General Daniel Edgar Sickles In Harlem And More Harper’s Weekly, 1861 (Civil War Print)

civil-war-harlem1In the 1850s, General Daniel Edgar Sickles had received a commission in the 12th Regiment of the New York National Guard, had attained the rank of major, and spent allot of time in Harlem, visiting his brother John Sickles who lived on “123rd Street, Northside just west of Second Avenue,” giving speeches and organizing in Harlem, New York. (He insisted on wearing his militia uniform for ceremonial occasions while serving in London, and caused a minor diplomatic scandal by snubbing Queen Victoria at an Independence Day celebration.)  Since his last session of Congress ended in March 1861, Sickles was back in New York, practicing law as a private citizen when the American Civil War officially opened in April. There are multiple versions relating how Sickles then joined the army. The most popular version goes that one day while drinking at Delmonico’s, his friend Captain William Wiley offered to raise a regiment if Sickles agreed to command it.

Sickles and Wiley decided to raise a brigade rather than a regiment, which was good for Sickles since colonels commanded regiments while brigadier generals commanded brigades. They recruited about 3,000 men and Sickles dubbed his new brigade the “Excelsior Brigade” after the New York State motto (“Ever Upward”).

On 22 July 1861, the day after the Federal disaster at First Bull Run, the brigade finally received orders to depart for Washington. Having raised a brigade, Sickles probably now presumed that his brigadier generalship was assured. But the Senate would delay his confirmation to brigadier general for several months. Ever the opportunist, Sickles would use his time in Washington to good advantage; further ingratiating himself with Lincoln and making sure that the promotion would go through. He particularly became friends with Mary Todd Lincoln. Many watched in disgust as he was said to call on her at all hours, and escort her when President Lincoln was unavailable, just as Key had done to Teresa.


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…spent the late summer of 1862 giving recruiting speeches and organized in Harlem and as a result, he missed the Second Manassas Campaign and Antietam campaigns.

In the spring of 1862, Sickles finally began to get battlefield experience when his Excelsior Brigade was assigned to Joseph Hooker’s division in the Third Corps. This would have a profound impact on Sickles’s military career.  General Sickles saw his first major combat at Fair Oaks (or Seven Pines) on 1 June. Sickles deployed the Excelsiors under fire and actually acquitted himself well; the Excelsiors were praised in both McClellan and Hooker’s reports. The Excelsiors saw more action during the Seven Days’ Battles, and it is during this campaign that Sickles received the majority of his pre-Gettysburg combat experience. He then departed the brigade and spent the late summer of 1862 giving recruiting speeches and organized in Harlem and as a result, he missed the Second Manassas Campaign and Antietam campaigns.

Sickles finally rejoined his brigade in early November 1862. When Ambrose Burnside took command of the army following Antietam, Hooker’s growing reputation carried him into command of Burnside’s new Center Grand Division, which included the Third and Fifth Corps.  Sickles was then promoted to major general and given command of Hooker’s old Second Division of the Third Corps. The promotion was an astonishing advance given that only a few months ago his brigadier generalship was in serious doubt and he had done really little fighting in the interim.

Here’s the breakdown of the images on the Wood Engraving:

  • Top cartoon: The print is a lively pen and ink image from this Harlem collectible of the Bivouac of Part of General Sickles’s Excelsior Brigade at the Red House, Harlem, New York.
  • Bottom cartoon: the Guthrie Grays marching through Cincinatti en Route for Camp Dennison. (mid-19th century American culture) Issued 1861, New York, by Harpers Weekly.

The mage is produced from an original printed sheet from this scarce 19th century American periodical. The printed area remains visually pleasing, a nice impression of an interesting cultural image.

A fine mid-19th century print any collector, dealer, or institution would be happy to possess.

Price: $ 34.95

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Harlem News, Lifestyle, History & Renaissance since 2003.

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