Civil War Philadelphia and Its Countryside
The Civil War in Philadelphia   

Brought together here for the first time are guides to the Civil War collections of several Philadelphia-area organizations. Philadelphia was uniquely situated during the Civil War era; with its economic power, geographic location, and mix of political sentiments, to generate documentary material. A wide spectrum of collections in terms of size and content is represented in this group. There are small collections, such as those of historically important Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, with its African-American focus; and the Chestnut Hill Historical Society, which limits itself to one section of Philadelphia. At the other end of the size spectrum lie the vast holdings of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the considerable resources of the Bucks County Historical Society; both of which contain immense amounts of information about military and civilian aspects of the war, as well as anti-slavery efforts.

Philadelphia Sanitary Fair - June 1864
(from collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania)
The Rescue of the Colors, Jonathan K. Trego
(from the collection of Bucks County Historical Society)

The guides concentrate on documentary materials, both textual and visual. Major textual categories are official and military documents, personal letters and diaries, printed ephemera, newspapers and clippings, printed monographs, pamphlets, medical records, and genealogical materials. Visual resources include photographs, posters and illustrations, ephemera, maps, and sheet music.

Civil War Philadelphia Topics

Each of the following sections give a brief account of one of the overarching topics, or a list of resources to start a project:

Lincoln in Philadelphia   (Inset from the collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania)

There are more monuments to Abraham Lincoln in Philadelphia than in any other city in the United States. And with good reason. Although he was born two hundred years ago in rural Kentucky and lived most of his life in Illinois, his first step toward becoming the 16th president occurred in Philadelphia (in 1856, when he was almost nominated as the new-born Republican party’s vice-presidential candidate). He came to the city first in 1848, as an Illinois Congressman, and then again in February, 1861, en route to his inauguration as president. Over the course of his presidency, he visited Philadelphia more often than any other northern city, and more often than most of our other presidents. And, after his assassination in 1865, his body lay in state here for two days, to be viewed by over 300,000 mourners.  

We usually speak about Lincoln’s presidency in the same breath with the Civil War between North and South which broke out six weeks after he took the presidential oath. And we generally think of the Civil War in connection with battlefields, like Gettysburg or Bull Run. But Philadelphia was a Civil War battlefield, too – a battlefield of commerce, politics, and national finance -- and Lincoln knew that he needed to win Philadelphia as much as he needed to win Vicksburg or Atlanta or New Orleans.

When the Southern states attempted to secede from the Union and create a pro-slavery Southern Confederacy in 1861, no Northern city had more to lose than Philadelphia. Philadelphia was then the great emporium of Southern commerce, recalled Pennsylvania politician Alexander McClure. Philadelphia's 300 textile factories relied on supplies of Southern cotton. Its banks had accounts with Southern customers.  And its financial houses held mortgages, notes, and securities for Southern planters, all of which would be left to dangle unpaid.

Lincoln knew firsthand what the coming of war could mean to Philadelphia. He stopped here on February 22, 1861, as part of his pre-inaugural whistle-stop journey to Washington. He spoke briefly at a reception hosted by Mayor Alexander Henry, and then again at a flag-raising ceremony at Independence Hall. Standing outside “that sacred hall,” Lincoln affirmed that “I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence.” Five months later, he appointed a Philadelphian, George B. McClellan, to command his armies. Before the year was out, the Philadelphia financial wizard Jay Cooke was emerging as Lincoln’s principal wartime fund-raiser. The Frankford and Schuylkill arsenals were furiously mass-producing weapons.  And Cramp’s Shipyard was building a prototype ironclad warship to be used by the U.S. Navy.

But the jewel in Philadelphia’s Lincoln crown was the Union League. As the war bogged down into stalemate in 1862, George F. Boker, the president of Girard Bank (the largest of Philadelphia’s twenty banks) announced the organization of a new “Union Club” on Chestnut Street to "rebuke by moral and social influences all disloyalty to the Federal government...." Over the course of the Civil War, the Union League published four and half million pro-Union pamphlets (something akin to purchasing airtime for political ads to-day), recruited three all-black army regiments, and pushed Republican governor Andrew Curtin to re-election over an anti-war challenger in 1863.

In June, 1864, Lincoln himself arrived in Philadelphia for the great fair sponsored by the U.S. Sanitary Commission (a forerunner of the USO). Speaking at the fairgrounds (on what is now Logan Circle), Lincoln announced that no compromise with the Confederacy would ever be negotiated by his Administration. “We accepted this war for an object, a worthy object, and the war will end when that object is attained,” even if “it takes three years more.” Sidney George Fisher, a wealthy Philadelphia author, was introduced to Lincoln and admired how much the 16th president’s “whole bearing” was “calculated to inspire respect, confidence & regard.” That evening, crowds eager to see Lincoln at the Union League’s temporary home on Chestnut Street were so thick that the streetcars had to be diverted, and it was midnight before Lincoln was able to sit down to dinner there. The loyalty of a truly patriotic Philadelphian is of that magnificent and uncompromising character such as is not seen elsewhere, wrote Lincoln’s secretary, and is carried into every incident of life and death.

Lincoln was assassinated in April, 1865, just as he was bringing the war to its end, and Philadelphia became one of the principal stops for the Lincoln funeral train, bearing his body back to Illinois. “At Paoli and all the stations to Philadelphia,” wrote an Inquirer reporter, “we found the same demonstrations, the same tokens of grief, the same quiet groups, the uncovered heads, the dead silence speaking an eloquence that could not be uninterpreted.” At Broad Street station, the coffin was loaded onto a ceremonial hearse, while eleven divisions of soldiers, officials, and organizations marched as escorts to Independence Hall. There, positioned at the foot of a statue of George Washington, Lincoln’s body was viewed by a double line of mourners that stretched all the way to the Schuylkill river, silent except for the unending tolling of bells and the sad booming of artillery salutes.

Living in the shadow of William Penn and Benjamin Franklin, it’s easy for Philadelphians to remember how important we were as the great city of colonial America. But Philadelphia was also a Civil War city, and as much home to our second war for freedom in 1861 as it was for our first in 1776.  Abraham Lincoln certainly felt at home here. And I think he would on his 200th birthday, too.

 Allen C. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College, and lives in Paoli. (This article originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on February 12, 2009)


The Home Front/Civilians   (Inset from the collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvaniia.)

Many documentary sources point to the city before, during and after the crisis.

Philadelphia braced itself for the inevitabilities of war. The front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer on April 11, 1861 read:

"Warlike Rumors. Washington, April 10 - The metropolis has been at fever war-beat to-day, and there has been no end of canards flying about, from the White House to the Capitol-from the Departments to the newspaper offices. Half of our population believe that fighting has actually commenced at Fort Sumter, and nearly all apprehend danger here."

Russell F. Weigley's "The Border City in Civil War," (published in his Philadelphia: A 300 Year History, which can be found in almost every collection in the Philadelphia area) documents the state of the city before and during the war.

Frank Taylor's Philadelphia in the Civil War 1861-1865 was originally published in 1913 by authority of the city governement. Taylor's treatise is a holistic view of the city during the war. It was digitized by the University of Pennsylvania Libraries and the full text can be viewed on the Internet Archive.

The Library Company of Philadelphia's exhibit, The Genesis of Republicanism: The Birth of the Grand Old Party, 1854-1872, tracks the party system changes in the mid-nineteenth century

In adition to Randall M. Miller (Saint Joseph's University) and Robert F. Engs (University of Pennsylvania) edited The Birth of The Grand Old Party: The Republicans' First Generation based on the Library Company of Philadelphia's exhibit. The book was published by the University of Pennsylvania.

The period from 1850 to 1876 was the most transformative era in American history. During the course of this tumultuous quarter century Americans fought a bloody civil war, tried to settle the issue of state versus central government power, recognized the dominance of the new industrial economy over the older agricultural one, and ended slavery, long the shame of the nation. At the same time, a major political realignment occurred with the collapse of the "second American party system" and the emergence of a new party, the Republicans. But the defeat of slavery—the chief catalyst for the birth of the Republican party—was at best a limited success. The Constitution had been rewritten to abolish slavery and guarantee equal protection under the law, but social equality for African Americans and expanding freedom for others remained elusive throughout the nation. For these triumphs and enduring tragedy, the Republican party, which became in time and memory the party of Abraham Lincoln, bore primary responsibility.

This collection of six original essays by some of America's most distinguished historians of the Civil War era examines the origins and evolution of the Republican party over the course of its first generation. The essays consider the party in terms of its identity, interests, ideology, images, and individuals, always with an eye to the ways the Republican party influenced midnineteenth-century concerns over national character, political power, race, and civil rights. The authors collectively extend their inquiries from the 1850s through the 1870s to understand the processes whereby the second American party system broke down, a new party and politics emerged, the Civil War came, and a new political and social order developed. They especially consider how ideas about freedom in the 1850s coalesced during war and Reconstruction to produce both an expanded call for political and civil rights for the ex-slaves and a concern over expanded federal involvement in the protection of those rights. By observing the transformation of a sectional party born in the 1850s into the "Grand Old Party" by the 1870s, the authors demonstrate that no modern political party, even the one that claims descent from Lincoln, has surpassed the accomplishments of the first generation of Republicans.

The University of Pennsylvania, in association with The Library Company of Philadelphia created The Crisis of the Union an electronic archive of documents about the causes, conduct, and consequeces of the US Civil War. This archive enables students and other researchers to use primary documents in their study of political, economic, social, religious, racial and gender issues from the Jacksonian Era to the Gilded Age. This collection is comprised of pamphlets, books, broadsides, cartoons, clippings, paintings, maps, and other print memorabilia about America from circa 1830 to 1880. Items are drawn primarily from the collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia. The contents were first identified for inclusion in the Library Company's Exhibit, "The Origins of the Republican Party," Phillip Lapsansky, curator, Robert Francis Engs and Randall Miller, historical consultants.


The Medical Contribution   (Inset from the collection of the Mütter Museum.)

The College of Physicians' Historical Library and Mutter Museum, and Pennsylvania Hospital's collections in this guide focus on the medical contribution. Not only do these organizations hold great primary resources, but they were important institutions during-and before-the war.

The College of Physicians' Historical Library and Mutter Museum, and Pennsylvania Hospital's collections in this guide focus on the medical contribution. Not only do these organizations hold great primary resources, but they were important institutions during-and before-the war

History: At the beginning of the Civil War, Pennsylvania Hospital received Philadelphia's first casualty, not from the battlefield but as a result of a secessionist mob action in a Baltimore railroad station. Attacking northern recruits, the mob set upon the Philadelphia contingent, including Private George Leisenring, who died four days later at Pennsylvania Hospital.

Philadelphia became a center for military hospitals. Eventually, there were almost 10,000 beds throughout the city. Referrals were made to 22 civilian hospitals for special services. Pennsylvania Hospital's reputation as a surgical center was well known and it received 124 special cases during what was the nation's bloodiest struggle until World War II.

The hospital experienced the severe economic consequences of war which left most of the city's leading charitable institutions inadequately funded. In addition to the financial and supply shortages suffered by the hospital's Department of the Sick and Injured, its Department of the Insane also went without reimbursement for the large number of southern patients it housed. Their impoverished families were barely existing in the ravaged South.

From the Managers' annual report of 1866, the plight of the Department of the Sick and Injured was clear:

... the necessities of life, and the indispensable appliances in ministering to the afflicted, have advanced twofold in price since our civil war began, unrenumerating patients has largely increased in both medical and surgical wards.


African-American Community   (Inset from the collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia.)

A variety of searches will aid any researcher in finding information on this site, as well as others regarding the African-American Community in Philadelphia.

A topical search may be the best place to start African-American Community

Quakers and Slavery (a joint digitizing project between the Quaker Collection at Haverford College and Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College) - The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) was the first corporate body in Britain or North America to fully condemn slavery as both ethically and religiously wrong in all circumstances. It is in Quaker records that we have some of the earliest manifestations of anti-slavery sentiment, dating from the 1600s. After the 1750s, Quakers actively engaged in attempting to sway public opinion in Britain and America against the slave trade and slavery in general. At the same time, Quakers became actively involved in the economic, educational and political wellbeing of the formerly enslaved.

The Free Library of Philadelphia's "We Are Rising" highlights the African American experience in the Civil War and during the years just preceding and following it.

Quest for Freedom: The Underground Railroad (from Visit Philly)


Militaria and Diaries   (Inset from the collection of the Bucks County Historical Society.)

The militaria and diaries collections provides personal narratives of the war's events and tolls on Philadelphians.

From William Still's Journal (on deposit at Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the journal belongs to the Pennsylvania Abolition Society ):

Journal C of the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia kept by William Still; containing notices of arrivals of fugitive slaves in Philadelphia with descriptions of their flight, 1852-1857.

To the Samuel Hart Collection (courtesy of the Mercer Museum and Spruance Library of the Bucks County Historical Society):

The Hart Collection contains several letters written by Ellen Hart to her husband serving in the Union army; a letter from Union soldier George Hart to his father; a letter from Susan Hart to her brother serving in the Union army; and a letter from Union cavalry soldier N. Hart to his brother. The letters from Ellen to her husband, all dated July 1863, represent what might be considered typical letters from wives on the home front to their husbands serving in the military. She expresses her love and laments the absence of her husband both for herself and for her two small children. Some unique elements include negative reflection on the NY draft riots, speculation that “copperheads” were behind the agitation, and hopes that similar occurrences do not happen in Philadelphia. One letter, dated July 2, 1863 opines on what the local women would like to do to “the rebs” if given an opportunity to arm themselves.

To Emilie Davis diaries (courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and digitized by Penn State University):

Emilie Davis was a young African-American woman who lived in Philadelphia during the Civil War. Three diaries, 1863-1865, contain memories of her day-to-day life with mention of some wartime events, including the fall of Vicksburg and draft riots in New York City during 1863. She wrote about “colored” troops, the draft, parades, and units marching off to war. Davis witnessed the funeral procession in Philadelphia for Abraham Lincoln and waited with many others to view the president’s body. In 1865, she attended a lecture given by Frederick Douglass.

These collections are best accessed in person. See the "About Using Institutional Collections" note.

This project has been generously supported by the Honorable Larry Farnese, PA Senator, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources,
the Department of Community and Economic Development, and the Samuel S. Fels Fund.


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