Few Americans associate New York City with the Civil War, but the most populated metropolitan area in the nation, then and now, is filled with scores of monuments, historical sites, and resources directly related to those four turbulent years. Veteran author Bill Morgan’s The Civil War Lover’s Guide to New York City examines more than 150 of these largely overlooked and often forgotten historical gems.
Morgan’s book takes readers on a journey of historical discovery. Walk inside the church where Stonewall Jackson was baptized, visit the building where Lincoln delivered his famous Cooper Union Speech, and marvel that the church built by the great abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher is still used for worship. A dozen Civil War–era forts still stand (the star-shaped bastion upon which the Statue of Liberty rests was a giant supply depot), and one of them sent relief supplies to besieged Fort Sumter in Charleston. Visit the theater where “Dixie” was first performed and the house where Stephen Crane wrote The Red Badge of Courage.
After the war, New York honored the brave men who fought by erecting some of the nation’s most beautiful memorials in honor of William T. Sherman, Admiral David Farragut, and Abraham Lincoln. These and many others still grace parks and plazas around the city. Ulysses S. Grant adopted New York as his home and is buried here in the largest mausoleum in America (which was also the most-visited monument in the country). See the homes where many generals, including Winfield Scott, George B. McClellan, and even Robert E. Lee, once lived.
Complete with full-color photos and maps, Morgan’s lavishly illustrated and designed volume is a must-have book for every student of the Civil War and for every visitor to New York City.
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I. Downtown: South of Worth Street
001. JOHN ERICSSON MONUMENT Battery Park, northeast of Castle Clinton near Battery Place
In 1903, a second version of a statue depicting the inventor John Ericsson (1803–1889) was unveiled in Battery Park. The first version had been dedicated in 1893, but the sculptor, Jonathan Scott Hartley (1845–1912), had been unhappy with that effort and revised his work at his own expense. The larger-than-life bronze statue of Ericsson stands on a granite pedestal on which four relief tablets are mounted. In Ericsson's left hand is a model of his most famous creation, the USS Monitor, and in his right he holds the design blueprints. The bronze reliefs on the base depict Ericsson's most important inventions, which include the screw-propelled warship, the rotary gun carriage, and a steam-driven fire engine.
Ericsson was a Swedish-born inventor who arrived in New York in 1839 and lived in the city for 50 years. From 1844 until 1864, he lived in a building that once stood at 95 Franklin Street near Church Street. On March 9, 1922, a tablet was affixed to that house identifying it as the site where the inventor designed the first ironclad, the USS Monitor. The building has since been demolished and the plaque has disappeared. At the same time, another plaque was placed on the building in which he lived from 1864 until his death in 1889. That location, 36 Beach Street, has now been renamed Ericsson Place in his honor. The plaque there was also destroyed when that building was demolished and replaced by a newer loft building. It included these lines from a letter Ericsson wrote to Abraham Lincoln volunteering to help preserve the Union: "I seek no private advantage or emolument of any kind. Attachment to the Union alone impels me to offer my services at this fearful crisis, my life if need be in the great cause which Providence has called us to defend."
As a naval engineer, Ericsson answered the Union's call to design a new type of fighting vessel. During the first days of the Civil War, news had reached the North that the Confederates were refitting the old USS Merrimack with an iron shell that would withstand artillery fire. The Southerners rechristened the resulting vessel the CSS Virginia, although it would be forever remembered in history as the Merrimack. Initially the Union's Navy Board was skeptical about the seaworthiness of Ericsson's monitor design, but the inventor was confident and commissioned three different companies to manufacture parts for the ship. The Monitor was quickly assembled during the winter of 1861-62 and arrived at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay just in time to defend the Union naval blockade of Richmond and Norfolk from attack by the Virginia.
The fight between the two ironclad warships, the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia, was perhaps the most important naval conflict of the entire Civil War. On March 9, 1862, they engaged in battle near the towns of Hampton and Newport News, just north of Norfolk. For nearly four hours they fired at each other at point-blank range. In the end, the two ships fought to a draw, which meant the South could not break the blockade. Later the Monitor sank in a storm off Cape Hatteras and the Virginia was scuttled by her crew to avoid capture by Northern troops. Realizing the importance of the ironclad, the Union Navy hastily built 66 more, making wooden-hulled warships obsolete.
002. PIER 13, NORTH RIVER Albany and West Streets, looking west
The Hudson River, or North River as it is known to sailors, extended inland as far east as West Street during the Civil War. In the past 150 years, all the area west of that street has been reclaimed from the river, but piers once lined the west side of the street. Pier 13 met West Street at the foot of Liberty near present-day Cedar Street and extended for a few hundred yards into the river. There are records of several smuggling incidents that took place on that particular pier.
One involved a runaway slave who had been captured under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and was being returned to his owner, a Mr. Jameson of Lynchburg, Virginia. Two deputy marshals attracted a large antislavery crowd at Pier 13 when they attempted to drag the man to the SS Yorktown, then ready to weigh anchor. A policeman intervened and asked to see their papers, which the marshals had left in their carriage. While one of the marshals went for the papers, the slave managed to escape from the other and ran off up West Street, much to the delight of the crowd.
During the war, Pier 13 was also frequently used by gun smugglers. On one occasion, five cases of muskets were found waiting to be loaded onto the SS Mexico, a steamer bound for Havana. Customs officials stopped the shipment because they knew that the weapons would be transferred in Cuba to a blockade runner that would take the guns to a Southern port, after which they would be used to kill Union boys. This was not an isolated incident: many shipments of contraband weapons succeeded in making their way through the port of New York to Southern destinations.
003. JAMES HAMLET'S WORKPLACE 58 Water Street, mid-block between Cuyler's Alley and Old Slip
In September 1850, the first black man to be seized under the infamous Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was James Hamlet, who lived in the Williamsburgh section of Brooklyn. At the time, he was a porter with the firm of Tilton and Maloney, then at 58 Water Street, and it was here that he was arrested. Mary Brown of Baltimore had sent Thomas J. Clare to New York to track down an escaped slave, and Clare said that Hamlet was his man, although it was later proven that Hamlet had been born a free black man. Under the law (which was supported, by such otherwise enlightened Northerners as Daniel Webster, as part of a compromise with southern states), Hamlet was not allowed to testify in his own defense. On October 1, 1850, a large crowd supportive of Hamlet attended a meeting at Mother Zion Church, the oldest black church in the city, where the audience took up a collection to buy his freedom.
John H. Woodgate, a white businessman, went to Baltimore and ransomed Hamlet for $800, $100 of which had been contributed by another free black man, Isaac Hollenbeck. As a result of the Hamlet case, free blacks in the city formed a vigilante group they called the Committee of Thirteen. Their goals were to prevent future kidnappings and to assist fugitive slaves. The case attracted a great deal of publicity and helped bring the humanitarian issues associated with the Fugitive Slave Act to the public's attention.
004. J. & W. SELIGMAN AND COMPANY BUILDING 1 William Street, at the intersection with South William Street
In 1846, Joseph Seligman (1819– 1880) and his brothers founded J. & W. Seligman and Company. By 1859, the family had established an import house and opened a dry goods store in New York, with headquarters in a building that once stood at 1 William Street, now replaced by newer offices. At one point as many as 2,500 people were employed to manufacture garments. During the Civil War, Seligman manufactured and sold uniforms to the Union army and also became involved with the sale of bonds. His financial connections in Germany enabled him to sell $200 million in bonds on behalf of the U.S. government. After the war, his family firm got out of dry goods and focused all its attention on banking. The historian W. E. Dodd wrote that Seligman's sale of bonds in Europe was "scarcely less important than the battle of Gettysburg." As a result, Seligman became one of the wealthiest "robber barons" of the latter half of the century.
005. SOUTH STREET SEAPORT MUSEUM Fulton and South Streets. Hours and general information: www.seany.org or (212) 748-8725. Admission charge.
The South Street Seaport Museum is a great place to learn about the maritime history of New York City and how it related to the Civil War. Many exhibits and displays feature objects from that era, and its collection of sailing ships, although not exactly from the period, give you an idea of the nature of seaport activity at the time. It is interesting to note that by the 1860s New York shipping firms were beginning to lose business to European steamships. Although New York shipbuilders remained loyal to the faster American clipper ships that had been built to rush prospectors to the California gold fields at the end of the 1840s, more dependable steamships were beginning to make them obsolete. War also meant that ships sailing under the American flag were susceptible to attack by Confederate raiders, so European companies began to take over much of the international business. American shipping never recovered from those setbacks, and although the port itself remained very busy it was merchant vessels flying foreign flags that filled the harbor, much as they do today.
The Heartland Brewery on the corner at 2 Fulton Street was known as Sweet's for more than 150 years. That restaurant was thought to have been established in 1845 as A. M. Sweet & Son, Hotel and Restaurant. Sweet's was a popular hangout for "blackbirders," the name given to slave smugglers. Even though slavery had been outlawed in New York in 1827, it did not stop the slave traffickers. They often met here to discuss how they would unload their secret human cargoes and transfer them to railroad cars for the long trip south.
006. TRINITY CHURCH Broadway at Wall Street. Hours: M–F 7:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m., Sat 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., Sun 7:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. General information: www.trinitywallstreet.org or (212) 6020800.
Like all churches, during the Civil War period Trinity Church played an important role in the spiritual lives of its parishioners. As one of the city's oldest and most distinguished churches, Trinity was the focal point of many wartime observances, and its bells chimed for Northern victories. Ship riggers raised an American flag on top of the 281-foot spire (the tallest structure in the city until 1890) so that it could be seen from all points in the city. In 1861, the congregation turned outtocheer volunteer units marching down Broadway on their way to defend Washington during the first few days of the war. When the 6th Massachusetts Regiment band struck up the song "Yankee Doodle," the crowds hoorayed wildly from the church steps. The rector of Trinity from 1862 until 1908 was Dr. Morgan Dix (1827–1908), and All Saints' Chapel on the northwest corner was added in his honor in 1913; it contains a beautiful memorial to the church's wartime pastor. Just inside the sanctuary to the right of the main entrance is a memorial to U.S. Navy officer Captain Percival Drayton (1812–1865). The plaque documents his service in the battles of Port Royal, Mobile Bay, and the 1863 siege of Sumter. At the latter he commanded the ironclad Passaic, which is depicted on the marker. Drayton's brother, Thomas F. Drayton, was a classmate of Jefferson Davis and became a general in the Confederate army. Ironically, he was the commander of the forts destroyed by his brother at Port Royal in November 1861.
Outside in the churchyard are the graves of several Civil War soldiers. On the north side near the Broadway fence is a memorial in honor of six firemen of Empire Steam Engine Company No. 42 who were killed in battle during the war. On the south side of the church is a monument to Capt. James Lawrence (1781–1813), whose dying command given during a battle in the War of 1812, "Don't give up the ship!" is well known. Lawrence's wife, Julia Montaudevert Lawrence (1788– 1865), is buried beside him and is mentioned on the west side of his monument. She lived through the Civil War period and sewed American flags for the Northern cause. Once when someone disparaged her efforts, she chased him out of the house with a lint knife. Onlookers forced the offender to kneel and cheer the flag as penance. Lieutenant Thomas J. Jackson (1824–1863), later known as Gen. Stonewall Jackson, visited New York on his honeymoon in the summer of 1857. Like many tourists, he and his wife, Mary Anna Morrison Jackson, climbed to the top of Trinity's tall steeple to enjoy the bird's-eye view of the city.
007. U.S. SUB-TREASURY BUILDING (FEDERAL HALL NATIONAL MEMORIAL) 26 Wall Street, at the corner of Nassau Street. Hours: M–F 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. General information:www.nps.gov/feha or (212) 825-6990.
The building that originally stood on this spot served as the first capitol building of the United States, hence the statue of George Washington being sworn in as president. By 1862, it had been rebuilt and served as the U.S. Customs House. That year the Customs House moved from this imposing 1842 classical revival building to new quarters at 55 Wall Street. The U.S. Sub-Treasury then took over the white marble building until 1920, at which point the building became a museum. During the Draft Riots in 1863, the Sub-Treasury was filled with millions of dollars in Union gold and silver, making it a certain target for looters. In response to the threat, John Cisco, the assistant treasurer, armed his employees with guns, hand grenades, and bottles of vitriol to throw from the windows if attacked. At the height of the disturbances, the building was protected by a group of untrained recruits from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, but the mob never made it as far as Wall Street to test their mettle. The original vaults in which the Union stored gold can still be seen. On display is the police command log of the 18th Precinct, the station house at 127 Wooster Street that was burned to the ground during the Draft Riots on July 14, 1863. The log book was the only object saved from the flames.
008. JOHN STREET UNITED METHODIST CHURCH 44 John Street. Hours and general information:www.johnstreetchurch.org or (212) 269-0014.
The John Street United Methodist Church, established in 1766, houses the oldest Methodist congregation in America. The current building, built in 1841, is the third to be erected on the same site, re-using roof timbers and foundation stones from the previous buildings. Among the members of the early congregation was a slave named Peter Williams, Sr. (1749–1823). He served as church sexton, doing maintenance work around the church, keeping the grounds, and digging graves. Following the Revolution, when his Tory owner returned to England, the church trustees purchased Williams and allowed him to work off the money spent for his freedom. In 1796, rebelling against segregation within the church itself, Williams helped a group of black worshippers establish the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. They officially chartered the new church in 1810 as the first black church in New York. Williams went on to become a successful tobacconist, and his son, Peter Williams, Jr. (1780–1840), became the first African-American Episcopal priest in the city.
009. ASTOR HOUSE Broadway between Vesey and Barclay Streets
The most luxurious hotel in New York City during the Civil War was the Astor House, once located near City Hall on the west side of Broadway between Barclay and Vesey Streets. It had more than 300 rooms and occupied the entire block. It has since been replaced by an even larger structure named the "Astor Building." In its day, the five-story Astor House sported Greek Revival columns that opened onto an opulent lobby off of which were gardens and dining rooms, all exquisitely decorated. It was the preferred hotel for Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln (1818–1882), whenever they visited the city. Lincoln's first visit to the hotel was in July 1857, when he and Mary visited New York City as tourists. He returned again in February 1860, and in his hotel room put the finishing touches to his Cooper Union speech, the speech that would propel him onto the national political stage and lead to his nomination for president. On his way to Washington a year later as president-elect, Lincoln was officially escorted from the train station down Broadway to the Astor House. He sat in an open coach pulled by six black horses and was greeted by a cheering crowd, even though the city had voted overwhelmingly against him. Mary enjoyed staying in the elegant hotel on her shopping trips to the city throughout the war years, usually without her husband. She visited the city a dozen times during his four years in office.
On the night of November 25, 1864, Confederate conspirators set fire to 13 hotels in the city, including the Astor House, hoping to burn down the city, but the staff quickly brought the fire under control with only minor damage.
010. BARNUM'S AMERICAN MUSEUM 222 Broadway, at the corner of Ann Street
A visit to view the curiosities at Barnum's American Museum on the southeast corner of Broadway and Ann Street was one of the most popular pastimes in the city during the Civil War. From 1842 to 1865, the sensationalized attractions mounted by impresario P. T. Barnum (1810–1891) were on display here for anyone who could pay the 25-cent admission. An estimated 38 million people did just that, more than the population of the whole country at the time. Even Mary Todd Lincoln visited the museum on her husband's 1861 trip to the city as president-elect. Barnum was the quintessential showman: he filled his museum not only with geological displays, collections of birds and animals, scientific inventions, curiosities, and historical dioramas, but also with the sort of freaks and varied acts that today would be associated with a circus sideshow. Among his most popular attractions were Chang and Eng, the Siamese twins; General Tom Thumb, the 25-inch-tall dwarf; and Miss Jane Campbell, the giant girl. Miss "Major" Pauline Cushman appeared in the museum's lecture hall for a few weeks and held the audience spellbound with her tales about spying for the Union army in Nashville. Barnum even displayed a wax figure of Jefferson Davis dressed in petticoats and another of Robert Cobb Kennedy, the Confederate who tried to burn down the city. The lecture hall at the museum was one of the city's largest, and it regularly provided performances of theatrical productions such as Uncle Tom's Cabin.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Civil War Lover's Guide to New York City"
Copyright © 2013 Bill Morgan.
Excerpted by permission of Savas Beatie LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
I. Downtown: South of Worth Street,
II. Downtown: Between Worth and Houston Streets,
III. East Village,
IV. Greenwich Village,
V. Union Square to Madison Square,
VII. Central Park and the Upper East Side,
VIII. The Upper West Side, Harlem, and Washington Heights,
Appendix A: Some Significant Events,
Appendix B: An Interview with Author Bill Morgan,