Carpenters' Hall

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The Civil War Years

by Carl G. Karsch

The spring of 1865 — nearly a century and a half ago — was one the nation and Philadelphia, its second largest city, would not soon forget. "Richmond is ours..." were the joyous words that crackled over newspaper telegraphs. Six days later, even better news: Lee had surrendered. The city went wild. Steam whistles, church bells, fireworks, a salute of 200 guns "by order of the Union League."

Exuberance vanished with Lincoln's assassination on April 14 and his death the next day, which also happened to be Good Friday. The city — and Carpenters' Hall — were draped in black. Minutes record an expense of $96.86 "for draping the Hall in mourning for the death of the President of the U.S." Also, for "advertising resolutions by the Company on his death $15.37."

On Saturday afternoon, April 22, Lincoln's funeral train arrived at Broad St. & Washington Ave., the same railroad terminal in South Philadelphia from which troops by the thousands had departed for the war. The procession bearing his catafalque proceeded to Independence Hall where the slain president lay in state in the Assembly Room. Some 85,000 filed past the bier; thousands more were still in line when the doors closed.

By July 4th, Philadelphia was ready for a celebration. Gas jets illuminated the façade of the Hall; candles ($4) highlighted the windows.

But a painful legacy of the war remained — soldiers and sailors by the thousands crippled or maimed. For two weeks in November, 1865, the Hall was offered the "Committee to Benefit the Soldiers and Sailors Home" as a place to "dispose of the goods remaining from their late fair at the Academy of Music." Walter Allison (elected 1853; deceased 1889) was authorized to place a "contribution box for benefit of the Soldiers and Sailors Home."

Company support for the Union was unequivocal even before the firing on Fort Sumter in April, 1861. A motion by David H. Flickwir (elected 1824; deceased 1881) declared "whereas it is right and proper that all good citizens should rally to the support of the government in this trying period and in consideration of our venerable Hall being identified with the government from its earliest time, therefore be it resolved that the Managing Committee have a suitable flagstaff and Union flag placed over the front pediment of the Hall." On April 15, three days after the first shots were fired, the Company held a special meeting "for the purpose of unfurling to the breeze the glorious old flag of our country upon our time-honored Hall." A chorus "of young ladies sang 'The Star Spangled Banner'." There was also a call to help fill Lincoln's request for 75,000 volunteer militia. In June, 1863, as Lee's invasion of Pennsylvania threatened the city, it was voted that the Hall's "first story be tendered to all carpenters who may see fit to form a company for home defense."

If any members disagreed with the Company's support of the Union — and many Philadelphians openly sympathized with the South — they apparently kept quiet. Three significant contributions are recorded:

$125 to the Union Volunteer Refreshment Saloon. Soldiers on troop trains from New York and New England crossed the Delaware by ferry, arriving at the foot of Washington Ave. On nearby Swanson St. a huge hall was erected where the men could bathe, then be fed in a room accommodating 500. Later they marched west to Broad St. and the depot of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad. Organizer of this privately supported enterprise, which fed uncounted thousands of soldiers, was James McGlathery a prosperous insurance and real estate entrepreneur whose father and grandfather were both members of the Company. Matthew McGlathery, whose portrait hangs in the Hall, built gun carriages for Washington's army.

$250 to the Citizens Volunteer Hospital Association. On South Broad St. adjacent to the train station was the first hospital established for wounded returning home. Planned to accommodate 400 patients, the hospital operated at nearly double capacity.

$125 to the U.S. Sanitary Commission. In June, 1864, the Philadelphia division of the Commission — the soldiers' relief organization — staged a fund-raising fair in what was then called Logan Square. There were sales booths and commercial exhibits of all sorts, a horticultural show, a restaurant, a "smoking divan," and the greatest attraction of all, a visit by President Lincoln.

Union League, built by John Crump, a Company member, opened May 11, 1865. One month later, on the day Philadelphia's troops returned to the city, the League honored General U.S. Grant with a gala reception. General Robert E. Lee planned to use the building as his headquarters, had he captured Philadelphia. Courtesy: The Free Library of Philadelphia

Soldiers enroute south were fed — 500 at a seating — in vast "refreshment saloon" near ferry landing on the Delaware river. Company members contributed to its support, and probably helped erect building. Courtesy: The Free Library of Philadelphia

Wounded veterans received care at hospital near the railroad terminal (above) from which they had departed for the battlefront. Donations by Company helped support soldiers' treatment. Courtesy: The Free Library of Philadelphia

Carpenters' Hall, 320 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Open free to the public daily, except Mondays (and Tuesdays in Jan. and Feb.), from 10am-4pm

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