Tammany Hall’s Boss Tweed brokered a deal with local politicians to solve Lincoln’s problem of obtaining soldiers after the draft riots of July 1863. Locating substitute recruits for drafted city residents, he would use the city treasury to pay whatever signing bonus the competitive market required and tap a special $2 million substitute fund financed by Wall Street bonds. Should a resident get caught in Lincoln’s draft net, he could either use the fund to buy his way out, or join the army and keep the money. With this scheme, Lincoln used Tammany Hall to run his draft in New York, though Tweed’s recruitment drive eventually attracted scandal with abusive bounty brokers, unqualified soldiers (from local prisons or immigrants literally straight from Europe) and middlemen who made fortunes from graft.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Few Patriots Found in New York City
“For four days terror reigned, marked by a series of grisly lynchings. A mob even swarmed onto a British ship in the harbor, and despite the Captain’s protests, cruelly beat up the foreign Negroes among the crew. The police were barely able to save the Tribune Building from total destruction. Men searched for the Tribune’s editor, singing, “We’ll hang Horace Greeley from a sour apple tree.”
A Negro orphanage on Fifth Avenue was burned to the ground. Looters had a field day, among them screeching women who opposed conscription. Troops were rushed from Gettysburg [immediately after the battle]; cadets from West Point came to aid the police; the entire naval force in the region was called upon to quell the disturbance. Finally, in desperation, the military raked the streets with cannon fire. But what really stopped the rioting was a posted notice: “the draft has been suspended in New York City and Brooklyn.”
The newspapers carried the word in huge print. Order was finally restored. According to the Tribune of July 25, some 350 people had been killed; but other estimates went much higher. Casualties, including the injured, amounted to 1,000 and private property damage was estimated at $1,500,000. Republican newspapers claimed the outbreak had been sparked by Confederate agents. But Democratic party feeling and a sincere desire for peace were mingled with race prejudice and resentment against what the anti-Lincoln papers called the “incompetence” of the Administration.
Men resented fighting against their convictions and were indignant at “governmental “frauds and profiteering.” Apparently, from the magnitude of the outbreak, the London Times had not been far wrong in predicting that if the South won in Pennsylvania, Jefferson Davis and General Robert E. Lee would
receive a rousing welcome along Broadway. Soon after the tumult subsided, the Democratic City Council of New York voted that the exemption [from military service] money of four hundred dollars for impecunious draftees would be paid from the city treasury. To meet Governor [Horatio] Seymour’s charge that the conscription as practiced was “unequal, fraudulent and a disgrace,” President Lincoln reduced the New York quotas [for troops].
When the draft was resumed a month later, he took the precaution of sending 10,000 infantrymen and three artillery batteries from the Army of the Potomac to see that the business went off quietly.
During New York’s bloody pandemonium, [British Colonel Arthur] Freemantle had been surprised to hear everyone talking of the “total demoralization of the Rebels.” To him it sounded absurd, since only a few days previously he had left Lee’s army “as full of fight as ever,” much stronger and more efficient from every military point of view than when it had crossed the Potomac to invade Maryland the previous September. In the Colonel’s opinion, Lee’s army had “not lost any of its prestige at the battle of Gettysburg, in which it had most gallantly stormed strong entrenchments defended by the whole Army of the Potomac.”
Freemantle took ship for England and completed his book of observations at sea. “The mass of respectable Northerners,” he wrote, “though they may be willing to pay, do not very naturally feel themselves called upon to give their blood in a war of aggression, ambition and conquest . . . The more I think of all I have seen in the Confederate States of the devotion of the whole population, the more I feel inclined to say with General Polk—“How can you subjugate such a people as this?”
[And] even supposing that their extermination were a feasible plan, as some Northerners have suggested, I never can believe that in the nineteenth century the civilized world will be condemned to witness the destruction of such a gallant race.”
(Jefferson Davis, Confederate President, Hudson Strode, Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1959, pp. 458-460)