The Civil War in N.Y.C. Archive

By the 1860s, New York was the nation's largest city and, with the coming of the Civil War, possibly its most divided. The war exacerbated the gulf between wealth and poverty in the city even as the wartime New York economy prospered. Always ambivalent in its stance on slavery. its business elites had profited on the cotton trade while New York also became a center for antislavery organizing. As the city's volunteer militia companies, many composed of Irish and German New Yorkers, marched off to battle the Confederacy, the wartime city was rent with political sympathies toward the South. These were manifested in "Copperhead" agitation and political candidacies, and opposition to a military draft born out of the inequalities of the federal conscription act, and also of racism. These tensions finally exploded in July, 1863, with the New York City draft riots. P. T. Barnum's position--once the war began--was solidly Unionist, yet remnants of his museum's long career of walking the sectional line remained.

There are 15 matching records. Displaying matches 1 through 15 .


Barnum's Letter to the Editor, New York Times, November 27, 1864
In the aftermath of the unsuccessful Confederate plot to burn down New York City, P. T. Barnum moved quickly to reassure the public about the safety of the American Museum. In this letter to the New York Times published the day after the scattered fires, he detailed the fire safety measures he had taken to protect his establishment and the many patrons who visited there daily.
Exhibit: Civil War in New York City.
Document Type: Text.


The Plot, The New York Times, November 27, 1864
This long newspaper account details the discovery of the November, 1864 Confederate plot to burn down New York City's prominent public places and praises the police and fire personnel whose actions minimized the plot's impact. It also includes a blow-by-blow description of how the fires were discovered and successfully extinguished at each location targeted by the conspirators.
Exhibit: Civil War in New York City.
Document Type: Text.


Robert Cobb Kennedy
This photographic portrait of Robert Cobb Kennedy, the only person captured and convicted in the 1864 Confederate plot to burn down New York City, was taken on March 23, 1865, two days before his execution. A few hours before he went to the gallows, Kennedy sent copies of the photo, along with locks of his hair, to friends and family in the South. A Louisiana native and Confederate officer, Kennedy escaped from Johnson’s Island Military Prison on October 4, 1864, and made his way to Canada. There, he joined with a small group of Confederate officers who had been dispatched to Canada by Confederate President Jefferson Davis to plan military raids that could be launched at the Union from politically neutral Canadian soil. Kennedy participated in the plot to burn down several public places in New York City. Prior to his execution he claimed that the attempt to set fire to the American Museum was "simply a reckless joke . . . There was no fiendishness about it. The Museum was set on fire by merest accident, after I had been drinking, and just for the fun of a scare." He and his fellow "incendiaries" escaped to Canada after their plan failed, and Kennedy alone was captured when he tried to slip back into the United States at Detroit. He was tried, convicted, and executed on March 25, 1865, at Fort Lafayette in New York harbor.
Exhibit: Civil War in New York City.
Museum Room: Waxworks Room.
Document Type: Image.


Southern Gentleman (about to Fire the Hotel), Harper's Weekly, December 17, 1864
An illustrated commentary about the November 1864 Confederate conspiracy to burn down New York City, published in the northern magazine Harper's Weekly. "These Yankees," the "Southern Gentleman" says in the engraving's caption, "will learn what it is to incur the Enmity of a proud and chivalric People."
Exhibit: Civil War in New York City.
Document Type: Image.


The New York City Draft Riots - July 1863
This special exhibit on the Virtual New York website offers a comprehensive history of the July 1863 New York draft riots, including text and visual primary sources and analysis informed by the most recent scholarship. This is part of a larger digital project on New York City history at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York based on the collections of the Old York Library now housed there.
Exhibit: Civil War in New York City.
Document Type: Website.


The Incendiaries, New York Times, December 2, 1864
This brief newspaper item appeared a few days after the attempt by Confederate sympathizers to set fire to several New York City buildings. Written at a time when the military fortunes of the Confederacy had reached a low ebb (Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered less than six months later, in April, 1865), it responds to the perceived threat to the city by urging hyper-vigilant supervision of refugees from the soon-to-be-defeated southern states.
Exhibit: Civil War in New York City.
Museum Room: Waxworks Room.
Document Type: Text.


"The Rebel Plot, Attempt to Burn the City," New York Times, November 26, 1864
This newspaper report appeared the morning after the failed attempt by a group of Confederate sympathizers to set fire to numerous public buildings in New York City, including the American Museum and several hotels. The fairly brief account suggests the chaos that greeted news of the fires and the measures taken by local hotels to guard against arson; it also mentions a suspect from Baltimore, a city in a border state known for its mixed loyalties to the Union and the Confederacy.
Exhibit: Civil War in New York City.
Museum Room: Waxworks Room.
Document Type: Text.


"The Absolute Equality of all before the law, the only true basis of Reconstruction," William Dickson, 1865
When the Civil War officially ended in April, 1865, the nation’s attention turned toward the vexing questions of how to reunify the sundered nation and “reconstruct” the states of the former Confederacy. While this address on Reconstruction was delivered by William M. Dickson (a lawyer, judge, and informal advisor to President Lincoln), at Oberlin College in December, 1865, it is included here as an example of the national debate about the central questions of the early Reconstruction period: how to readmit the former Confederate states to the Union and whether to extend suffrage to the emancipated slaves. Barnum also spoke publicly in support of “Negro suffrage” in May, 1865. While Dickson turned out to have been overly optimistic in some of his predictions, these excerpts from his speech reflect a moment in U.S. history when the answers to profound questions about government and citizenship were not entirely clear.
Exhibit: Civil War in New York City.
Museum Room: Lecture Room.
Document Type: Text.


"The Hero of the Planter," New York Times, October 3, 1862
On May 12, 1862, Robert Smalls, an enslaved crewmember of the Confederate ship Planter, courageously seized both the ship and freedom. When the ship’s white crew went ashore to attend a party, Smalls collected his own family and those of the other enslaved crewmembers, who were hidden on nearby boats by prearranged plan. Smalls sailed the Planter out of Charleston harbor to safety with the U.S.S. Onward, a Union ship. This newspaper account of Small’s triumphant appearance before an all-black audience in New York City reveals as much about the political engagement of New York’s African-American community as it does about Robert Smalls. Openly impressed by the respectability of the crowd, the reporter describes the speeches, sermons, and songs that urged immediate emancipation, challenged colonization plans, and extolled the importance of African Americans’ military contributions to the Union war effort. After the war, Smalls had a distinguished political career in South Carolina state politics, eventually serving nine years in the U.S. Congress. Despite his distinguished military service, Smalls was never able to collect a pension from the U.S. Navy.
Exhibit: Civil War in New York City.
Museum Room: Waxworks Room.
Document Type: Text.


A Thrilling Narrative, New York Times, May 28, 1864
In June 1864, the fabulous tale of the Union spy Pauline Cushman was the talk of New York. The Union army recruited Cushman to spy behind Confederate lines in 1863, which she did quite successfully before her capture early the next year. She was sentenced to hang, but a hasty Confederate retreat left Cushman in her jail cell to be rescued by the advancing Union troops. This article, reprinted in the New York Times from the Detroit Tribune, describes Cushman's career as a spy, including her capture and rescue. While the information she gathered while behind enemy lines was helpful to the Union cause in many respects, Cushman likely contributed more as a symbolic figure and morale booster for Union soldiers and the northern public during the last months of the conflict, when she toured the country recounting her tale (including at the American Museum).
Exhibit: Civil War in New York City.
Museum Room: Waxworks Room.
Document Type: Text.


Serenade to Miss Major Pauline Cushman, New York Times, June 3, 1864
In the annals of the Civil War, "Major" Pauline Cushman is little more than a side note. For a brief period in 1864, however, Cushman was the darling of the nation. An unsuccessful actress in Louisville, Kentucky, Cushman was recruited to work behind Confederate lines as a Union spy. Her brief but productive sojourn in espionage ended with her capture by the Rebels in early 1864. Cushman was sentenced to death, but was saved by the rapid advance of Union General Rosecrans' troops. Given the honorary title of Major for her services, Cushman spent the next years travelling the country delivering lectures. During her June 1864 stop in New York City, when this New York Times article was written, Cushman delivered a series of lectures in the American Museum’s Lecture Room.
Exhibit: Civil War in New York City.
Museum Room: Waxworks Room.
Document Type: Text.


American Museum advertisement, New York Times, December 15, 1860
This 1860 advertisement from the New York Times shows that P. T. Barnum was not above using the country’s political turmoil to promote the American Museum. Grabbing the reader’s attention with the words "THE CRISIS AND SECESSION," the advertisement then offers the carefree, good-natured fun of the museum as an antidote to the trouble of sectional conflict.
Exhibit: Civil War in New York City.
Museum Room: Waxworks Room.
Document Type: Text.


A City Divided: New York and the Civil War
This 850 word essay describes New York during the Civil War, a city where antiwar sentiment mixed with entrenched class and racial tensions. In the summer of 1863, the Union military draft sparked four days of rioting unprecedented in American history.
Exhibit: Civil War in New York City.
Document Type: Background Essay.


“Heroes and Heroines of the War,” 1863
Illustrator Thomas Nast created this lithograph honoring the U.S. Sanitary Commission in 1863. A private organization, the Sanitary Commission was founded in New York City in 1861 to provide aid and comfort to Union soldiers during the Civil War. President Lincoln authorized the organization to inspect sanitary conditions at army camps; it also supplied nurses, ambulances, and hospitals, and coordinated female war relief efforts. The war expanded the possibilities for female economic and political participation, and many northern women worked under the Sanitary Commission’s auspices as they placed their traditional domestic labors in the service of the Union cause.
Exhibit: Civil War in New York City.
Museum Room: Waxworks Room.
Document Type: Image.


The Riots in New York: The Mob Burning the Provost Marshall's Office, July 13, 1863
The Confederacy did not possess the necessary resources for publishing any illustrated paper comparable to Frank Leslie's or Harper's Weekly. Although few southerners ever saw it, The Illustrated London News supplied pictorial coverage from the southern perspective. Its artist-correspondent Frank Vizetelly covered the war behind Confederate lines from the 1861 Battle of Bull Run to the surrender of Richmond in 1865. We do not know if Vizetelly supplied the sketches for the British weekly's pictorial coverage of the draft riots. But, in contrast to the Republican Harper's Weekly, the Illustrated London News's depiction of the destruction of the Provost-Marshal's Ninth District headquarters on Third Avenue and Forty-sixth Street on the morning of July 13th emphasized the scope of the violence--including rioters cutting telegraph wires and blocking a volunteer fire company--without portraying the rioters as animal-like. As in many engravings of mid-century New York, the streets appear wider than they actually were.
Exhibit: Civil War in New York City.
Museum Room: Waxworks Room.
Document Type: Image.