Riots In Every Part of the City

It is impossible to give a detailed account of what transpired in every part of the city. If there had been a single band of rioters, no matter how large, a force of military and police, properly armed, could have been concentrated to have dispersed it. But bodies of men, larger or smaller, bent on violence and devastation, were everywhere; even out at Harlem eight buildings were burned, and the lower end of Westchester was in a state of agitation and alarm. A mob of thousands would be scattered, only to come together at other points. A body of police and military plunging through the heaving multitude, acted often only as a stone flung into the water, making but a momentary vacuum. Or, if they did not come together again, they swung off only to fall in, and be absorbed by a crowd collected in another part of the city. The alarm of Monday had only been partial, but today it culminated. Families, husbands, and sons left their business, and with arms patrolled the streets. Stores were shut up, stages and cars stopped running, and all business was suspended.

The blood flowing through the thousand arteries of this great mart seemed suddenly frozen in its channels, and its mighty pulsations to stop at the mandate of lawless men. The city held its breath in dread, but there were firm hearts at police head-quarters. Acton never flinched, and in General Brown he found a soldier that knew his duty, and would do it at all hazards. Still, the uprising kept swelling into vaster proportions, embracing a still larger territory.

Broadway was deserted. A few hacks could be seen, but with very different occupants than those which they ordinarily contained. The iron shutters were closed on the Fifth Avenue Hotel, and a stack of arms stood in the hall way. Crowds of respectable citizens, not on duty, were making all haste toward railroad depots and steamboat landings. Every boat, as it swung from the dock, was loaded to its utmost capacity with people leaving a city that seemed doomed to destruction; going, many knew not where, only out of New York. Cars were packed, and long trains were made up to carry the crowds in haste to get away. But travel on the Hudson River Road was soon stopped by the mob, that tore up the track to prevent communication with other parts of the State, and the arrival of troops.

The Harlem and Third Avenue tracks were also torn up, as the rioters were determined to isolate the great city, which they had doomed to destruction. Passing from one object to another, now acting as if from plan, and now intent only on destruction and plunder, the crowd streamed from point to point with shouts and yells, that sent terror through the adjoining streets. Suddenly, some one remembered that they were in the vicinity of Colonel Nugent’s house, in Yorkville, the assistant provost marshal general, and shouting out the news, a rush was made for it, and it was sacked from top to bottom.

As the police were gathered together either at the precinct stations or head-quarters, ordinary patrol duty was out of the question; hence, many isolated, acts of violence could be committed with impunity. This freedom from close surveillance, coupled with the contagion of the lawless spirit which was abroad, made every section of the city where the lower classes lived more or less restless. It was impossible for the police to divide itself up so to furnish protection in individual cases, and yet be in sufficient force to cope with the mobs, that numbered by thousands. Although the whole city was heaving like a troubled sea, yet the main gathering this day had been in the upper part and on both sides of it. The terrific contests we described farther back were in the Second Avenue, on the east side, but, nearly opposite, in the Sixth Avenue, crowds had been gathering since early in the forenoon.

For a long time they swayed backward and forward, apparently without any definite purpose, and moved only by the spirit of disorder that had taken possession of the city. But about two o’clock, these various bodies began by mutual attraction to flow together, and soon became one immense mass, and impelled by some information or other, gathered threateningly around a large mansion on the corner of Forty-sixth Street and Fifth Avenue. They had supplied themselves with all sorts of weapons, revolvers, old muskets, stones, clubs, barrel staves in short, everything that could be found, that might be of service in a fight and soon commenced plundering the residence. But their movements had been telegraphed to head-quarters, and Captain Walling, of the Twentieth Precinct, was dispatched thither, with a company of regulars under Captain Putnam, a descendant of “Old Put.” The report soon spread through the crowd, that bayonets could be seen coming up the avenue. Marching up to Forty-sixth Street, the force turned into it, towards the Fifth Avenue; and breaking into the charge step, with the order “no prisoners” ringing in their ears, struck the mob almost in the centre, cutting it in two, like a mighty cleaver. There was no need of bayonets the police, at the head of the military, went right through it, and scattered the men in every direction. The force then divided into squads, and each one taking a section of the mob, followed it up on a swift run, and smote them right and left for several blocks. The larger portion went down Sixth Avenue, and seeing only a portion of the police pursuing, turned and showed fight, when the leader received a bullet in the head and fell. Seeing their leader fall, the mob wheeled and took to their heels.

Captain Walling in one instance saw a crowd with fire arms standing in an alley way. Just then a fire engine and company came down the street, and he with his small force got behind it, and kept concealed until opposite the unsuspecting crowd, when, with a shout, they dashed on it. A volley received them, with answering volley, the police charged into the narrow opening. The rioters fled into a tenement house, from which came yells and screams of terrified women and children. Walling had some sharpshooters with him, to pick off those beyond the reach of the clubs. One fellow, armed, was seen astraddle of the ridge pole of a house. The next moment a sharpshooter covered him, and he tumbled headlong to the ground. The same afternoon he saw some twenty or thirty men attempting to stave in a hardware store, evidently after pistols. Walling charged on them alone, and with one terrible blow, his club sent the leader to the pavement with his brains oozing out.

Although the draft was almost forgotten by the rioters, in the thirst for plunder and blood, still men in the streets and some of the papers talked of its being unconstitutional, and to be contested in the courts others that it had been and would be suspended, as though any disposal of it now could affect the conduct of the rioters. Force was the only argument they would listen to. The riot had almost ceased to wear any political aspect since the attack on the Tribune office, the day before, had been defeated. An occasional shout or the sight of a Negro might now and then remind one of its origin, but devastation and plunder were the great objects that urged on the excited masses. The sacking of Opdyke’s house was done chiefly by a few youngsters, who were simply following the example set them the day before; while the burning of Negro buildings, the chasing and killing of Negroes, seemed to have only a remote connection with the draft, and was simply the indulgence of a hatred they were hitherto afraid to gratify. So the setting fire to the Weehawken ferry afterwards, could be made to grow out of politics only so far as a man who kept a liquor saloon there was a known Republican. This seemed a weak inducement to draw a crowd so far, when more distinguished victims were all around them. It is more probable that some personal enemy of parties in the vicinity, finding the mob ready to follow any cry, led them thither; for one man seemed to be the leader, who, mounted on a fine cavalry horse, and brandishing a sword, galloped backwards and forwards through the crowd, giving his orders like a field officer. Mobs springing up everywhere, and flowing together often apparently by accident, each pursuing a different object: one chasing Negroes and firing their dwellings; others only sacking; a house, and others still, wreaking their vengeance on station houses, while scores, the moment they got loaded down with plunder, hastened away to conceal it all showed that the original cause of the uprising had been forgotten. A strong uncertainty seemed at times to keep them swaying backwards and forwards, as though seeking a definite object, or waiting for an appointed signal to move, and then at some shout would rush for a building, a Negro, or station house.

The mob was a huge monster frightful both in proportions and appearance, yet not knowing where or how to use its strength. The attack on Mr. Gibbon’s house at Twenty-ninth Street and Eighth Avenue, during this afternoon, was attributed to the fact that he was Mr. Greeley’s cousin, and that the former sometimes slept there rather a far fetched inference, as though a mob would be aware of a fact that probably not a dozen immediate neighbors knew.

Some one person might have raised a cry of “Greeley’s house,” which would have been sufficient to insure its destruction. The police being notified of this attack, sent a squad of men with a military force to disperse the mob. Captain Ryer formed his troops in front of the house, and Sergeant Devoursney did the same with a part of his men, while the other portion was sent into the building, that was filled with men, women, and children, loading themselves down with the spoils. The appearance of the caps and clubs in the rooms created a consternation that would have been ludicrous, but for the serious work that followed. No defence was made, except by a few persons singly. One fellow advanced to the door with a pistol in his hand, and fired, sending a ball through Officer Hill’s thigh. The next instant the latter felled him to the floor with his club, and before he could even attempt to rise he was riddled with balls. Some of the women fell on their knees, and shrieked for mercy; while one strong Irish woman refused to yield her plunder, and fought like a tigress. She seized an officer by the throat, and trying to strangle and bite him, would not let go till a blow sobered her into submission.

Some were loaded with shawls and dresses, and one burly, ferocious looking Irishman carried under his arm a huge bundle of select music. As the police chased the plunderers down stairs, and out into the street, in some unaccountable way the troops got so confused that they fired a volley that swept the police as well as the rioters. Officer Dipple was so severely wounded that he died the following Sunday, while Officers Hodson and Robinson both received flesh wounds.

In the upper part of the city, few buildings, except those too near police and army head-quarters, or too well defended, offered much spoil except private houses, and these had been the chief objects of attack. But Brooks and Brothers’ clothing store in Catharine Street, situated in a part of the city thickly populated with the very class mobs are made of, became toward evening an object of great attraction to groups of hard looking men and women. As night settled down, the heavens being overcast, it became very dark; for in all the neighboring houses the lights were extinguished by the inmates, who were terribly alarmed at the rapidly increasing crowd in the street. To deepen and complete the gloom the rioters turned off the gas. Officer Bryan, of the Fourth Ward, telegraphed to head-quarters the threatening appearance of things, and a force of fifty or sixty men were at once dispatched to the spot. In the mean time Sergeant Finney, with Platt and Kennedy, stood at the entrance to defend the building till the police could arrive.

For awhile the three determined police officers, standing silent in the darkness, overawed the leaders. But soon from the crowd arose shouts, amid which were heard the shrill voices of women, crying, “Break open the store.” This was full of choice goods, and contained clothing enough to keep the mob supplied for years. As the shouts increased, those behind began to push forward those in front, till the vast multitude swung heavily towards the three police officers. Seeing this movement, the latter advanced with their clubs to keep them back. At this, the shouts and yells redoubled, and the crowd rushed forward, crushing down the officers by mere weight. They fought gallantly for a few minutes; but, overborne by numbers, they soon became nearly helpless, and were terribly beaten and wounded, and with the utmost exertions were barely able to escape, and make their way back to the station. The mob now had it all its own way, and rushing against the doors, burst bolts and bars asunder, and streamed in. But it was dark as midnight inside, and they could not distinguish one thing from another; not even the passage ways to the upper rooms of the building, which was five stories high. They therefore lighted the gas, and broke out the windows. In a few minutes the vast edifice was a blaze of light, looking more brilliant from the midnight blackness that surrounded it. The upturned faces of the excited, squalid throng below presented a wild and savage spectacle in the flickering light. Men and women kept pouring in and out, the latter loaded with booty, making their way home into the adjacent streets, and the former rushing after their portion of the spoils. Coats and pantaloons, and clothing of every description, were rapidly borne away; and it was evident, give them time enough, the crowd would all disappear, and there would be scarcely enough left to finish the work of destruction. Thinking only of the rich prize they had gained, they seemed to forget that retribution was possible, when suddenly the cry of “Police! police!” sent a thrill of terror through them. Sergeant Delaney, at the head of his command, marched swiftly down the street, until close upon the mob, when the order, “Double quick,” was given, and they burst with a run upon them. For a moment, the solid mass, by mere weight, bore up against the shock; but the clubs soon made a lane through it broad as the street. Just then a pistol shot rung from a house, almost over their heads. Many of the rioters were armed with muskets, and the comparatively small police force, seeing that firearms were to be used, now drew their revolvers, and poured a deadly volley right into their midst. Several fell at the first discharge; and immediately terror seized that portion of the multitude nearest the police, especially the women, and many fell on their knees, crying for mercy. Others forced their way recklessly over their companions, to get out of reach. As the police made their way to the front of the store, they formed line, while Sergeant Matthew, of the First Precinct, with his men, entered the building. The scene here became more frightful than the one without. The rioters on the first floor made but little resistance, and, thinking only of escape, leaped from the windows, and rushed out of doors like mad creatures. But as they attempted to flee, those without knocked them over with their clubs. Having cleared this story, the police mounted to the second, where the rioters, being more closely penned, showed fight. Pistol shots rang out, and some of the police officers had narrow escapes. One powerful bully fought like a tiger, till two policemen fell upon him with their clubs, and soon left him stark and stiff. At last they drove the whole crowd into a rear building, and kept them there till they had time to secure them.

Just as the store was cleared, Sergeant Carpenter, who had been sent as a reinforcement in case of need, came up with a hundred and fifty men, and charging on the crowd, sent them flying down the narrow streets. After quiet had been restored, a military force arrived and took possession of the building.

Just previous to this, another attempt was made to burn the Tribune building, but was easily repelled. The Times office, near by, warned by the fate of its neighbor the night before, had established a regular garrison inside, while it brilliantly illuminated the open space all around it, in the circle of which the rioters did not care to come.

The invaluable service of the telegraph was tested today, not merely in enabling General Brown and the commissioners to despatch men quickly to a threatened point, but to keep a force moving from one ward to another, as messages came in, announcing the incipient gathering in different districts. Word sent to the station in the neighborhood where they were acting, would instantly change their route; and knots of men, which if left alone would soon have swelled into formidable mobs, were broken up, for they found military and police force marching down on them before they could form a plan of action. Nor was this all. A force sent to a certain point, after dispersing the mob, would be directed to make a tour through the disaffected districts all the time keeping up its communication with head-quarters, so that if any serious demonstration was made in that section of the city, it could be ordered there at once, thus saving half the time it would take to march from head-quarters. Thus, for instance, Captain Petty was ordered this morning to head-quarters from the City Hall, where he had passed the night, and directed to take two hundred men (including his own precinct force), and go to the protection of a soap factory in Sixteenth Street, Eighth and Ninth Avenues. He moved off his command, marching rapidly up Broadway and down Sixteenth Street. The mob saw it coming two blocks off, and immediately scattered in every direction, which awakened the supreme contempt of the captain. He now marched backward and forward, and through the cross streets, up as far as Nineteenth Street, scattering every fragment of the mob that attempted to hold together, and finally returned to head-quarters. This was a long march, but the men had scarcely rested, when the captain was hurried off to aid in the protection at the wire factory in Second Avenue. In the fierce fight that followed, he, with ten men at his back, charged up the broad stairway, fighting his way step by step to the fifth story. Caught up here at the top of the building, the rioters were clubbed without mercy. Some, to escape the terrible punishment, plunged down the hatchway; others attempted to dash past the men, and escape down the stairs. At one time eight bodies lay in the door way, blocking it up. He then marched back to head-quarters. He had been marching and fighting all day. Similar exhausting duties were performed by other commands, both police and military. Inspector Dilks, with his force gathered from various precincts, passed the entire day in marching and fighting. The men, weary and hungry, would reach head-quarters or certain points, hoping to get a little rest and refreshment, when the hurried order would come to repair to a point a mile off, where the mob was firing and sacking houses, and off they would start on the double quick. Uncomplaining and fearless of danger, and never counting numbers, both police and soldiers were everywhere all this day, and proved themselves as reliable, gallant, and noble a set of men as ever formed or acted as the police force of any city in the world.

In the meantime, Governor Seymour and the Mayor of the city were not idle. The latter at the City Hall, fearing an attack, asked Acton for a guard of protection, and fifty men were sent him. Report of the mob assembled there, reached Governor Seymour, at the St. Nicholas, and he immediately hastened thither, and addressed the crowd from the steps, which allayed excitement for the time. This speech was variously commented upon. Some of the criticisms were frivolous, and revealed the partisan, rather than the honest man. If the Governor had not previously issued a proclamation to the whole city, in which he declared without reservation that the mobs should be put down at all hazards if this speech had been his only utterance, then the bitter denunciations against him would have been deserved. It would have been pusillanimous, cowardly, and unworthy the Governor of the State. But he spoke in his official capacity, not only firmly, emphatically, and in no ambiguous terms, but he had hurried up the military, and used every means in his power to accumulate and concentrate the forces under his control to put down the riot. No faint heartedness or sentimental qualmishness marked any of his official acts. Prompt, energetic, and determined, he placed no conditions on his subordinates in the manner of putting down the mob, and restoring the supremacy of the law. But here in this address he was speaking to men who, as a body at least, had as yet committed no overt act; and many doubtless were assembled expecting some public declaration from the City Hall. He was not addressing the plunderers and rioters that were firing houses and killing Negroes, but a mixed assembly, the excitement of which he thought best to allay, if possible. Some said he began his address with “My friends;” others, “Fellow citizens.” Whether he did one, or the other, or neither, is of no consequence and meant nothing. To have commenced, “Ye villains and cut throats, disperse at once, or I’ll mow you down with grape shot!” might have sounded very brave, but if that was all he was going to say, he had better kept his room.

A proclamation like this address would have been infamous. Here is where the mistake was made in the criticisms heaped upon it. His official acts were all such as became the Chief Magistrate of New York. The speech, therefore, must be judged rather by the rules of taste and propriety, than, by those which apply to him officially. If a man’s official acts are all right, it is unjust to let them go for nothing, and bring into prominence a short address made without premeditation in the front of an excited, promiscuous assembly, moved by different motives. That it was open to criticism in some respects, is true. It should have been imbued more with the spirit of determination to maintain order and suppress violence, and less been said of the measures that had or would be taken to test the constitutionality of the draft, and of his purpose, if it were decided in the courts to be wrong, to oppose it. Such talk had better be deferred till after order is restored. When men begin to burn and plunder dwellings, attack station houses, hang Negroes, and shoot down policemen, it is too late to attempt to restore peace by talking about the constitutionality of laws. The upholding of laws about the constitutionality of which there is no doubt, is the only thing deserving of consideration. The Common Council of the city exhibited in this respect a most pusillanimous spirit, by offering resolutions to have the constitutionality of the law tested, when, the entire constitution and laws of the State were being subverted! Unquestionably, some charity should be extended to men who are pleading for those whose votes elevated them to office. Brutuses are rare nowadays; and politicians do not like to shoot down their own voters they would much rather make more voters out of men no more fit to exercise the right of suffrage than horses and mules.

Governed by a similar spirit, Archbishop Hughes, although he had yielded to the pressure made on him and issued an address to the Irish, calling on them to abstain from violence, yet accompanied it with a letter to Horace Grreeley, directly calculated to awaken or intensify, rather than allay their passions. He more than intimated that they had been abused and oppressed, and thought it high time the war was ended. The proclamation was short, but the letter was a long one, full of a vindictive spirit, and showing unmistakably with whom his sympathies were.

Towards evening a mob assembled over in Ninth Avenue, and went to work with some system and forethought. Instead of wandering round, firing and plundering as the whim seized them, they began to throw up barricades, behind which they could rally when the military and police came to attack them. Indeed, the same thing had been done on the east side of the city; while railroads had been torn up, and stages stopped, to keep them from carrying policemen, rapidly from one quarter to another. During the day, Colonel Frothingham had stood in Third Avenue, and stopped and emptied every car as it approached, and filled it with soldiers, to be carried to the upper part of the city. Acton, too, had sent round to collect all the stages still running in Broadway and the Bowery, and in a short time they came rumbling into Mulberry Street, forming a long line in front of head-quarters. A telegram from Second Avenue demanded immediate help, and the police were bundled into them and hurried off. One driver refused to stir, saying, roughly, he was not hired to carry policemen. Acton had no time to argue the case, and quickly turning to a policeman, he said: “Put that man in cell Number 92.” In a twinkling he was jerked from his seat and hurried away. Turning to another policeman, he said: “Mount that box and drive.” The next moment the stage, with a long string of others, loaded inside and out with the bluecoats, was whirling through the streets. He had done the same with the Sixth Avenue cars. The son-in-law of George Law remonstrated, saying that it would provoke the mob to tear down the railroad buildings. There was no time to stand on ceremony; the cars were seized, and the company, to save their property, paid a large sum to the ringleaders of the rioters. In fact, a great many factories and buildings were bought off in the same way; so that the leaders drove quite a thriving business.

But, as before remarked, the commencement of barricades to obstruct the movements of the police and military, after the Parisian fashion, was a serious thing, and must be nipped in the bud; and Captain Walling, of the Twentieth Precinct, who had been busy in this part of the city all the afternoon in dispersing the mob, sent to head-quarters for a military force to help remove them. He also sent to General Sandford, at the arsenal, for a company of soldiers, which was promised, but never sent. At six o’clock a force of regulars arrived from General Brown, and repaired to the Precinct station house. Captain Slott, of the Twentieth Precinct, took command of the police force detailed to cooperate with the troops, but delayed action till the arrival of the company promised from the arsenal. Meanwhile, the rioters kept strengthening the barricades between Thirty-seventh and Forty-third Streets, in Eighth Avenue, by lashing carts, wagons, and telegraph poles together with wire stripped from the latter. The cross streets were also barricaded. Time passed on, and yet the bayonets of he expected reinforcement from the arsenal did not appear. The two commanding officers now began to grow anxious; it would not do to defer the attack till after dark, for such work as was before them required daylight. At length, as the sun stooped to the western horizon, it was resolved to wait no longer, and the order to move forward was given. As they approached the first barricade, by Thirty-seventh Street, a volley as poured into them from behind it, followed by stones and brick bats.

The police now fell back to the left, and the regulars advancing, returned the fire. The rioters, however, stood their ground, and for a time nothing was heard but the rapid roll of musketry. But the steady, well directed fire of the troops, at length began to tell on the mob, and they at last broke, and fled to the next barricade. The police then advanced, and tore down the barricade, when the whole force moved on to the next. Here the fight was renewed, but the close and rapid volley of the troops soon scattered the wretches, when this also was removed. They kept on in this way, till the last barricade was abandoned, when the uncovered crowd broke and fled in wild disorder. The soldiers pressed after, breaking up into squads, and chasing and firing into the disjointed fragments as they drifted down the various streets.

There was more or less disturbance in this section, however, till midnight. At nine o’clock, an attack was made on a gun and hardware store, in Thirty-seventh Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, but Sergeant Petty was sent thither with a small force, and scattered them at the first charge. At midnight, an attempt was made to destroy the colored church in Thirtieth Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues; but before the rioters had accomplished their work, Captain Walling, with his entire force and the regulars, came up, and though met with a volley, fell on them in such a headlong charge, that they scattered down the street.

All this time the arsenal presented the appearance of a regular camp; videttes were kept out, sentries established, howitzers commanded the streets, and everything wore the look of a besieged fortress.

Sandford, whom Wool wished to take command of all the troops, evidently thought that he had as much as he could do to hold that building, without doing anything to quell the riot in the city.

One of the first companies that came up from the forts the day before, and hence belonged to General Brown’s force, got, no one could hardly tell how, into the arsenal, and were there cooped up as useless as though in garrison for if seven hundred men with cannon sweeping every approach could not hold it, seven thousand could not. General Brown and Acton needed this company badly, but how to get it was the question. Governor Seymour held no direct communication with the Police Commissioners; for they were not on friendly terms, as they were holding their places in defiance of him, he having removed them some time before. Mr. Hawley, the chief clerk, who knew the Governor personally, acted, therefore, as the channel of communication between them. He now went to him, and asked him how things were at the arsenal. He replied, he did not know no report had been sent him. Hawley then asked him to send an officer and ascertain, and get back the company belonging to General Brown’s command. He replied he had no one to send. Hawley then offered to go himself, if he would give an order to this company of United States troops to report at once to General Brown at police head-quarters. He did so, and Hawley, reaching the arsenal in safety, gave the order to the adjutant-general, before calling on Sandford, so as to be sure it was obeyed.

On the northern limits of the city, serious disturbances had occurred during the day, especially in Yorkville, to which Acton was compelled to send a strong force. The mob also attempted to burn Harlem bridge, but the heavy rain of the night before had made it so wet that it would not ignite. Down town, likewise, mobs had assembled before the Western Hotel and other places, but were dispersed before they had inflicted any damage. Almost the last act in the evening was an attack on the house of Mr. Sinclair, one of the owners of the Tribune .

But rioters must eat and sleep like other people, and though knots of them could be seen in various parts of the city, the main portion seemed to have retired soon after midnight.

In the police head-quarters, men were lying around on the floor in the warm July night, snatching, as best they could, a little repose. General Brown and staff, in their chairs or stretched on a settee, nodded in this lull of the storm, though ready at a moment’s notice to do their duty. But there was no rest for Acton. He had not closed his eyes for nearly forty hours, and he was not to close them for more than forty to come.

With his nerves strung to their utmost tension, and resolved to put down that mob though the streets ran blood, he gave his whole soul to the work before him. He infused his determined, fearless spirit into every one who approached him. Anonymous letters, telling him he had not another day to live, he flung aside with a scornful smile, to attend to the telegraph dispatches from the different precincts.

Troops and men were stationed at various points, and gunboats were patrolling the rivers, and he must be on the alert every moment. The fate of a great city lay on his heart, and he could not sleep.


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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