Attention: open in a new window. PrintE-mail

The American Civil War


Original Documents from the Archives of the New York City Bar

April 2011


7th regiment

According to the United States Department of Interior, more books have been written about the Civil War than any other event in American history. More than half a million young Americans gave their lives fighting for or against the effort to preserve a society based on slave labor. This exhibit, marking the 150th anniversary of the war between the North and South, examines some of the events leading up to the war through the assasination of President Abraham Lincoln.



New York State Militia - 7th Regiment

Just seven days after the C7th -2onfederate attack upon Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, President Lincoln called the New York State Militia's 7th Regiment into action. These illustrations, from the 1862 Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York, show the departure of the 7th Regiment from the corner of Cortlandt Street and Broadway and the interior of the State Arsenal



The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858

douglas debateslincoln debatesThe Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 were a series of seven debates between Lincoln and Douglas for a seat in the United States Senate. These historic debates previewed the issues that Lincoln would face in the 1860 presidential election including the main issue of slavery and its expansion into the new territories. For more than four months Lincoln and Douglas criss-crossed Illinois, travelling nearly 10,000 miles before crowds of up to 15,000. Although Lincoln failed to win the Senate seat he noted that his defeat was a "slip and not a fall."



Harper's Ferry Raid. Rise and progress of the bloody outbtreak at Harper's Ferry... [New York]: Published by direction of the New York Democartic Vigilant Association, John F. Trow, printer, [1859].

harpers ferryThe Harper's Ferry Raid has been described as the act that lit the fuse on the start of the Civil War. By the mid-1800's, those who wanted to abolish slavery were divided into two camps: one believing in moral suasion, and one called "Free Soilers" wishing to end slavery by legal means. As the mid-century approached and slavery seemed as strong as ever, a new type of abolishionist, born of frustration, emerged willing to use violent means to end slavery. John Brown was one these men. Brown spent three years collecting money from wealthy abolishionists in order to establish a colony for runaway slaves. To accomplish this, Brown needed weapons and decided to capture the arsenal at Harper's Ferry. Brown expected the local slaves to rise up against their owners and join the raid. Not only did this fail to happen, but townspeople began shooting at the raiders. A jury found Brown guilty of treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia and Brown was sentenced to hang. Before walking to the scaffold, he noted the inevitability of a national civil war: "I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood. (West Virginia Archives)




69th New York Militia - "The Fighting Irish"

69th regAt the outbreak of the Civil War, President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to join the Union Army. One of the first to answer the call was the 69th New York State Militia Regiment. The 69th fought at the first battle of Bull Run under General William T. Sherman and served with distinction as the rear guard of the Federal withdrawal. The University of Notre Dame would inherit the "Fighting Irish" nickname from the many chaplains who served with the unit during the war. This illustration depicts the departure of the 69th Regiment on April 23, 1861 from the corner of Mott and Prince streets.



Confederate States - First Constitution -1861

constitutionThe Provisional Constiution of the Confederate States of America was signed on February 8, 1861 in Mongomery, Alabama. It created a compact among the six deep South states, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina. It took 43 delegates only four days to write the first Confederate Constitution. This historic document was a cross between the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution. By its own terms the consitution was to last no more than a year, but it was in operation for only thirty-one days before the delegates wrote and signed a permanent constitution. It contained several explicit protections of the institution of slavery, though an existing ban on international slave trading was maintained. One of the main innovations of the constitution was limiting the Presidency to one term of six years. The delegates believed this would give the President more opportunity to implement his policies. The City Bar also has a complete collection of sessions laws for the Confederate States.




Ctwo dollarsonfederate Currency

 After the Civil War broke out in 1861, the Confederate government began issuing it's own legal tender. The look of the paper money was intended to inspire confidence and the majority of it was hand-signed and numbered. As the war dragged on longer than either the North or South imagined, the North's distribution of counterfeit notes and the lack of real revenue caused massive inflation throught the South. At the end of the war the Confederate currency was worthless.



Privateer Savannah - The trial of the officers and crew of the privateer Savannah, on the charge of piracy, in the United States Circuit Court for the Soutern District of New York. New York: Baker & Godwin, 1862.

savannah trial Privateers were privately owned ships that were authorized by Jefferson Davis and the Confederate States to capture unarmed merchant vessels and seize their cargoes. Two months after the outbreak of the war, The Savannah left the Charleston Harbor. After chasing what she preceived was another merchant ship, the Savannah surrendered to the USS Perry after a brief running gun battle. The crew of 13 men were charged with piracy on the grounds that the "Confederacy lacked the attributes of nationhood..." The trial ended with the jury unable to reach a verdict. As the prisoners awaited retrial, The Unted States reversed its position and exchanged the crew for 15 Union soldiers.held captive by the Confederates. New York City Bar's first President, William Evarts, was counsel for the prosecution in this important trial.



Thomas Nast - Compromise With The South - 1864

For more than 150 years Thomas Nast's political cartoons have had an important place in American history. Nast's Civil War artwork was supportive of Lincoln's war effort and preservation of the Union. This drawing was published in September 1864, two months before the Presidential election. By 1864 the North had grown weary of the war and the toll it had taken on the country

nast compromise

This image portrayed that if the Nation were to adopt the Democratic Party's platform it would in fact be a victory for the South, and all the sacrifice and loss in the war would have been in vain. The message on the tombstone reads " In Memory of the Union Heroes who fell in a useless war." It is widely believed that Nast's drawings played a crucial role in the reelection of Lincoln to a second term as President.



Jefferson Davis. A short history of the Confederate States of America by Jefferson Davis... New York: Belford Co., 1890.



capital richmond



This was Jefferson Davis's memoir completed shortly before his death. It covers topics such as the causes of the war between the states, the slavery controversy, the right of succession, the key battles of the war, and the capture and surrender of the Southern leaders.



The Internal Revenue Recorder - April 22, 1865

The irsThe Civil War resulted in a great financial crisis for the United States government. In order to finance its enormous costs, Lincoln created the office of Commissioner of Internal Revenue, the precursor to the Internal Revenue Service. The Revenue Act of 1862 introduced a variety of new taxes and regulations. Its most radical renovation, however, was the institution of an income tax, "to provide internal revenue to support the government and to pay interest on the public debt." The Internal Revenue Recorder and Customs Journal was the first periodical to report on the new tax structures and other current news of the day. Shown is volume one, issue sixteen, announcing the assassination of President Lincoln.



The Assassination of President Lincoln. The trial of the alleged assassins and conspirators at Washington City, D.C. ,May and June, 1865, for the murder of President Abaham Lincoln, full of illustrative engravings... Philadelphia: T.B. Peterson & Brothers, [1865]

On the morning of Friday, April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth learned that President Lincoln and General Grant were planning to attend the evening performance of Our American Cousin at the Ford Theater. Meeting with his co-conspirators, Booth vowed to assassinate Lincoln while the others would kill Vice-President Johnson and Secretary of State,William Seward. All attacks were to take place simultaneously.

lincoln-2lincoln assassins


At 10:15 p.m. Booth shot Lincoln in the back of the head at near point-blank range. In the confusion Booth went out a back door, climbed on his horse and escaped. Federal authorities caught up with Booth in Virginia on April 26 hiding in a barn. When he refused to surrender, the barn was set on fire and Booth was shot on site. Booth's co-conspirators were all found guilty. Mary Surrat, Lewis Powell, George Atzerodt, and David Herold were hanged on July 7. Dr. Samuel Mudd, Michael O'Laughlen and Samuel Arnold were given life sentences. Edman Spangler, a stagehand at the Ford Theater, was convicted of helping Booth escape and received a sentence of six years. John Surrat escaped to Canada before he could be caught.   


Richard Tuske, Director of the Library