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New York City Draft Riots
Harper's Weekly Article - September 5, 1863

The following is transcribed from Harper's Weekly, Journal of Civilization, dated September 5, 1863:

Resumption of the Draft in New York

Resumption of the Draft -- Outside the Provost Marshall's Office Sixth District

The Crowd Cheers

Resumption of the Draft -- Inside the Provost Marshall's Office, Sixth District

The Wheel Goes Round

Resumption  of the Draft in New York

          During the five weeks' interval that elapsed between the first attempt at effecting a conscription in the city of New York and the late order stating that the draft was to be carried out at any cost, surmises were rife as to the course likely to be taken by Government in the matter. Many persons thought, or affected to think, that the conscription was indefinitely postponed, owing to an unwillingness on the part of the authorities to wound again the fine feelings of a metropolitan mob by a new exhibition of the unpalatable "black draught," which so decidedly imparted its color to the four dark days of July 1863. Thee were not wanting those who averred that the rowdies of New York had once for all established their superiority over law and order. Others took a very different view of the matter. It, in their view, was a question touching the efficiency of the Government, and its ability to protect well-conducted citizens against the atrocious violence of what are now appropriately designated as the "dangerous classes." Every loyal citizen felt that the majesty of the Government was a stake; and the general sentiment among good Union men was that the draft should be effected at once -- peaceably, if possible; forcibly, if necessary.

          Well, one morning, when nearly five weeks had elapsed since the first attempt at carrying out the conscription in the city, the order arrived for immediately proceeding with the draft as first contemplated. There was as slight gleaming of bayonets visible through the wording of the official documents; and, as if to crown the odious tyranny inflicted upon the "dangerous classes," General Dix comes out with an Address to the People, in which, after hoping and trusting, and being quite confident that the conscription would go on peaceably, he winds up by saying that it would have to go on at any rate!

          Nothing could be more striking than the contrast between the city as it raved upon the four black days of July and as smiled during the 19th day of August and the subsequent days of the resumed draft. Men who were gorillas when the black days were upon us, appeared, by comparison, to have become converted into very affable gentlemen. If you walked the highways and by-ways of the city on the morning of Wednesday, the 19th August, it was at no peril of life or limb, as it most certainly would have been on Wednesday, the 15th of July. The gorilla appeared to have gone out of town. The swift and even-handed justice that has lately presided over affairs in the Recorder's Court had certainly some little influence in bringing about this reform. So had the suggestive howitzer.

          The house No. 185 Sixth Avenue, a portion of which is occupied officially by the Provost Marshal of the Sixth District, has now a historical interest attaching to it as the premises upon which was settled the great test question of August, 1863, viz.: whether the land was to be ruled by the Government or by the mob of New York.

          Inside the railing that intersects the Provost Marshal's room several officers were employed in making preparations for the draft. The "wheel," which is simply a hollow box of wood with an axle through it, mounted on a perpendicular frame, and about three feet in diameter, was hoisted upon a table, and great anxiety was now evinced by the spectators for the commencement of the proceedings. While the officers were charging the wheel with the 7000 scrolls containing the enrolled names, many mirthful exhortations were addressed to them by certain funny men, who appeared to have been specially detailed from some hall of Ethiopian minstrelsy to keep the crowd outside the railing in good humor.

          Presently the two officials so eagerly looked for made their appearance and took their station upon the table. One of them a tall, big-boned, blind man, whose well-accredited blindness was secured in its proper place by a rather superfluous red handkerchief bound tightly over his eyes. His duty was to stand on the left of the wheel, and grope out there form the successive scrolls as it slowly revolved. He now became a target for the funny men in the crowd.

          "I'm watching you," cried one. "I saw you trying to peep from under the handkercher that time; that's not fair!" a sally at which the blind man laughed as heartily as any body else.

          "Now then, blind man!: shouted another, "what makes you so slow with that 'ere draft?"

          "He doesn't see it!" rejoined a voice from the other end of the room.

          The hilarity of the outsiders was now checked by the stern voice of the Provost Marshal. The necessary documents were read. "Hats off in front!" was the word, and, amidst a breathless silence, the creaking wheel made its first revolution, and the name of the conscript was announced.

          And thus the draft in New York became an accomplished fact. Not a finger was raised in defiance of the authorities. There was no "revolution" save that of the dull, hollow wheel, which continues to go steadily its round while these lines are being written. Mob law has found more than its match in New York.

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