Though the only military event that took place in NYC during the Civil War was more of what today would be called a ‘terrorist attack’, NYC was hugely important during the duration of the war. As the financial capital of the nation, a large chunk of the cost of the war was financed by private NYC individuals as well as by public funds. The City supported the Union and the influential New York press constantly reported on the war and rallied New Yorkers to the cause, at the same time influencing the press around the nation. In addition a number of important NYC politicians were part of Lincoln’s war cabinet and took part in the decisions which guided the course of the war.
New York state supplied a lot of the food used to feed troops and both the ship building industry and armament manufacturers in NYC were major suppliers of war goods to the Union army. And not the least of New York State’s contributions was the 400,000+ men who joined or were drafted into the Union army.
Two major events occurred in NYC which were related to the Civil War. The first was the four day Draft Riots of 1863 caused by the inequitites of the draft process where laborers were drafted into the army but wealthier people could buy theiir way out of being drafted. Also laborers were frightened of the impact of the emancipation of slaves on the supply of jobs. The majority of the rioters were relatively recent immigrants including large number of Irishmen. The riot was brought under control by the combined efforts of the police and the 7th New York Regiment but not before a vast amound of damage had been done and over a 100 people killed.
The second was the terrorist attack referred to above. A small group of Confederate military men who had escaped to Canada plotted the downfall of the city as an act of revenge against the atrocities inflicted upon the Confederates. Their plan was to set numerous fires all over the city on one particualr night in Nov 1864, so many fires that the fire services would be overwhelmed. The plotters would then seize control and declare the City independent. A large number of fires were set but due partly to ineptitude and partly to luck all were quickly discovered and put out before they could take hold. All the conspirators fled back to Canada but one, Robert Cobb Kennedy, who came back across the border so he could return home to the South. He was caught, tried and hanged at Fort Lafayette in early 1865.
There are few physical remains of sites associated with Civil War activities in NYC.
Fort Lafayette has been demolished but Fort Schuyler, in The Bronx at Throgs Neck at the East River and Long Island, remains. It was built earlier to protect NYC from naval attack but was used during the Civil War to hold 500 confederate prisoners. And it was the point where units headed to the war rendezvoused and were outfitted. In addition there was a Civil War hospital, MacDougall Hospital, which had 2,000 beds with up to 1,500 patients at any one time. Today Fort Schuyler is a public park and the remains of the fortifications and other buildings can be seen.
The New York Naval Yard in Dumbo, Brooklyn was a major facility for the construction and repair of Union Navy ships. Today it’s war time role in the Civil War and subsequent wars is far behind it and it is being redeveoped as a community space and for businesses of various sorts. There are currently 330 businesses already located there. It is well worth a visit.
By far the most obvious physical evidence of NYC’s role in the Civil War are monuments of various kinds. The most famous of these is Grant’s Tomb, the tomb of General Ulysses S Grant, commander of the Union armies in the latter part of the war. It is at Riverside Drive and W 122nd St Morningside Heights, see the video. A very close second is a marvellous statue of General William Tecuseh Sherman in Grand Army Plaza Manhattan at the intersection of of Central Park south and Fifth Ave. It is regarded as among, if not the, finest equestrian statue in the world. Covered in gold it is an amazing sight and is a must see not just for people interested in the Civil War but for all art lovers.
There is a Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch in the Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn at the northern corner of Prospect Park. And while you are in Brooklyn looking at that and the Brooklyn Naval Yard go across and see the Greenwood Cemetery Brooklyn at 500 25th St where hundreds of Civil War veterans were laid to rest including several Generals. This cemetery is a very fine one and well worth a visit in it’s own right.