Posts Tagged ‘Civil War’

In the twenty-first century, most people acknowledge the dominant role technology plays in our daily lives, especially in the ways in which we connect to others. The digital age brought forth the transition from hard copy and handwritten documents to electronic forms of communication and record keeping. In addition, social media networks enable us to broadly share personal announcements and to contact family, friends, and sometimes relative strangers with just a few clicks of the mouse. At times I find it difficult to imagine how I lived my life without the technological advancements of the past two decades. Yet, as a graduate student with a passion for nineteenth century history, I am reminded rather frequently of a life before even basic items such as ballpoint pens, mass-market spiral notebooks, and word processing systems.

Based on the ways in which we live our lives in 2014, the diary of George Templeton Strong may not seem spectacular or even unique. I imagine its significance is lost on anyone unfamiliar with it. So who exactly was George Templeton Strong? And why is his diary significant? George Templeton Strong lived in New York City between 1820 and 1875. He attended Columbia College. Soon after, he joined his father’s law practice and practiced as a real estate attorney. He stayed at the firm which was variously called Strong & Bidwell, Strong, Bidwell & Strong, and Bidwell & Strong during his lifetime. (The firm is now Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP.)

Image from Mr. Lincoln and New York website. http://www.mrlincolnandnewyork.org/content_inside.asp?ID=47&subjectID=3

George Templeton Strong in November 1860. (Image from Mr. Lincoln and New York website – link below.)

Strong participated in numerous civic activities which led to his prominence in New York City society. He served as a vestryman at Trinity Episcopal Church located in Lower Manhattan and a trustee at Columbia College (now Columbia University). He also spent time as the Treasurer of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, which forced him to travel to Washington, DC multiple times during the American Civil War. Along with Frederick Law Olmsted, Henry Whitney Bellows, and Oliver Wolcott Gibbs, he founded the Union League Club of New York in February 1863. The Union League supported the Union war effort and donated funds to the U.S. Sanitary Commission during the Civil War.

The brief background information above illustrates the busy and active life Strong lived. Despite his activities and commitments, Strong somehow found time to keep one of the most detailed diaries from his time period. Strong started his diary in 1835 while he attended Columbia College. He continued to write in the diary until June 25, 1875, one month before his death. His original diary consists of more than 2,250 pages and an estimated four million to four and a half million words.   His words provide readers with the intricate details of life in nineteenth century New York City. Strong detailed his daily activities, social obligations, and political opinions. The diary supplies reflections on the events of the Civil War, including the New York City Draft Riots of July 1863, Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in April 1865, and the assassination of President Lincoln days later.

First printing at Fales Library & Special Collections, New York University.

First printing at Fales Library & Special Collections, New York University.

Strong’s detailed forty-year account of his life in New York City during such turbulent times serves as an invaluable tool for scholars in a variety of fields. The history of the diary itself also reflects the power of the words within. The diary remained in the Strong family until 1927 when a descendant allowed the American Red Cross to borrow it. The diary remained protected by family members for privacy reasons and because the diary contains strong opinions from a tumultuous time in America’s history. The New-York Historical Society owns the original diary. Macmillan Company published the first printing of the four volume diary in 1952. Allan Nevins, a historian, and Milton Hasley Thomas, a curator, edited the first printing of the diary.

Reading Strong’s diary encouraged me to reflect on the ways he chronicled his life and how individuals document their lives today. In order to preserve his history, Strong had to sit down at a desk every night under candlelight and write using quill pens and then later gold pens. This process seems tedious compared to uploading a photo to Instagram or typing 140 characters in a tweet. Yet, without Strong’s diligence and time, scholars would lack an incredibly important artifact containing distinctive insights into the world of the nineteenth century. The ways in which we record our lives may have changed significantly since Strong wrote in his “minute hand”, but our thoughts and the moments we choose to remember remain the same. On Sunday, April 9, 1865 Strong wrote, “LEE AND HIS ARMY HAVE SURRENDED! Gloria in Excelcis Deo…” I think his exclamation would translate loud and clear in a tweet or Facebook status update today.

For additional information on subjects discussed above, please visit the links below.

Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP.


Mr. Lincoln and New York Project


Trinity Church


Trinity Church Graveyard


Union League Club


New-York Historical Society



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Only 29 years after the end of the American Revolution, the United States and Great Britain were once again at war.  In large part due to British impressment of American sailors and seizure of American ships, what would become known as the War of 1812 began June 18, 1812. The unit which would become the 9th New York State Militia served in Manhattan during this conflict.  To protect New York City from British invasion, the predecessors of the 9th NYSM manned the guns of the North and West Batteries.  Though these soldiers did not see action, the experienced gained during this time made this unit more well trained than many other state militia units.  With the end of this war and the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814, the duties of the 9th NYSM changed from defending forts to quelling different riots in New York City.

Political corruption, racial tensions, and gang violence in New York City prior to the Civil War caused many conflicts.  The predecessor unit of the 9th NYSM helped subdue a riot over abolition in January 1835 and that same year assisted in fighting the Great Fire of December 17th.  1857 saw a need for state militia to stop violence in the city because of two major riots.  The first of these riots was the Police Riot which occurred on June 16-18, 1857.  Tensions between the newly-disbanded New York Municipal Police and the new Metropolitan Police started this riot.  After incredible corruption in the police force under Mayor Fernando Wood, the State of New York dissolved the Municipal Police and instituted the Metropolitan Police which a five man board appointed by the Governor of New York controlled.  Some Municipal Police members supported the mayor and others joined the Metropolitan Police in support of the governor.  Tensions began when Mayor Wood forcefully rejected a commissioner appointed by the governor from City Hall.  A Metropolitan Policeman attempted to arrest the mayor but was thrown out of City Hall by members of the Municipal Police.  More Metropolitans came to serve the arrest warrant but a larger group of Municipal Policemen drove them back.  After yet another attempt to arrest Mayor Wood, Major General Charles Sandford of the New York State Militia surrounded City Hall with militiamen (members of what would become the 9th NYSM were involved) and forced Mayor Wood and his Municipals to surrender.  A total of 53 people were injured during this conflict.

The next month tensions between immigrant and native gangs in New York City came to a boil on July 4, 1857.  The Dead Rabbit gang led a group of gangs from the famed “Five Points” to attack the native Bowery Boys.  After fighting each other for a few hours, police arrived to intervene.  The gangs, however, turned on the police and drove them away.  The police needed the assistance of the New York State Militia.  The predecessor to the 9th NYSM arrived with fixed bayonets to drive the gangs and other rioters back.  Late in the day of July 5th, New York Police and the Militia quelled one of the largest riots in New York City history.  The casualties from this riot were 8 people dead and almost 100 wounded.  Fortunately, no members from the militia were injured. 

Experience in subduing rioting gangs would be quite different than the experience awaiting the men of the 9th NYSM.  As the country moved toward disunion in 1860, the 9th NYSM continued to have routine drill in preparation for active service.  At the outbreak of the American Civil War, President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to put down the southern rebellion. One of the first units to answer this call in May 1861 was the 9thNew York State Militia.  Equipped by the armory on West Fourteenth Street these men from Greenwich Village marched to war with very little experience in conventional battles.



Headley, J.T. The Great Riots of New York, 1712 to 1873, Including a Full and Complete Account of the Four Days’ Draft Riot of 1863. New York: E.B. Treat, 1873

“9th New York State Militia” NY Military Museum and Veterans Research Center.” New York Division of Military and Naval Affairs. Web. 11 Dec. 2011. http://dmna.state.ny.us/historic/reghist/civil/infantry/9thInfNYSM/9thInfNYSMMain.htm

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In 1857 a consortium of butchers joined together with the 7th regiment militia and commissioned a new market and armory for the corner of 7th Street and 3rd Avenue. The Tompkins Market and Armory was a grand and impressive building in the Italianate style. James Bogardus designed the building using cast iron and brick in order to render the frame of the building fireproof. This was a huge boon for the building in a time fire was a huge danger to the city.  Bogardus was an eminent inventor who developed the design and manufacture of cast iron buildings. He evolved pre-fabricated architectural frames and facades into cast iron construction, which offered fire resistance, easy assembly, and a variety of style. He introduced his buildings in New York City in the late 1840s where there were hugely successful and inspired other local iron founders such as Daniel Badger, James Beebe, and William Cornell to make cast iron structures as well. Today four of his buildings survive in Soho: 254 Canal St, 75 Murray St, 63 Nassau St, and 85 Leonard St.

The Tompkins Market and Armory opened on September 5 1860. At 181×100 feet it contained three stories. The first floor was filled with the butchers meat market stalls, some of which you can see from the outside in this photograph. It was not kept very sanitary as evidence by a letter from a customer of the market to the New York Times. “Why should not a public market like this be kept clean inside and out?…May we not hope to see, at least, one public market in this great City to which we can go without having our eyes and our nostrils offended, so that filth is associated with our very dinners?… Pray, have pity upon your disgusted constituents.” The second two floors belonged to army regiments consisting of both a drill hall and meeting rooms. Originally it was the home of 7th regiment from 1860 until 1879 when they moved to an armory on Park Avenue. Their departure left room for the 69th regiment to move in in 1879. They remained here until 1906 when the new armory at Lexington Avenue and 25th Street was completed. Shortly after their departure the armory was demolished in 1911 to make for a Cooper Hewitt academic building called the School of Art Hewitt Building, which stood on the lot until 2005.


The 7th regiment was housed at Tomkins Market and Armory during the Civil War yet they did not do much fighting and were involved in none of the major battles. The majority of their assignments during the War and throughout this period were mostly related to calming insurrections and violence in the city. They were involved in quelling the Draft Riots of July 16-21, 1863 which erupted over the National Conscription Act, the 1st federal draft in country’s history. The regiment was also instrumental in curbing gang violence when a fight between the Dead Rabbits Gang and the Bowery Boys turned into a city-wide gang war with widespread looting. Their role as riot-stoppers continued with the Orange Riots of 1871. The previous years parade of Irish Protestants celebrating the victory of William III, King of England and Prince of Orange over James II at the Battle of the Boyne had turned into a large fight between the Irish Protestants and Catholics. So the 1971 parade proceeded with protection from 1500 policemen and five regiments of the National Guard, including the 7th. Almost immediately the Irish Catholic crowd began to pelt the paraders with stones, bricks, bottles and shoes, evoking a militia response involving shooting into the crowd. The riot had caused the deaths of over 60 civilians – mostly Irish laborers – and about 100 people were arrested.

The 69th regiment who moved into the armory in 1879 was even more famous from its Civil War fighting where the “Irish Brigade” lost more members than any other. Unlike the 7th regiment, they were obviously well loved by the Irish community. When they refused to march in a parade for the visiting Prince of Wales, the Queen’s son, in order to protest the British monarchy’s failed policies in Ireland, the regiment received a special flag from the local Irish-American community to honor and celebrate this controversial public display of defiance. The flag was silk with the Fenian sunburst in a green color known as the “Prince of Wales” color. Their leader, Colonel Michael Corcoran was also extremely popular and honored even after his death in the Civil War. The actions of these two regiments from their bases at the Tompkins Market Armory are important insights into the ethnic, racial, and class tensions plaguing New York City in the 2nd half of the 19th century.


Christopher Grey, “James Bogardus; Inventor as an Architects and Cast-Iron Pioneer”, The New York Times (August 20 1995).

“Historical Sketch of the 69th”, New York State Military Museum,  last modified March 27 2006, accessed December 10 2011, <http://dmna.state.ny.us/historic/reghist/civil/infantry/69thInf&gt;.

“Seventy Years of Glory: Seventh Regiment and Its Long and Brilliant Record”, The New York Times (March 4 1894).

“69th Regiment New York State Volunteers”, accessed December 10, 2011, <www.69thnycoc.org/history.html>.

Nancy Todd, New York’s Historic Armories: An Illustrated History (USA: State University of New York, 2006).

“The Tompkins Market”, The New York Times (April 12 1860).

“Tompkins Market”, The New York Times (October 13 1861).

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During the American Civil War, New York City became an intensely volatile area.  1861 saw New York City as a patriotic place which sent troops to the front with much fan fare.  By 1863, however, New Yorkers turned against the Union war effort.  Politics and the devastation of war account for much of this civil unrest.

In May of 1861, the 83rd New York Infantry marched down Broadway among hundreds of supporters shouting encouragement to the men of Greenwich Village who were going to preserve the Union.  After such devastating engagements as 1st and 2nd Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville the support for the war among those who waved flags in 1861 began to wane.  New York City lost thousands of sons, brothers, husbands, and friends during the battles of 1861-1863.  That the Union lost most battles during 1861-1863 did not instill confidence in the success of the North.

Throughout the war the Mayor of New York, Fernando Wood was vehemently opposed to the war.  As a Peace Democrat, Mayor Wood opposed the Lincoln Administration’s objective of bringing the South back into the Union through force.  The dominant political party in New York City during the war was the Democratic Party, primarily the “Copperhead” faction of that party.  Opponents to the Peace Democrats gave them the title of “Copperhead” because they wore copper badges to identify their opposition to the war.  A more poignant image contained in the name, however, is that of a dangerous serpent.  Republicans and War Democrats viewed Peace Democrats as dangers to the Union and New York City contained many of these dangerous opponents to the war effort.

In New York City, Copperheads used racial prejudice and fear to turn New Yorkers against the war.  They portrayed the war as a means to bring free blacks north to take away jobs from white New Yorkers.  For those competing for low wage jobs, the prospect of this competition caused a vehement reaction against “Black Republicans” and their war.

As support from home diminished, men in Union regiments from New York City began to feel the stresses resulting from this situation.  Some, demoralized by Copperheads, decided to leave the Union army.  1863 saw a rise in desertions and by the end of the war 44,913 soldiers from the State of New York would be listed as deserted.  The 83rd New York Infantry Regiment saw about 300 instances of desertion.  Some of these were “bounty jumpers” who were men that would travel from community to community collecting enlistment bonuses then deserting.  Nine men who gave the name of “Smith” deserted within a month of enlistment in the 83rd New York.  Others left because of demoralization or fear.  Many desertions occurred in 1862-1863 showing that the unit from Greenwich Village was not immune to the effects of Union loses and Copperhead activity.

The National Conscription Act and its enforcement in 1863 led to more volatility in New York City.  For the most part, Irish immigrants viewed this act as a means of forcing working class white men to fight a war to bring competition for jobs to the city.  The act also aggravated class differences in the city.  Rich residents could purchase a substitute to serve in their stead.  This policy, intended to raise some of the funds necessary to wage a war, infuriated the working class population of New York City.  On July 11th 1863, the act was enforced and caused a riot more intense than any up to that point.  The riots eventually caused over 100 deaths and much destruction of property.  During the riots, Union troops fresh from the Gettysburg Battlefield, came to the city to suppress the rioters. Working-class New Yorkers, already against the war, saw troops in blue coming into their city armed to quell a rebellion.  This helped turn more New Yorkers against the government of President Lincoln.

In 1864, Copperheads planned an uprising in the city on Election Day.  Hoping to help defeat the Union cause and Lincoln’s reelection bid, these confederate sympathizers tried to once again instigate New Yorkers to rebel against the Union Government.  The plot failed, however, and New Yorkers seemed to ride out the rest of the war quietly.  Citizens of New York City turned to the ballot box in 1864 to express their displeasure with the nation’s situation.  President Lincoln received only 33% of the vote in New York City.

The majority of men in the 83rd New York stayed loyal to the Union cause and were not swayed by Copperhead New Yorkers to leave the ranks or, for the most part, vote against the Union in 1864.  They fought to preserve the Union despite discouragement from home.  The men of the 83rd New York answered Lincoln’s call in 1861 and served faithfully until 1864.


“83rd NY Infantry Regiment’s Battles and Casualties during the Civil War – NY Military Museum and Veterans Research Center.” New York Division of Military and Naval Affairs. Web. 02 Nov. 2011. <http://dmna.state.ny.us/historic/reghist/civil/infantry/83rdInf/83rdInfMain.htm&gt;.

“A City Divided: New York and the Civil War.” Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. Web. 02 Nov. 2011. <http://chnm.gmu.edu/lostmuseum/lm/272/&gt;.

“Abraham Lincoln and New York – Election Day, 1864.” Abraham Lincoln’s New York. Abraham Lincoln, Election & Politics. Web. 02 Nov. 2011. <http://www.mrlincolnandnewyork.org/inside.asp?ID=102&gt;.

Lonn, Ella. Desertion during the Civil War. Gloucester, MA: P. Smith, 1966.

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One of the best resources for studying any New York military unit during the civil war is the New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center website: http://dmna.state.ny.us/historic/mil-hist.htm.  Finding better resources on New York military history than are found in the extensive collection, most of which has been digitized, would be a difficult task.  This site includes transcriptions of many records, digitized photographs from the 1860s, and images of many of the flags carried by New York units throughout the war.

This well organized site makes use by researchers an enjoyable experience. The designers of this site made navigation to desired topics easy with links posted on the left side of the main page.  This allowed me to quickly find the unit from Greenwich Village I was searching for, which was the 9th New York State Militia (US Service- 83rd New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment).  Once I found the page specifically on the 9th New York State Militia, I was able to confirm that this regiment was indeed from Greenwich Village by looking under the “History” heading.  Part of the detailed information under this heading was a speech, entitled “TABLET TO OLD NINTH REGIMENT.  Unveiled at Site of the Old Thirteenth Street Headquarters” made in Greenwich Village by a Colonel Morris.  This information gave me insight into how important the 9th New York State Militia was to Greenwich Village and the pride the Village had in its contribution to defending the Union.

With the confidence that this was indeed a part of Greenwich Village history worth investigating, I continued my search on this site for more detailed information and was not disappointed. Before moving to the 83rd New York page (which the 9th Militia became while in US service) I thoroughly examined the 9th Militia page.  Not only does this site include information on this particular unit, but it gives a link to a brief history of the New York State Militia as well as links to scanned copies of the Adjutant General Reports for the State of New York (http://dmna.state.ny.us/historic/research/AG_Reports/AGreportsIndex.htm).  Of special note here is the warning given before using these reports: “Because the text of the page is actually underneath the page image, the search function within the Acrobat Reader will not be completely accurate.”  To better aid researchers, the New York State Military Museum’s archivists and historians are up front with the limitations of aspects of their site.  Despite these limitations, I gained a better understanding of the organization of the New York Militia, including which military district Greenwich Village was located in, through the use of these reports.  As if this was not enough information, the archivists at the museum added an “additional readings” section which is supposed to be a comprehensive list.  Within this list are many firsthand accounts from men fighting with the 9th Militia, many of which are found on Google Books.  The New York State Military Museum archivists’ concern about the accuracy of their site is evident in that they include an email address to contact them with more information regarding the unit, or books on the unit, that is not mentioned on the site.

Moving on to the 83rd New York Regiment’s page reveals more archival information.  More scanned images of 19th century documents, photographs, and objects are included in this page than are included in the 9th New York Militia page.  I found an image of the flag the men from Greenwich Village carried with them into battle, as well as three scanned photographs of soldiers from the 1860s who were a part of the 83rd New York.  Not only does this site give you a lot of written information, it presents images and links in order to make research an enjoyable experience.

Permission to use granted by DMNA

 The “Further Reading” section for the 83rd New York has 20 additional items that one could look through to do more in depth research. Included in these resources are books, speeches, and letters.  Some of these documents are not digitized and are found in the New York State Library Manuscripts and Special Collections.  The website does indicate what is included in the collection and if there is a finding aid included with the collection.

Perhaps the most valuable resource to researching Greenwich Village has been the unit rosters.  Published as the Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York for the Year …. : Registers of the [units numbers], these documents include detailed information on each member of the 83rd New York Infantry Regiment.  This enables the researcher of Greenwich Village history to look for names of those who lived in the Village either before or after the Civil War as well as where each soldier came from (i.e. New York, NY).  Unit rosters allowed me to delve deep into the lives of men in the unit, from the Colonel to a lowly Private, and see how long they were enlisted, if they were killed or wounded, what ranks they held and when they held them, etc.

If researching an aspect of New York military history, especially the Civil War, The New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center is an amazing resource.  The massive amounts of information are made manageable by the easy to use design of the website.  Archivists and historians with this museum have worked diligently to provide texts, photographs, and other resources, which researchers of New York military history should not bypass.  This web resource has aided me greatly in researching the Civil War history of Greenwich Village.

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