Friday, January 4, 2013

A Broadside Ballad and the New York Draft Riots of 1863

Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, August 1, 1863.

by E.M. Sanchez-Saavedra

At a recent swap meet of American Civil War artifacts, I obtained a number of paper items, including some wartime newspapers and five broadside song sheets, one published by Henry De Marsan of New York City, and the remainder by Thomas M. Scroggy of Philadelphia, PA. The De Marsan broadside, ornamented by a crude pictorial “clown” border, is a frothy little number written and sung by popular entertainer and impresario Antonio “Tony” Pastor (1837-1908), entitled “Wait Till You Get It.” The title referred to a current slang expression of the 1860s. (A variant was “Don’t you wish you may get it!”)

‘Wait till You Get It,’ De Marsan song sheet, 1863.
The third stanza, which firmly dates the song to 1863-1864, reads:

A fellow gets drafted…he vows it’s too much;
He ain’t got “three hundred” – goes in for a crutch,
Saying: I must have exemption, you see that I’m lame;
But the keen Provost-Marshal is up to his game,
And Says: Wait till you get it,
Wait till you get it;
And if you don’t get it,
Just wait till you do!
(Collections of Tony Pastor’s songbooks may be downloaded HERE and HERE.)

‘I Am Not Sick’ song sheet, 1863.
Unfortunately, wars invariably last much longer than politicians and strategists envision. The American Civil War was no exception. President Lincoln’s initial call for 75,000 volunteers to “put down the Southern rebellion” set the term of service at a mere ninety days! The young patriots who flocked to enlist were soon disillusioned by hardship, disease and military defeat. Many served out their three months without ever seeing combat. Nevertheless, the Union army had no shortage of volunteers until the end of 1862, when the Southern Confederacy seemed to be winning on nearly all fronts. The frightful and needless carnage of Shiloh, Tennessee, the Seven Days’ Battles before Richmond, Virginia, and the fights at Antietam, Maryland and Fredericksburg, Virginia, plus the steady attrition of disease and wounds, forced the federal government to institute the first U.S. military draft. The Enrollment Act, which went into effect on March 3, 1863, held all able-bodied males between ages 20 and 45 liable for military service for three years. It negated the militia law of 1862, which allowed the federal army to appropriate troops raised by the individual states. Now the U.S. Army could conscript men directly. (The Confederate States government had instituted conscription nearly a year earlier, in April 1862. The C.S. act drafted males between 18 and 35, but provided for a wide variety of exemptions, including clergy, teachers, slaves, overseers, agriculturists, key railroad personnel, and so on.)

‘Wanted a Substitute.’
The Union conscription act exempted the under- and over-age and physically unfit (“goes in for a crutch”) BUT it allowed a significant loophole. If a citizen, prior to being drafted, could furnish $300.00 – approximately a year’s salary – to pay for a substitute, or could present a substitute in person, he was off the hook. This provision was to lead to a world of headaches for the authorities and created a lucrative underworld of substitute brokerages, fraud, “bounty jumpers,” and a groundswell of popular discontent. The phrase: “rich man’s war and poor man’s fight” quickly became a battle cry among those who couldn’t raise 300 cents, much less 300 dollars.

‘Wanted a Substitute’ song sheet.
A parody of James Sloan Gibbons’ song, “We are coming Father Abraham, 300,000 More” went:

We’re coming ancient Abraham, several hundred strong.
We hadn’t no 300 dollars and so we come along.
We hadn’t no rich parents to pony up the tin,
So we went unto the provost and there were mustered in.

Another popular tune was “Wanted – A Substitute.” Its sheet music contrasted two faces: a disgruntled one muttering, “I’m drafted” and a happy one declaring “I ain’t.”

New York Herald advertisements, November 30, 1863.
Adding to the toxic brew of resentment was the unforeseen negative reaction to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had gone into effect on January 1. Although at first it only affected slaves in the rebelling states and could not be immediately enforced, the measure raised the specter of a glut of unskilled labor overwhelming available jobs. A similar crisis had occurred during the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s that had created many of the New York and Boston slums. The bottom rung of northern society, still living in those slums and scrambling for employment, feared an influx of cheap labor, once large numbers of ex-slaves began fleeing north. This very real fear intensified extant racial prejudices to the breaking point.
New-York Tribune, Gettysburg Headlines, 1863.
To comply with federal manpower demands, city and county governments created local agencies to administer voluntary recruitment and involuntary conscription. The New York County Volunteer Committee was a bipartisan mix of city supervisors, including wealthy inventor and arms dealer Orison Blunt and his political opponent, “Boss” William Marcy Tweed. In their effort to raise the county’s quota of 30,000 troops, the committee exploited fears of the draft process by offering large cash bounties to volunteers. To the government the choice was simple – either join willingly and receive $677.00 up front, or be drafted and receive nothing but a paltry $13.00 a month in army pay. However, the authorities ignored the glaring third choice – draft resistance – at their peril.

The New-York Times, July 20, 1863.
During the Spring and hot Summer of 1863, a huge Confederate army under General Robert E. Lee invaded Maryland and Pennsylvania. After two years of military reverses, unimaginable casualties and inter-class resentment, the larger urban populations had become an unstable powder keg. In addition to the regular troops sent to the mid-Atlantic theater of war, numerous emergency militia units were hastily organized to meet the threat. This additional call for men tipped the balance. Prefiguring the divisions that the Vietnam conflict would engender a century later, a strong anti-war movement, led by so-called “copperheads” began to agitate for appeasement and “peace at any price.” Conspiracy theorists would claim that a strong fifth column of Confederate provocateurs was also active in the city, stirring up the poorer classes.

‘The Draft Riots in New York’ by D.M. Barnes, 1863.
Although it was North America’s largest city, New York was in reality a barely-cohesive and uneasy collection of mutually hostile enclaves, divided by ethnic, political and economic differences. (Under Mayor Fernando Wood, there had briefly been an impractical movement to secede from the Union, along with the southern states!) Mayor George Opdyke, elected in 1862, was a weak leader who could barely keep order among the brawling factions. (Even the police force was divided between the “Municipal” constables, hired by the city, and the “Metropolitans” under the control of the state government at Albany! The two forces often fought each other in the streets.) Martin Scorsese’s 2002 film, “Gangs of New York,” although seriously flawed, did an excellent job of reflecting the corrupt politics and tribal divisions within the city and the seething rage that finally erupted in July 1863. Mayor Opdyke’s heavy-handed implementation of the draft, coupled with an inadequate police presence, a large, discontented population, a handful of rabble-rousers and a brutally hot summer combined to produce the New York Draft Riots.

Bounty Scene, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, March 19, 1864.
The violence began when members of the volunteer “Black Joke” fire engine company raided a draft office at 46th Street, during the enrollment proceedings of July 13. Although a quick-thinking federal marshal locked the enrollment records in a fireproof safe, the office and several adjoining buildings burned down. Convalescent soldiers from the Invalid Corps relieved a squad of unarmed Metropolitan police and fired on the rioters, who turned on them and killed three.

New York Bounty Offer, November 30, 1863.
Although the initial targets of the mob’s wrath were the Provost Marshal’s office and the draft offices near the infamous Five Points, the city’s black population soon became the focus of pent-up hatred. Individual lynchings and beatings escalated to mass outrages such as the burning of the Colored Orphan Asylum. Outnumbered police constables and the Police Superintendent were also victims of assault and murder, as were innocent passersby. Mobs attacked the offices of the New York Tribune and the New York Times and many businesses went up in flames after being looted, notably Brooks Brothers clothiers. What began as a localized attack on draft enrollment soon became an outpouring of mob anarchy. Slum dwellers stockpiled paving stones (“Five Points confetti”) in their rooms and pelted policemen in the streets, while others erected barricades and prepared for combat.
Because it was spontaneous and disorganized, the rioting became sporadic as crowds came together, fought the police, looted and then dispersed. Many neighborhoods were untouched, while others were the scenes of incessant fighting. Governor Horatio Seymour came to the city and attempted to reason with the rioters, addressing them as “My friends,” a phrase which came back to haunt him. Eventually, state troops began to be deployed, the Metropolitan Police received firearms, and order gradually came to neighborhood after neighborhood. And no, unlike the climax of “Gangs of New York,” the U.S. Navy did not indiscriminately shell downtown Manhattan (home to the nation’s largest financial district.) At least 120 civilians died, scores more were wounded, and dozens of buildings burned or were otherwise wrecked in three days of terror. New York was not alone; several other cities experienced various degrees of violent response to the draft.

New York Herald recruiting ad, November 30, 1863.
(For a well-written and comprehensive study of the uprising, see Barnet Schecter, The Devil’s Own Work; The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America, New York: Walker & Co., 2005.)
Although New Yorkers were badly shaken, the draft resumed. The Volunteer Committee’s work eventually became easier as more volunteers chose the bounty option. A lively engraving from a sketch by George Law in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, March 19, 1864, depicts a recruiting depot in New York’s City Hall Park. Emblazoned across the top of the shed are the cash bounties for new recruits and veterans, and the reward for “runners” who brought in volunteers. (Also shown are billboards for various jewelers, a clothier and a tonic manufacturer, all of whom were regular advertisers in Frank Leslie’s publications.) From left to right, the artist has shown a group of immigrants, including a well-dressed German with a long pipe, an Irishman with a clay pipe, and a man with a goatee and imperial, being importuned by two cavalry recruiters. At center are two tattered men and a man leaning on a cane. Behind them are several men in army and navy caps, debating whether or nor to re-enlist. Behind the field piece is a “runner” in a loudly checked coat, dragging a slouching recruit. Leaning on the cannon’s wheel are a recruiting officer and a “hard case,” both puffing cigars. Two shabby men, escorted by a policeman, are approaching from the right, the central figure looking terrified.

New York Herald substitutes ad, August 29, 1864.
Perhaps they represent the Hobson’s choice expressed in Harrigan and Hart’s postwar song, 
The Regular Army, O!”

 We had our choice of going to the army or to jail, Or it’s up the Hudson River with a cop to take a sail; So we puckered up our courage and with bravery we did go. And we cursed the day we marched away with the Regular Army, O!
The accuracy of this scene is borne out by various advertisements in the New York Herald for November 30, 1863. (Note the misprint of $477 instead of the correct $677!)

New York Herald substitutes ad, August 29, 1864.
In addition to the recruiting ads, the newspapers of the day were soon flooded with want ads by and for substitutes. These examples from the New York Herald for August 29, 1864, are typical. Of interest is the notice that a collection of forged substitute documents “for sale by runners” was on display at the Seaman’s Bank in Brooklyn. Other ads stress that both the army and navy wanted “Aliens and Colored Men.” By this time, the County Volunteer Committee’s bounty had shrunk from $677.00 to a paltry $270.00, but independent brokers had taken up the slack and were offering $1,000.00 to men willing to enlist for three years. Other ads reflected the prevailing corruption and fraud: “Two veterans, who have honorably served for three years, are willing to go as substitutes for gentlemen and those only. No agents or runners will be treated with.” The official U.S. Recruiting Rendezvous, under Captain E. Combs of the 166th N.Y. Volunteers, promised “EVERY DOLLAR OF BOUNTY WILL BE PAID as promised by him, and NO FALSE REPRESENTATIONS WILL BE MADE. THOSE WHO WISH TO ENLIST BEFORE THE DRAFT ARE WARNED not to allow themselves to be defrauded by Sharpers around the various Recruiting Rendezvous of the city.”

New York Herald substitutes ad, August 29, 1864.
As it turned out, the recruiting sharpers and brokers were the least of the army’s enlistment worries. Large numbers of “bounty jumpers” volunteered, took the money and then deserted, often repeating the process several times. Needless to say, they were poor soldiers when finally corralled into a regiment and created most of the disciplinary problems in their units. Many were captured by the Confederates and survived by bullying and robbing their fellow prisoners at Belle Isle and Andersonville. Six of the worst of these “raiders” were tried by their peers and hanged for their crimes in the Andersonville, Georgia, stockade in 1864 and were buried in a separate plot in the national cemetery.

Raiders Graves, Andersonville Cemetery.
The Tony Pastor song sheet that triggered these ruminations about Civil War enlistment and civil disobedience in 1863, was one of thousands of penny broadsides hawked by itinerant vendors and sold in stationers’ and music shops. Henry de Marsan, successor to J. Andrews, published about 300 song sheets, “all of a patriotic character” during the war years. De Marsan, about whom almost nothing is known, billed himself in 1868 as the
“Publisher of Songs, Song-Books and Toy Books, Comic and Sentimental Valentines, Motto Verses, Stationery, Playing-Cards and other cheap articles for the Trade,” at “The Old Original Song-Depot, 60 Chatham Street … Established more than 25 years. Over 2,500 songs always on hand.” 
Henry De Marsan’s Singer’s Journal, 1868.
He also published about 200 issues of a “Singer’s Journal” in magazine format until about 1880, containing lyrics and some sheet music to popular songs. And from the beginning, people collected song sheets and patriotic ephemera.

‘The Corkers’ song sheet.
John A. McAllister, Jr. of Philadelphia began collecting ballads and printed ephemera during the Civil War and preserved them in scrapbooks. An illustrated catalog of the McAllister song sheet collection in the Library Company of Philadelphia may be downloaded HERE.

‘Jolly Jack the Rover’ song sheet.
The remaining four song sheets in my little group are from the press of Thomas M. Scroggy of Philadelphia, another shadowy cheap publisher. In 1863 he was a member of Company H., 45th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, a hastily-organized militia unit formed to repel Lee’s invasion of the state. Scroggy served from July through August 29, 1863, when the emergency units were disbanded. Although they are not specifically patriotic, they represent the popular music of the period – three comic ballads and a sentimental one.

‘The Grave of Bonaparte’ song sheet.
‘The Girl from Udall’s Mill’ song sheet.


  1. A very useful contribution to pop-culture history. This stuff was ephemeral indeed, and all printed on nasty pulp. It's a wonder you've been able to track down so much of it.

    A small demurral, however, on your description of the New York "Draft Riots": this was not some spontaneous outbreak of mob violence by impoverished slum-dwellers. That fable was put out by the NY Tribune, NY Times, and Loyal League pamphleteers, but doesn't square with the evidence. For that matter, the venue wasn't Five Points, which had seen its heyday 50 years earlier.

  2. Sanchez-Saavedra responds: Obviously, there was no "single bullet" cause for the 1863 riots, but much of the actual violence seems to have been pretty spontaneous, once the spark had ignited. As usual, a deadly brew of politics, racism and economic factors provided the spark.

    The mob behavior was similar to more recent paroxysms, such as the "Rodney King" riots in L.A. And never discount hot weather.

    Although the worst of the rioting occurred farther uptown, the looters did not live in midtown Manhattan but in the poorer downtown sections like the "Bloody Sixth" Ward (including the Five Points.)