New Bedford's Civil War

New Bedford's Civil War

New Bedford's Civil War

New Bedford's Civil War

Synopsis

New Bedford's Civil War examines the social, political, economic, and military history of New Bedford, Massachusetts, in the nineteenth century, with a focus on the Civil War homefront from 1861 to 1865 and on the city's black community, soldiers, and veterans. Earl Mulderink's engaging work contributes to the growing body of Civil War studies that analyzes the "war at home" by focusing on the bustling center of the world's whaling industry in the nineteenth century. Using a broad chronological framework of the 1840s through the 1890s, this bookcontextualizes the rise and fall of New Bedford's whaling enterprise and details the war's multifaceted impacts between 1861 and 1865. A major goal of this book is to explore the war's social history by examining how the conflict touched the city's residents - both white and black. Known before the war for both its wealth and its antislavery fervor, New Bedford offered a congenial home for a sizeable black community that experienced a "different Civil War" than did native-born whites. Drawing upon military pension files, published accounts, and welfare records, this book paysparticular attention to soldiers and families connected with the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the "brave black regiment" (made famous by the Academy Award-winning 1989 film Glory) that helped shape national debates over black military enlistment, equal pay, and notions ofcitizenship. New Bedford's enlightened white leaders, many of them wealthy whaling merchants with Quaker roots, actively promoted military enlistment that pulled 2,000 local citizen-soldiers (about 10 percent of the city's total population) into the Union ranks. As the Whaling City gave way to a postwar landscape marked by textile manufacturing and heavy foreign immigration, the black community fought to keep alive the meaning and history of the Civil War. Joining their one-time neighbor Frederick Douglass, New Bedford's black veterans used the memory ofthe war and their participation in it to push for full equality-a losing battle by the turn of the twentieth century.

Excerpt

As an antidote to the gloom of war in September 1864, New Bedford residents organized a gala bicentennial celebration to honor the incorporation of Dartmouth township, the city’s political precursor. This impressive civic event illuminated contemporary perceptions of the city and its citizens in wartime. City Hall hosted a banquet for six hundred guests where speaker after speaker connected New Bedford with national leaders and pressing issues of the war. Addressing New Bedford’s unique historical context and praising city leaders for their cooperation with President Lincoln and Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew, speakers also highlighted the ordinary men fighting for the Union cause. C. B. H. Fessenden offered a typical sentiment in declaring “all honor to the brave and gallant soldiers and sailors, the true peacemakers.” the Reverend William J. Potter, a former chaplain in the Union army, emphatically commended the Union troops who were defending the “free church, the free school, and the free ballot.” Former governor and local luminary John H. Clifford flattered his townsmen for being “steadfast and uncompromising in maintaining the ‘Liberty and Union, now and forever,’ of their common country.”

New Bedford Mayor George Howland Jr., a scion of old whaling wealth, offered the day’s most personalized observations. Recalling his childhood when New Bedford was home to three thousand people, the young Howland was schooled about public service by his grandfather, a strong-minded Quaker named John Howland. Asked by the elder Howland if he had attended a town meeting earlier that day, young George said “no” and questioned why. His grandfather replied, “in the style peculiar to that day, ‘Go to larn,’” the mayor explained. With forebears who believed that “there was something for every one to do, and that it behooved every one to do something,” the adult Howland had filled his business and political life with meaningful service, as did his peers. Although he complained about the “incubus” of the “wicked rebellion,” Howland looked optimistically to the future, pointing to wonderful technologies on display in his city that included the steam engine, the telegraph, and a photography exhibit by the Bierstadt Brothers. Asking rhetorically if New Bedford would continue to . . .

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