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Spring 2024

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Content for this issue of New York Archives JR! was created by Toni Stevens-Oliver, fourth grade educator at Thornell Road Elementary School in Pittsford, New York.

Lincoln and Immigration

Adapted from Harold Holzer's Article     

Meet the Author!

The U.S. Civil War began in 1861. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln gave a speech to Congress. He asked them to find a way to make immigration to the United States easier. President Lincoln believed that immigrants could do jobs like farming, mining, and other industry. They could also serve in the military. This would help the north in their efforts against the south.

Congress passed the Act to Encourage Immigration in 1864. It set up a process for immigration. Immigrants arrived at Castle Garden, an immigration processing center in New York City. Many of the new arrivals were from Ireland, Germany, and Italy. These people were often poor and had suffered hardships in their homelands. They hoped to make a better life in the United States, but often found that life was hard here, too.

Immigrants were offered a bounty (money) to join the Union Army. Many did join, hoping that the money they earned would help their families in their new life. Immigrants often served in regiments that were led by leaders of their communities. Some of these leaders were heroes in their homelands. While these groups were fighting as Americans, they were able to serve with others who were from their home countries.

Lincoln’s belief that immigrants could help during the Civil War proved to be true. Many immigrant regiments gained fame for their bravery in battle. On the home front, immigrants worked to fill rolls left vacant by those away serving. President Lincoln, in his annual message in December of 1864, said, “I regard our emigrants as one of the principal replenishing streams, which are appointed by Providence to repair the ravages of internal war and its wastes of national strength and health.”


Did You Know?

  • New York State provided the most troops to the Union Army. The estimated number of troops is around 450,000.
  • The German Rifles, a New York regiment lead by General Louis Blenker, went to defend Washington, D.C. in July of 1861. They sang to President Lincoln outside the Whitehouse.
  • There were 36,680 German born soldiers from New York in the Union Army. Germany provided the most immigrant troops.
  • No battles of the Civil War took place in New York State.

Learning Activity

Community Connections

  • The New York Military Museum in Saratoga is filled with artifacts and documents from many different eras. Learn about your community’s contribution to the Civil War at
  • Riverside Park, Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in New York City, has a monument to remember the Union Army soldiers and sailors from New York who served in the Civil War.
  • The Military History Society of Rochester offers a “glimpse into different periods” of military history with its many detailed exhibits.
  • The New York State Archives New York State Civil War Soldier Index might have information for you to find out if you have a Civil War veteran from New York in your family.