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The Armies of the Streets

The Armies of the Streets: The New York City Draft Riots of 1863

Copyright Date: 1974
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    The Armies of the Streets
    Book Description:

    In July 1863 New York City experienced widespread rioting unparalleled in the history of the nation. Here for the first time is a scholarly analysis of the Draft Riots, dealing with motives and with the reasons for the recurring civil disorders in nineteenth-century New York: the appalling living conditions, the corruption of the civic government, and the geographical and economic factors that led up to the social upheaval.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6255-3
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Proem
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. THE CITY IN 1863

    • 1 Packed and Pestilential Town
      (pp. 2-17)

      Coming through the Narrows at dawn, the traveler on a vessel bound for New York saw a view of astounding beauty and grandeur. On both sides of the channel, white mansions stood among green trees and lawns. In the distance, the city rose against the bay and the sky, the spires of the churches and the masts of anchored ships standing out in the clear light of early morning.¹

      Once ashore, the traveler found little beauty in a city racked by the problems of explosive growth. Between 1820 and 1860, the population had increased sevenfold, from 123,706 to 813,662. Stimulated...

    • 2 The Reasons for Riot
      (pp. 18-46)

      Riot was endemic in the social process of mid-nineteenth-century New York. Between 1834 and 1874 there were sixteen major civil disturbances¹ and innumerable minor disorders. Every summer weekend brought some kind of outburst. On Sunday, June 21, 1835, for example, there was one riot in Grand Street and another in Chatham Street. A third melee broke out in Pearl Street in the evening. “In this city,” wrote theHeraldon May 24, “we have had since the opening of the spring, probably six or seven riots–besides hotel rows and a few personal attacks.” ² On Sunday, July 31, 1864,...


    • 3 The Fuse and the Powder
      (pp. 48-75)

      New york in the third summer of the war seemed little different from peacetime. Fifth Avenue and the dollar side of Broadway were deserted by fashionable promenaders as the wealthy left for Newport, Cape May, or Saratoga. Along the Bowery, the crowded beer gardens and theaters were filled with the sounds and sights of theVaterland. The Jewish clothing stores, with goods hung outside, still stood in ranks along Chatham Street, and the pedestrian found coattails and pantaloon-legs flapping about his face like low branches in a wood. Only the large number of men in the streets wearing army blue,...

    • 4 Black Pogrom and the Old Whitecoat
      (pp. 76-95)

      Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Fremantle of the Coldstream Guards, who had been attached to Lee’s army as an observer, had just come through the lines and was staying in New York while waiting for a passage home. Sauntering through the streets that Monday afternoon, he was astonished to see a crowd chasing a Negro, with cries of “Down with the bloody nigger!” “Kill all niggers!” He related: “Never having been in New York before, and being totally ignorant of the state of feeling with regard to negroes, I inquired of a by-stander what the negro had done that they should want...

    • 5 Clubs Are Trumps
      (pp. 96-113)

      While stars still glittered in the summer sky, the rain ended. This guaranteed that there would be more rioting. A steady down-pour would have discouraged all but the most violent and determined. But Tuesday was another sweltering hot day, and the weather brought crowds into the streets.

      At six o’clock that morning, a schoolboy named Edward Ray was standing at the corner of Leroy and Washington streets in the Ninth Ward. William Williams, a Negro seaman from the government transportBelvidere, which was anchored at the foot of Leroy Street, came up and asked the boy where he could find...

    • 6 The Reign of King Mob
      (pp. 114-137)

      In the middle of the day, Ellen Leonard and his sister ventured out to buy food and milk. The ruins of the armory in East Twenty-first Street were still smoldering, but people were grubbing about in the wreckage and carrying off charred beams, baskets of coal, iron rails, and muskets misshapen and twisted by the heat of the blaze. After a long search, the two girls found a store that was open and bought groceries and a newspaper. They wanted percussion caps and ammunition, too, but these were even harder to get. No one would admit that they possessed such...

    • 7 City for Conquest
      (pp. 138-155)

      Wednesday was the most critical day of the riot. The police and the federal troops were worn out with constant marching and fighting, and no help had arrived from the Army of the Potomac. The newspapers told of trouble over the draft in Boston and Hartford, Newark and Jersey City, Hastings, Tarrytown, and Rye. Things were most serious in the Massachusetts capital, where gun stores were ransacked, an armory attacked, and troops were called in. Reports said that at least three people had been killed and several wounded.

      Elsewhere in the newspaper columns, there was more encouragement for the rioters....

    • 8 Peace in Warsaw
      (pp. 156-168)

      Thursday brought respite to the battered city. More troops arrived–the Twenty-sixth Michigan Volunteers, the 152nd New York Volunteers, and the Seventy-fourth Regiment of the New York National Guard. By the end of the day, there were over 4,000 soldiers in New York. Under their protection, life began to return to normal. Stores that had been closed and barred for forty-eight hours reopened, and people hurried to buy fresh milk and ice. Candles and turnips were much in demand, too, since the newspapers carried an appeal to New Yorkers to exercise care and economy in their use of gas. Their...


    • 9 The Harvest of Riot
      (pp. 170-191)

      A week after he had been chased out of his office at Third Avenue and Forty-sixth Street, Captain Jenkins sent some men up to its ruins to see if they could salvage the safe, which contained all the draft lists, ballots, and papers. Due to a misunderstanding between Nugent and Canby, no soldiers were available to guard the expedition, but all went well. A crowd gathered and jeered as Jenkins’s men lifted the safe out of the rubble and got it on to a cart, but no one made a move to attack them.² The city continued in this tense...

    • 10 The Reckoning
      (pp. 192-210)

      One hot August night in 1865, George Templeton Strong came home after chatting with Superintendent Kennedy at the Union League Club. “Mr. Superintendent Kennedy,” he later recorded in his diary, “tells me that there were killed, during the riots of 1863, 1,155 persons, exclusive of those who were supposed to have been smuggled to their graves. He thinks there were many deaths besides from injuries received in the course of that performance, because the number of deaths by sunstroke reported during August and the latter half of July, 1863, was more than double the number of deaths from that cause...

    (pp. 211-268)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 269-314)
  10. Bibliographical Essay
    (pp. 315-318)
  11. Index
    (pp. 319-323)