The Draft Riots End in a Sea of Blood

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Tuesday July 14, 1863 was the second day of the Draft Riots. Early that morning, Albra Lyons, the African American owner of the Seaman’s Home for African Americans heard a policeman at his door. The Irish cop knew Lyons and said he came by because he was afraid the mob might have targeted this New York stop on the Underground Railroad. Lyons told him that he had already been threatened twice. According to Lyons, when the policeman heard this, “[t]his kindhearted man sat on our steps and sobbed like a child.” 1

While the police officer established a guard at the Seaman’s Home, in another part of the city, a black man was set upon by four whites. They literally kicked his eyeballs out of his head and then beat him so badly that he died several hours later. Fearing similar attacks, blacks flocked to the East River as soon as ferries to Brooklyn began running.2

new-fleeAfrican Americans fleeing the riots had a difficult time getting off of Manhattan. In 1863 there was no bridge to Brooklyn, so that had to wait by the East River for ferries. Once in Brooklyn, they might become the target of rioters in that city.

A little later that morning, a crowd gathered at 34th Street and 2nd Avenue. Most of the people milling about appear to have been bystanders, curious onlookers wondering what would happen next. A Catholic priest urged the people to disperse. Despite his efforts, the crowd grew to 10,000 people. When three hundred police arrived to break the crowd up, some rioters hit them with bricks and stones. The cops opened fire on them, killing dozens of rioters and bystanders. 3

Colonel H.T. O’Brien, an Irish immigrant, was the next to confront this mob. He told them to leave the streets and cursed them when they did not. He ordered his men to open fire with live ammunition over the heads of the rioters. The volley killed seven people, mostly onlookers staring out of the windows of their homes. Two of the dead were children.4

Later in the day, O’Brien would return to his Irish neighborhood to check on the safety of his family. He was attacked by his neighbors. A priest begged them to spare his life, but the colonel was slowly beaten to death. A civil war within New York’s Irish community was underway.5

killing-obrienThe killing of Colonel O’Brien.

The Union Steamworks, where 4,000 newly manufactured rifles were stored, had been a major target of rioters on the first day of fighting. A mob of a thousand people renewed the attack again on Tuesday. When police killed the leader of the assault they reportedly found that under his rough workman’s clothes he wore fine garments. This fueled suspicions that wealthy Confederate sympathizers were fueling the riots. 6

By Tuesday the police had given up on trying to disperse the rioters with non-lethal means. So, when they confronted an Eastside crowd at 21st Street, they opened fire killing and wounding four dozen. While this tactic disrupted the rioters, it also increased the size of subsequent mobs by swelling anger and a desire for revenge, particularly among the families of the dead.7

As night fell on Tuesday, rioters began barricading the streets in the manner of the European revolutionaries of 1848. Ninth Avenue, for example, was barricaded from 36th Street up to 42nd. New York’s elite feared that the riots were becoming a full scale insurrection of the poor. 8

police-assuat-draftPolice assaulting the barricades on the West Side.

Tuesday night also saw the beginning of attacks on biracial couples. On Worth Street, rioters attacked the Derricksons, a black man and his white wife. The husband escaped, but the attackers beat the woman and her mixed-race son. Ann Derrickson’s German immigrant neighbors, incensed by the attack, fought to rescue the mob’s victims. They saved the boy, but his mother died several months later from her wounds.9

In most pitched battles with the rioters, the police and soldiers had won at least temporary victories, but by Wednesday, the third day of fighting, the security forces were exhausted. Following the eruption of violence in New York, riots had broken out in Newark, Jersey City, Jamaica, Staten Island, and in river cities along the Hudson. The spread of disorder meant that nearby cities could not send relief. 10

The riots became a cover for people hoping to settle personal scores or to advance their business interests. For example, white shoemaker William Mealy attacked black shoemaker James Costello less because he was black than because he wanted to put a competitor out of business. In another case, one Irish immigrant denounced another Irish immigrant as a Republican and convinced a mob to burn down the man’s home so he could take over the lot of his victim for development.11

Wednesday morning, the New York papers contained an appeal from the Catholic Archbishop John Hughes to the rioters urging them to return to their homes. Hughes had resisted doing this for the first 24 hours of the fighting because he believed that it would be an acknowledgement that these were “Catholic” or “Irish” riots. He understood the political uses New York’s Know Nothings would make of the disorder. 12

Colonel Robert Nugent, who had become an Irish hero through his command of the Fighting 69th New York Regiment, was now, as New York’s Provost Marshal, one of the men responsible for ending New York’s civil war. He believed that the actions of the mob on Tuesday had changed how many New Yorkers viewed the riot. He thought that brute force, immediately applied, would be supported by most in the city. On Wednesday, he ominously wrote; “The mob spirit must be put down by the strong arm of the military power. There is no sense in trying to conciliate or reason with it. It has now assumed the character of an organized mass of plunderers and the public have generally lost all sympathy with it.” He added that “now is the time to crush the rebellion.”13

A few hours later, when soldiers came upon a mob of 2,000 at 42nd Street, they opened fire on them as though they were facing Confederate soldiers. Fifty rioters were reportedly killed. Soldiers confronted another mob on 1st Avenue and 18th Street. When rooftop snipers shot at them, the soldiers shot at the mob. Nearly 100 people were killed in this confrontation. 14

riots-draft-armyThe army attack on rioters.

By Wednesday night, Union troops began to arrive in the city. Early Thursday morning, the fourth day of the riot, the Copperhead orator John Andrews who had stoked the rioters and picked some of their targets, was captured. For all of his race baiting oratory, he was found in bed with his black mistress.15

By noon on Thursday, 4,000 Union troops had moved into Manhattan. When they fought the last major battle of the riot that day, they fired not only muskets, but cannons as well. Rioters who refused to surrender were killed.16

union-soldiers-riotsPhoto of Union soldiers moved to New York City to suppress the riots.

One-hundred and fifty years after the terrifying events of the second week of July 1863, it is time to separate the facts from the many fictions about the riots. While the mythology of the riots depicts a monolithic mob of 50,000 enraged Irish wrecking havoc through the streets, killing thousands and burning down much of the city, the facts are less sanguine. There was not one “mob”- Instead, “mobs” formed at various times throughout the four days of disorders and went out of existence at various times as well. No one knows the exact size of any of the mobs, but they rarely exceeded 10,000. Many of the mobs consisted of only a few dozen people. 17

Rioters burned one hundred buildings and broke into and robbed twice that many. According to official records, 119 people were killed during the riots, 19 of whom were blacks. Eleven of the blacks were lynched. Historians believe that 300 to 500 people were killed. Of these, the overwhelming number, perhaps 80%-90%, were either rioters or bystanders killed when police and soldiers fired into assembled masses. 18

While the number of blacks killed is smaller than the popular belief, the chasing of blacks out of neighborhoods led to a 20% drop in the population of African Americans in Manhattan. Many of those who remained on the island moved out of the working class neighborhoods they had shared with immigrants and fled uptown. Those who went east settled in places like Flatbush, Flatlands, and even Quogue on Long Island.19

And what of that worst Irish neighborhood in New York, the Five Points? Contrary to myth, not a single African American was lynched in the Points. Historian Leslie Harris, in her history of African American life in New York before Emancipation writes that:

Ironically, the most well known center of black and interracial social life, the Five Points, was relatively quiet during the riots. Mobs neither attacked the brothels there nor killed black people within its borders. There were also instances of interracial cooperation. When a mob threatened black drugstore owner Philip White in his store at the corner of Gold and Frankfurt Street, his Irish neighbors drove the mob away… And when rioters invaded Hart’s Alley and became trapped at its dead end, the black and white residents of the alley together leaned out of their windows and poured hot starch on them, driving them from the neighborhood. 20

Local priests had formed a patrol to protect blacks in the neighborhood. And, of all the rioters arrested in the big uptown mobs, only one had been from the Five Points.21draft-riots-map-3VIDEO: Mark Neely on Civil Liberties in the North During the Civil War

Sources:

1. Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 byEdwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace (1998); The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America by Barnet Schecter (2007) p. 169; The New York City Draft Riots: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War published by Oxford University Press (1990); Five Points: The 19th-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World’s Most Notorious Slum by Tyler Anbinder published by Simon and Schuster (2001); The Tiger: The Rise And Fall Of Tammany Hall by Oliver E. Allen published by De Capo Press 1993; Chants Democratic: New York City and the Rise of the American Working Class, 1788–1850 (1984);SPEECHES, MESSAGES, PROCLAMATIONS, OFFICIAL CORRESPONDENCE, AND OTHER PUBLIC UTTERANCES OF HORATIO SEYMOUR; FROM The Campaign of 1856 to the Present Time COMPILED AND EDITED BY THOMAS M. COOK and THOMAS W. KNOX (1868); New York Times; New York Irish-American; Harpers Weekly; New York Tribune.
2.The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America by Barnet Schecter (2007) p.172-173
3.The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America by Barnet Schecter (2007) p. 176
4.The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America by Barnet Schecter (2007) p. 176
5.The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America by Barnet Schecter (2007) p. 177
6.The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America by Barnet Schecter (2007) p. 180
7.The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America by Barnet Schecter (2007) p. 191
8.The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America by Barnet Schecter (2007) p. 194
9.The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America by Barnet Schecter (2007) p. 196
10.The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America by Barnet Schecter (2007) p. 203
11.The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America by Barnet Schecter (2007) p. 204
12.The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America by Barnet Schecter (2007) p. 206
13.The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America by Barnet Schecter (2007) p. 217
14.The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America by Barnet Schecter (2007) p. 217-218
15.The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America by Barnet Schecter (2007) p. 222
16.The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America by Barnet Schecter (2007) p. 230
17.The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America by Barnet Schecter (2007)
18.The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America by Barnet Schecter (2007)
19.The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America by Barnet Schecter (2007)
20.In the Shadow of Slavery:African Americans in New York City,1626-1863 by Leslie M. Harris
21.The New York Tribune recorded the remarks of the priest of St. Mary’s Church, a Fr. Daly, who spoke to his Congregation on the Sunday after the riots “he spoke with much feeling of the outrages committed on the colored people, and he appealed to his audience to protect these helpless people whenever possible.” NY Trib July 20 1863. The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America by Barnet Schecter (2007)

The Immigrants’ Civil War is a series that examines the role of immigrants in our bloodiest war. Articles will appear twice monthly between 2011 and 2017. Here are the articles we have published so far:

1. Immigrant America on the Eve of the Civil War – Take a swing around the United States and see where immigrants were coming from and where they were living in 1861.

2. 1848: The Year that Created Immigrant America – Revolutions in Europe, famine and oppression in Ireland, and the end of the Mexican War made 1848 a key year in American immigration history.

3. Carl Schurz: From German Radical to American Abolitionist– A teenaged revolutionary of 1848, Carl Schurz brought his passion for equality with him to America.

4. Immigrant Leader Carl Schurz Tells Lincoln to Stand Firm Against Slavery.

5. …And the War Came to Immigrant America -The impact of the firing on Fort Sumter on America’s immigrants

6. The Rabbi Who Seceded From the South

7. The Fighting 69th-Irish New York Declares War

8. The Germans Save St. Louis for the Union

9. New York’s Irish Rush to Save Washington

10. Immigrant Day Laborers Help Build the First Fort to Protect Washington-The Fighting 69th use their construction skills.

11. Carl Schurz Meets With Lincoln To Arm the Germans

12. Immigrants Rush to Join the Union Army-Why?– The reasons immigrants gave for enlisting early in the war.

13. Why the Germans Fought for the Union?

14. Why Did the Irish Fight When They Were So Despised?

15. The “Sons of Garibaldi” Join the Union Army

16. The Irish Tigers From Louisiana

17. Immigrant Regiments on Opposite Banks of Bull Run -The Fighting 69th and the Louisiana Tigers

18. The St. Louis Germans Set Out To Free Missouri

19. Wilson’s Creek Drowns Immigrant Dream of Free Missouri

20. English-Only in 1861: No Germans Need Apply

21. After Bull Run: Mutineers, Scapegoats, and the Dead

22. St. Louis Germans Revived by Missouri Emancipation Proclamation

23. Jews Fight the Ban on Rabbis as Chaplains

24. Lincoln Dashes German Immigrants Hopes for Emancipation

25. When Hatred of Immigrants Stopped the Washington Monument from Being Built

26. Inside the Mind of a Know Nothing

27. The Evolution of the Know Nothings

28. The Know Nothings Launch a Civil War Against Immigrant America

29. The Know Nothings: From Triumph to Collapse

30. The Lasting Impact of the Know Nothings on Immigrant America.

31. Lincoln, the Know Nothings, and Immigrant America.

32. Irish Green and Black America: Race on the Edge of Civil War.

33. The Democratic Party and the Racial Consciousness of Irish Immigrants Before the Civil War

34. The Confederates Move Against Latino New Mexico

35. Nuevomexicanos Rally As Confederates Move Towards Santa Fe—But For Which Side?

36. The Confederate Army in New Mexico Strikes at Valverde

37. The Swedish Immigrant Who Saved the U.S. Navy

38. The Confederates Capture Santa Fe and Plot Extermination

39. A German Regiment Fights for “Freedom and Justice” at Shiloh-The 32nd Indiana under Col. August Willich.

40. The Know Nothing Colonel and the Irish Soldier Confronting slavery and bigotry.

41. Did Immigrants Hand New Orleans Over to the Union Army?

42. Did New Orleans’ Immigrants See Union Soldiers As Occupiers or Liberators?

43. Union Leader Ben Butler Seeks Support in New Orleans-When General Ben Butler took command in New Orleans in 1862, it was a Union outpost surrounded by Confederates. Butler drew on his experience as a pro-immigrant politician to win over the city’s Irish and Germans.

44. Union General Ben Butler Leverages Immigrant Politics in New Orleans

45. Thomas Meager: The Man Who Created the Irish Brigade

46. Thomas Meagher: The Irish Rebel Joins the Union Army

47. Recruiting the Irish Brigade-Creating the Irish American

48. Cross Keys: A German Regiment’s Annihilation in the Shenandoah Valley

49. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Richmond-The Irish brigade in the Peninsula Campaign from March 17 to June 2, 1862.

50. Peninsula Emancipation: Irish Soldiers Take Steps on the Road to Freedom-The Irish Brigade and Irish soldiers from Boston free slaves along the march to Richmond.

51. Slaves Immigrate from the Confederacy to the United States During the Peninsula Campaign

52. The Irish 9th Massachusetts Cut Off During the Seven Days Battles

53. Union Defeat and an Irish Medal of Honor at the End of the Seven Days

54. Making Immigrant Soldiers into Citizens-Congress changed the immigration laws to meet the needs of a nation at war.

55. Carl Schurz: To Win the Civil War End Slavery

56. Carl Schurz: From Civilian to General in One Day

57. Did Anti-German Bigotry Help Cause Second Bull Run Defeat?

58. Immigrant Soldiers Chasing Lee Into Maryland

59. Scottish Highlanders Battle at South Mountain

60. Emancipation 150: “All men are created equal, black and white”– A German immigrant reacts to the Emancipation Proclamation

61. The Irish Brigade at Antietam

62. Private Peter Welsh Joins the Irish Brigade

63. Preliminaries to Emancipation: Race, the Irish, and Lincoln

64. The Politics of Emancipation: Lincoln Suffers Defeat

65. Carl Schurz Blames Lincoln for Defeat

66. The Irish Brigade and Virginia’s Civilians Black and White

67. The Irish Brigade and the Firing of General McClellan

68. General Grant Expells the Jews

69. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Its Destruction At Fredericksburg.

70. Fredericksburg: The Worst Day in the Young Life of Private McCarter of the Irish Brigade

71. Forever Free: Emancipation New Year Day 1863

72. Private William McCarter of the Irish Brigade Hospitalized After Fredericksburg

73. The Immigrant Women That Nursed Private McCarter After Fredericksburg

74. Nursing Nuns of the Civil War

75. The Biases Behind Grant’s Order Expelling the Jews

76. The Jewish Community Reacts to Grant’s Expulsion Order

77. Lincoln Overturns Grant’s Order Against the Jews

78. Irish Families Learn of the Slaughter at Fredericksburg

79. Requiem for the Irish Brigade

80. St. Patrick’s Day in the Irish Brigade

81. Student Asks: Why Don’t We Learn More About Immigrants in the Civil War?

82. Missouri’s German Unionists: From Defeat to Uncertain Victory

83. Missouri Germans Contest Leadership of Unionist Cause

84. German Leader Franz Sigel’s Victory Earns a Powerful Enemy

85. Immigrant Unionists Marching Towards Pea Ridge

86. German Immigrants at the Battle of Pea Ridge: Opening Moves

87. Pea Ridge: The German Unionists Outflanked

88. German Immigrants at the Battle of Pea Ridge

89. The Organization of the “German” XI Corps

90. The Irish Brigade on the Road to Chancellorsville

91. The “German” XI Corps on the Eve of Chancellorsville

92. The “Germans Run Away” at Chancellorsville

93. The New York Times, the Germans, and the Anatomy of a Scapegoat at Chancellorsville

94. An Irish Soldier Between Chancellorsville and Gettysburg

95. Lee’s Army Moves Towards Gettysburg: Black Refugees Flee

96. Iron Brigade Immigrants Arrive at Gettysburg

97. Iron Brigade Immigrants Go Into Battle the First Day at Gettysburg

98. The “German” XI Corps at Gettysburg July 1, 1863

99. An Irish Colonel and the Defense of Little Round Top on the Second Day at Gettysburg

100. A Prayer Before Death for the Irish Brigade at Gettysburg: July 2, 1863

101. The Irish Regiment that Ended “Pickett’s Charge”: July 3, 1863

102. Five Points on the Edge of the Draft Riots

103. Before the Draft Riots: The Cultivation of Division

104. The New York Draft Riots Begin

105. Convulsion of Violence: The First Day of the New York Draft Riots

106. The Draft Riots End in a Sea of Blood-July 14-15, 1863.

Cultural

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