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The Draft Riot In New York City 1863 Part III:  The New York Draft Riot

MILITARY DRAFTS a drawing by lot to select men to fill the ranks of the Army in time of war.

The method of increasing the Army by draft was first resorted to in 1814, during the war with Great Britain. Militia men only were subject to this draft, and the result was unsatisfactory. During the Civil War an effort was made to recruit the Army by a draft upon the militia. A bill having this object in view failed in Congress on the ground of unconstitutionality. Another bill, prepared without reference to the militia, but operative upon every able-bodied male citizen of military age, passed Congress May 3, 1863. An attempt to enforce this act caused a serious outbreak of the lawless element of the people of New York City. The city was in the hands of a mob for 3 or 4 days and much valuable property was destroyed. Apr. 16, 1862 and July 18, 1863, the Confederate congress passed conscription laws.

In the year 1863, it was necessary for the Federal Government to institute a draft to supply the depleted armies of the nation, then engaged in a life and death struggle for the preservation of the Union. The draft went into effect in New York on July eleventh, and was followed by riots in several parts of the city. One of the objects of attack by the rioters was the building of the New York Tribune on Park Row. On the thirteenth, Governor Horatio Seymour arrived in the city and went to the City Hall. A great crowd of rioters who had resumed their attack on the Tribune building heard of his presence and flocked into the Park and were addressed by the governor. He was overcome by the sight of the riotous mob, and either lost his head or purposely attempted to conciliate them by making them believe he was friendly to them and their actions. He even went so far as to call them "My friends," as he stood between the Tammany leaders William M. Tweed and A. Oakey Hall and spoke to a noisy crowd in front of the City Hall on the second day of the uprising. " I implore you to take care that no man's property or person is injured. I rely on you, and if you refrain from further riotous acts, I will see to it that your rights shall be protected. On Saturday last I sent the Adjutant-General of the State to Washington to urge postponement of the draft. The question of the legality of the Conscription Act will go before the Courts. If the Act be declared legal I pledge myself, the State and the city authorities to see that there shall be no inequality between the rich and poor." The mob cheered him to the echo, and thus encouraged, dispersed to resume their work of murder and destruction.

Never before in an American metropolis had the police, merchants, bankers, and forces of law and order had their power wrenched loose by mobs so skillfully led, with so direct a strategy of seizing armories, guns, munitions, supplies, with announced aims of getting possession of the United States Treasury vaults and the surplus funds of banks, along with forts, communications, and approaches to the city.

During the three days of July 13, 14, 15, mobs or crowds that met by prearrangement, with a specific design as to what points they would attack. There were two points in Broadway at which danger was expected from the rioters; these were No. 1190, where the provost-marshal had established one of the wheels for drawing names, the other was at Broadway and Twenty-second Street, where was the office of U.S. Collector of Internal Revenue, George P. Putnam. The drawing lasted during the forenoon of July eleventh at 1190, but was stopped by the marshal at that time, as the riot had begun. The mob drove out the United States provost marshal from his office at Forty-third Street and Third Avenue, wrecked the wheel or revolving drum from which the names of drafted men were drawn, tore to pieces the books and papers, broke up the furniture, poured turpentine on the floor, set the building on fire, fought off police and firemen, burned the draft office and six adjoining buildings.

They wrecked and burned the United States draft office on Broadway two doors from Twenty-ninth Street, looted stores near by, and burned twelve buildings; they smashed windows and doors and sacked the home of the Republican Mayor Opdyke and burned at midnight the home of the United States Postmaster Abram Wakeman, first stripping the premises of furniture and clothing; they burned a ferry house, hotels, drugstores, clothing stores, factories, saloons where they were refused free liquor, police stations, a Methodist church, a Protestant mission, the Colored Orphan Asylum at Forty-third Street and Lexington Avenue. They erected for protection and refuge barricades on First Avenue from Eleventh to Fourteenth streets, on Ninth Avenue from Thirty-second to Forty-third streets, with smaller barricades across intersecting thoroughfares. They yelled " To hell with the draft and the war!"; they yelled "Tell Old Abe to come to New York!'

They destroyed shipyards, railroad and streetcar lines, and cut telegraph wires connecting with Albany. They killed, crippled, or bruised policemen till at the end of the third day nearly the whole force was ineffective; among their first victims was Superintendent of Police John Kennedy, who received seventy-two gashes, wounds, and bruises and managed to live through; among the later victims was Colonel H.T. O'Brien of the 11th regiment of the State guard, who was stoned and kicked to death and received in a gutter the ministrations of a passing Catholic priest. They destroyed property estimated at $5,000,000 in value.

In Broadway, itself, a mob was attacked and scattered in the neighborhood of Bleecker Street by the police held in reserve at police headquarters in Mulberry Street, the rioters being at the time on their way to attack that building.

The mobs were not driven in their work by mere blind wrath. Somebody had done some thinking, somebody had chosen a time when all the State guards the Governor could scrape together had gone to Gettysburg. The only organized force ready against the first riots was a police department of 1,500 members. With club and revolver they had fought night and day, and their dead lay in scores, their wounded and gashed by the hundreds.

Drafted men, their relatives and friends, reinforced by thousands of sympathizers who favored some kind of direct action, gathered early in the morning of July 13 on vacant lots with clubs, staves, cart rungs, pieces of iron, and moved as if by agreement to a lot near Central Park where they organized, began patrolling the city, and put the first sign of their wrath and vengeance on the draft offices wrecked and burned. That is, the first acts of the three days' tornado had some semblance of an uprising of the people against a Government discriminating in its conscription between the rich and the poor. The fortunate arrival of the Seventh Regiment and the active efforts of the few officers and troops in the city put down the riot on the fourth day.

One Judge McCunn had held the previous week that the Conscription Act was unconstitutional, and the only forces the President could use for the war, besides the regular army, were volunteers and militia contributed by States.

The draft, however, and the arrangement that any man having $300 could buy his release from military service, were the focal points of the mass drive of the mobs. Robert Nugent, assistant provost marshal in charge of conscription, received on the second day of the riots a telegram from his Washington chief, James B. Fry, directing him to suspend the draft. Governor Seymour and Mayor Opdyke clamored that he should publish this order. Nugent said he had no authority to, but he finally consented to sign his name to a notice: "The draft has been suspended in New York City and Brooklyn," which was published in newspapers. This had a marked quieting effect.

Governor Seymour wrote to the President asking for suspension of the draft, the President replying that he could not consent. "Time is too important." Due credit in the quota would be made for volunteers, Lincoln stipulated; he also said he would be willing to facilitate a decision from the United States Supreme Court on whether the draft law was constitutional. "But I cannot consent to lose the time while it is being obtained....We are contending with an enemy, who, as I understand, drives every able-bodied man he can reach into his ranks, very much as a butcher drives bullocks into a slaughter pen...This produces an army. with a rapidity not to be matched on our side, if we first waste time to re-experiment with the volunteer system."

Lincoln closed this letter of August 7 with saying his purpose was in his action to be "just and constitutional, and yet practical." He was yielding nothing to the astute and persistent Governor of New York, who had at various times so often given words of hope to New York City that the draft would be got rid of.

By what right does the Government of the United States select men for military service and by force thrust them into the Army unless they hire SUBSTITUTES or each pay the Government $300?"

(End of Article)


Article Information:
Article Name: The Draft Riot In New York City 1863 Part III: The New York Draft Riot
Website: http:www.thehistorybox.com | Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina
Source:  BIBLIOGRAPHY. "A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents 1789-1897".
By James D. Richardson--a Representative from the State of Tennessee. Publisher: by Authority of Congress--1899. Ten volumes total. Copyright: 1897 by James D. Richardson. Abraham Lincoln, The War Years by Carl Sandburg.. Publisher: Harcourt, Brace and Company--New York. Copyright: 1936,1937 by Carl Sandburg Copyright: 1939 by Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc.
The Greatest Street in the World (The story of Broadway, old and New, from the Bowling Green to Albany) Author: Stephen Jenkins Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons-New York and London The Knickerbocker Press Copyright: 1911
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