Trenton Iron Works - some notes and conjecture

It was something like a couple of decades ago that Trenton historian Charles Webster and I were sitting in that city's library speculating about the oddities of G.B. McClellan being posted to Trenton and then being buried there (along with his wife and father-in-law Randolph B. Marcy, sans Mrs. Marcy).

Charlie proposed that the outcome was tied to Trenton Iron Works, where Marcy had served as an Army inspector and where the owners had been influential Democrats. He didn't have anything specific but was working on it. We filed what "explanation" we had under "ties to the city."

I am not sure Charlie called it Trenton Iron Works. We locals called the site "Cooper Iron Works" and the business went through name changes. At one time there was a 19th Century companion firm, same owners, called Trenton Steel and Iron Works. For purposes of this post, I'm going to refer to the complex as Trenton Iron Works.

To get where we are going, we'll need a timeline.

1838 - New York's illustrious Albany Regency ends with the defeat of William Marcy (D) at the hands of William Seward and Thurlow Weed (W) in the NY governor's election.

1847 - Trenton Iron Works is incorporated by Peter Cooper (photo, right), Abram Hewitt, Edward Cooper (son) and James Hall, strong, moneyed New York Democrats.

1848 - The barnburners split the Regency, burying this Democrat faction. Peter Cooper is a barnburner.

1849 - Capt. Randolph Marcy, of the Regency Marcys, blazes the Marcy Trail, from Fort Smith to Santa Fe.

1851 - Marcy is on the Belknap expedition in Texas.

1852 - Marcy and McClellan are on the Red River expedition.

1855-1859 - Maj. Robert Anderson is "... assigned to the light duty of inspecting the iron beams produced in a mill in Trenton, New Jersey for Federal construction projects."

1856 - Gustavus Woodson Smith (a civilian) becomes chief engineer of the Trenton Iron Works (Odyssey of a Southerner). Marcy is on a Texas survey. G.W. Smith introduces McClellan to Abram Hewitt, co-owner of Trenton Iron Works and director of the Illinois Central Railroad (McClellan's War, Odyssey of a Southerner).

1857 - Marcy wars on the Seminoles and then "received national fame for a winter march of over a thousand miles" during the Mormon war. McClellan resigns from the army for a position with the Illinois Central (McClellan's War). G.W. Smith becomes a director of the Illinois Central (Odyssey of a Southerner). McClellan begins his supervision of a contract railroad attorney named Abraham Lincoln.

1858 - Marcy prepares his book The Prairie Traveler. G.W. Smith goes to work for Peter Cooper, co-owner of Trenton Iron Works, as the deputy NYC Streets Commissioner. Cooper resigns after six months and Smith steps up to the full title(Odyssey of a Southerner).

1859 - Marcy becomes a regimental paymaster. Peter Cooper founds Cooper Union.

1860 - Peter Cooper sells out his stake in Trenton Iron Works to the other owners. McClellan takes up the presidency of the Ohio & Mississippi RR Eastern Division through the good offices of S.L.M. Barlow, Democratic activist.(McClellan's War). Barlow is a member of New York's Union Club as is Edward Cooper, co-owner of Trenton Iron Works. Abraham Lincoln is offered position as staff legal counsel to the New York Central Railroad based on his work for McClellan and the Illinois Central (Abraham Lincoln as a Railroad Attorney and, better, Ellis and Ellis in Billings).

1860 - (Worth its own entry and emphasis) G.W. Smith becomes Chairman of the National Democratic Committee for the City and County of New York. (He backs the Breckinridge ticket.)

Perhaps this is too nebulous for many readers, but I find it interesting. One missing piece here is Randolph Marcy. His whereabouts are given to show what few opportunities he would have had to be posted to the Trenton Iron Works, as Charlie believed he had been. The Marcy-Trenton connection remains mysterious.

Anderson's place here might also confuse but there is a familial McClellan connection that appears in Whitelaw Reid's history of Ohio in the ACW. Robert Anderson, worked with Smith, the Coopers, Hewitt, and Hall for years. As McClellan settled into Cincinnati society in 1860 (his entrée into the principal literary club having been managed by John Pope), his military future is taken up by the city's business roundtable headed by one Larz Anderson II, nephew of the major. Larz and company petitioned both Gov. Dennison and Ohio's politicians in Washington for McClellan's leadership of Ohio troops. Perhaps there was an Ironworks connection at work.

Lincoln's possible connection to the Trenton Iron Works is a notion "under development," if it ever gets developed. The offer of a job with the NY Central would have come from the company of a powerful New York Democrat, Erastus Corning, who knew the Regency, likely had dealings with some combination of Barlow, Cooper and Hewett and who certainly had many dealings with Lincoln backer Thurlow Weed. Interlocking boards? Word of mouth? And from where? More work to do.

Democrats Edward Cooper (Peter's son) and Hewitt would both eventually serve as mayors of New York, Hewitt gaining fame as the man who planned for a city subway system. The New York mayor who opened the subway system for business was Max McClellan, the general's son. Will the circle be unbroken? Not in 1904, anyway.

Meanwhile, here's Marcy's obit. The Trenton burial is not explained although we know GBM has predeceased him and we guess his daughter has committed to be buried in some future time next to her husband. Could this be the motivation for siting Marcy's gravesite?

We have not solved the mystery of McClellan's (or Marcy's) posting to Trenton but have some meat for informed speculation - the best kind.

The Ironworks were a political mill where power, money and Democratic politics mixed with military celebrity.