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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

understood the
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

of Liberty."

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,

1865, said:

"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

for it.

Commonwealth of Kentucky,

Executive Department,

Frankfort, June 22, 1864.

Governor Oliver P. Morton,

Indianapolis, Ind.

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

profoundest gratitude.

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.

Yours truly,


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

necessary transportation.

By command,

Col. P. A. PORTER.

Ford Morris,

1st. Lieut. 6th N. Y. Arty.

Post Adjutant.

Lieut. SMITH,

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.