Friday, April 17, 2009

Day One

Image: "The riots in New York - Destruction of the Colored Orphan Asylum." The Illustrated London News. August 15, 1863.

It was July 12, 1863, and tension was in the air. The Battle of Gettysburg had just been fought and the federal government had instituted a draft which would force men ages 18-35 to serve for a three year term. The streets were filled with working men and women, reading aloud the names of those chosen for the draft. Soon, the streets held an outraged, predominantly Irish, mob. The crowd headed to Central Park while leaders spoke out about the draft. The mob then went to Provost Marshall's office to find out who else was drafted, while carrying "No Draft!" signs. On their way, the destruction of the city began as rioters cut telegraph wires, collected weapons, and stopped traffic. John Kennedy, the Superintendent of Police was attacked, and homes of policemen were targeted. Rioters also laid waste to jewelry, hardware, and liquor stores, eight draft offices, and the offices of Horace Greeley's Tribune. The armory was burned, leaving several of the same rioters that started it to parish in the fire. At 4:00 PM, protesters attacked, set fire to, and looted the Colored Orphan Asylum. The children were safely evacuated. The rioters chased, assaulted, and lynched (hung) African-Americans throughout the city. Also, property belonging to African-Americans, wealthy Republicans and abolitionists, and policemen were destroyed. One of these men was Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Daily Tribune. Greeley was a major wealthy Republican. It wasn't just a draft riot. By now, it was a full-fledged race riot. William Jones, and African-American, was walking to the store to buy bread, when he was attacked by a gang led by an Irish immigrant, John Nicholson. Jones was beaten and hanged from a tree, then his body was set on fire. Peter Heuston was a Mohawk Indian, but was unfortuneatley mistaken for an African-American and was beaten. Two weeks later, Heuston died in the hospital. After Monday, some rioters stopped, seeing how violent they had become. They even helped clean up afterwards. Others just kept on violently destroying the city that they lived in, and its inhabbitants. Many African-Americans did their best to leave the cities after they saw how much danger they were in. That night at 11:00 PM, it rained over the city.

Day Two

Image: "Dragging Colonel O' Brien's body through the mud." Published in Harper's Weekly. August 1, 1863.

The riots were in full swing by the second day of rioting as protesters built barricades from debris in numerous neighborhoods to keep police out. Rioters targeted wealthy Republican homes and businesses, and African-Americans with brutal beatings and lynchings. William Williams, an African-American sailor, was walking down the street, and he asked a boy where the nearest grocery store was. Edward Canfield saw this and led a group of white men to where Williams was standing. He was beaten, stabbed, then left there to die. Rioters also attacked whites who helped African-Americans. By now, it was no longer about the draft, but was just an all-out assault of African-Americans and the Republican elite. The violence and destruction of the second day worsened as Henry O'Brien, the commander of the 11th New York volunteers, set off a cannon in the street over a mob of rioters' heads. This act was meant to scatter the mob, but instead, it ended in a possessed search for O'Brien. The cannon was said to have either wounded two children or killed seven people (sources disagree). The crowd went looking for O'Brien after he fled the scene and quickly succeeded in finding and murdering him. The famous Brooks Brothers clothing store was the scene of a major battle with the rioters and police. The rioters looted the store, destroying it completely and causing more than $50,000 in damage costs from stolen clothes and property damage. They were thought to have most likely targeted Brooks Brothers because of previous lost jobs. While all this was happening, Democrat and Republican leaders were arguing about the riots, and even if they had the right to protest. They all agreed that the violence had to cease. Governor Seymour, a Democrat, came to the city and gave a speech to the rioters. Many Republicans were angry after his speech because Governor Seymour seemed to side with the rioters and was way too friendly with the violent protesters. Mayor Opdyke, a Republican, sent for federal troops, but would not call for Marshall Law which would give control of the city to the federal government.
Image: "Battle in Second Avenue and Twenty-Second Street, at the Union Steam Works, July 14." Published in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. August 1, 1863.

Day Three

The third day of the riots was full of more destruction, deaths, arsons, and lynchings. A group of white men found Abraham Franklin, a disabled African-American coachman, and beat him and his sister, Henrietta. Then, Abraham was hanged from a tree. After he was dead, his body was cut down by Patrick Butler, a 16 year old Irish butcher and dragged through the streets and mud. A 7 year old African-American boy, Joseph Reed was fleeing his burning apartment when he got seperated from his mother and other family members. Another group of white men stopped and surrounded him. They beat him to death. At last, General Harvery Brown and Police Commissioner Tomas Acton seemed to come by a plan to stop the rioters. Although the riots were far from over, they planned to keep the rioters in the working class neighborhoods, or the already "infected" areas of the city.
Image: "Scene in Thirty-Second Street, Between Sixth and Seventh Avenues - Negro hanged by the mob and houses burned, July 15." Published in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, August 1, 1863.

Day Four

In an attempt to stop the rioters with an incentive of compromising with their demands, Democrats met up together at Tammany Hall. To "encourage" volunteering, they proposed appropriating $ 2.5 million for exemption bonds for 7% interest after 1880. This was passed, however, it did not calm the rioters what so ever. After that, Tammany Hall was turned into a charity place for New York City's poor. by now, violence had spread to Staten Island and other towns close to New York City, mainly in New Jersey. By the end of Thursday, 4,000 troops were stationed in the city. They had just come from the Battle of Gettysburg, and it appeared as though they kept the same mind frame as if they were in battle with the opposition. Sources say that after the militia arrived, a huge mob gathered on First Avenue. They ambushed the soldiers with guns, knifes, home-made bludgeons, rocks, bricks, and any weapons they could find. Several soldiers were wounded and killed, but their defense tactics proved much more fatal. As Times reported, ten rounds of canister were fired by artillerymen, killing 30 rioters. However, after ten soldiers were killed or wounded, the soldiers were forced to retreat. Sergeant Charles Davids, part of the 14th New York Cavalry, was knocked off his horse and beaten to death. As soldiers were being helped and sent to a make-shift hospital, the riots attacked again. This time, the soldiers were ready and able to hold them off. This was considered the "last battle" of the draft riots.

Image: "Fights between rioters and military." Published in Harper's Weekly, August 1, 1863.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


This 4-5 day riot was destructive, to say the least. The official death toll, which is arguable, reached 119. However, many sources differ in the number, especially news reports at that time which exaggerated it to be thousands. These protests have shown one of the most destructive (in terms of human loss) urban civil unrest cases in U.S. history. However, federal officials rescheduled the draft lottery starting that August. The rioters were severely punished, with 67 persons convicted with differing jail term lengths. When the draft was resumed, the federal government stationed 10,000 troops in the city. The draft lottery took place in late August and went peaceably. The Democratic Party was able to persuade the government to reduce the lottery from 26,000 to 12,000 men. In an effort to ease the weight of the draft, the Common Council approved a $3 million exemption fund to help draftees find replacements, but Mayor Opdyke refused. This caused the Board of Supervisors to make their own exemption committee to pay for similar benefits for almost any man who did not wish to fight. New York City's African-American population also took a severe hit. Before the riots started, more than 12,000 resided in the city. After the protests in which most violence was directed at African-Americans, the population dipped below 10,000. However, the 20th Regiment U.S. Colored Troops were formed, making that the first black volunteer force ever to emerge from New York City. After parading through the town, they defended the Union in New Orleans.
Ruins of the Provost-Marshall's office. Published in Harper's Weekly, August 1, 1863.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Government Involvement

Democratic leaders, such as Governor Seymour, had an interesting response to the draft riots. Many thought the riots were legitimate. Governor Seymour, when giving a speech to the rioters on Tuesday, July 14, was thought by some Republican reporters to have endorsed the riots. The Democratic position was that the working class immigrants had a right to protest the drafts that were seemingly unfair. However, the line between what was considered just peaceful protesting and full out violent mobs hanging innocent African-American victims was crossed from the start, justifying the Republican party outcry against the riots. A solution was needed to stop the destruction of the whole of the city and its people, and fast. Police forces were being barricaded out of certain neighborhoods, and overall mayhem was taking over the city. On the second day of riots, Mayor Opdyke sent for federal troops, but refused to declare Marshall Law which would give the federal government control of the city. On the fourth day of riots, the federal troops arrived from Gettysburg, ending most of the protests.

Why the Irish?

Some may be wondering, "What is the deal with all the Irish rioters during the New York City draft riots of 1863?" Well, actually, I doubt if anyone was wondering that, but I find it extremely interesting and one of the main reasons the riots started in the first place.
Job Competition - Firstly, you must keep in mind that nine days before the riots began was the Battle of Gettysburg. And not long before that came the Emancipation Proclamation. This broadened the goal of the Union from just focusing on preserving the Union to also abolishing slavery. In New York City and other highly populated northern cities, numerous immigrants were present, many from Ireland. The free African-American population in New York City and the Irish immigrants were competing for jobs. So this thought was most likely in the mind of the average Irish worker: Why should I fight to end slavery when all they do is come and steal my work?
Class Resentment – The Irish laborer, along with many other recent immigrants from Europe, had been exposed to and impacted by the many social upheavals experienced in Europe in previous decades. They came with, or in some cases developed, a class consciousness and a simmering resentment of wealthy elite industrialists who were growing rich from war profiteering while they themselves lived in squalor. The Irish laborer also resented the Abolitionists and Republicans whom they accused of caring more about the conditions of African slaves than they did the poor working classes living in northern cities. Southern leaning politicians played on and stoked these feelings of resentment in the hopes of generating resistance to the Union cause.Image Homes of the Rioters:, Civil War Treasures from the New-York Historical Society.

Vulnerable to the Draft - Finally, to many working immigrants, the drafts seemed unfair. Sometimes, the only way for the immigrants to gain citizenship was to enlist for the Union. Irish immigrants were prone to the draft because others had connections to get out of it, not to mention, the wealthier draftees could simply pay his $300 and be done with it.