Document Showcase: The Civil War

Document Showcase is a regular feature that highlights a topic from State history using records from the New York State Archives. Each Showcase includes sample documents, an historical sketch, and links to educational activities for classroom use. Click on the thumbnail images below to view the documents more closely.

Thumbnail of 1861 Proclamation, Arlington House, Virginia
Thumbnail the Daniel Sickles monument
Thumbnail of James Spry service record
Thumbnail of Oswego deserters broadside
Thumbnail of Veterans' home application

Historical Background

New York State's contribution to the Union cause in the Civil War was extraordinary, despite deep divisions among the state's populace.  The state enlisted 448,000 troops, suffered 46,534 casualties, and raised 150 million dollars for the Union war effort.  All exceeded the contributions of any other state.  More than 200 New York infantry, cavalry, and artillery units served in the war and collectively saw action in nearly every campaign.  A host of New Yorkers distinguished themselves through military and public service during the war.  While the state's leadership pulled together to raise enormous levels of volunteers and funds for the cause, longstanding divisions rendered this process very difficult at times.

In New York as in the rest of the Union, support for the policies of President Lincoln and even the war itself rose and fell with the fortunes of the Union army.  New Yorkers disagreed over what they felt was the true purpose of the war.  Support for the Emancipation Proclamation was far from unanimous and the conscription act passed by Congress in March of 1863 caused deep resentment in the state.  Desertions were not at all uncommon. 

Class, ethnic, and racial tensions, as well as opposition to the draft came to a head with the New York City draft riots of July 1863.  The riots resulted in the deaths of 119 and the wounding of over 300 persons.  Property damage was estimated at roughly one million dollars.  Still in the end, the state raised twenty-three ethnic regiments, dominated by individuals of German and Irish descent, as well as three regiments of African American troops.

Despite the outcome of the Civil War, social conflicts and inequities that existed within New York prior to the war endured well into the future.  Still, New York's economy grew, industrialization of the state proceeded, wages increased, and the city of New York assumed its place as the financial center of the nation.

Classroom Activities

Document-Based Questions and related activities on the Civil War, which are designed to meet New York State Education Standards

Civil War classroom activities PDF icon

For More Information

New York State Civil War Soldier Database
This database includes information on more than 360,000 men who served in New York State Volunteer and the United States Sharpshooter units and the state's three regiments of United States Colored Troops during the Civil War. 

Resources on New Yorkers Who Served During the Civil War
This resource provides links to State Archives’ and National Archives’ series and tools that will assist researchers who are looking for information about New Yorkers who served during the Civil War. 

Civil War Service Abstracts
This research tip provides a brief description of abstracts of muster rolls of New York State Volunteer Units that served during the Civil War (series 13775), which are available on microfilm in the State Archives’ Research Room. 

Civil War Images
This digital collection of images includes instructional lantern slides depicting officers, politicians, and scenes relating to the Civil War, and several telegrams between President Abraham Lincoln and Governor Edwin D. Morgan of New York, some relating to troop movements during the war.

Chronology of Emancipation during the Civil War
This brief chronology, adapted from the version published in Free at Last: A Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom, and the Civil War, lists important events in the history of emancipation during the Civil War from the Freedmen and Southern Society Project website through the University of Maryland.

Questions?

Send questions or comments about the Document Showcase to the Public Programs Office of the State Archives by email at: ARCHEDU@mail.nysed.gov or phone (518) 474-6926.