The Riots At New York

August 1, 1863, page 484

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Ruins of the Provost-Marshall's office Fight between rioters and military
Charge of the police on the rioters at the "Tribune" office
Sacking a drug store in Second Avenue Hanging a Negro in Clarkson Street


On page 484 we illustrate the charge of the police upon the rioters who were engaged in sacking the Tribune office.  We take pleasure in publishing the following graphic account of this affair from an officer who took part in it, and can personally testify to its correctness:

To the Editor of Harper's Weekly;
Sir, -- As a variety of conflicting statements have been published in the daily papers purporting to be descriptions of the dispersion of the rioters engaged in sacking the Tribune office, a brief statement of the actual facts of that truly brilliant affair, from a participant, may possibly be not unacceptable.

At seven o'clock on Monday evening the members of the 26th Precinct then present, 38 men all told, were assembled in their Squad-room, southeast corner City Hall basement. With them, at the same time and place -- and constituting with the 26th a special reserve at that important point -- were the reserves of the 1st Precinct, under Captain Warlow; the bulk of Captain Bryan's force (4th Precinct) having being previously ordered to police headquarters, 300 Mulberry Street; that gallant officer was also present as a volunteer. A report, whether designedly or not, that a riot was progressing in the 1st Precinct, started first Warlow and his command, and immediately after the 26th, under Captain Thorne; on down Broadway to Beaver, or thereabout, and so through to Broad Street, when we found that the disturbance, a slight one, had been suppressed. After a brief delay we resumed our march up Broad and Nassau. Passing the Evening Post, a cheer greeted us from the building. On reaching about the corner of Beekman and Nassau a halt was quietly ordered. It was now dark, or nearly so, and through the deepening gloaming we could see the 1st Precinct men halted on the west side of Nassau, just south of the Times Buildings. They had rapped, and that was the reason of our halt. A few hurried words of consultation between Captains Thorne and Warlow, and we were again in place and ready. We could now distinctly hear the crashing of wood and glass; the work of riot and devastation had commenced, but with the earnestness and thoroughness which has marked the conduct of this outbreak from the start, there was no shouting or profane clamor. It was a storming party under competent and effective leadership. So earnest were they in their work -- so absorbed, in fact, that the low, stern order, "Keep together, men; steady; now, then, Forward! Charge!" from Captain Thorne, was unheard save by a few spectators on the Times corner. With a shout from a hundred throats, the 26th leading the onset, we struck them like a thunderbolt, cleaving and scattering them in utter rout, ruin, and dismay. A few of us entered the office. They had only got as far as the ground-floor, and the few fool-hardy rebels who were found were mercilessly clubbed into the street or into insensibility, and hurriedly dragged off by friends to die in unknown homes, or linger, with maimed and shattered heads and limbs, for months and years of pain and disfigurement. The square -- a minute previous crowded by a surging mass five thousand strong -- was in five minutes cleared to a point below French's Hotel, save where the dead and wounded were being hurriedly dragged off by terrified friends. We did not try to take prisoners till after the first rally, except that Officer Freeman, of the 26th, finding a man, who gave his name as Burt Francis, in the act of ripping up the counter in the office, brought him in, and he was duly committed next morning. Only two more arrests were made.

Victorious, but breathless, we had just succeeded in extinguishing the flames, which had by this time broke out, when a shout as from a great crowd was heard, and a mass of men were seen charging across the Park toward us from the direction of Broadway. The word was given "Stand firm!" and every man squared himself for what now seemed about to be a death-struggle with an overwhelming reinforcement of the mob. It was a supreme moment; but our suspense was immediately at an end.  Soon the bright buttons and uplifted batons of our own gallant fellows from Broadway were recognized, the grizzled locks and martial figure of the Metropolitan warhorse, brave Dan Carpenter, conspicuous at their head.  One loud, ringing cheer went up, while trusty batons waved, of triumph and relief. Victory was with the right.  Law and order had triumphed.

The importance of our coup can hardly be overestimated. The suddenness and vigor of the blow took the snap right out of the murdering thieves at the start, and effectually demoralized whatever of organization they had in the lower part of the city. The Tribune, Times, and Post would inevitably have gone as a consequence even of their partial success; and speculation stops aghast when reflecting on the possible havoc and destruction of the massed and hoarded wealth collected below Canal Street.

The officers in command were Captain Thorne, 26th (City Hall) Precinct, and Captain Warlow, 1st Precinct, accompanied by Captain Bryan, 4th Precinct, as an amateur volunteer. Let their names and those of their gallant officers and men be held in grateful remembrance.

One of our special artists, who was detailed to sketch the progress of the riot, thus describes the sketches he furnished, which are reproduced on pages 484 and 485:


One of the first victims to the insane fury of the rioters was a negro cartman residing in Carmine Street. A mob of men and boys seized this unfortunate man on Monday evening, and having beaten him until he was in a state of insensibility, dragged him to Clarkson Street, and hung him from a branch of one of the trees that shade the sidewalk by St. John's Cemetery. The fiends did not stop here, however. Procuring long sticks, they tied rags and straw to the ends of them, and with these torches they danced round their victim, setting fire to his clothes, and burning him almost to a cinder. The remains of the wretched negro hung there till near daylight on Tuesday morning, when they were removed by the police.  This atrocious murder was perpetrated within ten feet of consecrated ground, where the white headstones of the cemetery are seen gleaming through the wooden railing.


As I arrived at the corner of Thirty-fourth Street and Second Avenue, the rioters were dragging the body of a man along the sidewalk with a rope. It was difficult to obtain any information from the by-standers, who were terror-struck by the savage fury of the mob. I ascertained, however, that the body was that of Colonel O'Brien of the Eleventh New York. There was not a policeman or soldier within view of whom inquiry could be made.  "What did they kill him for?" I asked a man leaning against a lamp-post. "Bedad I suppose it was to square accounts," replied he. "There was a woman and child kilt there below a while ago by the sojers, and in coorse a sojer had to suffer." The brutal roughs who surrounded the body fired pistols at it occasionally, and pelted it with brickbats and paving-stones. The tenacity of life of this unfortunate victim is said to have been remarkable, and those who entered the yard where the body lay some hours later state that breathing was even then perceptible.


Sated with blood, the rioters now turned their attention to plunder. A drug-store close by where Colonel O'Brien lay was completely riddled by them, the doors and windows being smashed in with clubs and stones. Women hovered upon the skirts of the crowd, and received the articles as they were thrown or handed from the store. One fellow rushed out with a closely-packed valise, which he opened in the street. The clothes and other things contained in it were eagerly seized and contended for by boys and women standing around. There were a number of letters in it, and some documents with seals, which were probably of value to the owner; but these were savagely torn and trampled under foot by the disappointed plunderers. A woman sat upon the steps near by, and read out portions of one of the letters amidst the jeers of her ribald companions. Another passed me waving in triumph a large parchment manuscript of many pages.


From the first of the riot clothing appeared to be a great desideratum among the roughs composing the mob. On Monday evening a large number of marauders paid a visit to the extensive clothing-store of Messrs. Brooks Brothers, at the corner of Catharine and Cherry streets. Here they helped themselves to such articles as they wanted, after which they might be seen dispersing in all directions, laden with their ill-gotten booty.


Away up in the Avenues the German tailors were sad sufferers, in consequence of the demand for confiscable apparel. I saw an able-bodied ruffian emerging from a tailor's shop with the breast of his shirt crammed full of pieces of dry-goods of all colors. His arms and shoulders were laden with clothing. He had a new soft hat stuck upon the top of his greasy cap, while in one hand he carried a "nest" of hats of assorted sizes, and a bunch of gorgeous, many-colored ties fluttered from his arm as he ran. "Why did they riddle that shop?"  I asked of a woman who was standing by. "Sure the owner is a Jarman," was the reply. Here an Irishman of the non-combative type chimed in, saying, "No, it wasn't that at all; it's becase the boys wanted the clothes. But it's a shame to stale them, any how, and no good ever come of the likes."  "Begorra that's thrue for you, Frank Tully," remarked his companion; and thereupon they both expressed themselves greatly in favor of virtue, and opposed to the scenes of violence passing around us. On returning down the Avenue, a quarter of an hour later, I recognized the virtuous Frank Tully and his friend, in an alley-way, busily engaged in trying on some new trowsers, which did not look as if they had been just bought and paid for.


During the entire withdrawal of the police and military from large districts of the city many highway robberies must have been perpetrated. Coming down Third Avenue, I passed a group of young rowdies who were amusing themselves with snapping their pistols. One threw his revolver high into the air, and caught it by the barrel as it came down, bragging at the same time that it was both loaded and cocked. A few steps further on I found myself face to face with a fearful-looking desperado, who came suddenly upon me round a corner.

"Hello me buck!" cried he; "don't be in a hurry, now. Hand over your cane; and fork out all you've got."

Fortunately he was somewhat drunk, and he grasped in his right hand a bundle of "greenbacks," which seemed to embarrass him a little.  As he still pressed upon me, however, I turned to the young pistoliers, saying,

"Boys, here's a fellow wants to draft me; are we going to stand that?"

This created a diversion in my favor; and when I saw that the attention of the young rowdies was attracted to the money in the desperado's hand I improved the opportunity and proceeded up a bystreet, at an accelerated pace. Had I struck him with my stick, which was my first impulse, I should most assuredly have fallen a victim to the blind fury of the young pistoliers. Probably the right owner of the "greenbacks" fared much worse than I did, independent of the loss of his money.


On Thursday there was a great deal of fighting going on between the military and the rioters, in the neighborhood of Twentieth Street and First Avenue. Passing through Twenty-second Street, I saw a dead sergeant lying on the sidewalk. From his uniform I judged that he belonged to the Fourteenth New York Cavalry. He was killed by a bullet fired from one of the houses in the vicinity, and then barbarously beaten and mangled by the mob. As he lay there, with a cloth thrown by some decent person over his face, to hide his ghastly wounds, ill-looking women came now and then to look at him, jesting over the unconscious remains, and pointing them out to their infant children with fiendish glee. The little boys amused themselves by lifting up his hands, and then letting them fall to the ground with heavy "thud."  Others performed savage dances around the body, jumping round it, and over it, and even upon it.  Dropping shots were coming from the windows and roofs of houses not far distant, so that I did not prolong my stay in that part of the city. It was any thing but safe ground. As I was crossing a street not far below where the dead sergeant lay I heard the word "Fire!" and on turning round saw that a platoon of soldiers were firing down the street right in the direction of where I stood. I believe they were aiming high, to reach the windows of some distant houses, which accounts for my escape.

On page 484 we illustrate one of the severest fights which took place between the mob and the troops on 16th inst., the 


This is faithfully described in the Times as follows: At five o'clock last evening intelligence was sent to Police Head-quarters that the mob, between First and Second avenues, in the neighborhood of Twenty-ninth Street, had renewed their operations in great force, and that they were robbing and plundering all the stores in that vicinity.

A military force was speedily sent to the spot; but when they arrived there they found the rioters were too strong for them, and after contesting the field for half an hour they were ordered to withdraw. A sergeant who had command of a portion of the military force was shot, and afterward most brutally beaten to death. His body lay in the street for three hours. The military and police were powerless to suppress the mob, from the fact that almost every house between First and Second avenues, in the vicinity of Twenty-second and Twenty-third streets, was filled by assassins, and from all the windows and house-tops shots, stones, and brickbats were thrown with great rapidity. Fifteen members of the Fifth Company, Seventh Regiment, are reported killed by stones and brickbats.

The military force were compelled to withdraw until reinforced. At about nine o'clock Captain Putnam of the United States Army, aided by Lieutenant Chase and Sergeant Greenman, with a force of Regulars of about 700 men, repaired to the scene. They drove the rioters from their hiding-places, took the body of the Sergeant away, and soon after the scene of disturbance was transferred to Thirty-first Street and Second Avenue.

Here the battle was terrible. The insurgents had gained the windows and housetops of nearly all the buildings in that vicinity. For a time they held control of the neighborhood. Muskets and pistols were fired by the mob upon the military and citizens in the streets. Quite a number were injured, and two quiet and unoffending citizens are known to have been killed by the rioters. Captain Putnam, in charge of the military, when all hope of stopping the proceedings in any other way was gone, ordered his men to sweep the streets and then turn their fire on the houses occupied by the rioters. The order was promptly obeyed, and eleven persons, all of whom were ringleaders among the rioters, were shot dead. The stones and brickbats then flew thicker and faster among the soldiers.

The order was given to turn their fire upon the buildings. A volley was fired, and the returning echo brought shots from guns and pistols discharged from all parts of the adjoining houses. All kinds of missiles were thrown, and many soldiers were seriously injured thereby. An order then came to take all rioters in and upon the buildings.  The promptness with which this was obeyed did great credit to the soldiers.

The tenement houses, which were filled with rioters, were taken by storm. The resistance, of course, was desperate, and the mob fought against the military for half an hour with a fury and desperation worthy of a better cause.  At the end of that time the mob were overpowered and dispersed. Thirty-five of them were taken prisoners, and at least half as many more were killed while resisting the officers.

Officers Putnam, Chase, and Greenman acted with the greatest coolness and decision throughout the whole affair, and to them, and the brave soldiers under them, the credit is due of suppressing one of the most serious and vindictive mobs which have prowled through our city for the last four days.

The rioters at twelve o'clock last night were in a quiet state. The prisoners taken were conveyed to Police Headquarters, and the dead and wounded were properly cared for by the soldiers and police.

The triumph of the authorities over the lawless mob in Second Avenue last night was most decisive and complete. 
On March 3, 1863, Congress passed the Enrollment Act which authorized a military draft in the Union states. It sparked intense opposition and spawned riots across the North in the summer of 1863, with the worst being in New York City. The Democratic leadership in the city and state of New York, including Governor Horatio Seymour, bitterly denounced the draft.

Some of the criticism was based on the belief that it was an unconstitutional violation of civil liberties. The bulk of the resistance, though, was grounded in the racist revulsion against being forced to fight in a war to free black slaves. Democratic politicians and newspapers convinced their constituents, including many Irish immigrants, that emancipation meant that the freedmen would move North to take their jobs and marry their daughters.


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