Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
New York at the Beginning of the War
By Mary Louise Booth (18311889)
[Born in Millville, now Yaphank, N. Y., 1831. Died in New York, N. Y., 1889. History of the City of New York. 1859.Revised Edition. 1880.]
NEW YORK CITY occupied a peculiar position at the outset of the conflict. It cannot be denied that her most fervent wish was peace. By her commercial position, as the great centre of the United States, she had been brought into constant intercourse with the people of the insurgent section, and entertained the most friendly feeling for them as individuals, much as she deprecated their public action. Again, she foresaw that in case of war she would not only lose heavily, but would also be obliged to bear the brunt of battle, and to furnish the money, without which it would be impossible to prosecute the conflict. It was natural, therefore, that her citizens should be unanimous in exhausting their resources to preserve peace, from different motives, it is true. We speak of New York collectively, but it must not be forgotten that there are two New Yorks: Political New York, by which the city is usually judged, and which comprises its so-called rulers; and Civil New York, made up of its native-born citizens, who, outnumbered by a foreign majority, honor the law of majorities, obedience to which they demand from others, pay the taxes that are imposed on them, and hold the wealth which enables the city to sustain its position as the western metropolis. Of these, the dominant party, headed by Mayor Wood, desired peace at any price; another large class, composed chiefly of the men of wealth, were willing to make all possible concessions to avoid the war, of which they knew that they must pay the cost; and a third party believed that compromises enough had been made, and that the country should brave the issue. Yet all met on the common ground of the preservation of the Union. Scarcely the shadow of a disposition was anywhere manifested to interfere with the existing institutions of the South, which many deplored, but which most regarded as a painful necessity, beyond the reach of outside interference. Therefore, when, after Mr. Lincolns election, menacing events followed thick and fast, New York at first put forth her efforts to avert the tempest. Floyds huge robbery, the withdrawal of the South Carolina senators, the secession of their State, followed by that of others, and the seizure of the public property, caused universal consternation; yet men still clung to the belief that the difficulty would be settled. The attempted secession of the States, indeed, had drawn in a few of the ultra members of the Democratic party, among whom was the mayor, who, on the 7th of January, 1861, sent a message to the Common Council setting forth the advantages that would accrue to New York should she also secede from the Union and become a free city. It is just to say, however, that he did not formally recommend secession. The suggestion was scouted with indignation. Why, it was asked, should not Manhattanville, Yorkville, and Harlem secede in turn, and where would be the end? Four days after, on the 11th of January, the State Legislature passed a series of resolutions, tendering to the President whatever aid in men and money might be required to enable him to enforce the laws and uphold the authority of the Federal Government, and on the 15th instant, Major-General Sandford offered the services of the whole First Division of the Militia of New York in support of the United States authority.
New York City, nevertheless, determined to make one more effort to avert the horrors of war. A memorial in favor of compromise measures was circulated. On the 18th of January a large meeting of merchants was held at the Chamber of Commerce, where a similar memorial was adopted, which was sent to Washington in February, with forty thousand names appended. On the 28th of January an immense Union meeting was held at the Cooper Institute, when it was resolved to send three commissioners to the conventions of the people of South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, to confer with the delegates of these States, assembled in convention, in regard to the measures best calculated to restore the peace and integrity of the Union. The Crittenden compromise was suggested in these meetings as a basis of pacification .
The uprising that followed the fall of Fort Sumter was unparalleled. The peaceful attitude of New York had led it to be supposed that she would cast her fortunes with the South, or at all events stand aloof from the contest. Never was there a greater mistake. The crisis come, she nerved her energies to meet it, and from that hour to the close of the struggle her citizens never faltered nor withheld their blood and treasure. Those who had been most anxious for peace now vied with each other in asserting their determination to preserve the Union, and the mayor, who just before had urged the advantages of secession, issued a proclamation calling on all the citizens to unite in defence of the country. On the day after the evacuation of Fort Sumter, President Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for seventy-five thousand men, to serve for three months, the quota for New York being thirteen thousand. The New York Legislature instantly responded by passing an act authorizing the enlistment of thirty thousand men, for two years instead of three months, and appropriating three million dollars for the war. The State, nevertheless, like the country, was almost defenceless; its arms had rusted in the half a century of peace that had gone by, and of its twenty thousand regular militia, only eight thousand had muskets or rifles fit for service, while its whole supply of field-pieces amounted to but one hundred and fifty. Steps were taken to supply the deficiency; the regiments prepared to march; the recruiting offices that were everywhere opened were seen thronged with thousands eager to enlist, and those were envied who were first accepted. And these volunteers did not come from the dregs of the people; the majority were young men of family and fortune, who held it an honor to serve as private soldiers in their countrys cause.