The Civil War and Cleveland

The Civil War and Cleveland from the Encyclopedia of Cleveland

The link is here

The CIVIL WAR transformed Cleveland from a commercial village to a city dependent on manufacturing. Migrating Connecticut settlers, one historian holds, transplanted their religious, political, and social ideals to the WESTERN RESERVE, including the abhorrence of slavery. The way in which Clevelanders viewed the slaveholding South depended largely on political-party affiliation, however. Not all Clevelanders hated slavery, nor were they all convinced that a civil war would resolve the deep-seated ideological differences. As the country moved toward the election of 1860, and closer toward war, the rhetoric and emotional appeal of partisan editorializing in local newspapers clouded the issues. The Republican editors of the CLEVELAND LEADER and the CLEVELAND HERALD AND GAZETTE, for instance, maintained that southern actions had driven John Brown to raid Harpers Ferry in Oct. 1859. The Democratic PLAIN DEALER placed the blame on Brown as well as on abolitionist Republicans.

The victory of Abraham Lincoln for the U.S. presidency in 9 of 11 wards for a plurality of 58% in Cleveland, over Stephen A. Douglas and 2 southern candidates, did not necessarily indicate the local strength of ABOLITIONISM or the desire to halt the expansion of slavery into the western territories. Instead, recent research has suggested that the election of 1860 manifested a new trend in voting patterns that emerged with the formation of the Republican party (see CUYAHOGA COUNTY REPUBLICAN PARTY). Those who opposed the extension of slavery into the territories did so to protect white laboring settlers in the West rather than out of moral opposition. Furthermore, Republicans gained prominence over the Democratic party in Cleveland by forming a coalition of antislavery Free-Soilers, native and foreign-born Protestants, and German freethinkers. Protestants tended to vote Republican, expressing a nativist hostility toward Roman Catholics (see CATHOLICS, ROMAN) of immigrant status on state and local issues, who in turn voted the Democratic ticket (see CUYAHOGA COUNTY DEMOCRATIC PARTY).

Local newspapers continued the partisan rhetoric as the secession crisis loomed closer. The Leader’s editor lightly dismissed the threat of the withdrawal of southern states from the Union. The Herald proclaimed Lincoln’s victory as one of right over wrong, of Unionists over secession-minded southern Democrats, a repudiation of the commercial interests of northern Democrats. The Plain Dealer bemoaned the triumph of Lincoln and warned that the South would surely secede. When war finally broke out in April 1861, pro-war Democrats and Republicans did unite to form the Union party in Cleveland to support Lincoln’s war effort. The next 4 years severely tested this coalition.

The Civil War years brought economic prosperity to the city, prompting one historian to write, “Bloodshed and prosperity mixed well.” Although the Panic of 1857 had increased unemployment in Cleveland by 25%, the majority of banks and businesses survived into 1861. The city was completing the transition from a village to a manufacturing center. Business leveled off between the beginning of hostilities in April 1861 and September, when government contracts created an upswing. Compared to Columbus and Cincinnati, Cleveland had few firms contracted to manufacture actual military hardware, although limited amounts of ordnance were produced. Otis & Co. supplied railroad iron and gun-carriage axles for military use. Four caissons and gun carriages were produced for the 9th Ohio Independent Battery by the Cleveland Agricultural Works. The firm of Peck, Kirby, & Masters built 2 steam-powered revenue cutters for the federal government. The Cleveland Powder Co. plant, leased and then bought by the Austin Powder Works Co. of Akron in 1860, was capable of manufacturing blasting and gun powder, although sources fail to indicate any government contracting.

The young JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER†, in partnership with Maurice B. Clark, found the war years particularly profitable. Their consignment firm, dealing in grain, meat, and produce, made a $4,000 profit in 1860. By the end of 1861, after selling such commodities for government use, profits had risen to $17,000.

Since the tobacco trade with the South had ceased, the first tobacco factory in Cleveland, T. Maxfield & Co., opened in 1862. The GARMENT INDUSTRY also prospered. Wool had for years been sent to the East for manufacture and then reshipped to Cleveland for sale. In 1862 the German Woolen Factory became the first company to manufacture wool cloth in Cleveland. The firm of Davis, Peixotto & Co. filled at least 1 order for 2,000 uniforms for recruits and 500 officers’ uniforms by September 1861. The number of leather dealers increased from 9 to 16 by 1865, possibly due to government orders for military items. A number of local merchants bought military equipment for sale to soldiers. Newspapers advertised military headgear, tailored uniforms, army manuals, rubber blankets, tent blankets, drums, flags, fifes, bugles, swords, sashes, belts, and shoulder straps for sale. H. Hattersly sold revolvers and cavalry carbines. War claims agents offered a variety of services. Drugstores offered bottles of Porter’s Cure of Pain to rid soldiers of stomach ailments. The Cleveland Worsted Mill Co. advertised for 1,000 women to knit soldiers’ socks and paid $.75 for each pound. The construction and establishment of Camp Cleveland (see CIVIL WAR CAMPS IN CLEVELAND) and the U.S. GENERAL HOSPITAL AT CLEVELAND, both in what was called Univ. Hts. (now TREMONT), employed carpenters, washerwomen, cooks, and several physicians. Bids for cavalry horses and commissary supplies also stimulated the economy.

Because certain ironworks had been manufacturing rifle barrels for the Springfield (MA) Armory, local leaders felt that the central location of steel, lumber, and coal would make Cleveland an ideal location for a national armory. Although a citizens’ committee included CLEVELAND CITY COUNCIL representatives, the council quashed the plan in February 1862. Ordnance design remained in the hands of several inventors whose patents apparently never reached production. A Mr. Dickerson claimed to have designed a “centrifugal gun,” which, similar to a Gatling gun, could fire 100-500 rounds per minute. Dickerson, finding no interested manufacturers in Cleveland, reportedly tried to sell the gun to enemy authorities in Richmond, VA. A Mr. Hugunin claimed to have developed an artillery projectile that could be fired up to a range of over 4 miles in 25 seconds. W. H. Fargo experimented with a “faciliate” rifled cannon designed to fire all types of shot with greater ease than conventional cannon.

City leaders tried to establish a national military installation as a result of the threatened invasion from Canada by Confederate agents during the 1864 Johnson’s Island Lake Erie Conspiracy. City council felt that Pres. Lincoln should forgo the Rush-Bagot Agreement of 1817 with Great Britain, which limited the number and armament of naval ships on the Great Lakes. GEORGE B. SENTER† and RICHARD C. PARSONS† presented the case to the president and to the Congressional Committee on Naval Affairs, requesting that U.S. Navy ships be put on the Great Lakes to protect American shores and American commerce from foreign enemies. Furthermore, they wanted to establish a U.S. Navy yard at Cleveland to build, equip, and repair naval ships. State legislator RUFUS SPALDING†’s resolution to establish the yard received no further consideration outside of the Committee on Naval Affairs.

As the war continued, industrial production increased. A number of banks provided ample capital, loans, and cash for expansion of businesses. City banks held $2.25 million in capital and $3.7 million in deposits by 1865. The number of incorporated iron companies had increased from 3 to 12. Iron-producing firms had begun to increase and diversify their output from heavy castings and forgings to a variety of smaller items, creating a demand for more iron ore. During 1864-65, over half of the ore mined around Lake Superior was shipped into Cleveland, which spurred an increase in shipbuilding. In 1863 22% of all ships built for use on the Great Lakes were built in Cleveland. By 1865, the figure increased to 44%. Shipbuilding was aided by the local production of iron ship fittings, as well as steamboat engine shafts, engines, and screw propellers produced by firms such as the CUYAHOGA STEAM FURNACE CO. In addition, 4 lake steamer lines had local offices. Spurred by the oil refining industry, which had expanded to 30 refineries by 1865, railroad freight tonnage and receipts from passenger fares, mail expresses and rentals, and telegraph service increased dramatically. The number of railroad commission companies increased by 66%. Eight major RAILROADS located offices in the city. The Cleveland Board of Trade reported in 1865 that the value of locally produced products totaled $39,000,000, compared to $6,973,937 for Cuyahoga County in 1860. Prosperity produced an inflation rate of 100% between 1860-64. Wages increased only 50%, but despite 2 major strikes, workers fared relatively well compared to those in other sections of the state (see LABOR). Prosperity in the 18TH PROVOST MARSHAL DISTRICT OF OHIO, in which Cuyahoga County was included, allowed working men to avoid military service by paying a commutation fee of $300 before 4 July 1864. After commutation was amended to include only conscientious objectors, workers still avoided service by hiring substitutes at higher than the former $300 commutation fee. Working men of less prosperous districts who could not afford to hire substitutes had to submit to being drafted.

Cleveland citizens consistently supported the war policy of the Lincoln administration. This was expressed in 3 forms: election returns; positions of the editors of the Leader, the Herald, and, until 1862, the Plain Dealer; and the support that local government gave to military establishments and military-related activities, including the recruitment of volunteers. The Republican party had solid support in all counties of the Western Reserve except Huron by 1855. In 1859 Republican George B. Senter was elected mayor with a majority of Republican council members. City elections were dominated by the Union party (Republican) ticket in the years 1863-65. The greatest threat to Ohio Republicans and to the Lincoln administration occurred during the gubernatorial election of 1863. Copperhead or Peace Democrat Clement L. Vallandigham of Dayton ran against Cleveland Democrat JOHN BROUGH†, who ran on the statewide Union party ticket. Copperhead activity, although limited, found its major voice in Plain Dealer editorial policy, which supported Vallandigham’s candidacy and a platform of a negotiated peace with the Confederacy. Anti-Copperhead sentiment led to the creation of the Cleveland Union League, or Loyal League, on 31 March 1863, and later the formation of a national Union League in May 1863. League members took a secret oath of loyalty to the Lincoln administration’s prosecution of the war to counterbalance the Copperhead-oriented Knights of the Golden Circle.

The Cuyahoga County Union Central Committee polled the county before the election. In Brooklyn Twp., 650 voters counted as potential Union party Brough supporters, and 225 as Vallandigham “traitors and doubtful” supporters. The poll excluded convalescent soldiers at the U.S. General Hospital, but the officers there assured the Central Committee that the 200-300 patients were Brough men. Soldiers particularly opposed Vallandigham’s peace position. As early as July 1861, Clevelanders in an unidentified regiment threatened to ride Vallandigham out of their camp on a rail, calling him “secessionist” and “traitor” as he visited troops near Washington, DC. Officers extricated Vallandigham from the encampment and kept the peace. In March 1862, 75 men of the 2D OHIO VOLUNTEER CAVALRY, many of them Clevelanders, destroyed the office and presses of the anti-Lincoln newspaper Crisis while wintering in Columbus, OH. Brough beat Vallandigham soundly in the October election, with a majority of 6,850 votes in Cuyahoga County; he carried Cleveland by 2,400 votes. Of 1,141 soldiers’ votes in the county, only 8 were cast for Vallandigham. Support of the Lincoln administration continued to the 1864 presidential race. Lincoln won against Democrat George B. McClellan in Ohio by a majority of over 60,000. In Cuyahoga County, Lincoln’s majority was 3,200, and in the city, 1,416. The Union party received support from Democrats who backed the Lincoln administration. It found a voice in the Herald, a moderate newspaper, and the Leader, which took a radical stance but by the war’s end supported the Lincoln administration rather than congressional control of Reconstruction. The Plain Dealer, edited by Democrat JOSEPH W. GRAY†, supported Stephen Douglas’s presidential candidacy in 1860 and, like Douglas, backed Lincoln during the secession crisis of 1861. Gray’s death in 1862 led to the editorship of J. S. Stephenson, who turned the paper into an anti-Lincoln organ that supported Vallandigham for governor in 1863 and McClellan in 1864. Stephenson was replaced by WILLIAM W. ARMSTRONG† in March 1865, who again made the Plain Dealer a responsible opposition publication of the Democratic party.

The issue of emancipation proved to be one of the most emotional issues of the war in Cleveland. Of the proposed 1 Jan. 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, Herald editor JOSIAH A. HARRIS† wrote that emancipation was necessary to defeat the South. Leader editor EDWIN COWLES† held that the North was morally right in emancipating slaves and that Lincoln was to be commended “for the stalwart blow he struck for freedom and for the peace and future tranquility of the Union.” Democrats, however, condemned emancipation. The war, they felt, was being fought to preserve the Union, not for abolitionism. Stephenson of the Plain Dealer wrote that Democrats wanted the country with “the Constitution as it is and the Union as it was.” More caustically, he charged that emancipation would not be popularly accepted and decried that it would ruin the white race by making “citizens of the entire black population. . . .”

Despite such sentiments, emancipation was popularly accepted in Cuyahoga County and Cleveland. Clevelanders’ support of the war effort never faltered, except for a period in the winter of 1864, when volunteering waned. About 10,000 men from Cuyahoga County served in the military out of the 15,600 who were eligible for service. About 1,700 died during the war; 2,000 left the military disabled or crippled. During the 3 national drafts conducted, only in 1 instance did a crowd become unruly enough to delay conscription (3 Oct. 1862). Drafting resumed as usual the next day, in contrast to the New York draft riots, which raged for 3 days in July 1863. Because of exemptions, payment of commutation, or the hiring of substitutes, few county soldiers entered the service as draftees. The city, the county, and individual wards earmarked or raised funds for payment of enlistment bonuses called bounties, in addition to those offered by the federal government. Wards and townships also collected food, clothing, and fuel for distribution to families of volunteers and draftees. In 1864 ward committees formed mutual-protection associations, from which drafted members received money to pay the commutation fee or to hire a substitute.

Civilian aid to the military centered around establishment and maintenance of Camp Taylor (1861), Camp Cleveland (1862), the U.S. General Hospital (1862), the SOLDIERS’ AID SOCIETY OF NORTHERN OHIO (1861), and civic ceremonies and processions. Citizens provided food and blankets to recruits at both military camps until government stores and equipment could be distributed. Whenever regiments marched to UNION DEPOT for field service, citizens lined the route, bands played, and the SECESH CANNON boomed salutes. The city earmarked funds to welcome troops home after service in the field, treating them to a meal after detraining and a short welcoming ceremony on PUBLIC SQUARE before they marched to Camp Cleveland for payment and discharge from the army. Citizens supplemented army rations for holiday dinners at the hospital and transported dozens of wounded and sick soldiers in wagons and buggies from Union Depot to the hospital. When convalescing soldiers requested reading material, Clevelanders donated books, magazines, and newspapers.

The chief agency for civilian aid was the Soldiers Aid Society, organized as the Cleveland Soldiers Aid Society in April 1861. During the war, the populace contributed $982,481.25 in bedding and clothing, hospital furniture, medical supplies, foodstuffs and delicacies, and miscellaneous items to Ohio soldiers in the field through this agency, which acted as a branch of the U.S. Sanitary Commission. At the 1864 NORTHERN OHIO SANITARY FAIR, held on Public Square, the society raised $100,191.06. A SOLDIERS’ HOME opened near Union Depot in 1863 to house, feed, and care for furloughed and discharged soldiers, plus those awaiting pensions.

A less pleasant task was the honoring of war dead. On numerous occasions, the city’s military units and fraternal organizations assembled for the funerals of Cleveland men who had perished in the field. By the end of hostilities, 2 monuments had been planned for the WOODLAND CEMETERY to honor the dead of the 7TH OHIO VOLUNTEER INFANTRY REGIMENT and the 23D OHIO VOLUNTEER INFANTRY REGIMENT. With the war over, over 90,000 Clevelanders filed past the slain president’s body on Public Square on 28 April 1865 (see ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S FUNERAL). Five months later, Cleveland again responded to a war-related funeral–that of former governor John Brough, who died 29 Aug. and was buried in Woodland Cemetery.

The rapid increase in population during the war brought forth urban problems, such as the need for efficient police and fire protection, adequate housing, public education, health services, transportation, and an improved network of roads and streets, which continued to concern city planners into the next century (see CITY PLANNING). Cleveland’s population grew from 43,417 in 1860 to over 67,500 by 1866. By 1870, the city, with a population of 92,829, had entered the industrial age, owing to the prosperity experienced during the Civil War. Historian Crisfield Johnson has best summarized the war’s local impact: “. . . the war found Cleveland a commercial city and left it a manufacturing city. Not that it ceased to do a great deal of commercial business, but the predominant interests had become the manufacturing ones.”

William C. Stark


Feuchter, Clyde E. “The Press in the Western Reserve during the Civil War, 1861-1866” (Ph.D. diss., WRU, 1941).

Flower, Phyllis Anne. “Cleveland, Ohio During the Civil War” (Master’s thesis, Ohio State Univ., 1940).

See also POLITICS, PRINT JOURNALISM, individual regiments.


Teaching Cleveland Digital is a repository of writing, pictures and videos to support the teaching of Cleveland, Northeast Ohio and Ohio @

Teaching Cleveland Digital