The Civil War
Lincoln’s election in 1860 was soon followed by South Carolina’s secession from the Union, and the Civil War began. Although they had not given their full vote to Lincoln, the people of Fort Greene were strongly pro-Union and in favor of abolition. New York State had outlawed slavery in 1827. Brooklyn’s first “Coloured” school, where the Walt Whitman Houses are today, opened 20 years later. Perhaps half of Brooklyn’s African Americans of that period lived in the Fort Greene-to-Brooklyn City Hall section. Labor competition for jobs at the Navy Yard, however, grew fierce during the Civil War and the Draft Riots by hooligans, often pitted against skilled black workers, grew ugly.
Yet black accomplishment could not be denied. The principal of P.S. 67 in 1863 was African American, and by 1882 Dr. Phillip A. White became the first black member of Brooklyn’s Board of Education. The village of Weeksville near Schenectady Avenue, where some Fort Greene blacks relocated, also produced the first female African American physician and the first black police officer in New York.
During the Civil War itself, the 14th Infantry Regiment of Fort Greene distinguished itself heroically. Notably at Gettysburg under the command of a Fulton Street office manager, Gen. Edward B. Fowler, leader of the New York 14th Regiment during the Civil War, the 14th virtually turned the tide of the Civil War to the Union’s favor. His troops from the Fort Greene area excelled at the Battle of Gettysburg, halting a brigade of Confederates at great cost in lives. Gen. Fowler’s regiment was so fearsome, the Confederates referred to them as Red Legged Devils the enemy referred to the men as the Red Legged Devils because they wore sprightly red britches. A statue of Gen. Edward B. Fowler, stands at the junction of Lafayette Avenue and Fulton Street.