Tag Archive | newyorkcity

Burning Shame


New York draft riots

8.40 P.M. New York. July 14, 1863
New York July 14th sixty three
For E. M. Stanton Washington We are expecting
momentarily that our Southern wires will
be cut as the rioters are
at work in their immediate neighborhood
It seems very important for the
United States government to define its
position immediately in this city and
if not done immediately the opportunity
will be lost. Governor Seymour has
sent for is to come here
immediately and he is on his
way the police so far report
themselves as having been successful in
every fight of which they have
had many but they say they
are exhausted and cannot much longer
sustain the unequal contest not less
than ten thousand good native soldiers
ought to be here at this
moment to restore and enforce order
signed E. S. Sanford burning shame

On the day when Edward Sewall Sanford (1817-1882), the president of the American Telegraph Company and the supervisor of the telegraphic messages in the United States, sent this telegram, July 14th, 1863, the New York Times came out with the headline: “A DAY OF INFAMY AND DISGRACE.”

What had begun a day early, on Monday, the 13th as a rowdy protest against the draft, had turned into a riot of mass pillaging, marauding, murder, and pogroms. The rioters, dominated by Irish Catholic industrial laborers, targeted police officers, government officials, prominent Republicans, journalists of Republican newspapers, as well as African-American, German and Chinese residents.

By noon of the 14th, the city was plunged into a full-blown race riot.  One eyewitness, school teacher Samuel Morehouse, heard the rioters shouting that “this land is for white men only.” The horrified New York Times reporter described the scenes that “were painful in the extreme, and humiliating to human nature,” as mobs of “foul-looking boys and men” went door to “in pursuit of negroes, who were assailed wherever found.”  At 4 p.m. a mob set fire to the Colored Orphan Asylum of Forty-Third Street and Fifth Avenue and blocked the firemen from saving the building or its occupants. At 8 p.m., a crowd of about 400 white men attacked a black coachman with clubs and paving stones, hung him, and set his body on fire.



The Riot in New York. The Mob Lynching a Negro in Clarkson Street. Harper’s Weekly. 1863, Aug. 1.

The Times reporter singled out the “inhuman treatment of the negroes of the City” as “the cunningly-devised cue that had been given to the rioters by the instigators of the outbreak.” This not too subtle hint endorsed a popular suspicion that the riots had been orchestrated by a network of Confederate sympathizers.

Another cue was the fact that the rioters set out to tear up railroad tracks, ferry slips, gas factories, and telegraph lines. Historian Iver Berstein noted that it was this assault on the city infrastructure, rather than the common attacks on draft offices or racial violence, that set the New York Draft Riots apart from other instance of mob violence of the Civil War era (The New York City Draft Riots, Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 34).

To many commentators this certainly looked like sabotage designed to plunge the city into darkness and chaos and thus help the “Southern rebels,” perhaps even enable a Confederate invasion. This was how it appeared to Sanford. Reporting to the Secretary of War, he described the riots as “an organized attempt to take advantage of the absence of military force.”  With the state militia fighting in Pennsylvania, the city could count only on a few troops protecting the Navy Yard and harbor forts, the untested Invalid Corps and Provost Guard and the Metropolitan Police.

What worried Sanford most was the fact that, as he informed Stanton on the evening of July 13, “the telegraph is especially sought for destruction.” Several hours later, he reported that rioters had torn down the wires around the Third Street. By Tuesday evening, as seen from the above telegram, the communication with Washington, D.C. was under threat. The lines were still operating, though, for he used them on evening of July 15 to report that he had to receive a telegram from Boston “from New Rochelle by horse-power, our lines up to that point being destroyed.”

Bernstein suggested that by tearing down telegraph lines, the rioters sought to prevent the city authorities to request troops from Albany or Washington.  For New York City, the resort to federal troops was unprecedented; neither the Republican mayor, nor the Democratic governor were willing to go that route. Governor Horatio Seymour, summoned from this summer home at Long Branch, announced that the city was “in the state of insurrection” and declared a state of emergency, in part to forestall federal interference.

By the early afternoon of July 14, there was no choice. In a city plunged into chaos, the calls for “an immediate and terrible” display of federal power spread from Republican politicians to merchants and financiers.  New York mayor George Opdyke formally asked Secretary of War to send what military force he could spare. Several hundred troops were diverted from the Gettysburg battlefield.

The theory of a Confederate conspiracy, never substantiated, soon dissipated, but the press and the public opinion seized upon the all too familiar image of the Irish Catholic immigrant as the sole culprit of the outrage. Even some Union regiments were suspect.  General Henry W. Halleck was told that the only New York regiment that could be trusted with the riot duty was the native-born and Protestant Seventh Regiment of New York infantry. In this Sanford concurred, as seen the telegram, in his calling for “native-born,” i.e. non-immigrant, soldiers.

The New York Draft Riots that came only ten days after the double victory at Gettysburg and Vicksburg shocked the nation. It was, as Sanford’s telegraph operator, bitterly remarked, “a burning shame.”


How to escape the draft

How to Escape the Draft. Harper’s Weekly, 1863, Aug. 1

Olga Tsapina, Norris Foundation Curator of American History. Huntington Library.


The Best Wire for Election Day


Sanford to Eckert, Nov. 5, Thomas T. Eckert Papers, mssEC 30, The Huntington Library

Nov 5
New York
Maj Eckert
I have instructed Westbrook to connect our best
Cincinnati wire with your line at H Ferry
tuesday Eve Please ask the Secy to permit
you to forward to me here any Early
Election news you may receive from
the west  I shall be on hand to forward
from the junction you should notify
ES Sanford

It is often said that we live in a wired world, with almost instantaneous news at our beck and call. This virtual ease makes its analog equivalent in the Election of 1864 look just plain cumbersome. Using the telegraph, the wonder of their age, took coordination to get the news through. In this message Edward S. Sanford, president of the American Telegraph Company, is making sure that the best lines are connected. He is also asking Eckert to talk with the “Secy,” presumably Secretary of War Stanton, to allow news to move freely across those lines. And to make sure all was set, Sanford request that Charles Davenport, the Superintendent of the Western Union telegraph in Cincinnati be brought up to speed. All of this staging for the Election on November 8th, three days away.

New York City Draft Riot of 1863 – Day 3

mssEC_08_076 ny draft riots 1863.jpg

1.35 P.M.  New York July 15th 1863
From New. York noon July 15th for
S.P. Chase Wash’n I fear the government
does not appreciate the magnitude of
the danger from resistance to the
law in this city We want
such an iron will as Gen. Butlers
and at lest twn thousand effective
men – Pray see President and Sec’y of War
to whom I have just telegraphed –
a day’s delay is hazardous – D.
D. Field [deletion]not as thunder just[/deletion]

On the third day of the New York City draft riot, provost marshal general James Barnet Fry let it be known that the draft was being postponed. This didn’t bring an end to the rioting however, and there were calls like this one from D.D. Field to install a general who was more robust than the present commander, General John E. Wool, who was the oldest general on either side of the war.

New York Draft Riot of 1863 – Day 2

mssEC_08_066 ny draft riots 1863.jpg

240 PM
430 PM  New York July 14. 1863.
Hon Edwin M Stanton Secy War
You may Judge of the capacity
at Hd Qrs here when every
effort cannot extract any moer information
than I have forwarded. Excuse me
for saying that this mob is
testing Govt. nearly as strongly as
the Southern rebellion If you cannot
enforce the draft here it will
not be enforced elsewhere The example
will prove contagious & similar events
transpire in every large City – If
you send sufficient force here to
demonstrate the power of the Govt
its effect will reach every part
of the country & in one settlement
answer for the whole. Immediate action
is necessary or the Govt &
County will be disgraced very Respy
Signed E S. Sanford

July 14th, 1863, was the second day of the New York Draft Riot, and things were not looking any better to those in New York City. Edward S. Sanford is not shy about expressing his opinion that allowing the opposition to the draft to continue unchecked could cause the defeat of the Union. He does put an effort into making it keeping his tone respectful, though.

New York Draft Riot of 1863 – Day 1

mssEC_09_009 - ny draft riot 1863.jpg

420 PM  New York City July 13, 1863.
New York July thirteenth 3 PM for Col
Jas B. Fry Pro. Marshal Genl
A mob estimated at from ten
to thirty thousand men has assailed
& destroyed the office of the
provost marshal for the ninth district
the guard was completely routed &
many injured Gen. Wool has ordered
into the City all available forces
but they will not exceed five
hundred men of all Kinds not
more than two hundred Regulars the
mob threaten destruction of all Govt.
offices I have sent all the
Enrollment papers to Governors Island the
demonstration is extrmely dangerous I Respectfully
suggest that a force sufficient to
quell the mob be immedy. sent
to me as nearly all the
effective militia Regt. are absent &
those remainding here can not be
relied upon Col. Nugent is now
at the scene of the disturbance
Signed Samuel J Glassey Depy

On this day in 1863, the New York Draft Riot began.What started as a protest of the recently revealed draft concriptions quickly devolved into chaos, with African Americans becoming the targets of Irish and German immigrants. This telegram is an early report on the events, one of several that is preserved in the Thomas T. Eckert papers.

Secret Agent Man

mssEC_07_081 - rebel mail being sent from ny cropped.jpg

New York Apr. 22nd 1863
New York April twenty two for
Hon. P. H. Watson Asst Secy
of War Washn I have information
from one of my detectives that
the Steamer Corsica which will sail
from this Port for Nassau N
P on the twenty fifth inst
is to carry a large Rebel
mail my informant has two letters
which will go in it in
what form the mail is to
go or to whom directed I
have no knowledge H. S. Olcott
Special Commissioner of the War Dept

Henry Steel Olcott is better known today as a cofounder of the Theosophical Society and a major proponent of Eastern religions in the United States in the last quarter of the 19th century. During the Civil War, though, he served as a Special Commissioner of the War and Navy Departments, investigating fraudulent claims and corruption within the Union. In this message he reports on a secret mail packet being sent from New York to Nassau in the Bahamas by way of a steamer. As is often the case, it is difficult to tell whether there was any followup to this piece of intelligence.