Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Thursday, July 23, 2009
On Sunday, August 16, at 5:00 p.m., we are returning to Lower Manhattan for another free walking tour of downtown sites.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
They were on the whole a peaceable-looking crowd, and it was evidently composed chiefly, if not wholly, of those who had taken no part in the riot. None of the bloody heads and gashed faces, of which there were so many at that moment in the city, appeared. The address was well enough, but it came too late to be of any service. It might have saved many lives and much destruction, had it been delivered two days before, but now it was like the bombardment of a fortress after it had surrendered--a mere waste of ammunition. The fight was over, and to use his own not very refined illustration, he "spak' too late."
There were no further outbreaks of violence that day and none the next day, Saturday, despite the news from Washington that the draft would be enforced and would recommence as soon as the city was ready.
As we write in Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City:
No one is certain how many people died in the clash. At the time it was estimated to be 1,000 but the official death toll afterward was reduced to just 100 people. The true figure may never be known, but surely rests somewhere in between, making the Draft Riots the single worst civil disturbance in American history.
Democrats, led by rising Tammany Hall powerbroker William “Boss” Tweed, reached a compromise which allowed the draft to continue. Tweed would appoint a commission on behalf of the city to hear claims by those who felt they could neither serve nor pay the $300 and the city would decide to hire substitutes on a case-by-case basis. In the end, through a combination of city money, medical infirmity, and people simply not reporting for duty, only one person from Five Points served in the war because of the draft.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
This is the third installment in our day-by-day remembrance of the Civil War Draft Riots, which gripped New York City from July 13-16, 1863. You can read about Day 1 here, and Day 2 here.
In many respects, Wednesday was, to the Metropolitan Police, the most trying day of the riot. All of them were weary, and many of them were more or less injured. Some had succumbed to their exertions under intense heat, and others required all their pluck and sense of duty to keep their wearied bodies up to their work. They had been on duty night and day, with rapid marches and with much hand-to-hand fighting against strong and desperate men. Well might President [aka Commissioner] Acton shout, as he did, with mingled humor and enthusiasm, from the front of the Central Office, to column after column of the men he was so proud of, as he hurried them off to their arduous and perilous errands:
"Go on, boys! Go on! Give it to them, now! Quail on toast for every man of you, as soon as the mob is put down. Quail on toast, boys!"
What kept Wednesday from being the worst day of the riot--and kept the riots from escalating--was the city's ability to protect its munitions. J.T. Headley, the other Nineteenth-century source for information about the riots, notes:
At about two o'clock in the afternoon word was received that a large number of muskets were secreted in a store on Broadway, near Thirty-third Street; and Colonel Meyer was ordered to proceed thither, with thirty-three soldiers belonging to Hawkins' Zouaves, and take possession of them. Reaching the place, he found a large mob gathered, which was momentarily increasing. He, however, succeeded in entering the building, and brought out the arms. An Irishman happening to pass by in his cart, the colonel seized it, and pitching in the guns, closed around it, and moved off.
The worst confrontation of the day took place on Wednesday evening. A regiment of soldiers under the command of Colonel Cleveland Winslow was sent to disperse the rioters who'd gathered at First Avenue between 18th and 19th streets. The Volcano Under the City describes the scene:
No sooner did the detachment make its appearance and undertake its appointed task than it was assailed by a dense mob in front, and by showers of missiles from the houses, including a brisk discharge of pistols and musketry. The fire from the mob in front instantly betrayed something like organization, for it was by volleys, given at the word of command. Here, at least, the rioters went into action under competent leadership, such as might have secured successes for them at many other points. Colonel Winslow and his men stood their ground courageously….Ten rapid rounds of grape and canister tore through the masses of the mob and hurtled along the wide avenue. The slaughter was horrible, and the ground was momentarily cleared; but not so were the buildings on either side. The actual number of killed and wounded cannot be estimated with any accuracy, but there were rows of bodies on the pavement for about two "blocks." The fire from the houses grew hotter, and Colonel Winslow saw that he must retire…. Every tenth man of the entire command was down, and others were falling fast, not to mention those who were disabled more or less by minor hurts. It was literally "decimated," and more than that, before it could escape. The military made good the retreat, and the mob was left in triumphant possession of the battle-ground.
Then, at 11:00 p.m., a second wave of soldiers descended on First Avenue under the command of Captain Putnam. Headley writes:
Putnam immediately charged on the crowd in the street, scattering them like a whirlwind. He then turned his guns on the buildings, and opened such a deadly fire on them that they were soon cleared. Having restored order, he halted his command, and remained on the ground till half-past twelve.
What most of those fighting did not know was that reinforcements were on the way. Late on Tuesday, Mayor Opdyke had telegraphed Secretary of War Edwin Stanton in Washington requesting that New York's militia companies--fresh from winning the Battle of Gettysburg--be sent to the city to quell the riots. As the violence calmed for the night on Wednesday, those militia companies were fast approaching the city. By daybreak, they would be on Manhattan and the riots would soon be over.
Tomorrow: our final installment about the draft riot's final hours.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
All day long a crowd had been gathering in the Park around the City Hall, growing more restless as night came on. The railroad-cars [ED: streetcars] passing it were searched, to see if any negroes were on board, while eyes glowered savagely on the Tribune building…. [T]he Park and Printing-house Square* were black with men, who, as the darkness increased, grew more restless; and "Down with it! burn it!" mingled with oaths and curses, were heard on every side.
At last came the crash of a window, as a stone went through it. Another and another followed, when suddenly a reinforcing crowd came rushing down Chatham Street*. This was the signal for a general assault, and, with shouts, the rabble poured into the lower part of the building, and began to destroy everything within reach. Captain Warlow, of the First Precinct, No. 29 Broad Street [joined forces with] Captain Thorne, of the City Hall [Precinct]….. Everything being ready, the order to "Charge" was given, and the entire force, perhaps a hundred and fifty strong, fell in one solid mass on the mob, knocking men over right and left, and laying heads open at every blow. The panic-stricken crowd fled up Chatham Street, across the Park, and down Spruce and Frankfort Streets, punished terribly at every step. The space around the building being cleared, a portion of the police rushed inside, where the work of destruction was going on. The sight of the blue-coats in their midst, with their uplifted clubs, took the rioters by surprise, and they rushed frantically for the doors and windows, and escaped the best way they could.
This ended the heavy fighting of the day, though minor disturbances occurred at various points during the evening. Negroes had been hunted down all day, as though they were so many wild beasts, and one, after dark, was caught, and after being severely beaten and hanged to a tree, left suspended there till [Police Commissioner] Acton sent a force to take the body down. Many had sought refuge in police-stations and elsewhere, and all were filled with terror.
* Printing-house Square (aka Chatham Street)
is today's Park Row, across from City Hall Park.
The pillaging of entire black neighborhoods that had begun the previous night continued on Tuesday. On Sullivan and Roosevelt Streets**, where blacks lived in great numbers, boardinghouses, a grocery, and a babershop burned down since they either were owned by blacks or catered to them. Some blacks were chased all the way to the rivers and off the ends of piers.** Roosevelt Street ran where the Brooklyn Bridge now stands.
[S]oon from the crowd arose shouts, amid which were heard the shrill voices of women, crying, "Break open the store." This was full of choice goods, and contained clothing enough to keep the mob supplied for years. As the shouts increased, those behind began to push forward those in front, till the vast multitude swung heavily towards the three police officers. Seeing this movement, the latter advanced with their clubs to keep them back. At this, the shouts and yells redoubled, and the crowd rushed forward, crushing down the officers by mere weight. They fought gallantly for a few minutes; but, overborne by numbers, they soon became nearly helpless, and were terribly beaten and wounded, and with the utmost exertions were barely able to escape, and make their way back to the station. The mob now had it all its own way, and rushing against the doors, burst bolts and bars asunder, and streamed in. But it was dark as midnight inside, and they could not distinguish one thing from another; not even the passage-ways to the upper rooms of the building, which was five stories high. They therefore lighted the gas, and broke out the windows. In a few minutes the vast edifice was a blaze of light, looking more brilliant from the midnight blackness that surrounded it.
Monday, July 13, 2009
On Saturday, July 11, the first names were picked and a little more than half of New York’s 2,000-man quota was filled without incident. But over the weekend Peter Masterson, leader of Fire Engine Company 33, decided the best way to make sure his men didn’t get called was to burn down the draft office, thus destroying any record of who was in the draft census. Word spread throughout the city of a planned confrontation at the draft board’s offices at the Provost Marshall’s office on
Third Avenueat 47th Street. (This location had originally been picked because it was on the fringes of the city and thus was supposed to attract less notice.)
Early in the morning men began to assemble here in separate groups, as if in accordance with a previous arrangement, and at last moved quietly north along the various avenues. Women, also, like camp followers, took the same direction in crowds. They were thus divided into separate gangs…armed with sticks, and clubs, and every conceivable weapon they could lay hands on, they moved north towards some point which had evidently been selected as a place of rendezvous. This proved to be a vacant lot near Central Park, and soon the living streams began to flow into it, and a more wild, savage, and heterogeneous-looking mass could not be imagined.
After a short consultation they again took up the line of march, and in two separate bodies, moved down Fifth and Sixth Avenues, until they reached Forty-sixth and Forty-seventh Streets, when they turned directly east.
The number composing this first mob has been so differently estimated, that it would be impossible from reports merely, to approximate the truth. A pretty accurate idea, however, can be gained of its immense size, from a statement made by Mr. King, son of President King, of Columbia College. Struck by its magnitude, he had the curiosity to get some estimate of it by timing its progress, and he found that although it filled the broad street from curbstone to curbstone, and was moving rapidly, it took between twenty and twenty-five minutes for it to pass a single point.
A ragged, coatless, heterogeneously weaponed army, it heaved tumultuously along toward Third Avenue. Tearing down the telegraph poles as it crossed the Harlem & New Haven Railroad track, it surged angrily up around the building where the drafting was going on. The small squad of police stationed there to repress disorder looked on bewildered, feeling they were powerless in the presence of such a host. Soon a stone went crashing through a window, which was the signal for a general assault on the doors. These giving way before the immense pressure, the foremost rushed in, followed by shouts and yells from those behind, and began to break up the furniture. The drafting officers, in an adjoining room, alarmed, fled precipitately through the rear of the building. The mob seized the wheel in which were the names, and what books, papers, and lists were left, and tore them up, and scattered them in every direction. A safe stood on one side, which was supposed to contain important papers, and on this they fell with clubs and stones, but in vain. Enraged at being thwarted, they set fire to the building, and hurried out of it. As the smoke began to ascend, the onlooking multitude without sent up a loud cheer. Though the upper part of the building was occupied by families, the rioters, thinking that the officers were concealed there, rained stones and brick-bats against the windows, sending terror into the hearts of the inmates.
[I]mpelled by a strange logic, [the rioters] sought to destroy the Colored Orphan Asylum…. There would have been no draft but for the war—there would have been no war but for slavery. But the slaves were black, ergo, all blacks are responsible for the war. This seemed to be the logic of the mob, and having reached the sage conclusion to which it conducted, they did not stop to consider how poor helpless orphans could be held responsible, but proceeded at once to wreak their vengeance on them. The building was four stories high, and besides the matrons and officers, contained over two hundred children, from mere infants up to twelve years of age. Around this building the rioters gathered with loud cries and oaths, sending terror into the hearts of the inmates. Superintendent William E. Davis hurriedly fastened the doors; but knowing they would furnish but a momentary resistance to the armed multitude, he, with others, collected hastily the terrified children, and carrying some in their arms, and leading others, hurried them in a confused crowd out at the rear of the building, just as the ruffians effected an entrance in front. Then the work of pillage commenced, and everything carried off that could be, even to the dresses and trinkets of the children, while heavy furniture was smashed and chopped up in the blind desire of destruction. Not satisfied with this, they piled the fragments in the different rooms, and set fire to them.
The orphanage was burned around 4:00 p.m., about the same time that another group decided to attack the home of Mayor Opdyke and as a third group began heading toward Newspaper Row (today's Park Row) to take out their vengeance on Republican newspapers like Horace Greeley's Tribune.
But that's where we'll continue the story tomorrow.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City.
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- B-25 Bomber Crashes into the Empire State Building
- Walking Tour of Revolutionary War Lower Manhattan
- The Civil War Draft Riots -- Day 4
- The Civil War Draft Riots -- Day 3
- The Civil War Draft Riots -- Day 2
- The Civil War Draft Riots -- Day 1
- The Downfall of William "Boss" Tweed
- July 2nd: Happy Independence Day
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