A focused study of how the “biggest, wealthiest metropolis in the North” proved as much of a hindrance to the Union war effort as a help.
Strausbaugh (The Village: 400 Years of Beats and Bohemians, Radicals and Rogues, a History of Greenwich Village, 2013, etc.), who has been writing about New York City for 25 years, tells a gritty tale of opportunism and chutzpah involving the financial capital of the riven United States when faced with the shutting down of its two golden commodities: cotton and slaves. Around the time of the secession of the Southern states from the Union, cotton represented “a whopping 40 percent of all the goods shipped out of the port of New York.” Not only did the South rely on the New York bankers to finance the expansion of King Cotton—in 1860, the U.S. exported two-thirds of the world’s cotton—but the South, which deigned to develop the necessary mills, had to ship the cotton up the coast or across the Atlantic for manufacture. This allowed New Yorkers to take their cut. Moreover, despite the ban on slave-running since 1820, the practice continued illegally, to enormous profit; the author notes that by the 1850s “it was an open secret that New York was the North’s major slaving port.” At the outbreak of war with the shelling of Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor on April 12, 1861, patriotic fervor gripped the numerous penny tabloids, and the immigrant communities mobilized target companies. Yet Strausbaugh emphasizes how the struggle by poor immigrants to wrestle employment from the freed blacks led to animosity and even rioting. While this contingent would have never fought over the cause of slavery, the abolitionists and progressives were vociferous, as represented by Horace Greeley’s New-York Tribune. New York rebounded nicely with war profiteering, creating a whole new class of “shabby aristocracy.”
A narrative that smoothly and engagingly incorporates many stories of the war that have been told separately elsewhere.