History Snippets

New Ironsides

For most of the nineteenth century, Philadelphia's manufacturing base shaped the city, the "Workshop of the World," which made it critical in mobilizing to fight the war. Among the city's manufacturing strengths were shipbuilding and machinery, both of which contributed to construction of New Ironsides, an ironclad ship built quickly by two prominent firms in the summer of 1862. Merrick & Sons built the engine, and the Cramp Shipyard built the hull. Between them, the private shipbuilders and the Philadelphia Navy Yard built more than 170 ships--merchant and naval--during the Civil War. Before the war, the Philadelphia Navy Yard had become the navy's experts at the steam-driven warships (replacing sail power), expertise it used during the war in its construction program. Besides warships and merchant ships, the shipbuilding yards built many ships used for troop transport and other military-related tasks.

For further reading: Thomas R. Heinrich. Ships for the Seven Seas: Philadelphia Shipbuilding in the Age of Industrial Capitalism. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

Financing the Civil War

When the Civil War began in April 1861, Anthony Drexel was 34 years old and running the bank founded by his father, Drexel & Co., the largest private bank in Philadelphia. To raise money to wage war, the US government turned to private bankers like Drexel to sell US bonds. The bankers bid on the bonds and then resold them to a broader range of customers, but this peacetime way of doing business quickly ran into problems. Bankers' bids depended on their assessment of risk, which increased dramatically in the first months of war--which meant that borrowing rapidly became very expensive for the government. The solution came from another Philadelphia banker, Jay Cooke, a flamboyant, ambitious banker. Cooke is perhaps best remembered for his bank's dramatic crash in 1873, but before that, he gained fame and a small fortune as the leading financier during the war.

Jay Cooke proposed that he, if appointed the selling agent for bonds, could sell them at a much better price than private bankers offered. With Drexel as a silent partner, Cooke first demonstrated his prowess at selling state bonds in a contract to raise money for Pennsylvania. On a much grander scale, Cooke became the general selling agent for US bonds (and worked with Drexel less frequently). His genius lay in selling the bonds directly to the public, encouraging them to buy for patriotic reasons, not for financial return. On April 2, 1864, the Secretary of the Treasury, Samuel P. Chase, reported to Congress: "the work of the [Cooke] agency extended into almost every county and town of the loyal States and among all classes of the population.... the services rendered by the general agent and the sub-agents could not have been as successfully performed, nor, indeed, performed at all by the Treasury Department itself."

For further reading: Dan Rottenberg. The Man Who Made Wall Street: Anthony J. Drexel and the Rise of Modern Finance. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania (13th & Locust) has the Jay Cooke papers.
http://www2.hsp.org/collections/manuscripts/c/Cooke0148.html

US Colored Troops & Camp William Penn

In July 1862, Congress authorized President Abraham Lincoln to create regiments of African-American soldiers, although it was 1863 before the War Department organized the US Colored Troops (USCT). In the meantime, the state of Massachusetts created the famous 54th, the regiment made famous by the movie Glory (1989), and recruited widely. Philadelphians composed the majority of Company B in the 54th Massachusetts.

In Cheltenham, on the northwestern edge of Philadelphia, the federal government opened Camp William Penn in June 1863 to be a major training ground for the USCT. Eleven regiments formed and trained at Camp William Penn.

The photograph is Camp William Penn. The other illustration lists a few names of soldiers in Company D of the 3rd USCT, the first regiment of African-American soldiers formed in Pennsylvania. Most came from the "interior of Pennsylvania," joining when the Confederate army invaded Pennsylvania and captured many African-Americans for enslavement.

For further reading, visit http://www.pacivilwar150.org/war/camp-william-penn.aspx