July 1863 Draft Riots
    "The following are two transcribed letters of my great 
grandfather's account of the Draft Riots of 1863. The writer 
was a well-to-do banker and commission merchant.  He was of draft age, 
but probably purchased a substitute or paid for commutation.  It is 
known that his paternal grandfather held strong anti-slavery views in 
the 1830s, so it is surprising that no personal outrage is expressed here.  
Both the writer and the recipient are buried in the New York Marble Cemetery, 
quite close to the scene of some of the rioting."
Anne Wright Brown
©2002 Anne Wright Brown 

Letter from Edward Markoe Wright (1837-1901) to his mother,
Sarah Markoe Wright (1809-1881), describing the NYC Draft Riots of 1863.

New York  July 14/63

My dear mother

Fearing that you may be frightened by learning of the diabolical outrages of 
the mob last night, I write a few lines to say that I am safe & sound, and, 
although I will be obliged to go out to Felsenhof[1] this afternoon, I hope 
to see you tomorrow.  At Felsenhof they will probably be much frightened by 
the cutting off of the railroad communication and the probably exaggerated 
reports that will reach them during the day.

As I was an eyewitness to many of the fearful scenes of yesterday I will 
endeavor to give you an account of my adventures from the middle of the day.  
All day the lower portion of the city resembled a holiday - so few people 
were to be seen about the streets compared to the usual crowds - and about 
two o'clock a crowd of men passed the square in front of our office chasing a 
negro.  They had assaulted one at the foot of Wall Street, nearly killing 
him, and an old  gentleman that attempted to help the negro was also set 
upon  and badly beaten & left for dead on the dock.  The negro that was being 
chased & passed our office was overtaken by the crowd, which really only 
consisted of about a dozen men & boys - at Broad Street and there killed - 
being badly cut up by the heavy hooks that carmen use.  This crowd could 
easily have been dispersed by a half dozen resolute policemen - but they were 
all afraid to move - and the only one in sight as the crowd passed walked off 
very deliberately in another direction.  It would however, have been 
perfectly useless for any one or two men to do anything - for anywhere where 
one or two showed any disposition to arrest they were assaulted by the mass 
and badly beaten - which occurred many times during the day.  

About four o'clock Stevens and I made our way uptown, where we heard that the 
mob had commenced operations at 3rd Avenue & 46th St. - burning down the 
enrolling office & otherwise injuring the property in every direction.  
Crowds of men assembled in 3rd Avenue, filling up the streets for blocks - 
and afterwards a small force of soldiers - of the invalid corps - was ordered 
to the scene of the disturbance, about fifty all together.  These soldiers - 
being resisted by the mob fired upon them - but very foolishly fired over 
their heads - and, before a second volley could be fired  - there was not a 
gun left in the hands of a single soldier - being completely disarmed by the 
people.  The mob then made a descent upon Allerton's Bulls Head Hotel[3] and 
after seizing upon all the brandy, whiskey & cigars they could find - set 
fire to the building & burnt it to the ground.  They then proceeded to 
Lexington Avenue & sacked two brownstone dwellings - breaking the mirrors & 
furniture - turning the inmates into the streets and then setting fire to the 
house.  The next place attacked was the armory on 21st St. & 2nd Avenue where 
government stores were kept.  The mob demanded that the establishment should 
be closed but those from the inside replied by firing  upon the people - 
which so incensed them that they forced entrance into the building by 
breaking down the doors with heavy beams and setting fire to the building by 
throwing camphene[2] upon the floors and setting it on fire.  So suddenly it 
caught that, I hear, the persons who fired the camphene were obliged to take 
refuge upstairs & saved themselves by jumping from the second story windows.  
When we reached uptown about four o'clock we found that every store in that 
part of the city had been closed by the police.  Seeing a tremendous fire on 
Broadway we made our way to this scene - which was one of the most fearful 
sights I ever saw.  The block on Broadway between 28th & 29th Street was in 
flames - the houses being eight or ten stone front stores - five stories high 
- and one mass of flames from the basement to garret, and when we got there, 
the mob had not allowed a single drop of water to be thrown on the burning 
buildings.  Such  a sight I never saw before and presume I will never see 
again - a whole block of buildings on fire without water to assuage the 
intensity of the flames.  We made our way into the midst of the mass - very 
unwisely, as it appears today - and took station in a doorway not more than 
60 or 70 feet from the burning buildings.  The heat was intense - so much so 
that I got behind a pillar and bent my slouch hat over my eyes to protect 
myself from being scorched.  Even the hardy firemen who afterwards were 
allowed to play upon the buildings were but little nearer.  I cannot describe 
to you the horrors of the scene - the roaring of the fire could have been 
heard for blocks - the yells & jeers of the mob - men, boys & even women - 
who had glutted themselves with articles taken from one of the burning 
stores.  Some men passed me with elegant feather fans covered with tinsel - 
keeping off the heat of the fire with them.  One man within a foot of me 
broke a long cologne bottle over the head of another, and scattered the 
cologne water over the people - the shouts of the masses - and the surging 
backwards & forwards of the people - all excited almost to phrensy.  I was 
determined to brave it out until the walls fell in , which, as they were so 
very high, I knew would be a splendid sight - and I was fully rewarded - for 
I never saw anything half so grand in my life.  The molten iron and tin 
rolled off the roof like diamonds - the flames leaped, crackled & roared - 
soaring upwards in one mass of flame nearly 200 feet square, and above all 
the volumes of black smoke curling wreath above wreath & cloud above cloud.  
At last the high walls began to totter - and the people to shout - then all 
became quiet for an instant but the roaring of the fire & involuntarily every 
one seemed to hold their breath and shrink back.  Then the red hot iron 
pillars that hold the wall gradually bent under its weight and ... the whole 
mass gave way and fell to the ground.  Then the shouts of the people as the 
volumes of smoke doubled in density - and the great mass surged past us as if 
borne back by the falling house.  Then I looked at my companion  - but the 
scene was too exciting for his feeble state of health; he had lost every 
vestige of color and could only gasp for air.  So we withdrew from the scene 
as hastily as possible, at the risk of being run over by the mob.  I cannot 
give you an idea of the fearful excitement of that moment.

Returning to the house for my tea, we started out again at eight o'clock.  It 
seemed as if the whole city was on fire - the sky in every direction was 
lurid with the light from the burning houses - the deep tones of the fire 
bells & the distant shouting of the people.  Attracted by the light we made 
our way out Sixth Avenue to 40th St. - then across to Fifth Avenue - to where 
we heard the shouting of the mob - and to my horror & surprise discovered 
that the diabolical fiends had set the colored orphan asylum on fire.  There 
was the building flaming in every part - every room appearing to have 
separate flame of its own - and the fire rising above the roof against the 
dark sky.  In front ... the court yard men & boys  hurrying to & fro with 
bundles, bushes or anything   they could lay hands upon.  Deceived by 
comparative silence we supposed the rioters had dispersed & made our way into 
the courtyard - but soon after hearing the shouts of the returning mob we 
made a hasty retreat.  We took refuge on the steps of a large house and the 
mob surged past - and reaching the end of the block surged back again.  The 
number of people composing the mob was very small - and many of them quite 
young - shouting Jeff Davis - No draft - Horace Greeley to be hung - but we 
were obliged to remain quiet until many minutes had elapsed before we thought 
it advisable to venture to go home.  From 44th St. to 30th St. at every 
corner of Fifth Av. were collected knots of six or a dozen men  - armed with 
staves, clubs, etc. - but we made our way quietly along & were not molested - 
but mighty glad when we got within range of Fifth Av. Hotel & more quiet 
neighborhood.  Even at the Hotel the crowd in front called out Jeff Davis & 
other like expression & yet no one dared to lift a hand.  It would have been 
perfect madness to have attempted to reply - for there were no policemen to 
be seen.  The police force were collected together but I know not where.

I afterwards made my way down to Canal St. & the St. Nicholas Hotel[4].  In 
Grand St. during the evening they killed another negro - and one of the 
clerks on his way home saw the mob chasing them in every direction.  This 
morning I passed Carmine St. where they hung a negro - just in front of a 
churchyard - and under this tree they afterwards kindled a bonfire burning 
the body above - and when I saw the place today the body had been taken down 
but the ground was blackened in every direction by the fire.

But I must stop.  You may suppose that my sleep last night was much disturbed 
- fire bells and the light of other fires kept one awake a good deal.  I fear 
that we have not yet seen the end of all this - but God only knows & He will 
protect you all.  If I think better tomorrow I will bring you to town but I 
think you are safer where you are.

God bless you.                                                

Your aff. son
E. M. Wright

[1] the Darien country house of Wright's father-in-law, Dr. Edward Delafield
[2] a mixture of oil and turpentine, used for illumination
[3] on Third Ave. near 24th St.
[4] on Broadway between Broome & Spring Sts.

Letter from Edward Markoe Wright (1837-1901) to his mother,
Sarah Markoe Wright (1809-1881), describing the NYC Draft Riots of 1863

     New York  July 15/63
Dear Mother

While the scenes that are passing remain vividly impressed on my mind I 
hasten to send you an account of yesterday & today.

Up to the present time the riot has continued - but it would seem now to have 
abated in violence.   Yesterday after I wrote to you the mob continued to 
attack negro boarding houses - against which there seems to be the utmost 
animosity - and enrolling offices in different parts of the city.  

Hearing that Mayor Opdyke's house had been sacked, I made my way uptown to 
see whether our house was safe - which is only a block above the mayor's.  On 
my way through the Park a dense crowd was assembled  in the lower part - 
almost filling the lower part of the Park as well as the entire square in 
front of the Times, World & Tribune offices.  All the cars & stages of the 
city have been stopped by the mob, with exception of the Grand St. line - the 
rabble threatening to tear up the tracks & destroy the depot houses if the 
cars or stages were run.  Just outside the Park and within 100 feet of the 
Barracks I saw a soldier not on duty standing talking among the crowd, when a 
rowdy deliberately walked up to him and slapped his face - which the soldier 
dared not resist - and no notice was taken by others - so completely  had the 
mob control over the crowd.  In front of the City Hall Governor Seymour was 
making a speech to the people - supported by a company of soldiers who held 
the steps of the Hall itself.  In front of the St. Nicholas Hotel where the 
Governor was staying were companies of soldiers commanding the street.  Again 
higher up - in Bleecker St. - I saw a small company of cavalry & artillerymen 
with two large cannon - which had done duty in the morning - having been 
fired on the mob - killing some & dispersing others.

Uptown I found that the mayor's residence had been attacked but by a small 
crowd - who had merely broken the lamps in front - and were soon after 
dispersed by the citizens.  

All railroad communication on the New Haven, Harlem & Hudson River RRs with 
the neighboring towns is entirely cut off - the rioters having taken up the 
tracks in a number of places to keep the military from arriving, which had 
been sent for.  The RR Cos. were unable to obtain any laborers who were 
willing to put down the track - and if they could have found any the mob who 
have complete control in the outskirts of the city threaten to burn & sack 
every depot in the neighborhood  & burn the stock.  An engine was run out of 
the engine house but the mob seized it - sent it back inside the yard & 
barred the gates - declaring that if they were opened the house should be 
burned down. 

I was therefore obliged to take the boat from Catherine St. to Stamford & 
drive over from there to Darien.  On my way down the carriage passed a house 
in the neighborhood of East B'way & ...[1] Streets which the rioters had almost 
completely demolished.  The entire front had been torn down and all the rooms 
exposed.  In front of this the mob was shouting & yelling like a parcel of 
devils.  Farther on as I passed the foot of Catherine St. I saw a large crowd 
collected about a block off - some red flags flying - & where they were 
evidently fighting.  As I afterwards learned, the rioters in the course of 
the evening sacked two large clothing stores of Brooks Bros.[2] -  completely 
robbing & taking away the entire stock - jewelry stores, boot stores & 
numbers of private houses & negro boarding houses were sacked & plundered & 
many of them set on fire.  The mob now seemed perfectly wild with their 
success & wandered through the streets in different directions committing 
violence of every kind & destroying thousands of dollars worth of property.  
They have had several collisions with the soldiery - who have fired upon them 
& numbers have been killed.  In one place on Pitt Street a well directed 
volley of musketry killed thirteen - wounding about twenty more - this scene 
being told me by a gentleman who saw the attack & firing.  More fires have 
commenced in other parts of the city and last night the alarms were more 
frequent than the day before ...

[1] left blank in the original
[2] at Catherine & Cherry Sts.  A claim was filed for $71,500 for stock destroyed.

Anne Wright Brown
©2002 Anne Wright Brown