7:21 PM / Wednesday December 6, 2023

27 Feb 2011

Don’t know much about Philadelphia and the Civil War?

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February 27, 2011 Category: Travel Posted by:

By Renée S. Gordon


“We the children of the third and fourth generations are doomed to pay the penalties of the compromises made by the first.”

–Charles Francis Adams


In 1956 the last living Civil War veteran died at the age of 106 and with him went our final opportunity to obtain the testimony of a participant in what some historians view as a defining event in our nation’s history. Controversy swirls around every aspect of the war including what to call it. As a northerner I am always taken aback when a southerner refers to it as “the War of Northern Aggression” or the “War for States’ Rights.” There are however a number of facts that, though some feel are open to interpretation, are indisputable.


In short, the issue of slavery was foremost among the causes of the war and other reasons were an outgrowth of that issue. A series of events, the Dred Scott Decision, John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, the Fugitive Slave Acts, etc., impelled the country ever closer to war and the November 6, 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln appears to have been the proverbial straw. On December 20th of the same year South Carolina became the first of eleven southern states to secede from the Union. Simultaneously they demanded the withdrawal of all federal troops and the return of all federal property to the state.


The Confederate Government, organized in February of 1861, sent Gen. Pierre Beauregard and 9,000 men to take Fort Sumter, the stone guardian of Charleston, SC’s harbor, on April 8, 1861. He demanded that Major Anderson and his force of sixty men vacate the fort. At approximately 3:30 AM on the 12th Beauregard commenced bombardment. Major Anderson surrendered on April 14th and, because Anderson had been Beauregard’s teacher at West Point, the General respectfully did not enter the fort until Anderson had removed the American flag and he and his men evacuated. The war would continue for four years and on April 14, 1865 Anderson returned to raise the flag he’d removed over Fort Sumter.


Lincoln immediately sent out a call for 75,000 troops to be raised in 10 days for three-month enlistments. Pennsylvania supplied twenty-five regiments. Philadelphia, the second largest city in the country sent eight. By war’s end the state had sent 337,936 men, 8,612 of them colored troops, 33,183 of which would die. No family, black or white, would fail to be touched by the war and Philadelphia would contribute at every level of the war effort.


America’s commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the Sesquicentennial, will take place over the next four years. Philadelphia has numerous monuments, buildings and sites that when visited will enhance one’s understanding of the city’s wartime history. What makes this tour particularly interesting is the fact that as a resident most of these are places we are familiar with but we see with new vision with this added information.


We are a city of museums and no less than two of them are dedicated to the task of maintaining the legacy of the Civil War and a visit to these venues will provide unique insight into the war and some of the individual personalities


The Grand Army of the Republic Museum and Library, 4278 Griscom St., is situated inside the three story 1796 Ruan House. The artifacts, books and documents are impressive. The jewels of the collection are a post from Andersonville Prison, a check written by John Brown, handcuffs Booth intended to use when he kidnapped Lincoln, and a piece of cloth from the pillowcase beneath Lincoln’s head when he died. This wonderful museum is open the first Sunday of each month and a complete schedule of special programs is available on the website.


The oldest chartered Civil War institution in the country is the Civil War and Underground Railroad Museum of Philadelphia founded in 1886. The Union related collection was scattered until a house at 1805 Pine Street was established as its home in 1922. This museum has an outstanding collection that interprets both the war and the issue of slavery through documents, artifacts, books and memorabilia. Some of the most significant items include Meade’s uniform worn at Gettysburg, Lincoln correspondence, copies of the abolitionist newspaper “The Liberator,” a first edition of Still’s “History of the Underground Railroad,” an original playbill from Ford’s Theater, receipts from the sale of enslaved individuals and the head of Gen. Meade’s horse, Old Baldy. Currently the museum is closed but it is scheduled to reopen this year in the First Bank of the United States at 120 S. Third St.


Union League Clubs were initiated throughout the northern states to show support for Lincoln and the war effort. Philadelphia’s Union League began in December of 1862 at 1118 Chestnut St. It raised funds, aided disabled veterans and was instrumental in lifting the ban on black soldiers. The current building, Broad and Sansom Sts., was erected in 1865 and a gala opening was planned with President Lincoln in attendance. He was assassinated, no party was given and the building was draped in black. Female members were not admitted until 1986.


US Colored Troop (USCT) recruitment was initiated in February of 1863. Shortly thereafter Quaker abolitionists, James and Lucretia Mott, donated land in Cheltenham to establish Camp William Penn. More than 10,000 black soldiers, 11 regiments, would be trained there under the leadership of Colonel Louis Wagner starting in June of 1863. White officers of the colored troops were trained separately in a school at 12th and Chestnut. When the camp was disbanded in August of 1865 the Motts donated the land, called Camptown, to be the site of the first integrated community in the nation. The name was eventually changed to La Mott. An entrance gate remains at 7322 Sycamore Ave.


Eventually 180,000 black men would serve in the army and 19,000 in the navy. The USCT’s would sustain more than 40,000 casualties.


On a point of land just beyond the airport stands the 1772 Fort Mifflin. The fort functioned as a prison camp for approximately 200 Confederate soldiers, civilians and miscreant Union soldiers. Fort Mifflin has a full schedule of programs and activities.


John Notman designed Laurel Hill, 3822 Ridge Ave., in 1836 as a Victorian landscaped cemetery. The setting, on a hillside overlooking the Schuylkill River, is stunning and it was the chosen place of internment for many of the rich and famous and more than 40 Civil War generals including George Gordon Meade. Visitors are welcome and both organized and self-guided tours are offered as well as a variety of interesting programs. I suggest a guided tour so that you get the benefit of information on the architecture, funerary art and personalities buried there.


USOs are not a new concept and once again Philadelphia was on the 1860s’ cutting edge. During the war two hostels, Union Volunteer Refreshment Saloon and Cooper Shop, both on Washington Ave., were created to feed and assist soldiers during the war. By the time the facilities closed they had served more than 900,000 meals.


The city was also the site of 20 hospitals, two of them among the war’s largest military hospitals, Mower and Satterlee. Mower Hospital, designed like a wheel by John Macarthur, Jr., opened in 1863. Essential common areas were located in the hub of the wheel and the wards in corridors. The complex consisted of 47 buildings on 27-acres on Stenton Ave. Patients arrived by rail.


Satterlee Hospital was located from Pine Street to Baltimore Ave. at 43rd St. and patients arrived largely by boat. Many of the wounded from Gettysburg were treated here and a memorial of Gettysburg stone was erected in 1916 in Clark Park.


The years that followed the war saw veterans and citizens wishing to commemorate their service and Philadelphia’s landscape remains the beneficiary of this desire.


An 85-ft. monument, “The Union Soldier,” has stood in Germantown’s Market Square since 1883. The statue is New England granite and he stands on a capstone of granite from Gettysburg’s Devil’s Den.


Soldiers and Sailors Monument, 20th and the Parkway, consists of two pylons that bestride the avenue. The southern pillar is 11-ft. tall and memorializes sailors, the 13-ft. northern pillar honors soldiers and an eagle tops each monument. They were constructed at a cost of $88,000 in 1927.


Fairmount Park is often noted as an outdoor art gallery and more than a few of the artworks are dedicated to figures, Meade, Grant and Lincoln, connected to the Civil War. The park’s most marvelous homage to the country’s four-year struggle is the Smith Memorial Arch on North Concourse and Lansdowne Drive.


This astonishing granite sculptural work was constructed from 1897-1912 for $500,000. This gift of Richard Smith, designed in Italian Renaissance-style, consists of bronze statues, a frieze, and a curved bench, topped by equestrian statues of Generals Hancock and McClellan. A “Whispering Wall’ created by the arch enables visitors to sit on one end of the bench, whisper, and be heard at the opposite end. This experience is uniquely Philadelphia.


One of the most informative websites on the Civil War is


Throughout the next four years the city will be presenting special tours and programs for the sesquicentennial commemoration to highlight Philadelphia’s role in the Civil War. I will be alerting you and you can go to the website for timely information.


I wish you smooth and edifying travels!


In honor of Black History Month “Lonely Planet” travel site is offering a free downloadable “Tracing Martin Luther King, Jr” itinerary. The journey follows King from Atlanta to Memphis on April 4, 1968. The trip covers 600-miles in three to four days.

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