Business Barons of the Civil War North

Today, January 26, 2019, I attended a reception for and a terrific lecture by Jeffry Wert at the National Civil War Museum regarding his new book, Civil War Barons. In that book, he profiles nineteen businessmen who either made a great impact on Union victory or made their fortunes as a result of what they did in the Civil War.

Jeffry Wert delivering his presentation at the National Civil War Museum

The capacity crowd listening to Wert’s presentation

During his presentation, Mr. Wert told us in 1860 there were just over 35,000 Federal Government employees. Of those, 30,500 were employed by the Postal Department. The Post Office was the way the vast majority of Americans touched their national government and the way it touched them.

He gave us some thumbnail sketches of the nineteen men he covers in the book. The first of these was J. Edgar Thomson, President of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which by the end of the war was the dominant railroad company in America.

J. Edgar Thomson

Thomas A. Scott

The next man was Thomas Scott, the Vice President of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Scott became the Assistant Secretary of War, but came back to Pennsylvania in 1863. It was Scott who expedited the transfer of the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps of the Army of the Potomac to the West after the Union defeat at Chickamauga.

Andrew Carnegie

Next was Andrew Carnegie, who during the Civil War was Scott’s protegé. He was essentially Scott’s private secretary and came to Washington with Scott when Scott became Assistant Secretary of War. Carnegie began to invest in land and in iron mills and began to make money during this time, providing the foundation for the fortune he would amass.

Jay Cooke

Next is financier Jay Cooke, who revolutionized how the United States paid for its wars. He was able to get the sole contract to sell war bonds. During the Civil War, the United States raised about $3.2 billion. Of that total, about $2 billion was raised by selling bonds.

James B. Eads

James B. Eads developed a method to raise sunken ships in the Mississippi River before the war, which made him a wealthy man before the war. During the war he produced eight gunboats designed by Samuel Pook, known as “Pook’s Turtles.” They were also known as City Class gunboats.

One of the City Class gunboats, aka “Pook’s Turtles,” the USS St. Louis

Eads also produced monitor-type ships as well.

A cutaway view of the USS Mound City, one of the “Pook’s Turtles”

Henry Burden

In the 1830s Henry Burden invented a machine to cast horseshoes. Over the coming years he fine-tuned, improved, and tweaked the machine to the point where during the Civil War he was able to produce one horseshoe every second and supplied 70 million horseshoes to the United States.

Robert Parker Parrot

Robert P. Parrot was the man who designed and built the Parrot guns so successfully used by the Union artillery in the Civil War.

A 30-pounder Parrot Rifle

Christopher Miner Spencer

Christopher Miner Spencer produced the Spencer Carbines and Spencer Rifles, in both single-shot and repeater versions. The repeaters revolutionized Civil War weaponry.

Edward Squibb

Edward Squibb, who would found Squibb Pharmaceuticals, developed a way to purify chloroform and ether in the 1850s, a method he shared with the world in an article he wrote. He invented a pannier box, which was a chest used by surgeons in the Civil War.

Squibb Pannier Medical Box

Abram S. Hewitt

Abram S. Hewitt married into the Cooper family [of Cooper Union fame], and when the family acquired an iron works in Trenton, New Jersey, they put Hewitt in charge of running it. Hewitt traveled to England and was able to ferret out the formula the best manufacturers used to produce gun-metal. He brought that back and Trenton Iron Works would provide the gun-metal for the Springfield Armory.

John Deere

John Deere was a blacksmith who moved west and developed a plow that would cut through the thick soil in Illinois. This helped Midwest farmers to help feed the Union army and the rest of the United States.

Cyrus McCormick

Cyrus McCormick, who produced the McCormick Reaper, probably needs no further explanation.

McCormick Reaper

The McCormick Reaper greatly improved the efficiency of farming wheat and other crops by making it unnecessary to harvest them by hand or with a scythe.

The Studebaker Brothers. Left to right, (standing) Peter and Jacob; (seated) Clem, Henry, and John M.

The Studebaker Brothers produced high quality wagons, and the Union army used their wagons during the war. Wagons captured by the confederates got notice in the South, and by the end of the war Studebaker wagons became known all over the country for quality, leading to a great expansion of business after the war.

Philip Armour

Philip Armour was a meat packer who helped supply food for the Union army. Armour Meats still exists today.

Gail Borden

Gail Borden, in the 1830s, was part of the five-man committee that declared Texas to be independent of Mexico. He developed condensed drinking milk and thus helped get nutritious milk to Union soldiers. The Borden Company is still in operation.

Gordon McKay

Gordon McKay purchased the rights to a machine invented by Lyman Blake and improved it to the point where it could sew the uppers to the lowers of boots and shoes faster than a human could hand stitch them.

The McKay Stitcher

Functional drawing of the McKay Stitcher

This gave the Union army a distinct advantage in shoe production.

Frederick Weyerhaeuser

Frederick Weyerhaeuser began buying timberland during the 1860s. As a result, he built a large lumber business. Major purchases during the Civil War paved the way for his fortune about to come.

Cornelius Vanderbilt

Cornelius Vanderbilt manipulated the stock market and bought railroads, becoming a wealthy man. During the Civil War he gave his steamship, which at the time was the largest in the country, to the Union Navy for use to help win the war.

Collis P. Huntington

The last man featured was Collis P. Huntington, who was a merchant and part of a group of four merchants, along with Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker, known as “The Association” who formed the Central Pacific Railroad Company.

Wert’s lecture was the keynote event of the opening of a new exhibit in the museum about business during the Civil War.

Called “The Business of War,” the exhibit includes information about businesses, businessmen, and financing as well as artifacts from the Civil War era.



For more on ways used to pay for the war, see here.


As you can see, some of the exhibits include QR Barcodes, such as the above, which leads to this link.


Unlike Wert’s lecture, this exhibit includes both Union and confederate displays.

It included a number of exhibits.


For cotton’s influence, see here.


The QR code in the above exhibit led to this link.


The QR Code for this exhibit leads here.


More on sutlers here.


The QR Code gives us this link about Carpetbaggers and Scalawags in Reconstruction.


More on Sanitary Fairs here.


More on Matthew Brady portraits here.


It’s an excellent exhibit, and if you can get to the museum to see it, I highly recommend viewing it.


  1. Pat Eakin · · Reply

    Very interesting. I’m just wondering if Levi Morton should have been on your list?

    1. Well, it’s Wert’s list, not mine, and he opened the talk by saying it was his list and if someone thought someone else should be on it or someone shouldn’t be on it, they should make their own list and write their own book. 🙂

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