Philadelphia in the American Civil War

Philadelphia in the American Civil War

Philadelphia during the American Civil War was a significant city in the North providing an important source of troops, money, weapons, medical care, and supplies for the Union. Before the Civil War, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania's economic connections with the South made much of the city sympathetic to South's grievances with the North. Once the war began many Philadelphians opinion shifted in support for the Union and the war against the Confederate States of America. More than fifty infantry and calvary regiments were recruited fully or in part in Philadelphia and the city was the main source for uniforms for the Union Army. Along with the uniforms Philadelphia manufactured weapons and constructed numerous warships. Philadelphia was also the location of the two largest military hospitals in the United States, Satterlee Hospital and Mower Hospital.

In 1863 Philadelphia was under threat from Confederate invasion during the Gettysburg Campaign. Entrenchments were built to defend the city but the Confederate Army was turned back at Wrightsville, Pennsylvania and at the Battle of Gettysburg. The Civil War's main legacy in Philadelphia was Philadelphians support of the Republican Party. Despised before the war because of its anti-slavery position, the Republican Party gained a great deal of support in Philadelphia which would lead the the creation of a political machine that would dominate Philadelphia politics for almost a century.

Before the war

In antebellum days, Philadelphia, the United States' second largest city, had strong economic ties with the South. As a result, Philadelphia was sympathetic to Southern politics and political leaders in the city called for the repeal of laws that might be considered unfriendly to South. Meetings led to calls for Pennsylvania to decide which side the state was on in the case of Southern succession. Many blamed the abolitionist movement for the crisis and abolitionists in the city were harassed and threatened.cite book |author=Weigley RF et al (eds): |title=Philadelphia: A 300-Year History |publisher=W. W. Norton & Company |date=1982 |location=New York and London |id=ISBN 0-393-01610-2 |pages=pages 391 - 393]

In the 1860 mayoral election the Democratic Party candidate John Robbins challenged People's Party candidate and incumbent mayor Alexander Henry. [cite web | title =Mayors of the City of Philadelphia | work=The Philadelphia Information Locator System | publisher=City of Philadelphia | date=1998-01-13 | url= | accessdate=2008-08-01 ] The People's Party in Pennsylvania was aligned with the national Republican Party, but downplayed the issue of slavery and made tariff protection their main issue in the state. During the election the Democrat's attacked Alexander Henry's moderate position on slavery as virtual abolitionism. Alexander Henry was reelected, but vote tampering was alleged. In the election for governor Philadelphia gave Democrats 51 percent of the vote and in the U.S. presidential election Republican Abraham Lincoln won 52 percent of the city's vote.

Philadelphia during the war

After the American Civil War officially began with the attack on Fort Sumter in South Carolina popular opinion in Philadelphia shifted. American flags and bunting appeared all over the city as Philadelphians moved their anger from abolitionists to southern sympathizers. A mob threatened the home of the "Palmetto Flag", a secessionist newspaper. The police and Mayor Alexander Henry were able to prevent the mob from causing damage, but the newspaper shutdown shortly after. Other newspapers which also had a pro-southern slant also suffered from dwindling circulation."Philadelphia: A 300-Year History", pages 384, 394] When "The Philadelphia Inquirer" reported that the Union lost the First Battle of Bull Run, which contradicted initial government reports, a mob threatened to burn "The Inquirer"'s office down. [cite web |last=Williams |first=Edgar ‏|date=June 20 2003 |url= |title=A history of The Inquirer |publisher=The Philadelphia Inquirer |accessdate=2008-08-01 |archiveurl= |archivedate=2007-02-19] Another personal appearance by Mayor Henry prevented a riot at the home of prominent Democrat and grandson of Joseph Reed, William B. Reed. Other people with suspected pro-southern ties displayed American flags to avoid trouble.

The initial enthusiasm at the beginning of the war soon diminished, but critics were still targeted. Around August 1861 federal authorities arrested eight people for expressing pro-southern sympathies. Most of the people were released soon after, but one, the son of William H. Winder, was held for more than a year. Authorities also shutdown a pro-southern weekly newspaper called the "Christian Observer". ["Philadelphia: A 300-Year History", page 403] In 1862, after expressing anti-war sentiments, former Democratic congressman Charles Ingersoll was arrested for discouraging enlistments. The arrest of the well respected politician caused local Republicans embarrassment and he was released after direct orders from the federal government."Philadelphia: A 300-Year History", page 405]

City Democrats used Abraham Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus, and the Emancipation Proclamation as ammunition against Republicans. However many in Philadelphia felt similar to "The Philadelphia Inquirer" which said in a July 1862 article "in this war there can be but two parties, patriots and traitors." Democrats did poorly in the 1862 election with Democrat Congressman Charles John Biddle losing to Charles O'Neill leaving only one Democrat from Philadelphia in Congress. To the his fellow Democrats Samuel J. Randall, the only Democrat from Philadelphia in Congress, was closer to Republicans than his own party."Philadelphia: A 300-Year History", page 413] Alexander Henry, running on the National Union Party ticket, was elected to a third term as Philadelphia mayor.

Invasion threat

In June 1863 General Robert E. Lee invaded Pennsylvania in the Gettysburg Campaign. As word reached Philadelphia of the Confederate army marching on Harrisburg, Philadelphians felt no urgency to prepare the city in case of an attack. Major-General Napoleon Jackson Tecumseh Dana took command of the military district of Philadelphia on June 26. With Mayor Henry finding volunteers Dana organized the construction of entrenchments to defend the city. Pennsylvania governor Andrew Gregg Curtin arrived in the city at the beginning of July hoping to rally the city out its lack of urgency."Philadelphia: A 300-Year History", pages 408 - 410]

Philadelphia's Twentieth Pennsylvania Emergency Regiment and First City Troop were among the militia involved with preventing the Confederate crossing the Susquehanna River at Wrightsville, by burning the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge. The threat of invasion ended at the Battle of Gettysburg where the Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was defeated by the Army of the Potomac commanded by George Meade.

After Gettysburg

After the Gettysburg Campaign support for the war grew and hope for war opponents to make headway within the city diminished. After the victories of Gettysburg and Vicksburg, patriotic feelings grew, more people enlisted in the army and Philadelphia voted for the reelection of Republican Governor Curtin over Peace Democrat George Washington Woodward. In July 1863 the draft began to be enforced in the city. Mayor Henry and General George Cadwalader, who replaced Major-General Dana as commander of Philadelphia military district, quietly suppressed any disturbances to prevent riots similar to the Draft Riots in New York City."Philadelphia: A 300-Year History", pages 411 - 412]

The Philadelphia division of the United States Sanitary Commission held a large fair for several days in June 1864. The Great Central Fair was held in Logan Square and among the visitors was President Lincoln. In the 1864 election, the majority of Philadelphians voted to reelect Abraham Lincoln and the four congressmen from Philadelphia. The National Union Party also gained majority in both houses of the Philadelphia City Council. In December 1864 Philadelphia's streetcar companies began allowing African Americans on the streetcars or running streetcars specifically for African Americans. The companies capitulated after African Americans and others put pressure on the companies because African American soldiers were reporting late for duty and soldiers wives experienced trouble visiting their wounded husbands in the hospitals. The city's streetcars were not fully integrated until 1867 when the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a law requiring it."Philadelphia: A 300-Year History", pages 415 - 416]

Military contribution

Many soldiers from New England and New Jersey came through Philadelphia heading south."Philadelphia: A 300-Year History", pages 395 - 396] Many soldiers moved through New Jersey via the Camden and Amboy Railroad and then the Delaware River by ferry. The ferry would drop them off at Washington Avenue where they would march to waiting trains of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad. To help the soldiers two organizations, the Union Volunteer Refreshment Saloon and the Cooper Shop Refreshment Saloon were formed. The groups organized local residents who greeted arriving soldiers with refreshments and letter writing materials."Philadelphia: A 300-Year History", pages 398 - 399]

A volunteer formation called the Washington Brigade was the first Philadelphia regiment sent out of the city. Sent to defend Washington, D.C., they made it to Baltimore, Maryland when, during the Baltimore riot of 1861, a secessionist mob attacked them. The brigade retreated back to Philadelphia, where George Leisenring, a German-born private, died, becoming Philadelphia's first war casualty. The first Philadelphians to encounter Confederate forces were the Twenty-third Infantry Regiment and the First City Troop at the Battle of Hoke's Run in West Virginia. More than fifty infantry and calvary regiments were eventually recruited fully or in part in Philadelphia. The regiments included the Philadelphia Brigade and the 118th Pennsylvania Infantry which was recruited and sponsored by the Philadelphia Corn Exchange. [cite web | last=Gayley | first=Alice J. | title=118th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers | work=Pennsylvania in the Civil War | publisher=Alice J. Gayley | url= | accessdate=2008-08-10 ] In addition eleven United States Colored Troops were organized in Philadelphia. During the war between 89,000 and 90,000 Philadelphians were on enlistment rolls. However this number includes reenlistments and does not include African American soldiers from Philadelphia whose enlistment numbers are unknown.

Philadelphia's Schuylkill Arsenal was the U.S. Army main source for uniforms. Hundreds of workers in Philadelphia made parts of the uniforms in their private homes which were then assembled at the Arsenal. Also in the city, the Frankford Arsenal manufactured munitions and the Sharp and Rankin's factory made breech-loading rifles. The Philadelphia Navy Yard, employing 3,000 people, constructed eleven warships and outfitted many more. Philadelphia private shipyards, including William Cramp and Sons, also constructed many ships such as the USS "New Ironsides".

A total of twenty-four military hospitals were operated at certain points during the war. Philadelphia had as many as 10,000 beds for soldiers, not including the beds in the twenty-two civilian hospitals which sometimes cared for soldiers. The Union Refreshment Saloon created the first military hospital in the city. Its hospital had fifteen beds for sick soldiers passing through the city. Smaller hospitals such as the Haddington Hospital and Citizens' Volunteer Hospital both with 400 beds were the among the earliest set up. These were eventually closed to allow more focus on Philadelphia's largest military hospitals. The hospitals, the largest military hospitals in the United States, were Satterlee Hospital with 3,124 beds and Mower Hospital with 4,000 beds. In total, around 157,000 soldiers and sailors were treated in Philadelphia hospitals. ["Philadelphia: A 300-Year History", page 402]


One of the longest lasting legacies of the Civil War was the dominance of the Republican Party in city politics. Prior to the war Republicans held little support in the city, mainly for the party's anti-slavery position. Once the war was won, to many Philadelphians Democrats looked unpatriotic or foolish for opposing the war. The new found support Philadelphia Republicans gained during and after the war allowed the creation of a powerful and eventually corrupt political machine that would dominate city politics for almost a century. [cite book |last=Avery|first=Ron | title = A Concise History of Philadelphia | publisher = Otis Books | date = 1999 | location = Philadelphia | pages = pages 66 - 68| id = ISBN 0-9658825-1-9 ]

In 1861 a group of prominent Philadelphians founded the Union Club in response to pro-southern support in another social club, the Wistar Club. The Union Club became the Union League in 1863 after abolishing a limit of only fifty members. With 1,000 members by the end of the war, the Union League became a center of Republican politics and still exists as one of Philadelphia's largest and most prestigious social clubs. ["Philadelphia: A 300-Year History", page 407] ["A Concise History of Philadelphia", page 60] The Civil War also helped create some of Philadelphia's upper class. Philadelphia banker Jay Cooke made a fortune selling a billion dollars worth of war bonds. Future streetcar magnate Peter Widener amassed his initial wealth by supplying meat to the Union Army and John and James Dobson made their fortune manufacturing blankets."A Concise History of Philadelphia", page 61]


The Civil War Library and Museum, now the Civil War and Underground Railroad Museum of Philadelphia, was founded in 1888. The oldest chartered American Civil War institution, the Civil War and Underground Railroad Museum of Philadelphia was founded by the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States and collects records, artifacts and other items related to the Civil War. The museum is relocating to the First Bank of the United States building. [cite web | title=About Us | publisher=The Civil War and Underground Railroad Museum of Philadelphia | url= | accessdate=2008-08-14 ] On the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, near Logan Square is the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Memorial. Designed by Hermon Atkins MacNeil and completed in 1927, the memorial comprises two convert|40|ft|m|0|abbr=on pylons sitting on each side of the parkway. [cite book |last=Brookes |first=Karin |coauthors=John Gattuso, Lou Harry, Edward Jardim, Donald Kraybill, Susan Lewis, Dave Nelson and Carol Turkington |editor=Zoë Ross |title=Insight Guides: Philadelphia and Surroundings |edition=Second Edition (Updated) |date=2005 |publisher=APA Publications | page = page 178 |id=ISBN 1585730262 ] [cite web | title=Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Memorial | | publisher=Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation | url= | accessdate=2008-08-14 ]

Notable people from Philadelphia

The Philadelphia area was the birthplace or long-time residence of several Union army generals and naval admirals. The city's most celebrated war hero was Major General George G. Meade, whose fame in the city came from his success at the Battle of Gettysburg and as commander of the Army of the Potomac. Philadelphia celebrated returning war heroes and Civil War veterans with parades. On June 10, 1865 the city held a grand review with Meade leading veteran soldiers through the city in to a dinner at a volunteer refreshment saloon. Another grand review of Civil War veterans was held as part of the Independence Day celebration in 1866. This parade was led by another Philadelphian war hero, Winfield Scott Hancock. ["Philadelphia: A 300-Year History", page 418]

Others generals from Philadelphia include:
*David B. Birney
*John Gibbon
*Andrew A. Humphreys
*George A. McCall
*George Cadwalader
*Joseph Barnes
*Robert Patterson
*Charles F. Smith
*Thomas L. Kane

Fifty-four soldiers and sailors from Philadelphia received the Medal of Honor. Among them was Sergeant Richard Binder, Captain Henry H. Bingham, Captain John Gregory Bourke, Captain Cecil Clay, Private Richard Conner, Quartermaster Thomas Cripps, Sailor Richard Hamilton, Coal Heaver William Jackson Palmer, Captain Forrester L. Taylor, and Fireman Joseph E. Vantine. [cite web | title=PA Civil War Medal of Honor Recipients | publisher=Pennsylvania Civil War Volunteers | url= | accessdate=2008-08-16 ]


External links

* [ Philadelphia in the Civil War website]
* [ Philadelphia's Civil War]
* [ Civil War and Underground Railroad Museum]

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