A Taste Of The Draft Riots
I had a little taste of the draft riots during that memorable week
beginning July 13th, 1863. I was ordered to David's Island, New York
Harbor, with seven hundred wounded Confederates from Gettysburg. The
demonstrations of the mob of onlookers in Philadelphia were so very
unfriendly that we had to use the butts of our muskets to control the
crowd. They threatened us saying, "to-morrow will be our day." I
threat when I learned later of the rioting. We were
advised that our train was to be intercepted before reaching New York,
and transportation was, therefore, furnished on the steamer "Commodore,"
by the outside course. After leaving our prisoners at David's Island, we
landed at the Battery, and there I addressed my men, cautioning them not
to reply to any assault unless ordered by me. We marched up Broadway to
the City Hall Barracks (where the New York Post Office now stands) and
stacked arms inside the enclosure. I was proud of my men. Each one
appeared a giant, steady, firm of step, lips compressed; two-thirds of
them were foreign born, yet no better Americans ever paraded Broadway.
Immediately after stacking arms, a lot of rioters who had just overcome
their guards, seized our stacks. Our boys jumped on them and I had a big
job to keep them from crushing their ribs. Exceeding my orders, I
permitted my men to visit their homes, to report back at midnight. The
cars were running but had no passengers. I rode on the Eighth Avenue car
to 48th Street, my home. Our house was locked, but Cousin Wilbur F.
Strong was there alone. He said Brother A. P. had taken the family into
the country for safety. A. P.'s loyalty had made him a "marked man," and
he had been threatened. After eating, Wilbur and I walked down to John
Hardy's, in 35th Street. Stores were all closed, no one on the streets
but an occasional corner loafer, who snarled at us. Hardy had been
hiding his colored servant in the coal cellar, to save her life. Wilbur
afterwards entered the service, and went on the "Hunter raid" up the
Shenandoah Valley in 1864. He died from the exhaustion of the marches.
At midnight every man was behind his stacked arms, ready for duty. The
city was deserted, as if plague stricken. I shall never forget the
Ostensibly the draft was the excuse, but with the moving spirits it was
but a subterfuge. The ring-leader of the mobs in New York was a
mysterious stranger, a "Mr. Andrews" of Virginia. On July 13th, 1863, at
40th Street and Fourth Avenue, while the firemen were at work in Third
Avenue, he ascended a shanty which stood opposite the burning ruins.
Thousands were assembled behind this shanty in an open space of untilled
ground, and the Virginian orator proceeded to address them. He cried out
that he wished he had the lungs of a stentor and that there was a
reporter present to take down his words; he said he had lately addressed
them in Cooper Institute, where he told them Mr. Lincoln wanted to tear
the hardworking man from his wife and family and send him to the war; he
denounced Mr. Lincoln for his conscription bill which was in favor of
the rich and against the poor man; he called him a Nero and a Caligula
for such a measure, etc. He then advised the people to organize to
resist the draft and appoint their leader, and if necessary he would be
their leader (uproarious cheers). Immediately after, the mob destroyed a
beautiful dwelling at Lexington Avenue and 47th Street. And they did
organize. Mounted leaders were seen to give orders to subordinate
leaders of mobs; one of these mounted men rode on horseback into the
hardware store of Hiram Jelliffe in Ninth Avenue and seized what arms
and powder he had. Mr. Jelliffe afterwards identified him as a clerk in
one of the City departments.
Governor Horatio Seymour, in answer to a call from Washington, had
hurried off the militia to Pennsylvania. He made a memorable speech
standing upon the City Hall steps, in which he addressed the rioters as
"my friends." A report of it says: "Standing near him on the steps was a
ring-leader of a mob, who had just made an inflammatory speech and who
had recently come from an assault on the 'Tribune.'" The "Tribune"
(editorially) said practically that: "the sending of the militia out of
New York was with a knowledge that it would be desirable to have them
away when his (the Governor's) 'friends' wanted to riot." I am aware
that Governor Seymour has been a sort of idol with many, and that if I
lay my poor weak tongue on his fair name, I will incur their
displeasure; but I have always disliked shams.
Not wishing to be tedious, I want to recall that when the war broke out
the Confederacy was thoroughly equipped to take its place as a fully
organized nation at once. This fact was commented on and efforts were
made to explain how it was accomplished. No comprehensive history of the
struggle can be written that does not include the secret societies that
abetted. They played as important a part as did the army which opposed
us, and was vastly more dangerous by reason of the insidious character
of its movements.
One State after another swung into line under some mysterious talisman,
although there was a strong sentiment against leaving the Union.
In delving into affairs generally, I became possessed of information
that, so far as I know, has never been in print. I learned that a secret
organization known as the "Knights of the Golden Circle" was the nucleus
of the Confederacy. That under its secret fostering the Confederacy was
fully developed, ready to take its place among the nations. That the
Knights were an outgrowth of the defunct "Know Nothing" society that had
become disrupted on the subject of the extension of slavery (which also
divided churches). That as soon as the Confederacy was in the saddle, no
longer were there any initiations into the "Knights of the Golden
Circle," but a subordinate society was organized to do further work,
i. e., to further disrupt the Union. This society was known as the "Sons
The purpose of the "Sons of Liberty" was to form a northwestern
confederacy. My source of information said that it was understood in
that circle, that Governor Horatio Seymour was to give the signal for
disruption, which was to be a refusal from New York to furnish its quota
of soldiers. Seymour failed them. He did not refuse, but he protested
and procrastinated. He obstructed the draft as adroitly as he could,
claiming inequities. And on August 7th, 1863, Mr. Lincoln in a
communication to Seymour regarding these claims, said: "We are
contending with an enemy who, as I understand, drives every able-bodied
man he can reach into his ranks, very much as a butcher drives bullocks
into a slaughter pen; no time is wasted, no argument is used." And Mr.
Lincoln repeatedly wrote Governor Seymour of the cost in blood and
treasure by the delays he was causing.
The bloodiest and most brutal riots this country ever saw ensued in New
York, Boston, Portsmouth and other cities. The draft riots were, in
fact, but the first step of the "Sons of Liberty" in uprising, towards
forming another rupture. To this secret movement of the "Sons of
Liberty" I refer to the following documents:
Head Quarters, District of Indiana,
Indianapolis, Sept. 3, 1864.
1st. Large numbers of men of suspected loyalty to the United
States, have heretofore, and still are immigrating to the
State of Indiana, and in some localities their open and avowed
hatred to the Government, and treasonable designs are fully
By order of
Bvt. Major General Alvin P. Hovey,
And. C. Cemper, A.A.G.
An order had previously been issued by General Heintzelman, Commander of
the Department, prohibiting the transport of arms into the Department by
Governor Oliver P. Morton, in his message to the Legislature in June,
"Some misguided persons who mistook the bitterness of party
patriotism and ceased to feel the obligations of allegiance to
our Country and Government, conspired against the State and
National Government and sought by Military force to plunge us
into the horrors of revolution.
A secret organization had been formed which by its lectures
and rituals inculcated doctrines subversive of the Government,
and which carried to their consequences would evidently result
in disruption and destruction of the nation.
The members of this organization were united by solemn oaths,
which if observed, bound them to execute the orders of their
Grand Commanders without delay or question, however
treasonable or criminal might be their character.
I am glad to believe that the great majority of its members
regarded it merely as a political machine and did not suspect
the ulterior treasonable action contemplated by its leaders,
and upon discovery of its true character, hastened to abjure
all connection with it.
Some of the chief conspirators have been arrested and tried by
the government, and others have fled, their schemes have been
exposed and baffled."
The arrest of Clement L. Vallandigham, of Ohio, for treason, uncovered
part of the conspiracy; he was, in fact, the Grand Commander of the
Order. Of him Mr. Lincoln said:
"I solemnly declare my belief that this hindrance of the
military, including maiming and murder, is due to the course
in which Mr. Vallandigham has been engaged, in a greater
degree than to any other cause, and it is due to him
personally, in a greater degree than to any other man."
The Indianapolis "Journal," July 2d, 1864, said:
"Members of the Sons of Liberty were advised that Morgan (the
Rebel raider) would be in Kentucky, and Vallandigham in
Hamilton, on or about June 14th (1864). It was through
information furnished by members of this order that Governor
Bramlette of Kentucky was apprised of Morgan's intended raid
and attack upon Frankfort.
The rumor that there was collusion between the friends of
Vallandigham and Morgan seems possible. In the letter of
Governor Bramlette, which we append, significant allusion is
made to it. It would seem strange indeed, that the Sons of
Liberty should be so advised of the simultaneous raids of the
Canadian and Kentucky Confederates unless a common
understanding was had between the two traitors, and concerted
action determined upon. That they were so advised is evident
from the fact that certain of their number admonished Governor
Morton of Indiana beforehand, who in turn advised Governor
Bramlette of the approaching danger in time for him to provide
Commonwealth of Kentucky,
Frankfort, June 22, 1864.
Governor Oliver P. Morton,
Dear Sir.--I return you my most grateful thanks for your
prompt assistance during Morgan's recent raid. The timely
arrival of the 43d Regiment, Indiana Volunteers, gave us
entire relief against apprehension of danger.
Although the citizens had repulsed the Rebels, yet the large
numbers still infesting this section at the time of their
arrival kept us upon constant vigil and serious apprehension
of another assault.
The patriotism and kindly feeling which prompted the gallant
veterans of the Forty-third to rush to our relief without
delaying after their long and arduous labors to even greet
their families, deserves the highest commendation from their
countrymen, and will ever command from us of Kentucky, the
The appearance of Vallandigham, of Ohio, simultaneously with
Morgan's raid in Kentucky, fully confirms the matter made
known to me through General Lindsey, by you.
The defeat of Morgan has frustrated their movements for the
present, but vigilance in the future must still guard us
against the machinations of evil doers.
THOMAS E. BRAMLETTE."
Arms for the Sons of Liberty were seized in Indianapolis and New York,
and at many other places. The organization was said to have a membership
of one million members, all bound, by oath, to sustain the Southern
In many instances, to outward appearances, they were merely social or
political clubs that could be attended by the unsuspecting, when they
were not in executive session.
The draft riots, hotel burnings, attempts to destroy our water supply,
and kindred work, down to and including the assassination conspiracy,
are all to be charged to the Sons of Liberty. They are also to be
charged with the presidential election fraud of 1864. Its virus
permeated all. No man has ever admitted being a member of it.
And Governor Seymour was expected to be its "bell wether" in the
disruption movement. Evidently his nerve failed him. The riots in New
York probably demonstrated to him that real war is real h----l, and it
scared him. I do not assume that any considerable portion of the
Confederates were members of either of the secret societies; soldiers
are seldom conspirators.
There were characters in the Confederate service whom a Union man could
well admire: Lee, "Stonewall" Jackson, Alexander H. Stevens and others,
but there should be contempt only for men who, while holding office
under the protecting arm of a magnanimous government, bent every nerve
to trip up their benefactor.
Uncle Burdette's service was exclusively with troops. First with the
90th Regiment at Key West (Graham has yet a bottled scorpion that he
sent home from there, found in his sleeping blanket), then with the 16th
Cavalry in Virginia, and finally with the 162d Regiment in the assault
on Port Hudson. He was also with the Banks Red River expedition. No
better man ever straddled a horse; he could have acquitted himself as a
champion "bronco buster."
The following incident belongs right here:
Headquarters, Fort McHenry, Md.,
Sept. 18th, 1863.
Special Order No. 190.
Lieut. H. B. Smith, of Co. D, 5th N. Y. Arty, with a guard
from Co. G., N. Y. Arty., consisting of one sergeant, two
corporals and twenty-two men, with two days rations, will,
when transportation is provided, proceed to Alexandria, Va, in
charge of ninety-three soldier prisoners, and turn them over
with lists and charges of same to the commanding officer of
Camp of Distribution, near that place.
II. This duty performed Lieut. Smith and guard will return
without delay and report to the commanding officer of this
Lieut. Thos. Grey, the quarter master, will furnish the
Col. P. A. PORTER.
1st. Lieut. 6th N. Y. Arty.
D. Co., 5th N. Y. Arty.
On our way to Washington, at Laurel, Md., we found the railroad bridge
crossing the Patuxent river had been washed away by a recent freshet.
We were forced to disembark, go down a high embankment and cross the
river by a foot bridge. By some means some of the prisoners had obtained
some "fire water" and were troublesome; some of them were fighting on
this foot bridge. I took a hand in it and tumbled a few into the river
(not very deep). Just then I noticed three or four of them scurrying
away, running through a field of grain. I really felt more sorry for the
owner of the field than for the loss of the men. Aunt Mag had often
spoke of our visiting her brother William and sister Mary at Laurel, but
we never went there until after our marriage, when I found, on arriving
there, that the owner of the grain field my prisoners had so ruthlessly
damaged was brother William. He could not remember the instance, as such
events were of frequent occurrence, but we had a laugh over it.