Although New York provided more Union soldiers during the Civil War than any other Northern state, a war was not in the state's best interest because much of New York's trade was based on moving Southern goods. New York's large Democratic community feared the impact of Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860, but by the time of the Battle of Fort Sumter (April 1861) the political differences had vanished and the state quickly met Lincoln's request for soldiers and supplies.
The press and media of the state, heavily concentrated in New York City, influenced not only state politics and the public's view on the war, but helped shape and mold national opinion as well. Important periodicals based in New York included Harper's Weekly, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, and others. German-born illustrator Thomas Nast was among the early political cartoonists. In the decades after the war ended, numerous memorials and monuments were erected across the Empire State to commemorate specific regiments, units, and officers associated with the war effort. Several archives and repositories, as well as historical societies, hold archives and collections of relics and artifacts.
Slavery in New York began when the Dutch West India Company imported 11 African slaves to New Amsterdam in 1626, with the first slave auction being held in New Amsterdam in 1655. The British expanded the use of slavery, and in 1703, more than 43 percent of New York households owned slaves, often as domestic servants and laborers. Others worked as artisans or in shipping and various trades in the city.
During the American Revolutionary War, the British troops occupied New York City in 1776, and the Crown promised freedom to slaves who fled rebel masters. By 1780, 10,000 blacks lived in New York; many were slaves who had escaped from slaveholders in North and South. After the American Revolution, the New York Manumission Society was founded in 1785 to work for the abolition of slavery and for aid to free blacks. The state passed a law for gradual abolition in 1799; after that date, children born to slave mothers were free but required to work an extended indentured servitude into their twenties. All slaves were finally freed on July 4, 1827 and blacks in New York celebrated with a large parade.
In the presidential election of 1860, 362,646 (53.7%) New Yorkers voted for Abraham Lincoln, while 312,510 (46.3%) supported Democrat Stephen Douglas.
Powerful New York politicians played important roles in setting national policy and procedures during the American Civil War. Roscoe Conkling was among the leading Radical Republicans who strongly supported the vigorous prosecution of the war. They were opposed by moderate Republicans including Henry Jarvis Raymond, a New York newspaperman who served as the Chairman of the Republican National Committee in the latter half of the war. William H. Seward, an outspoken critic of Lincoln and a former 1860 presidential candidate, became the Secretary of State and an important member of Lincoln's Cabinet.
By contrast, the colorful mayor of New York City, Fernando Wood, was a prominent early supporter of the Confederate cause. He argued unsuccessfully that the city should secede from the Union as a separate entity.
When the war began, former New York Governor Horatio Seymour (1853-54; 1863-64) took a cautious middle position within his Democratic Party, supporting the war effort but criticizing its conduct by the Lincoln administration. Seymour was especially critical of Lincoln's wartime centralization of power and restrictions on civil liberties, as well as his support of emancipation. In 1862, Seymour was again elected governor, defeating Republican candidate James S. Wadsworth. As governor of the Union's largest state, Seymour was the most prominent Democratic opponent of the President for the next two years. He strongly opposed the Lincoln administration's institution of the military draft in 1863.
Alfred Ely, Chairman of the House Committee on Invalid Pensions, was among the first U.S. representatives to be captured by the Confederate Army when he and other civilian onlookers were taken prisoner following the First Battle of Bull Run. He spent six months in a Confederate prison before being exchanged and released.
In 1861 and 1862, former U.S. Senator Hamilton Fish became associated with John A. Dix, William M. Evarts, William E. Dodge, A.T. Stewart, John Jacob Astor, and other New York men on the Union Defence Committee. They cooperated with the New York City government in raising and equipping troops, and disbursed more than $1 million dollars for the relief of New York volunteers and their families. Later in the war, several leading New York politicians and businessmen helped found the Union League, a pro-Union, pro-Lincoln organization that helped fund the Republican Party, as well as charitable relief groups such as the United States Sanitary Commission.
During the New York draft riots, approximately 1000 were killed (including 100 blacks) and more than 2,000 were injured. The draft riots also resulted in nearly $2 million dollars in property damage. Coupled with strong anti-war movement, by Copperheads and other Peace Democrats, it made New York one of the closest contested states in the presidential election of 1864. 368,735 (50.46%) New Yorkers chose the incumbent Abraham Lincoln, with 361,986 (49.54%) supporting Democrat challenger and former Union general George B. McClellan. Lincoln won the Empire State by a meager 6,749 votes and captured all 33 electoral votes.
The New York Legislature oversaw the approval of funding the state's war effort, including bounties, fees, expenses, interest on loans, and for the support of the families of soldiers. Total expenditures exceeded $152 million during the war.
During the Civil War, nearly 400,000 New Yorkers joined the Union Army, and, according to Phisterer (1890), more than 53,000 New York soldiers died in service, or roughly 1 of every 7 who served. During the Civil War, the State of New York ranked 1st (followed by Pennsylvania in 2nd, Ohio 3rd, Illinois 4th, and Indiana 5th) in total soldiers serving in the Union military.
When the Civil War concluded in 1865, Phisterer states that New York had provided the Union Army with 248 regiments of infantry, 27 regiments of cavalry, 15 regiments of artillery, and 8 of engineers. William F. Fox, Regimental Losses in the American Civil War (1889), however, states that New York provided the Union military with 252 regiments and 15 companies of infantry, 27 regiments and 10 companies of cavalry, 15 regiments and 35 batteries of artillery, for a grand total of 294 regiments, 25 companies, and 35 batteries. Fox's numbers include navy, marines, state militia, sharpshooters, engineers, national guard, independent units, guards, U.S. Army (aka regular army), U.S. Colored Troops (USCT), reserve corps, units that failed to complete organization, consolidated units, reorganized and re-designated units, ambulance corps, and misc. units. (See also Union and Confederate Army Organizations at the Beginning of the American Civil War.)
New York had long played an important role in the U.S. military, with the United States Military Academy in West Point providing a significant number of officers to the antebellum Regular Army. New York Harbor was ringed with several military outposts, forts, and garrisons, and many officers who were prominent during the war had spent considerable time in New York before the conflict erupted in early 1861. MacDougall Hospital at Fort Schuyler would become a leading war-time military hospital, and Davids' Island was a significant prisoner-of-war camp for captured Confederates.
New York troops were prominent in virtually every major battle in the Eastern Theater, and some New York units participated in leading campaigns in the Western Theater, albeit in significantly smaller numbers than in the East. New Yorker John Schofield rose to command of the Army of the Ohio and won the Battle of Franklin, dealing a serious blow to Confederate hopes in Tennessee. More than 27,000 New Yorkers fought in the war's bloodiest battle, the three-day Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863; 989 of these men were killed in action, with 4,023 wounded (several of which died of their wounds in the months following the battle). 1,761 New Yorkers were taken as prisoners of war, and many were transported to Southern prisons in Richmond, Virginia, and elsewhere. It was the largest number of casualties for New York troops in any battle.
Among the scores of officers from New York to perish at Gettysburg was Brig. Gen. Samuel K. Zook, a long-time resident of New York City. Col. Patrick "Paddy" O'Rourke of Rochester died a hero while leading the 140th New York Infantry into action on Little Round Top. Col. Augustus van Horne Ellis was killed near the Devil's Den on July 2; he was later memorialized with the only full-sized statue of a regimental commander to be erected on the battlefield.
Controversy and protests ensued throughout the North. On May 16, 1863, there was a meeting at Albany, New York, to protest the arrest of Vallandigham. "A letter from Governor Horatio Seymour of New York was read to the massive crowd." Seymour charged that "military despotism" had been established and that "It is an act which has brought dishonor upon our country; it is full of danger to our persons and to our homes; it bears upon its front a conscious violation of law and justice. Acting upon the evidence of detailed informers, shrinking from the light of day in the darkness of night, armed men violated the home of an American citizen and furtively bore him away to a military trial, conducted without those safeguards known to the proceedings of our military tribunals. The action of the administration will determine in the minds of more than one-half of the people of the loyal states, whether this war is waged to put down rebellion at the South, or to destroy free institutions at the North. We look for its decision with the most solemn solicitude." Resolutions by the Hon. John V. L. Pruyin were adopted. The resolutions were sent to President Lincoln by Erastus Corning. As a result, Union Gen. Burnside suppressed publication of the New York World, which had reported on the meeting in Albany.
On May 30, 1863, there was a meeting at Military Park in Newark, New Jersey. A letter from New Jersey Governor Joel Parker was read. His letter condemned the arrest, trial and deportation of Vallandigham, saying they "were arbitrary and illegal acts. The whole proceeding was wrong in principle and dangerous in its tendency." On June 1, 1863, there was a protest meeting in Philadelphia.
The city's strong commercial ties to the South, its growing immigrant population, and anger about conscription led to divided sympathy for both the Union and Confederacy, culminating in the Draft Riots of 1863, one of the worst incidents of civil unrest in American history. The week of July 11 to July 16, 1863 was known at the time as "Draft Week". Many citizens were upset with new laws passed by Congress to draft men to fight in the unpopular war. The ensuing disturbances were the largest civil insurrection in American history apart from the Civil War. President Lincoln sent several regiments of militia and volunteer troops to control the city. The rioters numbered in the thousands and were mainly Irish Americans. Smaller-scale riots erupted in other cities throughout the North, including in other places in New York State, at about the same time.
The exact death toll during the New York City Draft Riots is unknown, but estimates indicate nearly 1,000 civilians (including 100 blacks) were killed and at least 2,000 more were injured. Total property damage was nearly $2 million. Historian Samuel Morison wrote that the riots were "equivalent to a Confederate victory". The city treasury later indemnified one-quarter of the amount. During the rioting, fifty buildings, including two Protestant churches, burned to the ground. On August 19, the draft was resumed.
A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion (1908), states that during the course of the Civil War, New York suffered a total of 46,534 deaths: 19,085 in killed and mortally wounded; 19,835 died of disease; 4,710 died as prisoners-of-war; 914 died from accidents; 1,990 died from causes other than battles. See also Total Union and Confederate Casualties.
According to The Union Army (1908), however, of the total number of individuals from New York who served in the army and navy of the United States during the war, the state claims a loss by death while in service of 52,993. Of this number, there were killed in action, 866 officers, 13,344 enlisted men, aggregate 14,210; died of wounds received in action, 414 officers, 7,143 enlisted men, aggregate 7,557; died of disease and other causes, 506 officers, 30,720 enlisted men, aggregate 31,226; total, 1,786 officers, 51,207 enlisted men. The adjutant-general of the United States in his report of 1885 only credits the state with the following loss: killed in action, 772 officers, 11,329 enlisted men, aggregate 12,101; died of wounds received in action, 371 officers, 6,613 enlisted men, aggregate 6,984; died of disease and other causes, 387 officers, 27,062 enlisted men, aggregate 27,449; total, 1,530 officers, 45,004 enlisted men, aggregate 46,534. Of these 5,546 officers and men died as prisoners. The above report, however, only includes losses in the militia, National Guard and volunteers of the state, and fails to include the losses in other branches of the service, including those who served in the navy and marine corps, and in the colored troops. Of the 51,936 men furnished by the state to the navy, 706 were killed in battle, 997 died of disease, 36 died as prisoners, and 141 from all other causes — total, 1,880. See also New York and the Civil War (1861-1865).