Our Police Protectors
History of New York Police
Chapter 10, Part 1

By Holice and Debbie


1864 Ė1866


Organizers of Police Victory -- Acton, Bergen, Hawley, Carpenter, Leonard, etc. -- The Law of 1864 -- Establishment of the House of Detention -- Boundaries of the Metropolitan Police District -- Division Commands -- Uniform of the Metropolitan Police -- Appropriations for the Building and Repairing of Station Houses -- A marked Tendency to Crimes of Violence towards the person -- List of Policemen who were Killed or Wounded at the Hands of Desperate Ruffians -- President Acton Favors the Passage of a Law rendering it a Crime to Carry Concealed Weapons -- Lost Time -- Tables of Arrests -- An Act to Regulate and Increase Police Salaries -- The Jurisdiction of the Board extended over the Rural Districts of Yonkers, West Farms, and Richmond County -- An Act to Regulate the Sale of Intoxicating Liquors -- Increased Duties of the Police Board.

In the rapid movement of the exciting events just narrated, the achievements which make the names of Police commandants famous in the history of the department could receive but passing mention in a sketch so brief and incomplete as the one written. But the names of Acton, Carpenter, Leonard, Bergen, Walling, McCredie, Thorne, Devoursney, Dilks, Leonard, and many others spoken of in connection with the draft riots, are too well known to call for any special commendation or eulogy. Where all were brave, it is no means praise that the deeds of the officers in command should be considered worthy of especial mention for gallant and meritorious services. Something in addition may be said of a few of he moist prominent Police officials, by whose courage and sagacity the city was saved from a frenzied rabble. First among these is

Thomas C. Acton--It will, it is safe to assume, excite neither envy jealousy in the breasts of the survivors of those notable events to give the post of honor to Mr. Acton. He was the Commander of the Police, with his office at Police Headquarters, and he issued instruction when and where the Police were to meet the rioters. His also was the brain that conceived the plan of Police operations, and his orders which caused their execution, by which the rioters were routed and the good name of the city vindicated.

The legal organization of the Board invest the Superintendent with the command of the force, the commissioners acting in an administrative capacity. In the absence of Superintendent Kennedy, the very first day of the draft riots, the command was assigned to the President of the Board, and thus the duties of Mr. Kennedy, who was early disabled by the rioters, were assumed by commissioner Acton. The labor thus imposed was immense, and some estimate of it may be formed by the fact that, in the telegraph department alone, there were upward of four thousand dispatches received and orders sent, all of which, with but few exceptions, required his personal supervision. There were upward of two thousand men under his control. To commissioner Acton, it is generally conceded, the community is indebted to a large degree for the prompt and successful suppression of the rioters.

Mr. Acton was born in this city in 1823. He is a medium height, is slenderly but compactly built, and is still erect and active. He is at present Assistant United States Treasurer, having his office in the Treasury building at Wall and Broad Street.

After receiving an academical education, Mr. Acton studied law, but did not practice the profession. Law led him into city politics, and he has been a politician from his youth. When he was twenty-seven years of age, in 1850, he accepted his first office, that of Deputy Assistant County Clerk. At the close of his term he was appointed Deputy Registrar, and served six years in this capacity. Then, in 1860, Governor Morgan appointed him Police Commissioner. Two years later, he was elected president of the Board, and altogether he was in office as Commissioners for nine years, during which he was practically the ruler of New York City. The period during which Mr. Acton had charge of the Police included that of our civil war, and he was, in fact, a general in command of a military force, as well as Commissioner appointed to keep the peace.

Before the war, Commissioner Acton had already shown his ability by the re-organization of the Police and the enforcement of the excise laws. During the war he was subjected to a crucial test by the sudden breaking out of the draft riots. At first the rioters has the sympathy of the majority of the citizens in their resistance to the conscription; but, it soon became evident that thieves and ruffians had assumed command of the rioters and that the chief purpose of the mob was pillage. Business was suspended; the street were comparatively deserted. Her and there, from trees and lamp-posts, hunt the bodies of murdered Negroes. The colored Orphan asylum blazed in the upper part of the city, and the houses of prominent abolitionists were sacked. Nobody knew at what moment the mob might knock at the door to demand the surrender of a Negro servant and rob the house. The principal thoroughfares were barricaded, and artillery was used during the street fights both by the rioters and the military. Portions of the city were literally in a state of siege. The people were divided against themselves.

It is easy to understand how responsible was the position of President Acton during these dangerous days and nights; but he proved himself equal to the responsibility. His vigilance and activity were wonderful. He seemed to require no sleep and to be everywhere simultaneously. The Police, whom the rioters had hoped to demoralize, stood fir, under Mr. Acton's leadership. The force was promptly and largely recruited by men who distinguished themselves by special acts of bravery.

The Police force then numbers about two thousand men, not enough to adequately protect the public offices, the banks, the telegraph lines and the ferries; but President Acton increased its efficiency by such recruits, and inspired its member wit his own untiring vigilance and vigor. The station houses were made places of refuge for the poor Negroes, and not on of the these stations were captured by the mob. Mr. Acton held the rioters in check everywhere until the military arrived to rout them; but he sacrificed his health in the struggle. In 1869 he was compelled to resign his position as too onerous for his invalidated faculties, and the general regret was the highest compliment which could have been paid him. In 1870 he was appointed by President Grant, who fully appreciated his patriotic, and political services, to be Superintendent of the United States Assay Office, in which position he remained for twelve years, and was then promoted to the Assistant Treasurership.

While Mr. Acton was commissioner of Police he accomplished two municipal marvels; the reduction of the debt and taxes and the increase of the income of the city. To him is mainly due the creation of the Board of health the institution of the paid Fire Department.

Mr. Acton was one of the original founders of the Union league club, of which he is still a prominent member. Under its auspices the first colored resident was sent to the front; the greater sanitary fair was held; it organized the mass a meetings which encouraged the people during the darkest days of the Rebellion, and appropriately celebrated the victories of the Union. At the dinner of the original members of the Club, in 1880, Dr. Bellows thus referred to Mr. Acton, who was present: "Our noble Police--whose honored memories have been invoked tonight. And who welcome presence is represented here in the waving white hair of my friend Acton--dispersed the miserable mob who would have made the city of New York a battle ground; they sustained the Union League, and the Union League sustained them, in a manner which will never be forgotten." It is not forgotten, nor Mr. Acton's share of it, and the popularity thus worthily won will be as lasting as the metropolis.

John G. Bergen--Ably and faithfully maintained his colleague of the Board. During the tremor and excitement of that period he was almost constantly at Police Headquarters, and by his prompt conclusions and stead perseverance, did much in an executive and administrative capacity in strengthening the hands of the force, resting upon Mr. Bergen, was that of the car of Brooklyn. How well he discharged this duty is evidenced by the fact that, though there were many indications of serious disturbances there, yet the Police in that section, acting under his orders, were successful in all, except one single instance, in suppressing them.

Seth C. Hawley--Late chief clerk, also achieved an enviable prominence as a brave and zealous official. His well known integrity and devotion to duty gave him an influence in the councils of the Board such as to earn for him the title of "the fifth Commissioner."

Up tot he time that he connected himself with the Police Department, Mr. Hawley had been engaged as a railroad contractor. The financial crash of 1857 crippled the corporation with which he was connected, and also considerably impaired his own private fortune. Abandoning that line of business, he became connect with the removal of the Quarantine.

Mr. Hawley, who had the supervision of the Clerk and Special patrolmen, the providing and issuing of arms, the execution of orders from the Commissioners, seeing to the wounded, providing for the refugees, and disposing of the prisoners, had, it need hardly be said, his hands full. But Mr. Hawley took pride in hard work of that kind, and, his energy being untiring, he acted besides as Commissary for over four thousand Police, military and special, assembled at Police Headquarters. He performed an amount of work, satisfactorily and thoroughly, that well might have staggered a man of less capacity and energy.

"At the re-organization of the Police Department in 1860," said Mr. Hawley, in an interview shortly before his death with the writer, "General Bowen sent for me and asked me if I'd be willing to take the place of Chief clerk, and I consented, thinking that the appointment would be but temporary, but in that I was mistaken, for, as the result proved, I had come to stay."

Coming down to the time of the draft riots, Mr. Hawley continued: "I was acting in the capacity (of Chief Clerk) when the riot occurred. General Bowen, who was President of the Board, had raised three regiments of volunteers to go to the war, and was appointed Brigadier-General, and went to New Orleans. So that we had only two commissioners, Bergen and Acton, but two better men for the place could not well have been found.

"The authorities in Washington had ordered that the drafting should begin on a Saturday. That was a great mistake, as the dangerous element had all day Sunday to concoct their plans to foment trouble. The Government didnít know at the time what a hornet's nest they were stirring up in this city. There were more Secessionists in New York than in any other three Northern States. The names that were drafted were published, and that helped to intensify the bad blood. All day Sunday I noticed knots of excited men talking around the corners in the upper part of the city, and in the vicinity of my house. Curious to know what was in the wind, I went out, and hear the talk that was going the rounds. In every instance the Government was denounced for ordering the enforcement of recruits by drafting. The measure was characterized as outrageous and infamous. The speakers were bitter and defiant in their denunciations. The stinging part of their grievance was what they called the wicked injustice of taking poor men away from their families. I saw the storm approaching, and so was prepared, in a measure, for the scenes I witnessed on the following day. They had just forced a gang of men who were building a block of houses, at Fifty-eighth Street and Sixth Avenue, to knock off work, and join the rioters. The original rioters had come from the shanties on the rocks, near Central Park. They had a leader, and he carried a bar of iron in his hand. Those who refused to join his party, he threatened and commanded until he compelled compliance with his order. Nearly all the workmen in the vicinity were coerced into joining this party. They marched directly to the First Provost Marshal's office to sack it, and I hurried down-town to the office.

"Before I had got more than half way the Marshal's office was inflames, and that swelled the ranks of the mob. By the time I had reached the office the mob was in great force, and ripe for any sort of deviltry. I lost no time in informing the commissioners of what I had seen and heard, and they were very much startled at what I told them. They ordered me to draw up an order concentrating all the police force of this city and Brooklyn at the office of Police Headquarters in this city. That was the first Police order issued in connection with the riots. I was next instructed to draft an order calling out the militia. That required the concurrence of Governor Seymour, who happened to be at the very moment at City Hall. That Monday morning he had addressed the mob from the City Hall, and went to see him by direction of the commissioners, to tell him of the critical state of affairs. I fund him in the Governor's room surrounded by friends. I had served in the legislature with him, and was well acquainted with him. When he saw me enter he left his friends and came to me. I told him the whole story, and said also it was important he should be near enough to Police Headquarters to be in constant communication with the Commissioners. He told me he would go immediately to the Fifth Avenue Hotel and that he would be glad if the Commissioners would make me the medium of communication between him and them. They did so.

"Major General Sandford commanded the militia which was called out. Their arsenal was on Seventh Avenue. The Seventh Regiment had gone South, expecting to be at the battle of Gettysburg, and some other city regiments had gone too, and only the remnants of other regiments were left. The militia staid in their arsenal during the whole term of the riots, without lending a hand to quell disturbance or disperse the mob, or of being of the slightest service towards the security of the city and the safety of life and property. The Police had no aid whatever from that military force.

"The Police Commissioners then communicated with Brigadier-General Brown, of the regular Army, who commanded the Federal forces in the neighborhood, and he ordered three companies--two of infantry and one of artillery--that were in the city on their way home, to be mustered out at the end of their term of service, to co-operate with the Police in dispersing the rioters. He himself took up his quarters in Superintendents Kennedy's room, where messages were being constantly received by telegraph. This was the only place in the city where official and reliable information could be obtained. These three companies were of great service. They accompanied the Police in their raids on the rioters. But they were not on hand in time to take part in the first day's great battles. The Police had fought their own battles, and had practically quelled the rioters before the military took hand or part in the affray.

"The mob moved from up-town down towards the heart of the city. One of the clerks I had sent to the Fifth Avenue Hotel, on his return, told me that the mob had burned the Colored Half Orphan Asylum. The late E. D. Morgan was present when this information was received, and he expressed his incredulity at the news brought by my clerk. It cannot be,' was the remark he made.

"Meantime the Police were gathering gradually, in response to the order they had received to report to Headquarters. When the mob, which had increased to thousands, had got down to Union Square, they halted. They had broken into stores and saloons on their way down town, and made themselves drunk on stolen liquor. They were preparing for a big row. There was no organization among them. One big fellow carried a flag on a pole, and walked in the front.

"A messenger brought the ridings that the mob had reached Fourteenth Street. Up to this time they had met with no opposition. They had everything their own way.

"Two hundred or two hundred and fifty Police were drawn up inline in front of Police Headquarters. The greater part of them had the light, fancy stick they carry when they are on dress parade.

"The commissioners said to me: 'Now, that this force of Policemen must go out and face that mob, who shall lead them?'

"Previous to this and after the mob has burned the Colored Half Orphan Asylum, John A. Kennedy, the then Superintendent, not being posted, walked out--with his little gold-headed cane--to see what was the matter. The mob recognized him, and he barely escaped with his life. He was subsequently taken to Headquarters in a wagon, so terribly cut and bruised from the usage he had received as to be almost unrecognizable. He was taken away and concealed until he recovered from his injuries, which was long after the city had become tranquil again.

"So I said, in answer to the Commissioner's query as to who should lead the men against the mob, 'Carpenter is the senior Inspector, and it is his place, in the absence of the Superintendent, to take command.' Commissioner Acton, said, 'Will he do it?' 'He must do it; he will not refuse; he's a gallant man,' I replied. 'Go to him then, and say to him that it is our wish that he assume the command.' Never will I forget the words and action of Carpenter when I conveyed to him this message. Raising his clinched right hand he bought it down with a loud thump on the desk, and exclaimed, 'I'll go, and I won't come back unless I come back victorious.'

"I returned to commissioner Acton and told him what Carpenter had said. Action then saw Carpenter and told him to bring the men up Broadway and whip the mob at all hazard, he was to take no prisoners.

"Carpenter went and did as he was told.

"The Police captured the colors carried by the big man, broke the big man's thick head, and littered Broadway, from Bond Street to Union Square, with disabled rioters.

"It would be in vain for me to try to recall the number of Police expeditions sent out to face the mob. There was not time to make records. Up to Wednesday at midnight there was no cessation of fighting all over the town.

"The Commissary Department was the great difficulty we had to contend with. We had to feed the whole Police force and military, besides seven hundred Negroes who had taken refuge in the upper story of Police Headquarters. Stores were all closed, and provisions were hard to get.

"But we did it."

"It was not safe for any one known to be connected with Police Headquarters to be found abroad unprotected. I had left my family alone, the only stranger in the house being a colored woman--a servant--which was anything but a comforting guarantee of their security. At one o'clock Tuesday morning I started over to Sixth Avenue, and, at the junction of Carmine Street, I saw a motley crowd of men, women and children dancing around a fire in the street, in the vicinity of which a strangled Negro was dangling from a tree.

"The second day some of the military made an independent movement against the rioters in Mackerelville.

"We didn't know where this section of men were, or what they were doing. The mob was too strong for them, ands the men were chased all the way down to the Seventh Regiment's arsenal and stoned, followed by a great crowd. One of the men was wounded and thrown from his horse, and left in the streets.

Hearing of the fray, I was deputed to report the matter to the Governor and General Brown, both of whom were at the time at the St. Nicholas Hotel. The officer, who was wounded, was a Major. A young Lieutenant, who was with the party of routed soldiers, and who escaped by making good use of his legs, had first reported the wounding of the Major and his being left disabled in the street at the mercy of the mob. General Brown heard the young Lieutenant story to the end, and then, turning on him, said:

"'You state here, and in my presence, that you ran away, and left the Major wounded in the hands of the mob.' "Be patient, General,' said General wool, " and be charitable enough to reflect that the Lieutenant is a very young man.'

"The result of it was that General wool directed General Brown to send out a force, and bring in the Major. The Major was not seriously hurt, and he was found and taken to the St. Nicholas Hotel.

"If the Police hadn't acted with a vigor and earnestness that couldn't be excelled, the city would have been sacked. The mob would have been in Wall Street and everywhere else where they could find plunder.

"Two Police took from the rioters eleven thousand stand of arms, and we have got them in the building yet. We canít find any one to claim them.

"It is proper to say that the Police force was at that time at the perfection of discipline, and the esprit de corps was extraordinary.

"One would require to think it over very carefully to realize how it would be if there was no judicial or Police authority in a city like New York. During these exciting events we hadn't a Magistrate before whom to arraign a prisoner, or a box or a jail to lock a prisoner in.

"All branches of the Police service did their duty so thoroughly as to render it difficult to make any mention of special meritorious performance of duty.

"Regarding the number of rioters killed it is impossible to state with any degree of accuracy. The nearest approximation that can be made to it is by comparing the mortality for that month with the corresponding month of the previous year. I should regard this as a pretty fair estimate of the number of people who lost their lives by participating in the riots.

"It was an awful lesson, and one not to be forgotten.

"One other lesson was learned by the Police, and that is, that in close contact with a mob there is not any weapon so effective as the club. It was then also found out that nothing would stand the strain for this kind of work like locust. In the early stages of the riot the men carried their rosewood sticks, and these splintered and broke as fast as the heads they were used on. Rosewood is heavy and seems solid, but it lacks toughness and elasticity. Now, locust, besides being light, possesses these qualities. It does not split, is sonorous, and gives out a sound like a bell. It is very rarely that I have seen a locust club broken. Since then locust has entirely come into use in the department."

Inspector Daniel Carpenter--Under the supervision of Commissioner Acton, assumed and discharged the duties of Superintendent, after Mr. Kennedy was incapacitated by reason of his injuries. The riot had quickly gained in proportions, and now assumed such a formidable shape that the entire force of the Police had to be called into requisition. Word having been received that the mob was marching to attack Mayor Opdyke's house, on Fifth Avenue, inspector Carpenter, in person, took command of a force of two hundred men. Before starting from Police Headquarters he spoke to the men, telling them that "they had to meet and put down a mob; to take no prisoners; to strike quick and hard"--orders which were literally obeyed. It was a day of hard fighting, and Inspector Carpenter, with his command, was ever at the post of duty, which was the post of danger. that he acted gallantly and performed his whole duty goes without saying. His was a task of unceasing labor, constant peril, and great responsibility, but he did not return until he had "put down the mob," even if he had "to strike quick and strike hard" to do it.



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

You are the Visitor to this USGenNet Safe-Siteô Since August 22, 2004

[Police Index][NY History & Genealogy][AHGP]