Learning Adventures in Citizenship
Episode 3Topic 4The Business of Battle
The Business of Battle

On April 12, 1861, the guns of Charleston, South Carolina, opened fire, signaling the beginning of the Civil War. Soon after, the streets of New York went silent -- or so local businessmen complained.

More than any other northern city, New York had grown rich from the southern trade in cotton and textiles. Now, with war pitting North against South, that trade had stopped. Shops shut down; 30,000 workers were out of jobs. A few merchants tried trading illegally with the enemy.

Soon it was clear that they didn't have to. By the end of 1861, most of New York's merchants and manufacturers had learned a simple lesson: war means business. With the Mississippi River closed, midwestern farmers had to ship their crops through New York. Plus, to pay for the war, the federal government had to borrow money from New York's bankers.

Also, the Union army needed supplies. New York's manufacturers began churning out uniforms and its metal shops and foundries made rifles, bullets, and other weapons. One firm, Brooks Brothers, figured out a way to sell uniforms that cost almost nothing to make, so the company made a huge profit on them. These uniforms were made from rags and glue. After an hour in the rain, a soldier might find himself almost naked, as his uniform melted. Still, most goods held up, and the abundant supplies for the Union Army helped the North outlast the South and win the war.

The Business of Battle | The Robber Barons | The Panic of 1873

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