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American Cultural History

19th Century - 1860 - 1869

1800 1810 1820 1830 1840 1850 1860 1870 1880 1890


Presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson | Population: 31,443,321 people in the U.S. | | Statehood: Kansas, West Virginia, Nevada, Nebraska | 18 free states, 15 slave states |

About the 19th Century Decades Pages

 In 1800 everyday life had changed little since the year 1000. By 1900 the Industrial Revolution had transformed the world's economy. To see the whole picture, we encourage users to browse all the way through these decades. Then visit the suggested links for more information.   As librarians, we must point out that the best way to immerse oneself in a topic is to use both Internet and the library.  ENJOY!

The 1860-1869

There were 448,970 free blacks and 3,953,760 slaves during the decade of the American Civil War | Dorothea Dix was appointed superintendent of women nurses for the Union Army | A conscription act allowed for the first American draft. Prices were rising. | Shaves were 6 cents, haircuts 12 cents, shampoos 25 cents. Mink muffs were advertised at $10 in the New York Times | Baseball convention respresenting 91 ball clubs, held in New York | Union yards of Chicago opened | First woman college president, Vassar College. | Maria Mitchell became the first woman professor of Astronomy | Gold was discovered in Wyoming | Congress enacted anti-polygamy legislation (the Morrill Act) to stop polygamy in the territories that had been established by the Mormans | A Sioux uprising led by Chief Little Crow began, caused by tardy payment of cash promised by the government | Thanksgiving Day became a holiday | Ku Klux Klan had its beginning. | IRS upped income tax to 5% for incomes under $10,000 and 10% for those over.


Prisoners at the Front by  Winslow HomerLandscape painting (Hudson River School) continued as the most popular of artforms in America. Artists, like Jasper Cropsey, Albert Bierstadt, and others were inspired by the beauty of America. American realism (very popular later in the century) began during this time with paintings depicting the Civil War and industrial scenes.Civil war artists, like Winslow Homer (Prisoners from the Front paintings), George Innes, and Lily Martin Spencer, painted touching scenes depicting the people affected by war. 'Caricatures' by Currier and Ives and others satirized the war and politics. A caricature of Uncle Sam with chin whiskers appeared in Harper's Weekly. American narrative painting told stories that help us to 'see' the events of the past. American folk art and naive painting continued with Edward Hicks and Erastus Salisbury Field at the head. Impressionism in American painting was represented by George Inness's Delaware Water Gap. The Japanese influence on U.S. art was best depicted by James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who painted The White Girl and Whistler's Mother . The American Water Color Society was founded by Samuel Colman and James D. Smillie. Artful advertising was emerging.

The war created a large demand for statues of leading figures. John Quincy Adams Ward completed Indian Hunter for New York's Central Park. Thomas Ball completed Washington (equestrian statue) for Boston Public Gardens. Hiram Powers completed serveral important statues, including Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, and Andrew Jackson.

MIT offered the first course in architecture. | Yale opened the first Dept of Fine Arts in the U.S. | Advertisements during the decade | Check out 19th Century American Art for artist names and genres.



During the 1860's, railroads and telegraph lines began to reshape the economy of America.  By 1860, 30,000 miles of railroad track had been laid in the U.S.  That year, the federal government passed the Pacific Telegraph Act to build a telegraph line between Missouri and California.  In 1861, the transcontinental telegraph line to Transcontinental RR postage stamp California was completed. Congress passed the Pacific Railway Act in 1862, chartering the Union Pacific RailroadPennsylvania Railroad became the first American railroad to use steel rails in 1863.   The "Erie War" of 1868 pitted Cornelius Vanderbilt against Jay Gould and Jim Fisk for control over the finances of the Erie Railroad. In 1869, a refrigerated railroad car made the first shipment of fresh meat from Chicago to the EastHarper's Weekly drawing showing telegraph workers Coast. As industrialized manufacturing systems were established, urbanization developed.

From 1861-1865, Northern and Southern economies showed sectional differences.  War time manufacturing and heavy government spending created a booming Northern economy.  Major war time losses, disintegration of the main labor supply as slavery was erased, and failed Confederate currencies helped create a doomed economy in the South.  In 1862, the Northern government passed the first income tax in order to help finance the cost of the Civil War. Agriculture in the South suffered during the war.  Cotton, the main money crop, lost value and was beginning to be exported by other countries. Large farms were broken into small parcels and sharecroppers grew crops, with part of their profits going to the land owners. Grange movements began to help these tenant farmers.  In postwar South, industrialization helped to diversify and commercialize cities like Atlanta.  Railroad construction took off and carpetbaggers arrived to start new businesses.

The first greenbacks were issued by Federal Government in 1862 (first national paper money).  Milton Bradley began making board games in 1860.   Also in 1862,  F.A.O Schwarz opened a fancy toy store in New York   In 1864 the U.S. Mint began to engrave "In God We Trust" on coins.  In 1865 the U.S. Treasury Department created the Secret Service Agency to battle counterfeiting.  On December 25, 1865, the Chicago Union Stockyards opened.  In 1867 Francis W. Ayer started an advertising business in Philadelphia called N.W. Ayer & Son which pioneered modern advertising techniques.   Edwin and Oliver Norton began to manufacture tin cans in a small company in Chicago.   Deere & Company began manufacturing farm equipment.   Joseph Campbell and Abram Anderson formed Campbell Soup Company.

In1861 the American Miners' Association organized, becoming one of the first industry wide unions. The International Industrial Assembly of North America formed in 1864.  It later became the National Labor Union (1866). In 1866, workers staged a general strike for an 8-hour workday.   Massachusetts became the first state to pass a factory inspection law in 1868.  Isaac Myers helped form the Colored National Labor Union in 1869.   The Knights of Labor were established to work for the protection of the rights of garment workers. 


Like art, literature defines the times. Poets of this period devoted themselves to slavery and events of the Civil War. Henry Timrod was considered the poet laureate of the Confederacy. A novel, The Rise, Progress, and Decline of Secession, by Wm. G. Brownlow, denounced the South and sold 100,000 copies. The Man Without a Country by Edward Everett Hale, was published.

Here is an excerpt from the poem A Sabbath Scene about a slave by John Greenleaf Whittier:

Like a scared fawn before the hounds,
Right up the aisle she glided,
While close behind her, whip in hand,
A lank-haired hunter strided.

~ John Greenleaf Whittier, A Sabbath Scene~

Bret HartePoets Nathaniel Hawthorne, Emily Dickinson, and Ralph Waldo Emerson continued writing. Political satire was popular, Petroleum Vesuvious Nasby (David Ross Locke) leading the way. American humor in literature depicted shred comments on current events, primarily by Charles Farrar Browne (Artemus Ward) and Washington Harris Browne.

Dime novels made their appearance; Erastus Beadle published these. The Beadle dime novels contained tales of the West, Indians, pioneers, and gunmen. The first, Malaeska: the Indian Wife of the White Hunter, sold over 300,000 copies. Romance novels continued drawing a large audience. Miriam Coles Harris' Rutledge, who published 130 other novels, was extremely popular. East Lynne by British author Mrs. Henry Wood, was introduced - it was a tearjerker and sold at least 1,000,000 copies in the United States. Authors wrote about the American West. An early romantic western novel set in the Rockies, John Brent, by Theodore Winthrop was published. Western writer, Bret Harte published The Outcasts of Poker Flat. Southern writers published wartime romances, idealizing the colonial past. (John Esten Cooke wrote a series of romances, including Mohun; or, The Last Days of Lee and His Paladins: Final Memoirs of a Staff Officer Serving in Virginia, From the Mss. of Colonel Surry, of Eagle's Nest.) The detective and mystery genre took firm hold on the reading public with the publication of The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins.

American realism in literature got its start during this decade. Industrialization led some writers like Rebecca Harding Davis (Life in the Iron Mills) to realistically depicted the lives of working people. Horatio Alger published his books preaching hard work and resistance to temptation as the road to wealth and renown. His series featured Ragged Dick, then Luck and Pluck. The Ragged Dick books influenced young farming boys to leave small towns and look for work in the cities. Mark Twain wrote Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog (The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County) and became famous across the country. He also completed Innocents Abroad. Sunday sermons by Henry Ward Beecher, pastor of the Plymouth Congregational Church in Brooklyn, appeared in print on Tuesdays and sold for five cents.

Children's Literature

Newspapers (examples)

Montana Post | Frontier Scout (North Dakota) | San Francisco Chronicle | San Francisco Examiner | | The Atlanta Constitution | The Louisville Courier-Journal |The Catholic Times | List of early papers

Important Reference


Longhorn cattle
 The golden spike was hammered into place on May 10, 1869 at Promontory, Utah, and the country was linked from east to west across the continent by the Transcontinental Railroad.  Now the "Iron Horse" would replace the covered wagon as the favored means of transportation for the westward movement.   Native Americans on the Great Plains had been squeezed between the states on the Pacific coast and the states of  the central United States.  Now their lands would beckon to the still land- hungry Americans.  Their way of life would only be more threatened by this new access to the Great Plains.  As Arthur Freemason, an assistant engineer on the railway project, noted in his journal, "The time is coming and fast too, when in the sense it is now understood, there will be no West."  The migration westward had been somewhat slowed down by the Civil War, but resumed at its close as veterans of the conflict sought to begin a new life.  The new areas were without any organized government  and the West soon gained its reputation as "the wild west."  This new land was not suited for the traditional farm, and the settlers generally turned to cattle and sheep ranching.  Being a cowboy became an occupation for many.  Gold was discovered in Montana and Wyoming, and, despite the fact that some of the discoveries were on Indian land, miners poured into the area and staked their claims.

Immigration into the country slowed during the first part of the decade as the waging of the civil war made America less attractive.  The immigrants already living in the United States joined the Union and Confederate Army, drawn by enlistment bonuses and steady wages.  However, many looked on the Negro as a threat to their employment in the low paying jobs and did not support emancipation.   New York City Draft Riots of 1863 were in protest to conscription into an army fighting a war that promised them no benefits, only hardship.  On the west coast, Chinese were coming to this country in increasing numbers like all the immigrants before them seeking a better life.  These immigrants were discriminated against both legally and socially.  However, their labor helped complete the Transcontinental Railroad.




St. Helena IslandThe Civil War cast a pall over the 1860's.  This cruel conflict affected every aspect of society, including education.  Children were drawn into the events of the time through their schools as well as their families.  Orphan schools, supported by charitable donations and fund raisers, were established for those whose fathers were killed in battle.  Both sides in the war used the classroom to promote patriotism and support.  Alphabet books such as The Union A B C and the corresponding Confederate Willie's Political Alphabet  forsook the normal "A is for Apple"  replacing it with such rhymes as "O is an Officer proud of his station.  P is for the President who rules this great nation."  In the North a favorite poem for recitation was "Sheridan's Ride" Before the war most textbooks were published in the North.  With the beginning of hostilities the South sought to produce its own texts. An arithmetic problem in one book asked the question, "If one Confederate soldier kills 90 Yankees, how many Yankees can ten Confederate soldiers kill?"  High School 1860sStill, in the South schooling was mainly a priviledge of the wealthy.  The only four states that supported public schools were North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Alabama.  Military academies were popular for boys.  Most were private.  The poorer children were taught by their parents or in one-room school houses called field schools because they were built in abandoned fields. These children's schooling was sketchy at best as their labor was needed to run the farms.  A few African-Americans managed to achieve some academic education in classes conducted secretly under the guise of trade schools for learning such skills as sewing, cooking, and carpentry - skills of value on the plantation.  As sections of the South fell to the Union more schools were opened for blacks.  As early as 1862 the U.S. government opened a school on St. Helena Island, South Carolina.  An African-American teacher, Charlotte Forten, taught at this school and described her experiences in the essay, "Life on the Sea Islands."   In northern cities the schools were moving toward a system of education more familiar to today's students.  The classrooms were divided into grades, and there were separate schools for the different grades.   Boys and girls were usually taught in the same room in the primary schools, but were usually separated in the grammar schools.  Even in the Northern African-Americans generally were segregated in their own schools which, due to inadequate funding, were often housed in rundown buildings and taught with a scarcity of supplies.  

The Morrill Act of 1862, commonly known as the Land Grant College Act, provided for money from the sale of public land to be put in an endowment fund to support colleges.  In 1867 Henry Barnard became the first U.S. commissioner of Education. However, only a little over a year later the Department of Education was abolished and replaced by the Office of Education in the Department of the Interior.  It was over another one hundred years before education again became a separate department. Women continued to make their presence felt in the field.  Elizabeth Palmer Peabody started the first English-speaking kindergarten in Boston in 1860.  Vassar College opened in 1865, and a professor there, Maria Mitchell, became the first woman admitted to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  In this decade a number of black colleges had their start - Howard University in Washington, D.C.; Morehouse College in Atlanta; Fisk University in Nashville; and Hampton Institute in Hampton,  Virginia.






FLASH! April 11, 1861, 4:30A.M. Civil War began at Fort Sumter.FLASH!President signs the Homestead Act, encouraging people to settle the West. FLASH!1861. Christopher Sholes invents early typewriter. FLASH!January 1, 1863. Emancipation Proclamation frees slaves in rebelling territories. FLASH! American coins to have "In God We Trust" printed on each. FLASH!1865. Steamship Sultana explodes on the Mississippi River, killing 1700 people. FLASH! First train holdup at North Bend, Ohio. FLASH! 1865. Intercollegiate football introduced at Princeton and Rutgers. FLASH! Anti-Catholic sentiment feelings running strong. Signs tout Protestants Only or No Irish Need Apply.


 Music during the Civil War was primarily about the weary, wounded or dying on the battlefield, including When This Cruel War is Over, Tenting on the Old Camp Ground and Tramp, Tramp, TrampThe Battle Hymn of the Republic, by Julia Ward Drum Corps of the 93rd New York Infantry, Bealton, Va., August, 1863.  Courtesy of the Library of Congress.Howe, became the rallying cry of the north.   Dixie, a minstrel song by Dan Emmet, a northerner, quickly became a southern favorite. Other Civil War music included the Confederate hymn, the Bonnie Blue Flag and the hungry lament,  Goober Peas.   You'll find several good sites with Civil War music, including:

Civil War Sounds and Music
Songs of the Union
Songs of the Confederacy

33rd Illinois Volunteer Regiment Band

Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore, composer of  When Johnny comes marching home, got his start parading his band through the streets of Boston recruiting soldiers.  He created the Great National Peace Jubilee to celebrate the country's unity, bringing together a chorus of 10,000 and a thousand musicians. including Ole Bull and Carl Rosa joined the five day festival.  Septimus Winner's melodies, including Der Deitcher's Dog (Oh Where, Oh Where, Has My Little Dog Gone?) continued to tickle the funny bones of the American people.   Other popular songs were Jesus Loves Me, Little Brown Church in the Vale, and  Little Brown Jug.Sheet music, The Banjo, composed by L. M. Gottschalk

Theodore Thomas, violinist and orchestra director, attempted to elevate American taste rather thancatering to it.  His goal was to make good music popular.  In 1865, he founded the Thomas Orchestra, offering a summer series in Central Park.  Boston's Great Organ was installed in the Music Hall in 1863.  Harvard hired their first full professor in music, John Knowles Paine, and conferred their first Master of Arts in music to Arthur Foote.
In 1866, Burlesque was born, with 50 scantily-clad dancing girls singing "You Naughty, Naughty Men" in the operetta, The Black Crook.  A British troupe, Lydia Thompson and her British Blondes, attracted wide audiences.  Audiences were primarily male but some attempt was made by producers such as Antonio Pastor to attract the whole family.  Black minstrel troupes, including the Georgia Minstrels, began traveling the country.  Traveling shows stimulated songs such as the Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Music from 1866 - 1899


James L. Plimpton developed roller skates with two pairs of wheels per skate.  The Stetson hat originated in Philadelphia. Men’s coats and trousers were were more comfortable during this decade, because there looser fitting than previously.  A girl’s clothes continued to be similar to those her mother wore.

Food grown in home gardens was gathered and preserved using a variety of food preparation items to be eaten during the colder months of the year.  Cranberries, a popular fruit, were cultivated in Wisconsin.  In 1863, there was a recipe for lemonade in Godey’s.


 Mathew Brady, a New York photographer trained by Samuel Morse,  and his assistants, used the relatively new technology to record forever the horrors of war for the North.  George S. Cook  did the same for the South. When the photographers were not taking pictures of battle, they took tintypes, a popular means for soldiers to send their portraits home to their families.  Thaddeus Sobieski Coulincourt Lowe made a record balloon voyage from Ohio to demonstrate the usefulness of balloons for military observation.  Unfortunately, he landed in South Carolina, where he was briefly arrested as a union spy.  President Lincoln made him chief of the Army's aeronautic section.  He used a camera to provide panoramic shots of military positions.

 Thaddeus Lowe observing the battle from his balloon, Intrepid.  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.  1862. The Civil War marked a drastic change in warfare.  Weapons had improved dramatically, first with the breech loading carbine that enabled the mounted soldier to fire two to three times as fast as the older muskets, and later in the war with the repeating carbine.  Minie balls, soft lead slugs, expanded upon impact, leaving devastating wounds.  While weapons had improved dramatically, medicine had not. The Civil War was a medical nightmare.    Ambulances were first developed in 1862, but after evacuation,  wounded soldiers often had to wait days for treatment, and even so, had little treatment available to them beyond amputationMorphine was first used to control pain in the wounded (as well as to quiet fussy babies.)  For every soldier killed by gunshot in the Civil War, two died of diseases such as diarrhea, typhoid, typhus, malaria, pneumonia and smallpox.  Women nurses were recruited as volunteers but required to be over age thirty and plain in appearance.  In 1861, the U. S. Sanitary Commission recommended that each union soldier in a malarious region be given a daily dose of quinine sulphate dissolved in whiskey.  This was a milestone in preventative medicine.  

Telegraphy continued to make progress as a means of communication.  President Abraham Lincoln received the first transcontinental telegraph message from Sacramento, California in 1861.  In 1866, Cyrus Field finished the first lasting transatlantic cable.  Communication was also improved by the invention of the typewriter, patented by Christopher Latham Sholes in 1868.  Not everyone was happy with the impersonal nature of the typewritten word.

The first oil pipeline was conceived by seventeen-year-old Samuel Karns in Parkersburg, WV, but his plans were interrupted by the war.  In 1861, the first successful oil pipeline was operational in Erie, Pennsylvania.  Responding to a challenge to develop a replacement for ivory billiard balls, John Wesley Hyatt invented celluloid., the first synthetic polymer.  Other inventions included the continuous-roll printing press, the compression ice machine, the air brake, the vacuum cleaner. In the 1866 Cholera epidemic, one half of all victims died. 


John BrownSectionalism and regionalism had eroded the ties that were holding the union together.  As states were added to the Union, Congress tried to insure a balance between slave states and free states. The election of Abraham Lincoln did not soothe factions in the South who wanted to protect the long established right to hold slaves.  In 1861, Kansas was admitted as a free state after bloodshed took place at John Brown's Raid, and tremendous public outcry occured over the issue of slavery.  Roman Catholic archbishop John B. Purcell of Cincinnati called for the emancipation of all slaves in 1862.  Society was altered by the inclusion of immigrants, such as Catholics, and ethnic groups, like Germans.  Segregationist movements like the Ku Klux Klan (1866) formed in some areas of the United States after the Civil War.  Freed blacks acquired the right to vote after the Civil War.

Regional similarities, as those between Northern Baptists or Southern Baptists, were stronger than idealogical similarities.  Some groups, like the Amana Society in 1860, formed their own communities.  Movements like Spiritualism gained prominent adherants such as Horace Greeley and Mary Todd Lincoln.  Expansion into new territories gave settlers a sense of power over their own lives.  In 1862, Congress passed the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act against polygamy which was aimed at Mormons.  Predestination, believed by Congregationalist, Presbystarians and some Baptists, encouraged belief in the all powerful God. Universalists, comprised of Episcopalians, Methodists and other Baptists, felt that all humanity would enjoy heaven, not just a chosen few.  Interest in the Millenium grew as the Civil War developed.  Philosophical inquiry was influenced by the scientific method, and helped produce the ideas of Social Darwinism.  Circuit preachers, like Peter CartwrightCopyprint prints and photographs div. Library of Congres (209), Engraving of a drawing by A. R. Waud, Harper's Weekly, Oct. 12, 1867. spread religion in the west.

Women used a growing political power and formed groups like The National Woman's Loyal League which supported victory for the North.   Mary Livermore presided at the 1869 American Woman Suffrage Association in Chicago, Illinois.   Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony established the National Woman Suffrage Association  in 1869.   Labor movements, like the Molly Maguires, were formed when men performing the same types of work found that they could assert more control over their work lives as a group than individually.  Efforts were made to bring Native Americans into compliance with the expanding Western settlers.

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