State of the Union: New York and the Civil War

State of the Union: New York and the Civil War

State of the Union: New York and the Civil War

State of the Union: New York and the Civil War

Synopsis

Three years ago, in celebration of the publication of The Union Preserved: A Guide to the Civil War Records in the New York State Archives, the New York State Archives Partnership Trust, a program of the New York State Education Department, held a two-day symposium featuring research by leading scholars on New York's role in the Civil War. The symposium brought together a broad spectrum of attendees from the Lincoln Forum, Civil War re-enactors, Civil War Roundtable members, students, local historians, educators, and history enthusiasts. As the most populous state at the time of the Civil War, New York was central to winning the war. The state not only provided the most men and materiel, but was also the North's economic center as well as an important center of political and social activism. Inhabited by increasing numbers of immigrant groups, abolitionists, and an emerging free black community, New York's social and political environment was a microcosm of the larger social and political conflict being played out in the war. The symposium addressed these tensions by examining the role of women, blacks, Native Americans, and European immigrant groups in New York, particularly the various perspectives held by members of each group regarding the war effort. The symposium examined the difficulties Abraham Lincoln faced in keeping New York favorable to his policies. It revealed the tremendous sacrifice New York made in the military campaign, as well as the treatment of Confederate soldiers at New York's Elmira Prison Camp. The State of the Union is a compilation of the papers presented at the symposium. The essays included in the volume:Housekeeping on Its Own Terms: Abraham Lincoln in New York, by Harold Holzer The Volcano Under the City: The Significance of Draft Rioting in New York City and State, July 1863, by Iver Bernstein What's Gender Got to Do With It? New York in the Age of the Civil War, by Lillian Serece Williams In the Shadow of American Indian Removal: The Iroquois in the Civil War, by Laurance M. Hauptman Above the Law: Abitrary Arrest, Habeas Corpus, and the Freedom of the Press in New York, by Joseph M. Bellacosa and Frank J. Williams New York's "Andersonville:" The Elmira Military Prison, by Lonnie R. Speer The Continuing Conflict: New York and the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson, by Hans Trefousse

Excerpt

Throughout the past six years, I have traveled to nearly every state, doing book signings at the request of my publisher, speaking occasionally to groups of dedicated Civil War buffs, including Civil War Round Tables from San Diego to Spokane, Schenectady to Miami, Dallas to Fargo. and as my travels grew, the variety of the audiences grew as well. I found myself speaking to groups whose attendance had more to do with loyalty to their neighborhood bookstore than with any interest in the particular speaker addressing them. By the end of many an evening, however, these folks would ask many of the same impassioned questions that the die-hard Civil War buffs had addressed. Like so many historians and Civil War enthusiasts, I had assumed that we were a tightly knit bunch, with a passionate interest in the 1860s that most “other” people would find quaint or even a bit strange. But I received a pleasant surprise. I'm still not exactly sure what makes someone a “buff.” But I have discovered that there are a great many people in this country who are searching for much more than what they found in their high school history textbook.

I have become accustomed to hearing the same question nearly everywhere I have spoken: Why? What is it about the American Civil War that generates such passion, enthusiasm, and a deep level of curiosity about the participants? Certainly throughout our history, there are events and crisis situations, monumental tales of heroism and struggle, whether one is looking back to 1776, 1941, 1968—or, in fact, today. But when we focus on the 1860s, there is something else at work, pulling us to a place beyond admiration of the good deed, the hero, the suffering of a nation and its people. I expected, of course, such passion for the subject in the South. Having grown up in Tallahassee, Florida, I was well aware that the “War of Northern Aggression” was continuing to rage. the wounds were still deep, and wide open. the loyalty and respect for men like Robert E. Lee were akin to worship. Thus, when I spoke to audiences in Virginia or Geor-

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