The Civil War in N.Y.C. ExhibitThe Lost Museum Archive
By the 1860s, New York was the nation’s largest city and, with the coming of the Civil War, possibly its most divided. The war exacerbated the gulf between wealth and poverty in the city even as the wartime New York economy prospered. Always ambivalent in its stance on slavery. its business elites had profited on the cotton trade while New York also became a center for antislavery organizing. As the city’s volunteer militia companies, many composed of Irish and German New Yorkers, marched off to battle the Confederacy, the wartime city was rent with political sympathies toward the South. These were manifested in "Copperhead" agitation and political candidacies, and opposition to a military draft born out of the inequalities of the federal conscription act, and also of racism. These tensions finally exploded in July, 1863, with the New York City draft riots. P. T. Barnum’s position—once the war began—was solidly Unionist, yet remnants of his museum’s long career of walking the sectional line remained.