Our Police Protectors
History of New York Police
Chapter 8, Part 1

By Holice and Debbie


JULY 1863

The City in the Hands of a Frenzied Mob -- An Emergency in which the Police Covered Themselves with Glory -- Popular Discontent Growing out of a latent Sympathy with the Southern Cause -- The Method Adopted for the Enforcement of the Draft not the Most Judicious One -- Superintendent Kennedy's Arrangements in Anticipation of Trouble -- Growing Desperation of the Mob -- Firing of the Buildings in Which Provost marshal had His Office -- Superintendent Kennedy Attacked and Brutally Beaten -- His Miraculous Escape from Death -- Commissioner Acton Assumes Command of the Force -- his Energy and Promptitude more than a Match for the Mob, who Fight Furiously -- The Rioters Beat Back the Police, but are in turn overcome and Routed -- Clubs versus Stones, Bricks and Bullets--"By the Right Flank, Company Front, Double Quick, Charge!" -- Mob Desperation and Police Heroism -- "Up Guards, and at 'em!" -- Action of the Military -- End of the First Day's Fighting.

However admirably they may have behaved in other emergencies, there has been no occasion on which our Police Protectors covered themselves with more honor than during the terrible draft riots which convulsed the city for an entire week in the summer of 1863. At this period, too, they assumed a higher role than is generally allotted to them. They became not only the defenders of the lives and property of their fellow citizens, but also the vindicators of the national honor. They fought for the Union in the streets of New York, just as truly as the soldiers of the republic did upon the banks of the Potomac. Day after day they went out to combat with forces greatly their superior in numbers; day after day they imperiled life and limb; they left their own homes, their wives and children unprotected, to obey the call of duty. Nothing more honorable can be said of them, as a body, than that, in the face of every difficulty, there was no faltering. It is not recorded that any one man failed to respond to the demands of the hour; it is not on record that any man shirked duty, however dangerous or unpleasant It might be. It is on record that the utmost bravery, energy, and judgment were displayed by the entire force from the chiefs to the lowest subordinates. To their efforts, bravely seconded by a force of Federal soldiers, perhaps are due to preservation of the city from untold of horrors, and the salvation of the nation from dismemberment through the failure of the draft.

It was in July, 1863. The tide of war had turned against the Confederacy; but the fearful mortality, and the wearying effects of the long continued strife had at last compelled the Federal Government to resort to a conscription to recruit the Union armies. This proceeding was authorized by an Act of Congress passed in March, 1863. President Lincoln's proclamation, ordering the levy of three hundred thousand men, was dated April 8, but July was the time appointed for the draft.

At this juncture the enemy invaded Pennsylvania, and the Governor entreated assistance from the adjoining States. Governor Seymour, of New York, responded by directing General Sanford, commander of the city militia, to send every available regiment at his disposal to the seat of war for thirty days' service. While the troops were absent, the United States authorities attempted to enforce the draft, which caused a terrible insurrection. The elements of disorder and crime united their forces, and were joined by thousands of frenzied workmen and idlers. "For three days and three nights," says a chronicler of these events, "the rioters maintained a reign of terror. They sacked houses in great numbers, demolished the offices of the provost marshal, burned the colored orphan asylum, attacked the police, and chased the negroes--women and children even--wherever they appeared in the streets, and when caught hanged them on the nearest lamp-post. They tore down and trampled underfoot the national flag, and robbed stores in open day. The Secretary of War ordered home the regiments doing duty in Pennsylvania, but ere they arrived the climax of atrocities had been reached, and through the combined action of the Police and the citizens, together with the slender military force at the disposal of the authorities, the riot (one of the most formidable in the annals of riots) had been substantially quelled. The Police displayed admirable address and undaunted bravery against overwhelming numbers; they were under the command of Thomas C. Acton, president of the Police board, who issued orders with the coolness and skill of a trained military veteran."

The drafting met with the bitterest opposition. There were many persons who conscientiously believed that as a method of raising soldiers, conscription was contrary to the spirit of American institutions--entirely forgetting that the first necessity with government, as with individuals, is self-preservation. But the principal source of discontent lay deeper. It grew out of a latent sympathy with the Southern cause, which pervaded large classes of persons in the North. If a conscription were enforced these persons saw that they might be obliged to fight in the Union armies against the side with which they sympathized, or, at best, in furtherance of a cause for which they had no love. Thus it happened that from the very day of the proclamation, symptoms of trouble were discernible. An association, called the Knights of the Golden Circle, was formed, with the object, it was supposed, of rebelling against the draft, and a certain portion of the public press assumed a very inflammatory tone. It must be confessed that the methods adopted by the national government for the enforcement of the draft were not eh most judicious possible. Instead of making requisitions on the authorities of the various States for certain quotas of men, to be picked out from the general body of citizen by lot, the War Department sent its Provost Marshals into the various districts to take direct charge of the selection of the conscripts. The course greatly increased the popular exasperation, and, during the preliminary work, signs and omens of coming trouble were not wanting in New York. Thus, in the Ninth Conscription District, which included the lower part of the city, Captain Joel B. Erhardt, the provost Marshal, narrowly escaped with his life while performing the necessary duty of collecting the names of those liable to being drafted. He was ordered by colonel Nugent, the Provost Marshal for the whole city, to personally collect the names of some workmen engaged on a building at the corner of Liberty Streets and Broadway, who had refused to register when the regular enrolling officers approached them. Captain Erhardt was assailed, in the performance of his duty, by a man armed with an iron crowbar. He drew his pistol and frustrated the attack, but after waiting a long time in vain for aid, he was compelled to retreat before an infuriated mob.

More then one incident like this created anxiety among the authorities as the date for the draft drew nigh, and yet it is doubtful to this day if there was any organized design to resist. Information was given to the Police that a plan was afoot to seize the State Arsenal at Seventh Avenue and thirty-fifth street on Saturday, July 11, the day on which the drafting opened. This was probably the case; but it is believed that the design extended no further. When this was defeated by the measures of Superintendent Kennedy--as will soon be describe--it is more than probably that no definite course was marked out by the lawbreakers. When the first acts of violence were committed on Monday, the 13th, it is likely that the members of the mob had no idea beyond that of breaking up the draft, and perhaps taking vengeance on some of the officials in charge of it. That afternoon and the succeeding days, an entirely new element entered into the tumult. The thirst for violence had grown furious; the craving for plunder had taken possession of the lower elements of the population. The draft became a mere pretext for lawlessness, the real object of which was the gratification of instincts of rapine and booty. Their desperate character was in no way lessened, however; on the contrary, the second day's fighting was the bitterest of all.

As organized at the period under discussions, the Police force was under the management of Commissioners Thomas C. Acton and John G. Bergen, commissioner Bowen having resigned to accept a brigadier general's commission. John A Kennedy was superintendent, and Daniel Carpenter, George W. Dilks and James Leonard were Inspectors.

The violent proceedings of the rioters had, as the Police Commissioners were convinced, a political origin, motive and direction, and received sympathy and encouragement from newspapers and partisans of influence and intelligence. The board of Police had long been threatened with summary removal, which was expected to occur immediately. Numbers of the force desired the removal, and a spirit of insubordination had crept in among the force, the fruit of the expected charge. "under these new and extraordinary circumstances," to quote from the annual report of the Commissioners to the legislature, "there were apprehensions that the force might fail in united action, or be embarrassed by sympathy with the rioters, and be overpowered and beaten. * * The apprehensions proved to be groundless. The force acted as a unit, and with an energy, courage and devotion rarely exhibited. The keenest observation failed to discover that political, religious or national feeling had any influence adverse to the efficient action of the force. The courage that arises from the aggregation of numbers, the steadiness and celerity of movement which resulted from organization and drill, and the fidelity and price of corps which result from discipline, were exhibited in a most gratifying degree, considering the numerous and severe contests, the disparity of numbers, and the advantage enjoyed by the mob from their entrenched position in tenement houses, the small number of Policemen killed and wounded is a subject of congratulation. The number wounded was eighty, but three have died."

As bad luck would have it, the drafting began on a Saturday (July 11). There was no special disturbance, but the whole aspect of the city was uneasy. Sergeant Van Orden, with fifteen men, early tool possession of the Seventh Avenue Arsenal. In pursuance of the plot already mentioned, disorderly crowds gathered about the building, but the strength of the place, and the determined aspect of the little band of defenders, prevented any attack from being made. The drafting, too, passed off peaceably in the two districts--the Ninth and Eleventh--appointed for that day, and people began to hope that the danger was over--that the popular discontent would not reach the point of open outbreak.

Under more favorable circumstances this might have been so; but the day was unfavorable. All the Sunday newspapers came out with long lists of the conscript's names. These were eagerly scanned in all the tenements of the city. People found the names of relatives and friends among the number, and their rage grew in proportion. All day excited groups of unemployed men and women discussed the situation in the houses, in the streets, and above all, in the liquor saloons, and by midnight they were ready for any madness.

Monday's sun rose hot and angry upon the seething city. The people came pouring from the tenement houses to face the fact that a fresh raid was now to be made on their households by the demon of war. Vainly confident in the strength of their numbers and their passion, they determined that this should not be.

Superintendent Kennedy, though not fully aware of the force of the coming storm, had yet the forethought to see that danger was ahead. The drafting was to proceed at two points on this day. They were No. 1190 Broadway, near Twenty-ninth Street, and a house on the corner of Third Avenue and Forty-sixth Street. Superintendent Kennedy began by collecting some force at headquarters, and sending the reserves of the Twentieth Precinct to aid in the defense of the arsenal. The drafting office at No. 1190 Broadway lay within the Twenty-ninth Precinct, and accordingly, Captain Speight took charge of it at nine o'clock in the morning. He brought with him twenty of his own men, to whom were added ten men from the Eighth Precinct under Sergeant Wade, ten from the Ninth under Sergeant Mangin, fourteen from the Fifteenth under Sergeant McCredie, and ten men from the Twenty-eighth under Sergeant Wolfe. This total force of sixty-nine men, all told, sufficed to overawe the mob. The draft proceeded peaceably until noon, when it was adjourned. The auxiliary forces were then sent to Third Avenue and Forty-sixth Street, where the state of things were very different. Captain Speight, however, with his own gallant boys, remained at the office until four o'clock in the afternoon, when he repaired to Headquarters in response to an order. During the day he dispersed many crowds, and maintained good order constantly. Ten minutes after he left, however, the mob, emboldened by its successes elsewhere, set fire to the Marshal's office, and the entire block on Broadway between Twenty-eighth and Twenty-ninth Streets was destroyed by the flames.

Far different from those on Broadway were the scenes in the Nineteenth Precinct, in which the Provost Marshal's office at Forty-sixth Street and Third Avenue was located. Captain G. T. porter was the commanding officer at this point. He, and the brave men under his orders, had to bear the first shock of the riot, and right well they did their duty. It is no discredit to them that they were unable to resist successfully the infuriated thousands that were pitted against them. Captain Porter repaired to the Marshal's office at nine o'clock in the forenoon. He collected his entire force of sixty men about the place, stationing some in front of the building and some within its, as the crowd increased minute after minute in numbers and audacity. With Captain Porter were Captain S. Brower, of the Seventeenth Precinct, and a squad; Captain A. M. Palmer, of the Twenty-first Precinct, and a squad; Sergeant William A. Gross, of the Twenty-second Precinct, with twelve men; and later, Sergeant Mangles, of the Twenty-eighth Precinct, with eleven men.

The drafting began at a quarter past ten, A. M., and went on for twenty minutes without interruption. The mob had grown to huge proportions; the excitement was intense. The Police were hooted, and curses were breathed against the Negro race, the National Government, the drafting authorities, and, in fact, against all public officials. Only a spark was needed to bring about the explosion.

It was supplied. On a sudden some one shouted, "Stop the cars." An instantaneous rush was made. Horses were uncoupled, drivers were forced from their platforms, and terrified passengers were driven from their places into the depth of the swaying, shouting mass of humanity that filled the Avenue.

But now the mob was fairly warmed to work. With one awful movement it launched itself upon the band of Police drawn before the Marshal's office. The shock was irresistible. One might as well try to dam the Hudson as oppose that mob. There was a momentary struggle, and the little band gave way, taking shelter with their comrades within the building. A hurricane of stones now assailed the windows and doors, which speedily gave way. Then the mob dashed it, and joined in hand-to-hand encounters with the defenders. It was in vain for the Police to strike them down; as one fell beneath a blow of a club, another and another took his place. The Marshal and his clerks escaped through the rear of the building; the Police slowly followed, fighting all the way, until they emerged into Forty-sixth Street. By this time all the furniture in the office was demolished, and the mob proceeded to fire the building. Then the brave Police endeavored to save the property in the adjoining houses, but were bitterly assailed at every step. Sergeant Finch, of the Seventeenth precinct, in heading the attack on the mob, had his forehead laid open with a frightful gash. Officers Hill and Weill, of the same precinct, were also badly injured. Officer cook, of the Nineteenth Precinct, was knocked down and separated from his comrades, who were themselves fully occupied keeping off the crowds that beset them. At last, when it became evident that no good could be done while the men were receiving terrible punishment, Captain porter gave the signal for retreat. The force scattered into small groups forthwith, and made their way, as best they might, to their several station houses.

With their usual promptitude, the firemen were on hand almost as soon as the flames in the Marshal's office became visible. At first the mob refused to allow them to thrown any water into the burning building, and two adjoining houses were speedily involved in the conflagration. At length, however, Chief Engineer Decker made the rioters a speech, pointing out that the property of people with whom they had no quarrel was being destroyed. To this appeal they yielded, and, the Police being driven off, the crowd began to watch with the usual interest, but unusual hilarity, the progress of the flames, and the efforts of the fire laddies to extinguish them.

At this disastrous moment, by an untoward accident, Superintendent Kennedy put in an appearance on the scene. Mr. Kennedy's fears of riot had arisen that Monday morning, mainly from the intelligence which reached him shortly after seven o'clock, that the street contractors men in the Nineteenth Ward had not gone to work at the usual hour. he at first deemed it sufficient to strengthen the Police forces at Provost Marshall Manierre's office on Broadway, and Marshal Jenkins' office on third Avenue, in the manner already detailed; but as the progress of the morning brought fresh indications of trouble, he telegraphed to all the precincts to call in as reserves all the men who had gone off duty at six A. M. Towards ten o'clock, all Mr. Kennedy's arrangements being completed, he took his wagon, and started on a tour of personal inspection. First he called on Captain Sleight, at No. 1190 Broadway, and then visited the Arsenal, leaving at each point directions to cover any emergency that might arise. At last he turned his horse to the eastward, and about twelve o'clock approached the quarter where, unknown to him, the first battle of the riot had been fought. The superintendent was not in uniform, and was totally unarmed. It is impossible to avoid the reflections, therefore, that his courage (or indiscretion?) ran to the point of rashness when he left the wagon at Forty-sixth Street on perceiving the fire that the rioters had kindled, and walked rapidly through the angry crowed towards it.

Everything seemed very quiet, and everybody good-natured about him, until, on a sudden, some one cried out, "There's Kennedy!"

"Where, where? Where is he?" demanded a thousand angry voices.

He was pointed out, and before he had time to realize the situation, a cowardly blow from behind sent him down an embankment six feet high into a vacant lot. In an instant the superintendent was on his feet; a glance showed that flight was his only course, and he sped away across the lots, whole the infuriate rabble pressed hard behind him. He distanced his pursuers, and succeeded in climbing the forty-seventh Street embankment. But here a fresh crowd, as cowardly, and brutal as the first, was waiting for him. They came at him with a rush, and for the second time he was hurled to the foot of the embankment. The crows followed him. Mr. Kennedy regained his feet. A burly ruffian tried to dash his brains out with a club, and Mr. Kennedy with difficulty protected his head. By this time he must have received fully fifty blows on various parts of his body. He now turned and ran toward Lexington Avenue, where there was a pond or mud hole of considerable width and depth.

"Drown him drown him!' shouted the rioters, and a tremendous blow sent the victim into the pond, when he face struck on some stones at the bottom and was frightfully lacerated. But even yet he was not overcome. Making his way through the mud and water through which his pursuers were unwilling to follow, he reached Lexington Avenue before they got around. As he emerged from the pond he met Mr. John Eagan, a prominent citizen, and begged for aid. Mr. Eagan possessed sufficient influence with the mob to prevent them from doing any further violence, and Mr. Kennedy, now fainting with pain and exhaustion, was paid on a common feed wagon, and driven to Headquarters. As the wagon drove up to the building, commissioner Acton was standing on the steps. He noticed the bruised and bleeding man, but never guessed who it was, so far beyond recognition was the Superintendent.

When he realized the truth he had the injured ma taken to the house of a friend, and surgical aid was procured. It was found that no bones were broken, and so wonderful was his constitution, and so determined his will, that the Superintendent returned to duty on the Thursday following, a fact al the more wonderful when it is remembered that he was over sixty years of age. He was shockingly disfigured for the time being, but in time the traces of his thrilling fight for life disappeared from his countenance.

The early disablement of the Superintendent placed the command of the force upon the shoulders of Commissioner Acton, at headquarters, and of Inspector Daniel Carpenter in the field--or rather in the streets. Both proved equal tot he demand upon them. To no one man was the speedy suppression of the riots due so largely as to Mr. Acton. His very first step showed his consummate generalship. The moment he realized the extent of the disorder, on seeing Superintendent Kennedy's terrible condition, he telegraphed to every precinct, except the Twelfth, from which the rioters had cut off communication, ordering the entire force to concentrate at the Central Office. He also dispatched the Steamboat Squad with this vessel, under Captain Todd, to transport to the city all the Federal troops that could be spared from the forts in the harbor, and subsequently to land arms for volunteer troops. These duties, it may be remarked here, were performed with coolness and judgment.

The energy displayed by Mr. Acton was wonderful. He did not leave the Central office for five days, except for a couple of short periods on official business. From six o'clock on Monday morning until after two A. M. the following Friday, he never closed an eye in sleep. During the whole period he was engaged without cessation. It may serve as some index of his labors to say that the received and answered over four thousand telegrams.

He was ably seconded. Hardly inferior to him in energy and executive ability was his colleague, Commissioner John G. Bergen. This gentleman was constantly at Headquarters, sustaining almost equal fatigue with Mr. Acton, and sharing in all his labors. Chief Clerk Seth C. Hawley was also a most valuable aid. He was placed in charge of the ordinance department, serving out the arms and ammunition needed by the men as they started on their repeated expeditions. He also provided for the wants of the wounded, and did all in his power to furnish accommodations for the crowds of refugees who early began to throng to Headquarters. With chief John Young of the Detective force, assisted by Sergeants Lefferts of the Fourth District Court, and officer Webb of the Superintendent's office, he had also to provide for the victualing of Police, military, Special constables, and refugees, in all over five thousand persons, for an entire week. It is needless to add praise to the statement that all were well and sufficiently fed. Over fifty thousand gallons of coffee, it is said, were served out while the riot lasted, and it must here bye mentioned to the credit of the entire force, that coffee--during all the scenes of terror and excitement, despite all the blows and hardships--was the universal beverage. Everyone took it in preference top liquor, and while the riot lasted, not one intoxicated man was seen about Headquarters.

But it is time to return to the rioters who were left at the moment when they had all but beaten the Superintendent of Police to death at Lexington Avenue and forty-sixth Street. About the same time another fierce scene was in progress only a few blocks off. A little before noon the reports of the agitation which prevailed in the Nineteenth Ward caused the sending of several contingents from various precincts, including the men relieved from duty at No. 1190 Broadway, to Captain Porter's aid. Among the first of these intended reinforcements to arrive on the scene was a squad of thirteen men from the eighth under Sergeant Ellison. This little company first encountered the mob at Third Avenue and Forty-fourth Street. A desperate hand-to-hand fight ensued. The mob fought furiously; the Police were outnumbered a hundred to one, and were soon obliged to retreat. Sergeant Ellison, who had been terribly beaten, remained a prisoner in the rioters hands. At this moment, Sergeant Wade arrived with his squad from Broadway. The fight was renewed, and Ellison was extricated from his terrible captivity more dead than alive. He had defended himself bravely with his revolver and a gun which he had wrested from a rioter. But he had been overwhelmed by numbers, terribly beaten, and pelted with stones until he lost consciousness. After lying as if dead for half an hour on the pavement, he was carried by two of his comrades to the Twenty-first Precinct station house. In this fight, too, Officer Van Buren had his leg broken, Sergeant Wade was struck in the breast with a stone, Officer Andre had his head badly cut, officers Law and hart were injured in the head and body, and officers Crolius, Palmer, Burns, Merher, and Magersuippe were all badly cut about the head. All of the officers here named distinguished themselves by their courage in attacking the mob.

A platoon from the Ninth Precinct arrived at Forty-fourth Street and third Avenue at the same time as Sergeant Wade, and participated in the fighting with equal courage. To show how well the men of this precinct played their part, it is only necessary to record that Sergeants Mangin and Smith, and ten officers were badly hurt. Some members of the Tenth, under Sergeants Minor and Davenport, also had a rough encounter with the mob in the same locality.



Our Police Protectors, History of the New York Police, Published for the benefit of the Police Pension Fund, by Augustine Costello, Published by Author, 1885.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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