The History of New York State
Book XI, Chapter 5, Part 1

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

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CHAPTER V.
THE CIVIL WAR.

The train of causes, which led to the Civil War, might be traced back indefinitely, but the spectre of a dissolved Union may be said to have first taken on the semblance of a possible reality to the people of New York when North and South locked horns in the struggle for Kansas. The territory of Kansas comprised the vast undulating plain, covered with Indian reservations, extending westward from Missouri to the base of the Rocky Mountains. It lay at the very heart of the United States, midway between East and West, on the border line between North and South, and it thus became a natural and appropriate cockpit for the rivalry of interest and sentiment that grew about the fundamental question of slavery. The intensity of that rivalry was first revealed in the response from the country to the introduction into Congress of the Kansas-Nebraska bill in 1854, which not merely gave territorial organization to the region indicated, but, in defiance of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which made all America free soil north of the line 36° 30', sought to open up to slavery the vast territory extending from the Mississippi to the Pacific. Kansas was a price of unmeasured value to the South. The balance of parties in the Senate had been broken by the admission of California. If the slave power could regain its equal representation by making Kansas a slave State, if the balance could thus be restored, never again would a free State be suffered to enter the Union without its being offset by the admission of the slave State. So the slaveholders reasoned, and as they reasoned, New York and the Northern states in general woke up to the implications oft their reasoning with growing dismay. The Kansas-Nebraska Bill passed both Houses of Congress after a tremendous struggle, and to the accompaniment of a growing agitation throughout the country. The slave-owning interest was powerful; it had won repeated victories, and the shadow of the coming struggle could be measured by its evident determination to go to any lengths rather than surrender an institution on which it had staked its all.

It is a difficult thing to understand how the people of the Southern States who fought with so much courage and patience in the Revolutionary War with Great Britain in order to establish the independence of this country, should less than a century after be willing to do all they could to disrupt the Union they had aided in establishing. It is also difficult to understand how they could find the inspiration fro the extraordinary tenacity shown by them during four years of war in adherence to an institution so revolting as slavery. We can only explain the phenomenon by the known tendency among humans beings to see nothing abnor-

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mal in things and conditions of which they have grown accustomed by contact every day of their lives. The slaveholders of the south had become so accustomed to Negro slavery that it was taken by them for granted as part of the inherent constitution of things, the excision or abolition of which would involve a general transformation which to them bore the aspects of general ruin. The Northern States, being so much further removed from it, could look at it with less partial eyes, while the Middle States, such as new York, would be inclined at one time to the Southern, and at another time to the New England view. But between the extreme northern and the extreme southern view there was an invincible antagonism, and that antagonism, choosing first as its arena, the debatable territories of the West, which demanded organization a slave States or free States, started at last a blaze that finally enveloped every inch of American soil

We are less concerned here with the war, viewed in its general aspect, than in New York's part in it, though that part was all-embracing, making it contribution to almost very campaign and every minor engagement, as well as sharing in the continent-wide preliminary political struggle and in every department that contributed to the provision of the sinews of war. Until the war was actually brought to his door the average New Yorker could do little more than watch the war clouds gather, and speculate apprehensively on what the future might bring. He could hear the rumblings of the conflict of rival factions in Kansas and Nebraska. He could engage in theoretical debates about slavery and its abolition, with a complete certainly of neither being convinced nor being able to convince, since it was more a question of fundamental likes and dislikes than a matter of ordinary opinion. He would hear a good deal of talk about the revival of slave trade following the discovery of the sunken vessel "Haidee" scuttled off Montauk, at the extremity of Long Island, which sailing to Africa from New York, apparently with the connivance of custom-house officials, had brought back 900 slaves, and landed them at Cardenas, Cuba. He would hear of Southern jurymen who would refuse to convict of officers and crew of two slavers, the "Wanderer" and the "Echo," who had landed their cargoes on the coast of George or South Carolina. He might read in the New York "Times," of December 28, 1858, that "the revival of the slave trade is the practical issue for 1860, if these men head their way." And then he would probably be startled by the alarming new of the rising of Negroes in Virginia, who had seized on Harper's Ferry with all its munitions of war. He would be told that they had visited estates in the neighborhood, set free the slaves, and ill-treated the families. He would hear of a Captain John Brown who was head of the insurrection, and then would come intelligence of his defeat and capture and the vengeance that feel on all concerned in the invasion at the hands of inflamed

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Southerners. And then he would be sensible of a great agitation everywhere throughout the country, in the South and in the North, which appeared incapable of abatement, and he would feel his own blood mounting, and the peril of an incomprehensible war would appear as being quite a possibility, though he might be inclined to put the thoughts away from him as something that could not possibly be. And all the while he could hear the echo of secession talk in the South, and of the preparation fro war, and of the coming break-up of the Union, and dark threats of what England or France might do, if the worst came to the worst, and then he would hear of the first blow as being struck, and the first shots being fired, and the incredible news would come that southern guns had fired on the American flag, which he had thought would remain ever as dear to the Southerner a to him. And thus war, in an aspect more grim and vast than the thought possible, entered the home of the average New Yorkers, no longer a dream but an ineffaceable reality, to remain with him for weary years., a portent as real as personal sickness or poverty in their worst forms.

The election of Lincoln as President in November, 1860, was well received in New York, though 312,646 votes that had been given opponents, not very much less then 362,646 votes that had been given to him. It was generally known that Lincoln was strongly opposed to slavery, but his election was not at first supposed to threaten the peace of the Nation. General satisfaction was expressed by a large majority in the Northern States, and there was talk of a new period of human progress. Bells were rung, cannon was fired, and congratulations were exchanged. But gradually news came of a totally different state of things in the South, and the New York "Times" had stories to tell of plots prepared at Washington to promote disunion. The discontinued States, it was declared, would refuse to submit to the rule of Lincoln, would seek protection from France and England, and submit even to a state of vassalage in respect to these foreign powers rather than yield. The disunionists were already declared to be wearing a black cockade, and men had been seen wearing the emblem in New York. South Carolina was marked to lead the revolt. A deeper concern was excited by news relating to vacillation by the Federal government itself, with Buchanan at its head, and the treason of other officials. It was learned that large quantities o arms had been purchased by the governors of Southern States in the northern cities, and that the shops of New York were almost bare of guns and pistols. There was heard a report of a large body of cavalry in camp near Richmond, that was posted to await the opportune time for seizing of Washington. South Carolina had elaborated its preparations for a possible civil war, and had called its convention to declare its independence. Other States, it was declared, had been scheduled to follow it. A new Nation was to be erected below the

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Mason and Dixon line, founded on slavery. Gradually and then quite swiftly the full meaning of the crisis fell upon New York and showed itself in a great civil convulsion and a commercial panic which disturbed its smallest business circles. Gold disappeared; credit was no longer given; a deep anxiety took the place of the light-hearted placidity which accompanied the ordinary workaday existence. Then the impending blow fell. The news reached New York that South Carolina had declared itself out of the Union. Its editors began to speak of the Northern States as foreign and hostile countries. News came of rejoicings in southern cities, of guns being fired, and of northern leaders being burnt in effigy. President Buchanan showed an indecision that looked like cooperation with the disunionists, declaring that while no State had the right to leave the Union, the government has no legal means of compelling a State to stay in the Union. Then came the startling news that Fort Moultrie had been evacuated by the Government troops, the guns spiked, the stores removed, and the small garrison of fewer than sixty men transferred to the island Fort Sumter of Charleston harbor, and with that came other news to the effect that all the Southern states were drilling their young men and gathering munitions of war. By that time that prospect of war was becoming familiar to New York, which as the leading State of the Union, the wealthiest and most populous, knew that it would have to bear the brunt of whatever befell. But there was a strong desire not to precipitate the crisis by any threatening move, and people continued watching with anxious interest the unfolding of events, hoping they were but the manifestations of a passing madness, but resigned to the worst, and hourly growing more ready to do their part, whatever outpouring of energy and wealth it might call for, in averting the destruction of the Nation.

New York, that had been conspicuous as a center of operations during the War of Independence, and the borders of which had seen chief engagements of the War of 1812, became no less prominent as the principal base of supplies in the struggle to preserve the Union. The financial records of the war afford eloquent testimony to the effective manner in which the merchants and bankers of the empire State supplied President Lincoln with the sinew of war. Before a shot had been fired two important expeditions, designed to succor beleaguered garrisons, were fitted out in New York harbor. After the capture of Fort Sumter by the forces of South Carolina a movement to the front of men and means furnished by New York began, and did not end until the surrender at Appomatox. We find the representative New York attitude described in an article in the New York "Herald," April 16, 1861, a day after the surrender of Fort Sumter and some hours after President Lincoln's call for military troops to suppress the southern combination of seceding States. "Upon New York," observed this journal, "will devolve the chief burden of providing

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Ways and means for the war; our financial community accept the duty and will perform it. This view we find to be universal among moneyed men, including many whose sympathies have heretofore been with the South. If the Government prove true to the country it need not feel any uneasiness about money."

Nevertheless, there had remained a good deal of sympathy in the State for the South; there was stronger desire to avert the extremity of war, and the opposition to it even took the bizarre form of making New York free and independent, and Mayor Ferdinand Wood, in his annual message to the Common Council, January 7, 1861, advocated such a course in the event of a disruption of the Union. One of the last efforts to bring about a peaceful solution in New York was the Pine Street meeting, held 0n December 15, 1860. Republicans as well as Democrats attended, though it would seem that Democrats were in the majority. Most distinguished men of New York were present, and endorsed the resolutions adopted. John A. Dix, William B. Astor, Samuel J. Tilden, James W. Beekman, Charles O'Conor, ex-President Fillmore, were among the signers of the resolutions, which were "fraternal yet firm and dignified in tone." Ex-President Fillmore and two others were deputed to present a copy of the resolutions to Jefferson Davis, and the governors of South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. The movement was futile, but I demonstrated the conciliatory attitude of many of the leading men of New York. The New York Legislature also tried to smother the flame of war. While, on January 11 the legislature agreed almost unanimously to offer to the National government "whatever aid in men and money might be requisite to uphold its authority," it was nevertheless impressed by the many memorials that poured in from all parts of the State, urging Congress "to adopt some measure of settlement." On January 28, at Cooper Institute, New York, a large meeting of leaders of both parties resulted in a deputation being named to visit the southern States "to confer in regard to the measures best calculated to restore the peace, and integrity of the Union." On January 31, another meeting at Tweedle Hall at Albany was addressed by Horatio Seymour, ex-Chancellor Walworth and others. Judge Parker, who presided, "pleaded for conciliation, concession and compromise." Ex-Governor Horatio Seymour, the leading New York Democrat, described the chaotic state of affairs that existed in Washington, saying: "It has been well likened to the conflagration of an asylum for madmen; some look on with idiotic imbecility, some in sullen silence, and some scattering firebrands which consume the fabric above them, and bring upon all a common destruction." "Is there one revolting aspect in this scene," he asked, "which has not its parallel at the capital of your country? Do not you see there the senseless imbecility, the garrulous idiocy, the maddened rage displayed with regard to petty personal passions, and party

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purposes while the glory, the honor, and the safety of the country are all forgotten?" Seymour doubted "if successful coercion by the North is less revolutionary than successful secession by the South."

But if the Buchanan government was a whole, reflected the timid, drifting inactivity of the President, there were a few men connected with it who were not looking on "with idiotic imbecility" in the last days of the Buchanan regime'. Secretary of the Treasury Dix--who, ten years later, was to become governor of New York--acted with decision and courage on January 29, 1861, when he received word from an agent of the department, sent south to save revenue cutters, that one of the commanders, had refused to obey his orders. "As instantaneous as a flash of light,' without premeditation, "scarcely without any thought," as the secretary later admitted, the Treasury head, "seized the nearest pen and wrote an order" to Lieutenant Caldwell: ". . . . . If any one attempts of haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot." The south must be brought to recognize that the United States was an entity whose authority must be recognized by both South and North. Dix did not change one word of the telegram he so hastily penned. He did not even ask the President for advise. He sent it over the wires on the day it was penned, waiting only for the counsel of two government officials; Lieutenant-General Winfield Scott, who for many years had resided in new York and was still general-in-chief; and Mr. Stanton, the attorney-general. Had he shown it to President Buchanan, it might never have become a dispatch, for only one leading idea had taken possession of the President's mind--"that in the civil contest which threatened to break out, the North must not shed the first drop of blood." "This idea," writes Dix, "is the key to his submission to much which should have been met with prompt and vigorous resistance." Buchanan was conscientious and upright, but "timid and credulous." A firmer hand was needed at the rudder of the Ship of State. Fortunately for America, the stronger pilot was not far off.

The telegram of Major Anderson, commander of Fort Sumter, to Secretary of War Cameron, reporting the fall of the fort confirmed what has been known all over the North for some days. The attack on fort Sumter was "like a bugle call to arms." And the call came thrillingly to Republican and Democrat alike. The newspapers had prepared them for the call, the bombardment of Fort Sumter being known in almost all cities on Saturday, the 13th, and its surrender on Monday. Political parties instantly disappeared. Enrollment of volunteers began at once. Undoubtedly, there were Democratic politicians who still felt that war should be avoided, but they "were silent in the face of the unanimity with which men of all parties were roused to action." Throughout New York State, and every other Northern State, only one call was heard--the call to arms. Patriotic mass meetings were the order of the day.

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At Buffalo, on the 15th, no hall was large enough to even give standing room to all who gathered. And at another meeting in the same city on the 16th, ex-President Fillmore put all compromise aside. "We have reached, he said, "a crisis in the history of this country when no man, however humble his rank or limited his influence, has a right to stand neutral. Civil War has been inaugurated, and we must meet it. our government calls for aid, and we must give it." New York City was in an uproar--the roar of steaming, boiling patriotism. On the 16th the New York "Times" reported the commotion in these words: "The incidents of the last two days will live in history. Not for fifty years has such a spectacle been seen as that glorious uprising of American loyalty which greeted the news that open war had been commenced upon the Constitution and Government of the United States. The great heart of the American people beat with one high pulsation of courage, and of fervid love and devotions to the great republic. Party dissensions were instantly hushed; political differences disappeared and were as thoroughly forgotten as if they had never existed; men ceased to think of themselves or their parties--they thought only of their country and of the dangers which menace its existence. Nothing for years has brought the hearts of all the people so close together, or so inspired them with common hopes and common fears, and a common aim, as the bombardment and surrender of an American fortress."

On the 15th President Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for 75,000 troops from the militia of the loyal States. Of these new York was asked to furnish 13,000---thirteen regiments. There was no difficulty in finding them--the State could have had ten times that number at once has they wished. Popular enthusiasm had swept the State, and young and old were flocking to the colors.

The New York Legislature would tolerate no half measures. The President had called for 13,000 men; they would authorize the enrollment of 30,000; and they promptly appropriated three millions of dollars of State money for the purpose. An agent of New York State left for Europe to purchase arms. On April 16th Governor Morgan issued a proclamation naming Elmira and New York City as the mobilization points of State troops. On the 17th he issued orders to Major-General Sandford, commanding the 1st division of the National guard to new York, then mobilizing in New York City, "to detail one regiment of eight hundred men, or two regiments amounting to the same number, for immediate service."

Two days later, in the afternoon, the 7th Regiment was on its way to defend the national capital, which was then in imminent danger. The United States Government, under Buchanan, had made no preparation for war, whereas, the south had been preparing for a long time. Now, that guns had begun to boom at Fort Sumter, the Confederate States

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took off the leash. The armed men began to beat on this arms. Drums stirred the southern legion into the march. "On to Washington" was the cry that rang through the Carolinas and Virginia. Le Roy Pope Walker, the Confederate Secretary of War, voiced the hope of the South; "The flag that now flaunts the breeze here will float over the dome of the old Capital at Washington before the first of May. Let them try southern chivalry, and test the extent of southern resources, and it may float eventually over Faneuil Hall in Boston." Boston heard that boast, and a Massachusetts regiment was on its way to the imperilled national capital within a day of the President's call. At Baltimore, its passage was challenged. Shots rang out; two soldiers were killed and eleven wounded. They passed through; so also did a Pennsylvania regiment; but the Governor of Maryland advised President Lincoln that no more could pass through without fighting their way. New York, however, was determined to defend the capital. A rebellious Maryland should not block their way. Stanton had written to General John A. Dix of New York in an alarming tone: "If there be any remedy," said Stanton, "any shadow of hope to preserve this government from utter and hopeless extinction--it must come from New York without delay." So the 7th Regiment took the water route, as the way through Baltimore was closed; and it reached Washington in good time.

The march of the 7th Regiment down Broadway on the afternoon of the 19th was one of the great moments of New York history. A member of the regiment afterwards wrote: "was there ever such an ovation? When Trajan returned conqueror, dragging barbaric kings at his chariot wheels, Rome vomited its people into the streets, and that glorious column that will ever be immortal was raised. But what greeted the emperor at his outset? The marble walls of Broadway were never before rent with such cheers as greeted us when we passed. The facades of the buildings were so thick with people that it seemed as if an army of black ants were marching, after their resistless fashion through the city, and had scaled the houses. Handkerchiefs fluttered in the air like myriads of white butterflies. An avenue of honest faces smiled upon us as we passed, and sent a sunshine into our hearts that lives there still."

The 7th Regiment, under Colonel Lefferts, reached Washington by way of Annapolis in good time. New York had not failed. "One thousand of the flower of the City of New York," added to the garrison of the national capital, saved the seat of government from falling into hostile hands while the Union was at a military disadvantage. In May, President Lincoln was able to return the 7th Regiment to New York with an assurance that Washington "may be considered safe for the country and the Constitution." And, in mustering out the 7th Regiment of New York, the War Department was then glad "to make known the satisfaction that it felt at the prompt and patriotic manner in which it

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Responded to the call for men to defend the Capital when it was believed to have been in peril, and to acknowledge the important service it rendered by appearing here in an hour of dark and trying necessity."

But this was not the only military service that New York rendered in the first exciting days of the war. On April 20th, the day after the departure of the 7th Regiment, three other regiments, the 6th, 12th and 71st, of State troops, embarked for Fortress Monroe; and on the 23rd four more regiments, the 8th, 13th, 28th, and 69th departed in the direction of Washington, also going by water because of the disturbed state of affairs in Maryland. Within seven days, therefore, of the call of arms, New York State had put into the field eight regiments. Stanton, in appealing to New York "to preserve this government from utter and hopeless extinction," had not called in vain.

Among those who had heard the call were Irish-Americans of New York City. the 69th Regiment had been in official disfavor for some time prior to the outbreaking of war. It appears that upon the occasion of the visit of the Prince of Wales, who became King Edward VII of England, the regiment had refused to parade in his honor. For this insubordinate act., the regiment was deprived of its colors, and put on the inactive list during the winter of 1860. But it had not been actually disbanded. Hence, when news of Sumter came and the wave of patriotism swept through the land, the colonel of the 69th Regiment could not resist the appeals of his men. When news reached New York of "the murder of Massachusetts men in the streets of Baltimore," the incitement of the Irishmen reached fever heat. They clamored to be sent into the field. They could not stay out of the fray. "Restore to us our regimental colors: implored Colonel Michael Corcoran, and the regiment "would be ready to march, with one thousand rank and file, in twenty-four hours." A few hours later, Governor Morgan accepted the services of the 69th Regiment, and on the following day, Colonel Corcoran and his men" marched through Broadway, amid enthusiastic acclaim. . . . to embark for Annapolis."

A few days later, the Chamber of Commerce had passed resolutions urging the government to blockade the ports of all rebellious seaboard States. The municipality of New York City also acted at once. The council unanimously declared it "to be their unalterable purpose, as it is their solemn duty, to do all in their power to uphold and defend the integrity of the Union, and to vindicate the honor of our flag, and to crush the power of those who are enemies in war." T show that the council dealt not only in words, they promptly appropriated one million dollars "toward raising men for this war." General Sickles, who called upon the President a few days later, was told by Lincoln how fervently he thanked New York for this and other resolutions He said: "I felt that when men broke through party lines and took this patriotic stand

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For the Government and the Union, all must come out well in the end." :When you see them," said Lincoln to Sickles, "tell them for me, they made my heart glad, and I can only say, God bless them!"

A great patriotic rally of New York citizens was witnessed on April 20th. More then 100,000 people gathered in "mass convention" in Union Square, New York. Major Anderson and the heroes of Fort Sumter, who, following the surrender, had sailed for Sandy Hook, were on the platform. Former Secretary John A. Dix presided and the people were exhorted "gird up their loins for the coming struggle." Measures were taken at this first meeting to thoroughly organize the State, sop hat it should take its proper place as the unshakable main pillar of the Union. The Union Defence Committee of the City of New York, which was formed under the chairmanship of John A. Dix, was to be, and at once became, as strongly representative of new York's most influential and capable leaders has had been the committees that had taken into their own strong hands, in the first days of the Revolution, the public affairs of the Province. Under their leadership, cooperating with the Governor and Legislature, the al-important task of bringing the whole might of the mightiest State to the defense of the national government went forward with surprising efficiency. On April 21st, the day after the Union Defense Committee was formed, they put before the president a matter of urgent importance. "On behalf of the Committee of the Citizens charged with the due attention to public interests, and invested with this power by the mass meeting of Saturday, we take leave respectfully to represent the government at Washington that intense solicitude prevails here for the safety of the city of Washington, and that there is an earnest demand that the safe and speedy communications should be kept open between the seat of government and the loyal States." They did not merely appeal for this; they were prepared to supply the means. "Whatever force of men or supply of means," reads the message, "is needed to occupy and control the necessary points in the State of Maryland can be furnished from or through New York."

Cornelius Vanderbilt placed most of this large fleet of vessels at the disposal of the Government. Other shipowners were prepared to do the same, and in the great emergency of the opening days, when Washington seemed to be actually "in a hostile country," with many enemy States before it and in its rear, the great shipping interest of new York provided the means of overcoming the difficulty, and soon of removing the peril, so that Washington remained the safe seat of government throughout the long years of war.

 

The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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