Today on Gotham,
speaks with Britt Haas
about her new book,
Fighting Authoritarianism: American Youth Activism
in the 1930s,
exploring the lives of young radicals in New York City and their attempts to create a free, democratic society
amid the Great Depression.
Excerpted from Lincoln and the Irish: The Untold Story of How the Irish Helped Abraham Lincoln Save the Union
with author's permission. Copyright © 2018 Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.
By Wyatt Evans
In October 1862, the New York City Metropolitan Police held Mrs. Isabella Brinsmade for over a month without charge in the precinct house on West 47th Street. The twenty-year old Louisiana native had arrived in New York that August, sent by her merchant father who thought she would be safer there than in Union-occupied New Orleans. Her husband was away fighting in the Confederate Army, and she does not appear to have maintained any special affection for him. By all accounts Mrs. Brinsmade was intelligent, high-spirited, very attractive, and... liked to talk.
The most charitable explanation for her apprehension and detention is that the Metropolitan Police acted on orders from federal War Department agents. The feds wanted Brinsmade quarantined as a possible spy until she could be returned to New Orleans. The truth was more complex, with complicity on both sides. In the end Brinsmade was released unharmed and her ordeal became a cause célèbre in New York City for opponents of the Lincoln administration. The police commission hearings that followed her release were the first public airing of grievances against the government’s system of arbitrary arrests. “The Case of Mrs. Brinsmade,” as it was referred to in the press, sheds light on politics in wartime New York, police practices of the day, and the interaction of federal and local officials in the latter half of 1862.
By Holly Pinheiro
Prior to the 1960s, most white historians outright ignored the wartime experiences of African American soldiers. Few white historians, including Dudley Cornish, discussed United States Colored Troops regiments, and their analyses took a largely military focus by cataloguing a regiment’s mustering in and out process, military engagements, deaths, and causalities. These white historians opted to avoid any substantive discussion of African American military service. African American historians, conversely, began examining African American soldiers almost immediately following the war and continued long after. Historians, such as William Wells Brown, Joseph Wilson, and George Washington Williams, sought to rightfully place the wartime experiences of African American soldiers at the center of their monographs. These scholars sought to humanize African American soldiers’ experiences and highlight the fact that their service was not only masculine patriotism, but also legitimized their claim for citizenship rights while simultaneously participating in ending slavery. Even with the breadth of scholarship that scholars continue to produce on the topic of African Americans soldiers during the Civil War, obvious gaps in the historiography remain. Who were these soldiers long before their service? How did these young men, the families, and local communities combat the onslaught of racism in Northern society in the antebellum era? Did their motivations to enlist reflect the idealism that advocates of enlistment championed during recruitment campaigns? How did military service negatively impact the Northern African American families left behind? These are crucial questions that are at the center of my research, and until now, remained unquestioned and unanswered. My objective in conducting this research is to humanize the individual soldiers and their families to show how war affected the front lines and the home front simultaneously — thereby revealing how Northern African American families experienced the Civil War. This research focuses on African American New York soldiers and their families because their lived experiences deserve scholarly attention if we ever hope to understand how the war impacted Northern society.
No one viewed the threat of a forthcoming French attack with more trepidation than Governor John Jay. Throughout his tenure in office from 1795 to 1801, he called for a comprehensive defense to protect New York City and its adjoining waterscape.
This is the latest in a series of posts based on the letters of the New York socialite, Julia Gardiner Gayley (1864-1937), to her eldest daughter, Mary Gayley Senni (1884-1971), a countess who lived on the outskirts of Rome. In 2010, the author purchased a trove of the letters in a Roman flea market. This mother-daughter correspondence spanned the years 1902-1936 and provides an intimate and unfiltered view of life in New York during the early twentieth century. You can find the earlier posts on our homepage.
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