No Military in the City

The terrible punishment the rioters received at the hands of Carpenter had, however, only checked their movements for a time; and, as the sun began to hang low in the summer heavens, men looked forward to the coming night with apprehension.

In the meantime, however, the authorities, conscious of the perilous condition of the city, had resorted to every means of defense in their power. Unfortunately, as mentioned before, nearly the whole of its military force, on which it depended in any great emergency, was absent. Lee’s brilliant flank movement around Hooker and Washington, terminating in the invasion of Pennsylvania, had filled the country with consternation. His mighty columns were moving straight on Philadelphia, and the Government at Washington, roused to the imminent danger, had called for all the troops within reach, and New York had sent forward nearly every one of her regiments. Ordinary prudence would have dictated that the draft should be postponed for a few days, till these regiments, now on their way back, or preparing to return, should arrive. It was running a needless risk to urge it in such a crisis indeed, one of the follies of which the Administration at this time was so needlessly guilty.

General Wool, at this juncture, commanded the Eastern Department, with his head-quarters at the corner of Bleecker and Greene Streets. Mayor Opdyke immediately called on him for help, and also on Major-general Sandford, commanding the few troops that were left in the city. The latter immediately issued an order requesting the Seventh Regiment to meet that evening, at their drill rooms, at eight o’clock, to consult on the measures necessary to be taken in the present unexpected crisis, and another to the late two years’ volunteers then in the city, to report at the same hour in Grand Street, to Colonel William H. Allen, for temporary duty.

General Wool, also, during the afternoon, while the rioters were having it all their own way, sent an officer to the adjutant general of General Brown, commanding the troops in garrison in New York harbor, ordering up a force of about eighty men immediately.

General Brown, on his way from his office to Fort Hamilton, was informed by Colonel Stinson, chief clerk, that a serious riot was raging in the city, and that General Wool had sent to Fort Hamilton for a detachment of some eighty men, and that a tug had gone for them. Surprised at the smallness of the number sent (he was, by special orders of the War Department, commandant of the city, and commander of all the forts and troops in the harbor except Fort Columbus), he immediately ordered the company at Fort Wood to the city, and sent a tug for it. He then made a requisition on the quartermaster for transportation of all the other companies, and proceeded without delay to Fort Hamilton. General Brown’s office was close to General Wool’s; but he did not think proper to consult him on the movement.

General Brown, immediately on his arrival at Fort Hamilton, directed that all the troops there, as well as at Forts Lafayette and Richmond, be got in readiness to move at a moment’s notice, and also that a section of artillery be organized, in case it should be wanted. Having taken these wise precautions he hastened up to the city, and reported to General Wool. The result proved the wisdom of his forecast. A new order was at once dispatched for the remaining troops, and just at twilight, Lieut. McElrath saw two steamers making directly for the fort. They were hardly fastened to the dock, when an officer stepped ashore and handed him an order from General Brown to send up at once all the efficient troops in the forts, and have their places supplied as best he could with some volunteer artillery companies.

The reports coming in to police head-quarters had shown that it was no common uprising of a few disaffected men to be put down by a few squads of police or a handful of soldiers. The Mayor, after consulting with the Police Commissioners, felt that it was the beginning of a general outbreak in every part of the city, and by his representations persuaded General Wool to apply to Rear admiral Paulding, commanding the Navy Yard, for a force of marines, and eventually to Colonel Bowman, Superintendent of West Point, and also to the authorities of Newark, and Governors of New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island for troops.

General Brown, after reporting to General Wool, repaired to police head-quarters, which he adopted as his own, and issued the following order:

“Head-Quarters, New York, July 13, 1863.

“In obedience to the orders of the Major-general commanding the Eastern Department, the undersigned assumes command of the United States troops in this city.

“Lieutenant-colonel Frothingham and Captain Revolle are of the staff of the undersigned, and will be obeyed accordingly.

“Harvey Brown,

” Brevet Brigadier-general .”

He also sent a dispatch to General Sandford, at the arsenal, notifying him of his action, and requesting him to come down and consult with him on the course to be pursued. General Sandford, after awhile, did come down, and, to General Brown’s amazement, insisted that all the troops should be sent up to the arsenal. General Brown, seeing the utter madness of such a disposition of his force, refused decidedly to permit it to be done. This was of course denying Sandford’s claim to be his superior officer. It was well for the city that he took this ground.

Mayor Opdyke also issued a proclamation, calling on the rioters to disperse.

But while these measures were being set on foot, the rioters were not idle.

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 passing it were searched, to see if any Negroes were on board, while eyes glowered savagely on the Tribune building. They had sought in an eating house for the editor, to wreak their vengeance on him. Not finding him, they determined that the building, from which was issued the nefarious paper, should come down, but were evidently waiting for help to arrive before commencing the work of destruction. The mob, which Carpenter had so terribly punished in Broadway, were marching for it, designing to burn it after they had demolished police head-quarters. Their dispersion delayed the attack, and doubtless broke its force, by the reduction of numbers it caused. There seemed enough, however, if properly led, to effect their purpose, for the 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, who, with his command, was in the gallant fight in Broadway, after some subsequent fighting and marching, had at length reached his head-quarters in Broad Street, where a dispatch met him, to proceed at once to the Tribune building. He immediately started off on the double quick. On reaching the upper end of Nassau Street, he came to a halt, and gave the club signal on the pavement, to form column. Captain Thorne, of the City Hall, in the meantime, had joined his force to him, with the gallant Sergeant Devoursney. 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. In the meantime, those who had taken refuge in the Park found themselves in the lion’s jaws. Carpenter had hardly rested from his march up Fifth Avenue to Mayor Opdyke’s house, when he, too, received orders to hasten to the protection of the Tribune building. Taking one hundred of his own men, and one hundred under Inspector Folk, of Brooklyn, who had been early ordered over, and been doing good service in the city, he marched down Broadway, and was just entering the Park, when the frightened crowd came rushing pell mell across it. Immediately forming “company front,” he swept the Park like a storm, clearing everything before him. Order being restored, Folk returned with his force to Brooklyn, where things began to wear a threatening aspect, and Carpenter took up his station at City Hall for the night.

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 Acton sent a force to take the body down. Many had sought refuge in police stations and elsewhere, and all were filled with terror.

The demonstrations in the lower part of the city excited the greatest anxiety about the Government buildings in that section the Custom House and Sub treasury were tempting prizes to the rioters. General Sandford, commanding the city military, had sent such force as he could collect early in the day to the arsenal, to defend it; for, should the mob once get possession of the arms and ammunition stored there, no one could tell what the end would be. United States troops also were placed in Government buildings to protect them. Almost the last act of the mob this evening was the burning of Postmaster Wakeman’s house, in Eighty-sixth Street. Mrs. Wakeman was noted for her kindness to the poor and wretched, who now repaid her by sacking and burning her house. The precinct station near by was also destroyed.

In the meanwhile, an event happened which threatened to disarrange all the plans that had been laid. Military etiquette often overrides the public good, and here, at this critical moment, General Wool chose to consider that, as General Sandford was Major-general, though not in the United States service, he, therefore, ranked Brigadier-general Brown of the regular army, and required him to act under the other’s orders. This, Brown promptly refused to do, and asked to be relieved, telling General Wool that such a proceeding was an unheard of thing. That he was right the order below will show [Footnote: [General Order No. 36.] War Department, while these events were passing in the St. Nicholas Hotel, the streets were comparatively quiet. It had been a hard day for the rioters, as well as for the police, and they were glad of a little rest. Besides, they had become more or less scattered by a terrific thunderstorm that broke over the city, deluging the streets with water. In the midst of it, there came a telegraphic dispatch to the commissioners, calling for assistance. The tired police were stretched around on the floor or boxes, seeking a little rest, when they were aroused, and summoned to fall in; and the next moment they plunged into the darkness and rain. They were drenched to the skin before they had gone a block, but they did not heed it and then, as to the end, and under all circumstances, answered promptly and nobly to every call.

Acton had now gathered a large force at head-quarters, and felt ready to strike at any moment.

While the men flung themselves on the hard floor, like soldiers on the field of battle, ready to start on duty at the first call, Acting Superintendent Acton and his assistants never closed their eyes, but spent the night in telegraphing, organizing, and preparing for the fiercer fights of next day. Much was to be done to cover and protect a district that reached from Brooklyn to Westchester, and it was an anxious night. They had one consolation, however: though taken unawares, they had at the close of the day come out victors, which gave them confidence in the future, especially as now Brown and his trained soldiers were with them.

Some fifteen or twenty policemen had been more or less severely injured, while the number of the killed and wounded of the mob was wholly unknown. Both the dead and maimed were left by the police where they fell, and were almost immediately hurried away by their friends.

The destruction of property on this first day, consisted of four buildings on Third Avenue burned, also a block on Broadway between Twenty-eighth and Twenty-ninth Streets; two brown stone dwellings in Lexington Avenue; Allerton’s Hotel near Bull’s Head; a cottage, corner of Forty-fifth Street and Fifth Avenue; the Colored Orphan Asylum, and the armory corner of Twenty-first Street and Second Avenue.

Adjutant-general’s Office, Washington , April 7th, 1863.

The military commander’s duties in reference to all troops and enlisted men who happen to serve within the limits of his command will be precisely those of a commanding officer of a military post .

The duties of military commanders above defined, will devolve in the City of New York, and the military posts in that vicinity , on Brevet Brigadier-general H. Brown, Colonel Fifth U. S. Artillery.

By order of the Secretary of War, (Signed) L. Thomas, Adjutant-general .] that his troops must be under his own command, as he was responsible for their action to the Government, and Sandford was not. Wool, however, continued obstinate, and a total disruption seemed inevitable. Mayor Opdyke, President Acton, Governor Seymour, with several prominent American citizens, were present, and witnessed this disagreement with painful feelings. They knew that it would work mischief, if not paralyze the combined action they hoped to put forth in the morning. General Brown, finding Wool inflexible, turned away, determined to retire altogether. The Mayor and others followed him, and begged him not to abandon them in the desperate strait they were in to think of nothing but saving the city. General Brown had been too hasty, sticking on a point of mere etiquette, with, perhaps, too much tenacity. True, an officer must insist on his rank as a rule, but there are emergencies when everything of a personal nature must be forgotten crises where it may be an officer’s duty to serve in any capacity, however subordinate, and trust to being righted afterwards. Luckily, General Brown, on a sober second thought, took the proper view, and returned to General Wool, and asked to be reinstated in his command, but giving him to understand that, though he would co operate in every possible way with General Sandford, he still must retain distinct and separate command of his own troops. This was right, and whether General Wool perfectly understood the arrangement, or seeing how deeply the gentlemen present felt on the subject, chose not to press a mere point of etiquette, does not appear. We only know that if General Brown had given up the command of his troops, the results to the city would have been disastrous.


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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