150 Years Ago: The Irish-American Reports on the New York Draft Riots

150 years ago today the main Irish newspaper of New York, the Irish-American, reported on the Draft Riots that had engulfed the city in previous days. In the weeks and months to follow the largely Irish make-up of the crowd would elicit much discussion and anti-Irish sentiment from many of the city’s newspapers, which the Irish-American would seek to counter. For now though events were fresh, and a matter-of-fact recounting of the extraordinary early incidents was provided for readers.

Police Charge the Rioters at the Tribune Office (Library of Congress)

Police Charge the Rioters at the Tribune Office (Library of Congress)

RESISTANCE TO THE DRAFT

Serious Street Rioting

LOSS OF LIFE AND DESTRUCTION OF PROPERTY

The draft commenced in this city on Saturday, throughout which the names of a large number of persons were drawn as conscripts. The drawing, in the up town districts, was resumed on Monday morning, and up to about half-past eleven everything went smoothly. Just then, however, the crowds began to accumulate and manifest turbulence; and shortly after, and throughout the day and evening, the most serious rioting was carried on, resulting in loss of life in many instances, and the destruction of an immense amount of property. 

In the morning the men employed on the Second Avenue Railroad refused to go to work, while those on the Sixth Avenue Railroad asked leave of absence from their work, and, in case of refusal, threatened to take summary measures.

All the blacksmiths in the employ of the Third Avenue Railroad Company ceased work, as did also the men employed in Brown’s Iron factory, those employed by Mr. Crimmins, the contractor, in Taylor’s foundry in 41st street and 8th avenue, and hundreds of others employed on buildings, street improvements &c. These crowds paraded through the streets, and forced their fellows to leave work and join them.

About half-past eleven o’clock, the building on Third Avenue, where the drafting was taking place for the Ninth District, was attacked, the Provost Marshal beaten, the ballots and books destroyed, the policemen who attempted to guard them trampled underfoot, and the premises, No. 677, burned to the ground. The neighbouring houses were also fired, or caught fire, and were destroyed. Some 12,000 persons are said to have stood round the flames, and the women from the house tops waved handkerchiefs and shawls in encouragement. Meantime, the telegraph poles were cut down, the cars stopped running, and the rails, for weapons, torn from the tracks. During the conflagration, Superintendent Kennnedy appeared outside, when the crowd attacked him in such a manner that he received very severe injuries.

No. 677, it is said, belongs to Mr. Duane, of the Sheriff’s office, who loses $6,000. The adjoining building, No. 679, was also destroyed; it was tenanted in the lower story by a beer saloon, on the second story by Hy. Frank, who loses $3,000, A. Domerona, whose loss is $1,000: and H. Degelow and A. Wokatock, who lose $1,500. Mr. Robert Pettigrew, who own’s a blacksmith’s and wheelwright’s shop across the street, was struck on the head while running across the street and his shop demolished. 

About noon, a detachment of the Provost Marshal Guard, numbering some 75, reached the scene, and were at once mobbed by the crowd, who jostled them about and wrested their muskets from them. As the soldiers broke and separately fled, they were pursued by the incensed crowd up as far as 20th st., and some even much higher. Two or three of the Crowd were said to have been killed. A strong squad of police, armed with revolvers and clubs, next made their appearance, but were instantly assailed with a volley of stones, knocking down two of the officers. The police at once drew their clubs and revolvers, but after a contest of a few minutes they were also forced to retreat, which they did in good order until near Fortieth-street, when one of them discharged his revolver four times into the midst of the throng, shooting a horse that was attached to a wagon standing on the corner. A rush was made at once for the officer; he immediately retreated into a store close by, the people in which at once barred the door and endeavoured to give him protection. The crowd, however, went to the back of the house; tore down the fence and rushed into the building, seized the policeman, knocked him down, and actually tore him to pieces- stripping the clothes off his back- and kicking him until he was one mass of jelly. This was Sergeant Ellison, of the 8th Precinct. 

The crowd next set off for the Eighth District, where it was understood Captain Maniere was drafting. On arriving, however, they found that the operations had been suspended on account of the riots in the Ninth.

As far as can be learned, the following are the casualties among the police force:- Sergt. Ellison, of the 8th Precinct, is now lying at the 21st Precinct Station, suffering from severe injuries in the head, and is not expected to recover. Dr. Rannoy is in attendance there. Officer Fleming, of the 29th Precinct, has received a most serious wound on the head, and is also not expected to live. He has been taken to Bellevue Hospital. Officer John H. McCarty, of the 29th, is lying in a house on the 3d Avenue in a very dangerous condition. Officers Henderson, Morrison, Swoinson, Holmes, Lee, Mcintyre and Leaycraft are all very badly injured about the head and body, and are receiving medical aid at the Station House and Hospital. Officer Phillips, of the 15th Precinct, was very much injured about the head and body, and is in a very weak condition. Officer Bennett, of the 15th Precinct, was also seriously injured, and was conveyed to the St. Luke’s Hospital for treatment. Officer John Walsh, of the 9th Precinct, is lying concealed at a house on 3d Avenue, seriously injured. Officer Law, of the 8th Precinct, was sent to Bellevue Hospital, suffering from severe wounds in the head.

Capt. Palmer, of the 21st Precinct, was seen in the crowd in the morning, at the commencement of the riot, but has not since been heard from. Several officers who were on the ground engaged in quelling the riot are missing, and it is feared that they are either killed or lying concealed badly hurt. Several of the policemen were so fortunate as to procure disguises and thus made their escape unnoticed by the crowd. Sergeant Wade was struck in the breast with a stone, but sustained no serious injury. Sergeant McCredle has not been heard from. Philip Rubason, a member of the 1st Battalion Invalid Corps, was attacked by the mob, his musket, bayonet and equipments taken from him, and he was beaten in a terrible manner about the head with his own musket. He was finally rescued by some humane firemen when almost exhausted from the treatment he had received. He was conveyed to the 21st Precinct Station House, and there attended by Dr. Ranney. He will probably survive.

At about 2 o’clock, crowds began to arrive from the lower Wards, and as groups arrived they were loudly cheered by the populace. Some of the fresh arrived men brought heavy firearms with them, but nearly every one had a pistol or revolver. As Mr. Howard, city Editor of the New York Daily Times, was standing on the corner of 46th street and 3d Avenue, he was set on by a crowd, shouting “Here’s a d——d Abolitionist; let’s hang him!” Mr. Howard was knocked down with stones, and rendered, for a time, insensible. Subsequently the crowd assembled before the residence of Mayor Opdycke, and were only prevented from demolishing it by the remonstrances of some politicians whom they believed friendly to them. and also a very conciliatory address made by the Mayor himself.

The Burning of the Colored Orphan Asylum (Library of Congress)

The Burning of the Colored Orphan Asylum (Library of Congress)

At about 3 o’clock a procession of about five thousand people came up First Avenue, all armed with bars, pistols, &c, threatening vengeance on all persons connected with the draft. They halted in front of the 18th ward station house in 22d-street, and sent up yells which were anything but human. About this time, too, the leaders of the assaulting party proceeded to a large and beautiful dwelling on the corner of 46th-street and Lexington Avenue, followed by an excited crowd, and immediately proceeded to attack this building, which was said to be by some the residence of Major-General Sandford, and by others, that of Mr. Dowe, a tailor, who belonged to the Provost Marshal’s department- others thought it was Horace Greeley’s. They smashed in the doors, which they tore from the hinges, smashed every pane of glass both front and rear, and then commenced to fling out of the windows everything upon which they could lay their hands. Pictures, with gilt frames, elegant pier glasses, sofas, chairs, clocks, furniture of every kind, wearing apparel, bed clothes, &c., &c., a whole library was scattered in showers through the windows, and they wound up by setting fire to the building, amid the wild cheers, yells and hooting of those who surrounded the house.

Fires were started in several other portions of the city, and the firemen at times partially prevented from getting to work. The incendiary’s torch was applied to Captain Manniere’s office, 1,148 Broadway, at two o’clock. The fire spread rapidly on both sides, and by 5 o’clock the whole block on Broadway, between 28th and 29th st., and one handsome building in 29th st., had been swept away by the flames. The Bull’s Head Hotel, in 44th st., near 5th Avenue, was sacked and burned early in the day. A handsome brown stone dwelling on the corner of Lexington Avenue and 44th st. was likewise burned to the ground.

About 4 o’clock the crowd reached the Colored Asylum on 5th Avenue, between 43d and 44th sts. They ordered the inmates to leave inside of two hours. At the end of that time the building was fired, front and rear, and destroyed.

A number of houses inhabited by negroes in James st., were fired about 6 o’clock. A fire was also started in some negro tenements in Rosevelt st. about half past eight o’clock.

The State Arsenal, corner of 35th st. and 7th Avenue, was throughout the entire day kept watch on by angry groups. Col. Nugent, however, had detachments of regulars from Governor’s Island and Marines from the Navy Yard on guard, and a cordon of sentinels was kept around the building , in front of which two small howitzers are planted.

Towards 8 o’clock the Tribune office, which had been surrounded several times during the day by a hooting crowd, was assailed by an excited mob, who broke into the lower apartments, smashed down windows and doors, and threatened death to all connected with the establishment. At the present hour we have no means of knowing how much damage was done to that office. Shots were exchanged in the onset, and a policeman was severely wounded.

Amongst the premises destroyed was the store of Capt. John Duffy, in Grand st., Deputy Provost Marshal for the Fifth District, which was set on fire and consumed early in the evening.

Throughout the entire city, wherever a colored person was seen, he was hooted, pelted, or badly beaten; and one even hanged. 

References

New York Irish-American 18th July 1863. Resistance to the Draft. Serious Streeet Rioting, Loss of Life and Destruction of Property.

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Categories: New York

Author:Damian Shiels

I am an archaeologist based in Ireland, specialising in conflict archaeology.

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5 Comments on “150 Years Ago: The Irish-American Reports on the New York Draft Riots”

  1. July 19, 2013 at 8:13 pm #

    Definitely a difficult subject to remember as a nation, one that doesn’t fit nicely into the type of good guy/bad, guy us/them type of narrative the public tends to prefer. Curiously enough, the Old Bethpage Village Restoration in NY is hosting a Draft Riots “living history” event this weekend, although they don’t seem to be advertising it. I don’t know how one would approach such a reenactment in a conscientious manner given the complexity of what occurred and the horrors that still resonate today.

    May I ask where you’re accessing these old Irish-American and Irish World newspapers? Is there a digital archive available online? They’ve been a great addition to the site.

    • July 29, 2013 at 9:07 am #

      Hi Brendan,

      Many thanks for the comment. Were you able to attend the Old Bethpage event in the end to see how they approached the topic? In terms of the newspapers there are a few sources like Chronicling America which are superb, but I access the New-York Irish-American from Genealogy Bank which has a searchable interface. All we need now is the Boston Pilot online and I would never stop reading them!

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

  2. Virginia
    August 27, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

    I have been reading about the draft riots as well, especially Archbishop John Hughes’ address to the people. Genealogy Bank is invaluable for other papers of the period, in addition to the Irish-American Weekly. The NY Herald has Abp. Hughes’ speech with comments from the crowd in parentheses. The events of that week are complex and multi-layered and have never been adequately treated, IMHO.

    • August 28, 2013 at 8:05 am #

      Hi Virginia,

      I agree with you on both points- it was an a really intriguing event and one I hope to return to on a number of occasions in the future.

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

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