Third Day of Draft Riots

Scenes in the City and at Head-quarters. Fight in Eighth Avenue. Cannon sweep the Streets. Narrow Escape of Captain Howell and Colonel Mott. Battle for Jackson’s Foundry. Howitzers clear the Street. State of Things shown by Telegraph Despatches. General Sandford sends out a Force against a Mob, at Corner of Twenty-ninth Street and Seventh Avenue. Colonel Gardin’s Fight with the Mob. Is Wounded. Mob Victorious. Dead and Wounded Soldiers left in the Street. Captain Putnam sent to bring them away. Disperses the Mob. Terrific Night.

Tuesday had been a day of constant success to the police and military, and many thought that the rioters were thoroughly disheartened, and but little more hard fighting would be done. There had been two days of exhausting work, and both parties were well tired out. The commissioners, certainly, could not stand this terrible strain much longer. Forty-eight hours without sleep or rest, and all the time under the intensest mental strain, was telling on even the wiry Acton, though he would confess to no fatigue.

To one who could take in all that was passing in New York on this morning, the city would have presented a strange appearance.

The magnitude and demonstrations of the mob had aroused great fear for the Navy Yard and the naval property of the Government, and the marine company that had been on duty with the police was recalled by Admiral Paulding for their protection; and this morning six war vessels, carrying in all over ninety guns, shotted and trained, could be seen drawn up, so as to command every avenue to the yard, while the iron clad battery Passaic and a gun boat lay off the Battery to protect Fort Columbus during the absence of its garrison. Marines armed to the teeth, and howitzers, guarded all the entrances to the Navy Yard. Broadway was almost deserted no stages were running, street cars had disappeared only here and there shutters were taken down from the stores, and it looked like Sabbath day in the city. But at police head quarters all was activity. The African church nearly opposite was filled with soldiers stretched on the seats and floor of the building. Another house, a few doors from the police building, was also crowded with soldiers. The owner of this empty house, having sent a flat refusal to Acton’s request for the use of it, the latter quietly told the policemen to stave in the door. It took but a few minutes to send it from its hinges; and now the troops were quartered in it also; for all those in the service of the United States, under General Brown, had their head-quarters here.

In the basement of the police building was the telegraph, with the wires running like nerves to every part of the city, over which inquiries and answers were continually passing. Rooms all around were filled with rations obtained from a neighboring grocery and meat market, taken with or without leave. On the main floor, on one side, in their office sat the weary commissioners; on the other, were Inspectors Carpenter, Dilks, and Leonard, fit, each one to be a general, while scattered around were police captains, detectives, and patrolmen. On the second story were the clerks, copyists, etc.; while the top floor was crowded with colored refugees, who had fled thither for protection. Some were standing and conversing, others sitting in groups on boxes, or walking from room to room; many of these sad and serious, as they thought of missing relatives and friends, while the colored man placed over them, with his shirt sleeves rolled up, was, with his assistants, dealing out provisions.

But soon it was announced that a vast crowd, numbering some five thousand, was assembled near Eighth Avenue and Thirty-second Street, sacking houses and hanging Negroes. General Dodge and Colonel Mott, with Captain Howell, commanding Eighth Regiment Artillery, were at once dispatched thither. As they marched up the avenue, they saw three Negroes hanging dead, while the crowd around filled the air with fiendish shouts. As the firm, compact head of the column moved forward, the mob fell back, but did not scatter. Colonel Mott dashed forward on horseback and cut down one of the Negroes with his sword. This seemed to be the signal for the mob to commence the attack, and the next moment they rushed forward on the soldiers with stones, brick bats, and slung shots. Colonel Mott then told Captain Howell to bring two pieces into battery on the corner of Thirty-second Street and Seventh Avenue, so as to sweep the streets; but he could not get through the dense crowd to do so. The infantry and cavalry were then ordered up and told to clear the way. The former, with level bayonets, and the latter with drawn sabres, charged on the mass, which parted and fell back some distance, and then halted. Captain Howell then advanced alone, and ordered the rioters to disperse, or he should fire on them. To this they replied in sullen silence. The apparent unwillingness of the captain to fire emboldened them to believe that he would not fire at all. Although they refused to disperse, the officers, as long as they made no assault, declined to give the word to fire. This delay encouraged the rioters still more; and either believing the guns, whose muzzles pointed so threateningly on them, were loaded with blank cartridges, or grown desperate and reckless with rage, they suddenly, as though moved by a common impulse, rushed forward and rained stones and missiles of every kind on the soldiers. Seeing that their object was to seize the guns and turn them on the troops, the word to fire was given. The next moment a puff of smoke rolled out, followed with a report that shook the buildings. As the murderous shot tore through the crowded mass, they stopped, and swayed heavily back for a moment, when the pieces were quickly reloaded, and again sent their deadly contents into their midst, strewing the pavements with the dead and dying. Those, however, in the rear, being protected by the mass in front, refused to give way, and it was not till five or six rounds had been fired that they finally broke and fled down the side streets. The military then broke into columns and marched up and down the streets, scattering everything before them, and arresting many of the rioters.

Having finished their work, they returned to head-quarters. As they left the district, the mob, or a portion of it, gathered together again, and strung up afresh the lifeless bodies of the Negroes.

A few hours later, Captain Brower, with a police force, was sent thither, to take down and remove the bodies of any Negroes that might be still hanging. He did so without molestation.

Captain Howell’s murderous fire on the mob came very near causing his death two days after. Having the curiosity to witness the scene of his struggle with the mob, he took his carriage, and drove over to it. A gang of seven or eight ruffians, seeing his uniform, cried out, “There’s the man who fired on us here let us hang him.” Their shouts called others to the spot, and almost before the captain was aware of his danger, some fifty men were assembled, and at once made a dash at the driver, and ordered him to stop. Captain Howell, quickly drawing his revolver, pointed it at the driver, and ordered him to turn down Thirty-first Street, and give his horses the whip, or he would shoot him on the spot. The man obeying, lashed his horses into a run. At this moment the crowd was all around the carriage, and one man was climbing up behind, when he fell and was run over. A shower of stones and brick bats followed, breaking in the panels of the carriage, and narrowly missing the captain’s head.

One stone struck an old wound in his side, and for a moment paralyzed his arm. The crowd with yells and shouts followed after, when he turned and emptied his revolver at them through the back window, which brought them to a halt. Colonel Mott had a similar escape the day before. Passing down one of the avenues in a carriage, he was recognized by some of the rioters, who immediately assailed him with stones, and fired at him. One of the bullets passed through the cushion on which he was sitting.

Soon after this affair in Seventh Avenue, word was telegraphed that Jackson’s foundry, corner of Twenty-eighth Street, First and Second Avenues, was threatened. A military force was dispatched forthwith to it, piloted by four policemen. At Twenty-first Street and First Avenue, they were fired on by the mob. The attack was continued through the street to Second Avenue, and up this to Twenty-fifth Street, without any notice being taken of it by the troops. Made reckless by this forbearance, the rioters began to close up in more dangerous proximity, when the howitzer was unlimbered and pointed down the avenue. The mob not liking the looks of this, scattered, when the column resumed its march. The mob then rallied, and followed after, with shouts and distant shots, till the foundry on Twenty-eighth Street was reached. Here another mob came up from First Avenue, and the two made a simultaneous attack. The command was then given to fire, and a volley was poured into the crowd. Rapidly loading and firing, the troops soon stretched so many on the pavement, that the rest broke and fled. The military then entered the building and held it. The mob gathered around it, threatening to storm it, but could not pluck up courage to make the attempt. They seemed especially exasperated against the policemen, and had the effrontery to send a committee to the officer in command, demanding their surrender. If their request was refused, they declared they would storm the building at all hazards; but if complied with, they would disperse. The committee had to shout out their demands from the street. In reply, the officer told them if they did not take themselves off instantly, he would fire upon them; upon which they incontinently took to their heels.

As the day wore on, things began to wear a still more threatening aspect. Dispatches came in from every quarter, announcing the activity of the mob. To a question sent to the Thirteenth Precinct, a little past twelve, inquiring how things were going on in Grand Street, was returned the following reply: “Lively; store keepers have fired into the mob; no force there yet.”

12.20. From Twenty-first. Building corner Thirty-third Street, Second Avenue, is set on fire by the mob.

12.50. From Fifteenth. Send assistance to Twenty-first Precinct; they are about attacking it.

12.55. From Twenty-sixth. It is reported that Government stores in Greenwich, near Liberty, are on fire; fired by mob.

1.10. From Twenty-seventh. Send more men here forthwith.

1.25. From Fourth. Fire corner of Catharine Street and East Broadway.

1.45. A man just in from Eleventh Precinct, reports a number of bands of robbers, numbering from fifty to one hundred each, breaking into stores in Houston, near Attorney Street.

1.47 P.M. From Twenty-ninth. The mob have cleared Twenty-first Precinct station house.

2 P.M. From Twenty-ninth. A large mob surrounded Captain Green’s house, Twenty-eighth Street, Third Avenue. He escaped out of the back window; they threatened to hang him.

3.10 P.M. To Eleventh. Send to foot of Fourteenth Street, East River, and if military is there, send word here forthwith.

3.15. From Twenty-fourth. Mob are firing the building on Second Avenue, near Twenty-eighth Street. Immediate assistance is required. Houses occupied by Negroes, who are fleeing for their lives.

3.25. From Twentieth. The mob are sacking houses at Twenty-seventh Street and Seventh Avenue. We have no force to send.

3.30. From Twenty-first. There is an attack on the colored people in Second Avenue, between Twenty-eighth and Twenty-ninth Streets.

3.40. From Eleventh. Send to 242 Stanton Street, and take possession of cavalry swords forthwith.

There were five thousand cavalry swords there, and the mob were assembling to capture them; and the telegram announcing the fact, and the one ordering a force to seize them, were received and answered the same minute.

3.55. To Twenty-first. How do things look?
Ans . Very bad; large crowd in Thirty-fifth Street, near Third Avenue, and no assistance from adjoining precinct.

4 o’clock. To Twenty-first. What is going on?
Ans . The mob have captured some five or six Negroes, and are preparing to hang them; be quick with reinforcements.

4.43. From Twentieth. News have just come in that the mob are about to attack the Twenty-second Precinct station house.

5.15. From Sixteenth. Send us one hundred special shields and clubs; the citizens are arming up well.

5.15. From Twenty-ninth. Who feeds the special men?
Ans . You must, far as able.

Reply . No money.
Ans . It makes no difference; they must be fed; we are responsible.

5.20. From Twenty-ninth. The rioters are now on Seventh Avenue and Twenty-eighth Street. They have just killed a Negro; say they are going to cut off the Croton; they have pickaxes and crowbars; and also say they will cut off the gas; so reported by one of our men, who has been in the crowd; they were about to fire corner of Twenty-eighth Street and Seventh Avenue, when he came away.

To have cut off the water and extinguished the gas, would have been master strokes; but the military arrived in time to prevent it.

5.25. From First. Riot at Pier 4, North River; they have killed Negroes there.

Thus, at the same moment, from the two extreme ends of the city, came the news of riots and calls for help. From points five miles apart, the wires would bring simultaneously tidings that showed the mob omnipresent.

In the midst of all these incessant exhausting labors, the following telegram came from the Twentieth Precinct:

“General Sandford says he has so many Negroes at the arsenal, that he must get rid of them.”

Acton’s answer was characteristic. He had no time for formalities or courteous exchange of views. In an instant there flashed back over the wires the curt reply:

“Tell General Sandford he must do the best he can with them there.”

General Sandford had at this time about the same number of men under his command at the arsenal that General Brown had at police head-quarters; yet the former, up to this morning, had not sent out a single company to assist the police to arrest the devastation of the mob. He apparently did not know what was going on, had hardly kept up any communication with the Police Commissioners or Governor Seymour, but now begs the former to relieve him of some colored refugees, as if the overworked commissioners had not enough on their hands already. This request is especially noteworthy, when taken in connection with his after report, in which he states that on this morning the riot was substantially over; so much so, at least, that the police could do all that was necessary without the aid of the military. It would seem that if he really thought that the rest of the work should be left to them, he might have sent off some of his troops, and made room for the Negroes in the arsenal.

At about two o’clock in the afternoon word was received that a large number of muskets were secreted in a store on Broadway, near Thirty-third Street; and Colonel Meyer was ordered to proceed thither, with thirty-three soldiers belonging to Hawkins’ Zouaves, and take possession of them. Reaching the place, he found a large mob gathered, which was momentarily increasing. He, however, succeeded in entering the building, and brought out the arms. An Irishman happening to pass by in his cart, the colonel seized it, and pitching in the guns, closed around it, and moved off.

Citizens offering their services were coming in all day, and a company was formed and placed under the command of Charles A. Lamont, and did good service. Others also were enrolled and placed on duty.

Colonel Sherwood’s battery of rifled cannon arrived in the afternoon, and was put in position in front of the arsenal, where the firing of pickets all day would indicate that an attack was momentarily expected. This did not look as if General Sandford thought the riot substantially over.

At about five o’clock, it was ordered by Sandford, with an infantry force of one hundred and fifty, to corner of Twenty-seventh Street and Seventh Avenue, to quell a mob assembled in large numbers at that point, and which were gutting, and plundering, and firing houses. As they approached, they saw flames bursting from windows, while, to complete the terror of the scene, the body of a Negro hung suspended from a lamp post, his last struggle just ended. At the same time that the military arrived, firemen, who had come to put out the fire, reached the spot in another direction. One portion of the mob immediately took shelter behind the latter, so that the troops dared not fire and clear the streets, while another ran up to the house tops, armed with guns and pistols, for the purpose of firing into the ranks below. The colonel told his men to keep a sharp lookout, and at the first shot fire. Scores of guns were immediately pointed towards the roofs of the houses. In the meantime, from some cause not fully explained, the imposing force, after this demonstration, marched away, leaving the mob in full possession of the field. It had hardly reached the protection of the arsenal again, when the plundering and violence recommenced; and in a short time two more Negroes were amusing the spectators with their death throes, as they hung by the neck from lamp posts. This was the second expedition sent out by Sandford, the commander in chief of the military, during the riot.

Towards evening word was brought to the Seventh Regiment armory that the mob had gathered in great force in First Avenue, between Eighteenth and Nineteenth Streets.

Colonel Winston, in command, immediately ordered out a force, composed in part of the military, and in part of enrolled citizens, and with a battery of two howitzers, under command of Colonel Jardine, of Hawkins’ Zouaves, marched rapidly to the scene of disturbance. Passing down Nineteenth Street to the avenue, it halted, and unlimbering the pieces, trained them so as to command the avenue, while the infantry formed in line to support them. As soon as the rioters saw the guns bearing on them, they dodged into basements, and mounted to the windows and roofs of the tenement buildings that abounded in that vicinity. A number of them armed with muskets and pistols, and the rest with stones and brick bats, began a fierce and determined attack on the troops. The howitzers, loaded with grape and canister, at once swept the street. After the first discharge, but few ventured to show themselves in the avenue, until after they heard the report, when they would dodge from behind corners and fire back. But from the tops of the houses an incessant fusillade was kept up. The soldiers endeavored to pick them off, but the rioters presented a small mark compared to that which the troops, massed in the open streets, furnished; and it was soon apparent that the fight was unequal. If they had only had a police force to enter the buildings, and hunt the men from the roofs, the fight would soon have been over. But the commander, thinking he could not spare a sufficient number to do this work, or that the soldiers, cumbered with their muskets, which, after the first discharge, would have to be clubbed, could make no headway in such a hand to hand fight, made no effort to dislodge the wretches, who loaded and fired with the most imperturbable coolness. One man was seen to step round the corner, after the discharge of the battery, and resting his gun on the shoulder of a fellow rioter, take as deliberate aim at Colonel Jardine as he would at a squirrel on the limb of a tree, and fire. The ball struck the colonel in the thigh, and brought him to the pavement. Other officers shared his fate, while at every discharge, men would drop in the ranks. The howitzers rattled their shot on the deserted pavements and walls of the houses, but did no damage to the only portion of the enemy they had to fear, while the fight between the infantry and the rioters was like that between soldiers in the open field and Indians in ambush. Colonel Winston soon saw that it was madness to keep his men there, to be picked off in detail, and ordered a retreat. At the first sign of a retrograde movement, a cry rang along the avenue; and from the side streets, and basements, and houses, the mob swarmed forth so furiously, that it assumed huge proportions at once, and chased the retiring soldiers with yells and taunts, and pressed them so hotly that they could not bring off all their killed and wounded. Among those left behind was Colonel Jardine. He took refuge in a basement, where the mob found him, and would have killed him on the spot, had not one of them recognized him as an old acquaintance, and for some reason or other protected him from further violence; and he was eventually carried to the house of a surgeon near by.

The mob were left masters of the field, and soon began their depredations. The state of things was at length reported to police head-quarters, and General Brown sent off Captain Putman, with Captain Shelby and a hundred and fifty regulars and two field pieces, to disperse the mob and bring away the dead and wounded of Winston’s force that might remain. They reached the spot between ten and eleven o’clock at night. The dimly lighted streets were black with men, while many, apprised of the approach of the military, mounted again to the roofs as before. Putnam immediately charged on the crowd in the street, scattering them like a whirlwind. He then turned his guns on the buildings, and opened such a deadly fire on them that they were soon cleared. Having restored order, he halted his command, and remained on the ground till half past twelve.

At the same time a mob was pulling down the Negro houses in York Street, which they soon left a heap of ruins. Houses plundered or set on fire in various parts of the city, combined with the ringing of fire bells, thunder of cannon, and marching of troops, made this night like its predecessor one of horror.

There was also a disturbance in Brooklyn. Shaw’s and Fancher’s elevators, and Wheeler’s store on the docks, were set on fire, and a force ordered to put them out.

The illumination of the windows from the Times building this evening shed a brilliant glow over Printing house Square, and flooded the Park to the City Hall with light, while an armed force within was ready to fire on any mob that should dare expose itself in the circle of its influence.

At 12.15 the following telegram was sent:

“To all stations. How are things in your precinct?”

Answer . “All quiet.”

Thus the third night of this terrible riot passed away still unsubdued, and still Acton sat at his post, awake, while others slept, and kept feeling through the telegraph wires the pulse of the huge, fevered city. The regiments coming back from Pennsylvania might arrive at any time, and he was anxious to know the moment they reached the New York docks. The Seventh Regiment, especially, he knew was expected to reach the city that night by special train. Policemen were therefore kept on the watch; but the regiment did not arrive till after daylight. About half past four in the morning, the steady ranks were seen marching along Canal Street towards Broadway, and soon drew up in front of St. Nicholas Hotel.


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.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Access Genealogy

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading

Scroll to Top