Eyewitness Reports in History 1863 New York Draft Riots Part 2

An eyewitness account of the New York Draft Riots in 1863 during the American Civil War, an important and violent moment in United States history.

The 1863 Draft Riots

By noon, 50,000 rioters filled Third Avenue, pillaging homes and shops all over the area before applying torches to looted buildings. Several thousand more stormed the Union Steam Works, a rifle factory containing stores of arms and munitions. Armed police killed one rioter, then fled as the mob entered, armed itself, and set the works on fire. Many of the rioters were trapped inside and burned to death as the building became a raging inferno.

Several hours later, 10,000 other rioters attacked the Colored Children's Orphan Asylum. A beautiful, four-story edifice inhabited by 200 children and staff, it soon fell to the mob, who systematically plundered and divided every article in it before burning it to the ground. Fortunately, all the terrified children and guardians escaped harm.

By now the police had been issued orders to "take no prisoners," and streets were soon strewn with dead and wounded rioters.

At nightfall, clouds of smoke hovered over the city and the stench of burned flesh filled the air. No longer was one great mob gathered in a single area; instead, scattered gangs spread across the length and breadth of the city. They attacked any policeman or soldier who crossed their path, while lynch mobs openly hunted, tortured, and hanged every black in sight.

Rioting continued almost unabated on the second day, although the combination of extreme heat, humidity, and alcohol began to take effect. Governor Seymour finally entered the city and spoke to one part of the mob, urging all participants to desist and return home. But it was not until two days later, on Thursday, July 16, when 13 army regiments returned to New York City, that the insurrection came to an end.

Although Police Commissioner Acton and his squads held the raging mob at bay until troops returned, they received little or no recognition for their heroic action. Some 1,200 persons had been killed during the uprising, but mob leaders' names were never made public and no one was ever indicted for inciting the greatest riots in American history.

Eyewitness Report: When Governor Seymour spoke before 800 rioters on July 14, he said, in part:

"I beg you to listen to me as a friend.... I implore you to take care that no man's property or person is injured; for you owe it to yourselves and to the government under which you live to assist with your strong arms in preserving peace and order...and if you do this, and refrain from further riotous acts, I will see to it that all your rights shall be protected....On Saturday last I sent the adjutant-general of the state to Washington, urging the draft's postponement. The question of the legality of the Conscription Act will go to the courts....If the conscription shall be declared to be legal, then I pledge myself to use every influence with the state and city authorities to see that there shall be no inequality between the rich and the poor....There is no occasion for resisting the draft, for it has not yet been enforced. And now...I beg you to disperse, leave your interests in my hands, and I will take care that justice is done to you, and that your families shall be fully protected."

On July 18, The New York Times criticized Governor Seymour for offering justice to the mob and ended its editorial with these words:

"No civilized government could in decency maintain relations of amity with a community of cowards, bullied by cut-throats and governed in their greatest straits by hordes of thieves."

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