sold black powder to the Confederacy. The answer: Absolutely not!
Henry du Pont, President of the DuPont Company during the war, was an adamant Unionist and supporter of the U.S. government. He abhorred the Confederacy and anyone who sought to break up the country or trample the Constitution. He bluntly stated to his son Henry A. du Pont that “secession is treason to the government of the United States” and any elected officials who advocated leaving the Union were “prostituting their official position…become parties to the treason, false to their states, false to the duties of their position, and deserve arrest for their treason…” Henry du Pont maintained a strict policy that no black powder would be sold or shipped to states in rebellion or to any customers whom he suspected were Confederate sympathizers. He held fast to this policy and made sure all of the company’s sales agents followed his directions on the matter.
Some DuPont powder did make it into Confederate hands but not through sales. Confederates took black powder from U.S. Army and Navy installations in the South, much of it made by DuPont. Confederate supporters also confiscated powder from DuPont’s Southern sales agents once they learned of the company’s strict anti-secessionist policies. Black powder taken from the U.S. military annoyed Henry du Pont, but confiscation from his agents infuriated him. This meant his company’s products would be used against the United States military, in which his oldest son and many family members served. Additionally, powder taken directly from agents caused a significant financial loss when the company could least afford it. DuPont’s accountants calculated in 1863 that the company lost $110,000 worth of black powder to Confederates. Henry du Pont deeply resented having to shuffle his company’s finances in order to cover the loss and keep DuPont fiscally stable in a wartime economy.
Henry du Pont despised former Confederates and their allies for the rest of his life. He particularly disliked the Democratic Party, which he felt responsible for secession, the Civil War, and, indirectly, large financial losses to his business. Henry du Pont became a lifelong member of the Republican Party and served as a Republican Presidential Elector until his death in 1889. He even tried, unsuccessfully, to prosecute the ex-Confederates who confiscated DuPont Company powder well into the 1870’s.
The DuPont Company, through Henry du Pont’s leadership, steadfastly supported the Union during the Civil War by supplying high quality black powder to the war effort. Just as importantly, DuPont tried to keep as much powder as possible out of Confederates’ hands.
Lucas Clawson is a Reference Archivist and Hagley Historian at Hagley Museum and Library.