Fourth Day of Riots

Only the principal disturbances of the third day were given, and of these the accounts were very succinct. The movements of the mobs and the conflicts with them were so similar in character, that a detailed description of them would be a mere repetition of what had gone before. After the police force, and the troops under General Brown had become organized so as to move and act together, each fight with the rioters was almost a repetition of its predecessor. Having adopted a plan of procedure, they seldom deviated from it, and the story of one fight became the story of all a short struggle and a quick victory.

It was hoped this morning that the rioters would conclude that they could not carry out their mad designs; for the enrollment of large bodies of citizens, and the announcement of the speedy return of several regiments, showed that all the force necessary to subdue them was, or soon would be, on hand. The day before, the Governor had issued a proclamation, declaring the city to be in a state of insurrection; but this morning appeared a proclamation from Mayor Opdyke, announcing that the insurrection was practically ended. It is true he called on the citizens to form voluntary associations, with competent leaders, to patrol their separate districts, to protect themselves from roaming gangs of plunderers, and so spare the exhausted police and military. Yet he called on the citizens to resume their usual avocations, and directed the railroad and stage lines to resume their routes. This opinion of the Mayor was strengthened by the positive announcement that the draft had been suspended, and the passage of an ordinance by the City Council, appropriating $2,500,000 towards paying $300 exemption money to the poor who might be drafted. It was plain, if the draft was the cause of the continued riot, it would now cease. But in spite of all this, bad news came from Harlem, and Yorkville, and other sections. In fact, it was evident that the Police Commissioners did not share fully in the pleasant anticipations of the Mayor. Having ascertained that the leaders of the mob, learning from experience, had organized more intelligently, and designed to act in several distinct and separate bodies in different sections, they, with General Brown, divided the city into four districts, in each one of which were to be stationed strong bodies of the police and military, so that they could act with more expedition and efficiency than if they were sent out from the common head-quarters in Mulberry Street. It would, beside, save the fatigue of long marches. Those separate stations were in Harlem, Eighteenth, Twenty-ninth, and Twenty-sixth Precincts. A good deal was also expected by an invitation given by Archbishop Hughes, that appeared in the morning papers, to the Irish to meet him next day in front of his house, where, though crippled from rheumatism, he would address them from the balcony. The Eighth Avenue cars had been started, as well as those of the Third; and many stores were opened. Still, on the east side of the city, in the neighborhood of First Avenue, most of the shops were closed.

It should be here remarked to the credit of the German population, which were very numerous in certain localities on this side of the city, that they had no sympathy with the rioters; on the contrary, sent word to the Police Commissioners not to be concerned about their locality; they had organized, and would see that order was maintained there. No better title to American citizenship than this could be shown.

Though early in the morning, it was comparatively quiet on the east side of the city; yet near First Avenue knots of men could be seen here and there, engaged in loud and angry conversation. They looked exhausted and haggard, but talked defiant as ever, swearing terrible vengeance against the military; for, though hidden from sight, in the miserable tenement houses near by, lay their dead, dying, and wounded friends by scores. Near Nineteenth Street, the scene of the conflict the evening previous, there were stones, brick bats, shivered awning posts, and other wrecks of the fight. The grog shops were open, in which men with bloody noses, and bruised and battered faces, obtained the necessary stimulus to continue the desperate struggle. Dirty, slovenly dressed women stood in the door ways or on the steps, swearing and denouncing both police and military in the coarsest language. Though the immense gatherings of the preceding days were not witnessed, yet there was a ground swell of passion that showed the lawless spirit was not subdued, though overawed. But the Police Commissioners were now prepared for whatever might occur. The Seventh Regiment had been stationed on the west side of the city, with a wide district to keep in order, thus enabling them to concentrate larger forces in other directions. But, although everything wore this favorable aspect to the authorities, it was evident towards noon, from the steadily increasing size of the groups observed in the morning, that they had resolved to try again their strength with the military. The state of things was telegraphed to police head-quarters, but the report making the mob not formidable, only a company of about twenty-five men were sent out. Finding the rioters numbered about two hundred or more, and not daring to fire their howitzer, lest, before it could be reloaded, the former would rush forward and seize it, they concluded to retire. The mob at once set furiously on them, and forced them to take refuge in Jackson’s foundry. The following telegram to head-quarters announced the fact:

“1.25. From Twenty-first. The mob has charged our military, about twenty-five in number, and driven them into Jackson’s foundry, First Avenue and Twenty-eighth Street. The mob are armed, and every time a regular shows himself they fire. A few good skirmishers would pick off these riflemen and relieve the military.”

This was soon succeeded by the following:

“1.54. From Twenty-first. Send military assistance immediately to First Avenue and Twenty-eighth Street. The mob increases, and will murder the military force.”

Ans. “They are on their way up.”

They soon arrived, and were at once furiously attacked by the mob. The soldiers fired into them, but they boldly held their ground, and were evidently bent on a desperate fight.

The former now took up their stations at the junction of the streets, and were about to sweep them with canister, when from some cause a delay was ordered. This increased the boldness of the mob, and they taunted and derided the soldiers. But in a few minutes a reinforcement of regulars arrived on the ground and charged bayonets. The rioters fell back, but rallying, forced the soldiers to retire in turn. The latter, however, returned to the charge, when the mob again gave way, but still stubbornly refused to disperse.

News of the magnitude of the struggle reached the Seventh Regiment, and they rapidly marched to the spot. Their steady tramp along the pavement, and well-set ranks, discouraged the crowd, and they marched and counter-marched through the streets without molestation.

The mob, however, dispersed only to reassemble again in Twenty-ninth Street, and began to plunder the stores in the vicinity, and spread devastation on every side.

This being reported to head-quarters, a military force was dispatched to disperse them. The rioters, however, instead of retreating, attacked them with the greatest fury. Almost every house was filled with them, and they lined the roofs with muskets and pistols, from which they poured down a deadly fire. For nearly a half an hour the fire was kept up without cessation, and many were killed. A sergeant was knocked down by a brick-bat, and then seized and beaten to death. The troops finding themselves unable to dislodge the assailants, retreated, leaving the body of the sergeant in the street, where it lay for three hours. General Brown not having a sufficient number of troops on hand, the mob all this time had it their own way. It was nine o’clock before he could dispatch Captain Putnam with a strong force to put an end to the disgraceful scene. Arriving on the spot, the latter addressed the crowd, saying that he had come to carry away the dead body of the sergeant, and should do it at all hazards. But he had hardly placed it in a wagon, when the crowd began to assail his troops. He immediately unlimbered his pieces, when it scattered in every direction. But the rioters came together again at the corner of Thirty-first Street and Second Avenue, where they were met by reinforcements, and made a stand. They filled the houses, and mounted to the roofs, armed with muskets and revolvers, and as Putnam appeared, commenced a rapid fire. Placing his pieces in position, this gallant officer swept the street with canister, which soon cleared it. Eleven of the ringleaders were shot down, and bodies lay thick on the pavement. But this did not intimidate those in the windows, or on the roofs, and they kept up a steady fire. Putnam, who showed by his cool courage that the fighting stock from which he came had not degenerated, now ordered his men to turn their fire on the buildings. At each discharge, the heavy volleys brought down many of the wretches, some pitching headlong from the roof, and dashing out their brains on the pavement and flagging below. But the fight was very unequal, for the assailants would expose their bodies as little as possible; Putnam saw that the houses must be stormed, and gave the order to do it. The fight was now transferred to the inside, and became close and murderous. In the narrow halls and on the stairways, numbers were of no avail, and the rioters fought with a desperation they had not before exhibited. There was no way of escape, and they seemed to prefer death to being taken prisoners, and for a half an hour maintained the conflict in the darkened rooms and passages with a ferocity that was appalling. At last, however, with their numbers sadly thinned, they were forced to yield, and took refuge in flight. Many, unable to get away, hid under beds and in closets, but the soldiers ferreted them out, and carried them to police head-quarters.

The arsenal had not been attacked, as Sandford seemed every day to think it would be. Many colored people, as before stated, took refuge in it; and about noon on this day, a body of police arrived before it, with the children of the Colored Orphan Asylum that had been burned on Monday, in charge. They had since that time been scattered round in station-houses, but were now to be escorted to Blackwell’s Island, for better security. It was an impressive spectacle this army of children presented, as they drew up in line in front of the arsenal to wait for those within to join them. The block was filled with them. The frightened little fugitives, fleeing from they scarce knew what, looked bewildered at their novel position. It seemed impossible that they ever could have been the objects of any one’s vengeance. With a strong body of police in front and rear, and a detachment of soldiers on either side, they toddled slowly down to the foot of Thirty-fifth Street, from whence they were taken by boats to the Island.

The Sixty-fifth New York Regiment arrived from Harrisburg in the afternoon, and just before midnight the One Hundred and Fifty-second also reached the city, and marched up Broadway to police head-quarters, where they were stowed away to get some rest.

A heavy storm that set in during the evening, helped to scatter the crowd that would otherwise have gathered on this warm July night, but it at the same time gave a somber aspect to the city. The crescent moon was veiled in black, and thunderous clouds that swept heavily over the city, deepened the gloom, and seemed portentous of greater evil. The closing of all the stores and shop windows at nightfall, through fear, left the streets lighted only by the scattering lamps. This unusual stretch of blank dead walls, emitting no ray of light, rendered the darkness made by the overhanging storm still more impenetrable. Flashes of lightning would reveal small groups of men bent on plunder, in sections where the military and police were not stationed, but no open violence was attempted. In other directions, the bayonets of the soldiers would gleam out of the dense shadows, as they silently held the posts assigned them, ready to march at a moment’s notice. This was the fourth night, and the cannon planted in the streets, and the increased military force, showed that peace was not yet fully restored. The Seventh Regiment was quartered in Thirty-fourth Street, part of the soldiers within a building, and crowding every window to catch the first sign of disturbance, and part stationed below, or marching back and forth in the street. Other troops and policemen were massed at head-quarters, ready to move, at the word of command, to any point threatened by the mob.

The fourth night was passing away, and still Acton clung to his post, and refused to take even a moment’s rest. His whole nature had been keyed up to meet the grave responsibilities that lay upon him, and through the wires he still watched every threatened point in the city, with sleepless vigilance. In the meantime, over a thousand special policemen had been sworn in, and five hundred or more citizens had volunteered their services, while the steady arrival of returning regiments swelled the military force into formidable proportions.

During the day, Senators Connolly and O’Brien had waited on General Brown, and asked him to remove the military from their ward, as their presence excited the people. The General very bluntly refused, saying he should not permit his troops to retire from before an armed mob. He was asked also to order the troops to leave Jackson’s foundry for the same reason, and gave an equally emphatic refusal. There was now to be no compromise with the rioters, no agreement entered into. They had got beyond the character of citizens with rights to be respected they were assassins and murderers, to whom was submitted the simple question of subjection to law and authority, or death.

The fighting through the day had been severe, but the disturbance had not been so wide spread and general. Outside of the city, there had been threatening rumors. It was reported that there was danger of an uprising in Westchester, where some leading Democrats had taken open opposition to the draft, and a gun boat had gone up as far as Tarrytown; but nothing serious occurred.

The rioters being almost exclusively Irish, it was thought that an address from Archbishop Hughes would go far to quiet the ringleaders, and he had therefore issued the following call, already referred to:

To the men of New York, who are now called in many of the papers rioters.


I am not able, owing to rheumatism in my limbs, to visit you, but that is not a reason why you should not pay me a visit in your whole strength. Come, then, tomorrow (Friday) at two o’clock, to my residence, north west corner of Madison Avenue and Thirty-sixth street. There is abundant space for the meeting, around my house. I can address you from the corner of the balcony. If I should not be able to stand during its delivery, you will permit me to address you sitting; my voice is much stronger than my limbs. I take upon myself the responsibility of assuring you, that in paying me this visit or in retiring from it, you shall not be disturbed by any exhibition of municipal or military presence. You who are Catholics, or as many of you as are, have a right to visit your bishop without molestation.

John Hughes, Archbishop of New York.

New York, July 16, 1863.

A curious incident was related subsequently in one of the New York papers, respecting the manner in which an interview was brought about between him and Governor Seymour, and which resulted in the resolution of the Archbishop to address the rioters. The substance of the account was, that a young widow of high culture, formerly the wife of a well known lawyer of this city a woman living in an atmosphere of art, and refinement, and spending her time in study, became so excited over the violence and bloodshed that the authorities seemed unable to suppress, and finding that the Irish were at the bottom of the trouble, determined to appeal to Archbishop Hughes personally, to use his high authority and influence to bring these terrible scenes to a close.

Acting on this determination, she set out this morning for the Archbishop’s residence, but on arriving was told that he was at the residence of Vicar-general Starrs, in Mulberry Street. Hastening thither, she asked for an interview. Her request was denied, when she repeated it; and though again refused, would not be repelled, and sent word that her business was urgent, and that she would not detain him ten minutes. The Archbishop finally consented to see her. As she entered the library, her manner and bearing both said to be remarkably impressive arrested the attention of the prelate. Without any explanation or apology, she told him at once her errand that it was one of mercy and charity. She had been educated in a Roman Catholic convent herself, in which her father was a professor, and she urged him, in the name of God, to get on horseback, and go forth into the streets and quell the excitement of his flock. She told him he must, like Mark Antony, address the people; and in rescuing this great metropolis from vandalism, would become a second Constantine, an immortal hero. It was his duty, she boldly declared; and though she did not profess to be a Jeanne d’Arc or Madame Roland, but a plain woman of the present day, she would ride fearlessly by his side, and if he were threatened, would place her body between him and danger, and take the blow aimed at him. The cautious and crafty prelate was almost carried away by the impassioned and dramatic force of this woman, but he told her it would be presumption in him to do so; in fact, impossible, as he was so crippled with rheumatism and gout, that he could not walk. She then asked him to call the crowd, and address them from the balcony of his house. He replied that he was just then busy in writing an answer to an attack on him in the Tribune . She assured him that such a controversy was worse than useless that another and higher duty rested on him. She pressed him with such importunity and enthusiasm, that he finally consented; but as a last effort to get rid of her, said he feared the military would interfere and attack the mob. She assured him they would not, and hurried off to the St. Nicholas to see Governor Seymour about it. She found the ante room filled with officials and other personages on important business, waiting their turn to be admitted. But her determined, earnest manner so impressed every one with the importance of her mission, that precedence was granted her, and she found herself at once beside the astonished Governor. Without any preliminaries, she told him she had just come from the head of the church, and wanted his excellency to visit him immediately. No business was of such vital importance as this. The self possessed Governor coolly replied that he should be glad to see the Archbishop, but business was too pressing to allow him to be absent even a half an hour from his duties. She hastened back to Archbishop Hughes, and prevailed on him to write a note to Governor Seymour, asking him to call and see him, as he was unable to get out. Fortified with this, she now took a priest with her, and providing herself with a carriage, returned to head quarters, and absolutely forced, by her energy and determination and persuasive manner, the Governor to leave his business, and go to the Archbishop’s. The invitation to the Irish to meet him was the result of this interview.

Why Archbishop Hughes took no more active part than he did in quelling this insurrection, when there was scarcely a man in it except members of his own flock, seems strange. It is true he had published an address to them, urging them to keep the peace; but it was prefaced by a long, undignified, and angry attack on Mr. Greeley, of the Tribune , and showed that he was in sympathy with the rioters, at least in their condemnation of the draft. The pretence that it would be unsafe for him to pass through the streets, is absurd; for on three different occasions common priests had mingled with the mob, not only with impunity, but with good effect. He could not, therefore, have thought himself to be in any great danger. One thing, at any rate, is evident: had an Irish mob threatened to burn down a Roman Catholic church, or a Roman Catholic orphan asylum, or threatened any of the institutions or property of the Roman Church, he would have shown no such backwardness or fear. The mob would have been confronted with the most terrible anathemas of the church, and those lawless bands quailed before the maledictions of the representative of “God’s vicegerent on earth.” It is unjust to suppose that he wished this plunder and robbery to continue, or desired to see Irishmen shot down in the streets; it must, therefore, be left to conjecture, why he could not be moved to any interference except by outside pressure, and then show so much lukewarmness in his manner in fact, condemning their opponents almost as much as themselves.

The excitement consequent on the draft, exhibited in outbreaks in various parts of the country, and in the vicinity of New York, was increased by the reports of violence and fighting in the latter city. In Troy there was a riot, and the mob, imitating the insane conduct of the rioters in New York, proceeded to attack an African church. But a priest, more bold or more patriotic than Archbishop Hughes, interfered and saved it. That the latter, armed with nothing but the crucifix, could have effected as much as the police and military together, there can be but little doubt. This open and decided sympathy with law and order, and bitter anathemas against the vandals who sought the destruction of the city, were the more demanded, as such a large proportion of the police force were Roman Catholics, and in their noble devotion to duty, even to shooting down their own countrymen and men of a similar faith, deserved this encouragement from the head of the church.


Headley, Joel Tyler. The great riots of New York, 1712 to 1873: including a full and complete account of the Four Days' Draft Riot of 1863. New York: E. B. Treat, 1873.

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