John E. Wool and the New York City draft riots of 1863: a reassessment.
Despite his illustrious career, Wool's reputation has been permanently sullied because he commanded the Union forces in New York City during the disastrous draft riots of July 1863, among the worst civil disturbances in American history. (2) The draft riots erupted on July 13 and continued unabated for four days and nights. The violence was largely fueled by efforts to enforce Federal conscription policies, which allowed drafted men of privilege to buy a waiver for $300. The first draft lottery was conducted on Saturday, July 11, and a second was scheduled for two days later. On the morning of July 23, a mob gathered, attacking and beating several police officers. The rioters then marched to the provost marshal's office where the draft lottery was taking place and set fire to the building. They cut the telegraph lines and wrecked several street cars. Numbering in the thousands, the mob then attacked public and private property, especially businesses and homes owned by wealthy New Yorkers, leading Republicans, and African Americans. Among the many sites stormed by the rioters were Horace Greeley's New York Tribune building and the Brooks Brothers clothing store. The mob burned down both the provost marshal's office and the Colored Orphan Asylum. At least eleven African Americans were murdered during the rampage. After four days, the riot finally ended when Archbishop John Hughes made an impassioned speech to quell the mob, beseeching them to return to their homes. In all, at least 119 people were killed, and 178 soldiers and police and 128 civilians were wounded. More than $1.5 million in property was damaged or destroyed. (3)
Historian Iver Bernstein has clearly shown that a "multiplicity of grievances" contributed to the disturbance and that the make-up of the mob changed over the course of the riots. The first day, Irish and German immigrants and native-born Americans took to the streets. Laborers, artisans, and even the city's volunteer firemen initially participated. By day two, the rioters tended to be Irish cartmen, quarrymen, and street pavers, as well as workers employed on the docks and in the railroad yards and foundries. By the fourth day, underaged boys joined the melee, contributing their own brand of mischief, destruction, and violence to the rampage. (4)
Though much of the scholarly literature of the draft riots does not focus on Wool's overall command, historians nevertheless have not been kind to the general. They have perpetuated the criticism made by the general's contemporaries, some of whom harbored private agendas. His stern personality often engendered bitter reactions from his peers and subordinates, making Wool a convenient scapegoat for those seeking to shift blame for this disaster away from themselves. As a result, historians who relied on these biased accounts for their analysis of Wool found him entirely lacking. Ageism also played a role in establishing the general's reputation. His advanced age--seventy-nine at the time of the riots--made Wool an easy target for contemporaries and historians who equated leadership skills with youth. Because of biases and interpretive errors in existing studies, Wool's handling of the draft riots deserves another look. The voluminous Wool papers in the New York State Library in Albany and a detailed re-reading of other documentary evidence clearly show that the general functioned well during the draft riots, demonstrating vigor and competence as he performed his administrative duties.
The most damning evaluation of Wool's leadership was presented by historian Adrian Cook in The Armies of the Streets: The New York City Draft Riots of 1863. Cook relied too much on the observations of one officer, Capt. Walter Franklin, 12th U.S. Infantry, who stated that the general seemed to be "very much confused and worn out" when Federal troops from Fort Hamilton arrived in New York on the evening of July 13. Cook maintained that Wool's "battles had all been fought. Seventy-five [actually seventy-nine] years of age and infirm, he was not fit for service in 1863." He added, "Except for a few hours on Monday, Wool confined himself during the riots to a purely ceremonial function as the ranking general in the city." It should be noted that Franklin and other Federal officers in New York's harbor forts were under the command of Brevet Brig. Gen. Harvey Brown, who ignored Wool's orders and undermined his authority in the midst of the crisis. Unlike Wool, Brown was a West Pointer wPio saw the commander of the Department of the East as a relic of the old regular army. Cook embraced Brown's point of view without question, hailing him as the antithesis of Wool, a "general of skill and energy." (5)
Brown was not the only Union official to shift blame for the riots; the military command in Washington, D.C., also scapegoated Wool for others' failings. Although Wool had notified the Union command about the defenseless nature of New York City's harbor forts throughout the first half of 1863, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles ignored the general's warnings. He later noted in diary entries written during the draft riots that "Wool was unfitted by age for such duties though patriotic and well-disposed." Welles went on to suggest that Wool be replaced with a commander of "more vigorous mind" to settle the disturbance. (6)
Ever since, historians have repeated the impressions of Wool set forth by Franklin, Brown, and Welles. In 1990, Iver Bernstein wrote, "General Wool was a War of 1812 veteran who many thought too old and infirm to take aggressive action." That same year, Ernest A. McKay's The Civil War and New York City shifted the focus from Wool's age to the general's personality quirks, stating that he was "often regarded as a vain eccentric" who "frequently exceeded his authority." By 1999, Allen C. Guelzo was pointing to both Wool's age and his personality clashes with Brown as an explanation for his failure to quell the riots. (7)
Wool's personality did clearly effect contemporaries'judgments about him. He was obsessed with administrative detail, such that his papers in the New York State Library contain some 40,000 pieces of correspondence. Wool's biographer, Harwood E. Hinton, offers an explanation about why the general has been so misunderstood: "Like others who grew to manhood in the early republic, Wool held honor to be man's greatest virtue. Whenever his honor or reputation was impugned, he retorted sharply, causing many to believe him petulant and vain." As a result, historians have misjudged this self-confident and proud man, characterizing him as stiff, obstreperous, and egotistical. (8)
On numerous occasions during his long military career, Wool found himself in the maelstrom of controversy, and in several instances he faced official reprimand. Each time, he survived and advanced up the chain of command because of his ability to get things done and the numerous political debts owed him by the military brass for taking unpopular assignments. After the War of 1812, Wool served for twenty-five years as the inspector general of the United States Army, where he exposed frauds in contracts and ensured honest and efficient procurement of military supplies. In 1836, he was placed in command of the Cherokee removal but soon fell into disfavor with the governors of Alabama and Georgia because he did not want to accede entirely to their states' rights agenda. Wool was court-martialed for his actions, but was unanimously acquitted by a military court headed by Winfield Scott. (9) In the 1850s, Wool served in another contentious post as head of the Department of the Pacific. There, in the wake of the Gold Rush, he encountered increasing frontier tensions that resulted in wars with the Indians.
The outbreak of the Civil War should have brought new opportunities for Wool. The general, now known as "Granny Wool," had more field and administrative experience than any other general, with the exception of Scott. After the attack on Fort Sumter, Wool took charge of operations in New York City, working with the city's leading citizens to mobilize for war. Expecting to play a major role in the Union army, he issued orders for arms without getting approval in advance from his superiors. This resulted in official sanction and probably ruined Wool's chances for advancement. Later, when General Scott retired in 1861, Wool was bypassed for the top post in the Union army, and younger men were promoted ahead of him for key positions in the war effort. (10)
The antagonisms were mutual. Wool was a generalin the "Old Army," he was not educated at West Point, and he was set in his ways by the time of the Civil War. For these reasons, younger officers with their own ideas about command sometimes held Wool in contempt. For his part, Wool considered many Union officers to be military upstarts, especially Union major general George B. McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac. Wool resented having to report to the young general. As a "ramrod-straight and sharp-tongued man," Wool was frequently critical of McClellan's deliberate leadership style, sloppy administrative practices, and his tendency to overestimate the enemy. On several occasions, Granny Wool went over McClellan's head by sending critical letters to the War Department as well as to President Lincoln. This internal conflict continued unabated in the first half of 1862. (11)
In June 1862, Wool was assigned to head the Middle Department headquartered at Baltimore. The problems faced by General Wool in Maryland were similar to what he would encounter in New York City the following year. In order to ensure the defense of Union supply lines and to protect strategic railroads, Wool was forced to divert Federal troops away from Baltimore. Like New York City, Baltimore was home to a significant population opposed to Lincoln and the war. Also like New York, Maryland had an uncooperative governor with whom the strong-willed general had to lock horns. Wool quickly drew criticism for being incompetent and too old. Yet, he was remarkably even-handed in his approach to the defense of the city. On the one hand, Wool prepared for August implementation of the draft by announcing that he would declare martial law in Baltimore if there were any disturbances. On the other, Wool released so-called "political prisoners," for which he was criticized as "too soft" on southern sympathizers. (12)
Wool's tenure in Maryland was frought with difficulty. With Lee preparing to invade Maryland, Wool sent additional troops and arms to Washington, D.C. Fearing that Lee would seize Harpers Ferry and being short on troops, Wool refused to send home the three-month enlistees guarding the Federal arsenal there. He tried to work with McClellan and placed his troops under McClellan's command before Harpers Ferry fell. Despite his efforts, a military commission later blamed Wool unfairly for the loss of Harpers Ferry, even though McClellan was in charge. The commission's conclusions were rejected by General-in-chief Henry Halleck and President Lincoln, and Wool was subsequently exonerated. (13)
In November 1862, Wool suffered a stroke that affected his right hand. After being promised another assignment, he returned to his home in Troy to recuperate and await orders. He appears to have made a rapid recovery. On January 12, 1863, the general was placed in command of the Department of the East, headquartered in New York City. His return to the Empire State occurred precisely at the time Horatio Seymour became governor. Even though both men were members of the Democrat party, Wool abhorred Seymour and viewed him with suspicion for his antidraft sentiments. This uneasy relationship with the governor directly affected the events surrounding the New York City draft riots. Contemporary observers and historians have attributed Wool's overly deliberate reaction to the draft riots to age or incompetence, but his behavior can clearly be traced to tensions with Seymour.
Wool's post in New York City seemed the perfect assignment for the general to finish out his remarkable career. Close to his home in Troy--150 miles by convenient rail service---the city was a familiar environment for Wool. A New Yorker by birth, Wool was one of the more admired figures in the Empire State because of his defense of New York in the War of 1812. A Unionist Democrat with highly influential Republican friends, including former governor Edwin D. Morgan, Seymour's chief political rival, Wool had seen duty in the city after the War of 1812. Moreover, as previously noted, the general, while a temporary resident in the city in the spring of 1861, helped mobilize the state's military war effort. Although New York City had strong anti-Lincoln sympathies and sharp class, ethnic, and racial divisions, Wool was well suited for the assignment because of his knowledge of the city and state, his wide military and administrative experience, and his previous assignment in Baltimore. He was now set to return to the St. Nicholas Hotel in Manhattan, the site of his earlier residence and the headquarters for his command during the draft riots.
His Department of the East was a new military district that included New England as well as the Empire State. Although its manpower numbers changed quickly, the district contained more than four thousand men at the time of Wool's assignment, with a substantial percentage housed in four of the nine forts in New York harbor. Far from the politics of the Army of the Potomac, Wool focused on strengthening coastal defenses, apprehending deserters, incarcerating Confederate prisoners, and maintaining and preserving order. Taking command in April 1863, Wool busied himself with these responsibilities, making a favorable first impression on the city's leaders. Prominent New Yorker George Templeton Strong noted a month into Wool's tenure that the general was a "quiet, dignified and courteous" man. (14)
Despite his advanced age, Wool appeared to be fully recovered from his recent stroke, but his wife continued to worry about his health. The general comforted her by writing that she should not have any "apprehensions of myself" and promised not to overwork. He insisted he was in very good health but that he had a heavy heart since he was preoccupied with "putting down the rebellion." In the letters, he talked proudly of his physical stamina. For example, after inspecting Forts Columbus, Castle William, Hamilton, and Lafayette, Wool boasted, "This running up and down the ramparts, up and down stairs and the inspection of hospitals is by no means light work. Those younger than myself, for instance, Colonels Cram and Delafidd, complained of the fatigue. The latter had to give up long before I finished the duties." (15)
Almost from the first, the general noted severe problems with his New York command in letters home. Frugal government spending limited military supplies in his department, causing Wool to remark that "we are penny wise and pound foolish." He detailed supply inadequacies in letters to his wife after his inspection tours of armories, barracks, hospitals, and the harbor forts. He also complained of massive paperwork, such as having to examine three hundred pages of documents to make a report. By late May, Wool's letters described the growing local opposition to Lincoln's war effort, commented critically on Clement L. Vallandlngham and the Copperheads, and contained snide remarks about Seymour and his political associate Erastus Corning. The general saw the governor as cooperating with the Copperheads and even promoting treason by his virulent speeches against Lincoln and conscription policies. (16)
In addition to tensions caused by a prolonged longshoreman's strike and the Federal draft act of March 3,1863, Wool had other concerns. Federal troops at Plattsburgh, New York, were near mutiny, and Wool's forces in New York City were down sharply.
Force reduction began on April 29, 1863, when some troops within the city were ordered south. The manpower crisis increased steadily, especially after June 20, 1863, because of Lee's "big scare," in Wool's words, namely the Confederate general's second invasion of the north which culminated at Gettysburg in early July. (17)
From the last week in June to the onset of the draft riots on July 13, Wool addressed the deepening crisis by appealing to officials in Washington, D.C., and Albany. In a June 20 letter to Governor Seymour, Wool described New York City as "defenseless" and a "great emporium" vulnerable to seizure because of undermanned harbor forts. (18) He met with the city's civic and business leaders, and at Wool's urgent request, former Governor Morgan began lobbying for more troops. On June 27, Wool wrote Secretary of War Stanton indicating that he could not afford to send any more men south because the harbor defenses were exposed. The day the Union ironclad USS Roanoke departed New York's harbor, Wool pestered Secretary of the Navy Welles in two separate requests. Wool expressed his disappointment about the Roanoke, fearing its departure would "produce a very great excitement among all classes--friends as well as foes." The letter clearly reveals that Wool knew full well of the tense climate in the city, which was caused in part by the upcoming draft lottery.19 At the same time, the general also had to use Federal troops to load and unload military supplies on the docks because the city's waterfront was still in the grip of a long strike, one that was made more complicated by ugly racial antagonisms between striking Irish stevedores and black strike breakers. On June 28, Wool again wrote Welles repeating his claim that undermanned harbor guns were exposing the defenses of the city, making it vulnerable to Confederate naval raiders. (20)
In response to Lee's incursion, Gen. Lorenzo Thomas ordered Wool to send two companies and artillery from the harbor posts to Pennsylvania. Wool hesitated, stating that he had applied for state troops, and once they arrived he would accede to Thomas' request. On July 3, Wool clearly explained to Thomas that he was handicapped by New York State officials' reluctance to take his requests seriously:
All the artillerists of this city have been sent to Harrisburg. A regiment of infantry will be forwarded today. I have asked the Governor of New York to send me a regiment, or less, of State artillery. I have received no reply. Brigadier General Sprague [New York State Adjutant General] says it would be difficult to get them at this moment. If I send you the two companies of artillery, numbering 155 effective men, I shall only have 460 enlisted men for duty to man the guns of nine forts, including Governor's Island.
The very same day, Wool received a severe rebuke from Thomas for waiting until the request for state troops had been met and for not processing Thomas' orders fast enough given the "emergency" in Pennsylvania. Thomas indicated that the troops would have been "one hundred times more service" at Harrisburg than they possibly could have been at Fort Hamilton. (21)
After Thomas's initial request for more troops, Wool wrote Adm. Hiram Paulding, the commandant of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, informing him of the severity of the crisis. Wool indicated that he feared "one hundred million dollars of property damage if and when a Confederate vessel attacked." He requested that the U.S.S. Passaic be made operationalimmediately to defend the exposed harbor. In the event of an attack, Wool hoped "you will be able to halt it with some of your steamers. We have no lookout vessel at Fort Schuyler." On July 5, after finally sending troops from Fort Hamilton southward, Wool placed his command on emergency footing, informing Stanton that he had installed more long-range guns at the harbor defenses and had moved Confederate prisoners at Fort Columbus out of the city to free up men on guard duty. (22)
Wool apparently hoped that state troops would soon arrive to fill the void. Yet Seymour and the New York State Adjutant General's office delayed in meeting his request. In the wake of heavy New York losses at Gettysburg, Wool was soon faced with a nearly impossible task, namely implementing a draft amidst intense ethnic, racial, political, and labor strife.
On July 8,1863, Acting United States Adjutant General E. D. Townsend ordered Wool to organize four more companies to carry out the conscription of new troops in New York State. Two would be stationed at Riker's Island in New York harbor. Because he had no Federal troops to spare, Wool wrote Governor Seymour informing him of Townsend's request. The generalindicated that he needed four hundred men and eight companies of artillery because the city was "in a defenseless condition." Wool urged that these troops be sent "with as little delay as practicable," but New York officials refused to budge. They wanted assurances that the troops would be used only in-state, and that the Federal government would pay for the entire cost of the operation except for the transportation of the troops. The New York State Inspector General Josiah Miller wrote Wool that the state troops would be ready to move by July 11 as long as these assurances were met. (23)
Officials in Washington, D.C., did not care to know the depths of Wool's problems in dealing with New York officials. Wool's dilemma largely stemmed from having to deal with a governor who impeded his efforts at every turn. Governor Seymour was a leading critic of conscription because of"the inequality and injustice" of the draft and its unfairness to New Yorkers of lesser means. Later, he became even more vocal about the draft, pointing out that Republicans had set higher enrollment quotas for Democratic districts throughout the state. He even attempted to suspend the draft's operation, vowing to initiate constitutional challenges to the Federal legislation. (24)
On July 4,1863, the governor, in a major speech at the Academy of Music in New York City, went so far as to state, "Remember this--tbat the bloody and treasonable and revolutionary doctrine of public necessity can be proclaimed by a mob as well as by a government." Despite his appeals, Seymour failed to get the draft lottery postponed. When the draft riots erupted in the early morning of July 13, Seymour was nowhere to be found. The governor was in New Jersey until the evening of July 14 when he returned to the city, thirty-three hours into the mayhem. (25) Only on July 16,1863, at 1:25 P.M., nearly eighty hours after the riot began, Seymour finally wrote Stanton. "There is great disorder here. It is important to have the New York and Brooklyn regiments sent home at once." By that time, the greatest civil disturbance to date in United States history was winding down, and Federal regiments had arrived to reinforce Wool's command. Thus, it is clear from Seymour's actions that much of the blame for the riots rests on his shoulders. Yet despite Seymour's failings, much of the blame was soon directed at Wool. (26)
A detailed day-by-day examination of Wool's command during the riots further reveals that he was a general of ability and one who was fit for duty. In addition to civilian and military officials' failure to send additional troops, artillery, and supplies prior to the July 13 outbreak, several other factors exacerbated the destructive force of the riots. First, city officials provided Wool with faulty information. In the initial hours of the riot, Col. Robert Nugent, the city's provost marshal, told Wool that 2,000 metropolitan policemen had things in hand, that the trouble had subsided, that martial law was not warranted, and that no further assistance was required. Soon after, Mayor Opdyke indicated that Wool need not send troops, but that the general should keep his force on alert. Despite these assurances, the mob grew into the thousands, and several neighborhoods erupted in violence at the same time. From the docks to Harlem, New York City was ablaze, and no one could stop it. The mayor and Wool both hesitated to declare martial law, fearing the move might backfire and inflame the tense situation over the draft. Later, the mayor requested the troops, and Wool responded by assigning most of the Federal force from the harbor forts to his command headquarters at the St. Nicholas Hotel. Alerted that the riots were spreading rapidly, Wool requested additional manpower, wiring the governors of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, the superintendent of West Point, the commandant of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and Federal authorities at Newark to send reinforcements. Convalescing soldiers were ordered back into duty. Wool also placed notices in newspapers requesting the help of volunteers, specifically soldiers who had already mustered out of service. (27)
Wool's early actions are confirmed in the writings of Mayor Opdyke, who praised the general for having the "promptitude and energy of a gallant soldier" who "did everything in his power to increase our military force and to render its services effective." Opdyke hailed Wool for ordering soldiers from the harbor forts and marines from the Brooklyn Navy Yard as soon as the mayor requested them. (28)
The second factor that exacerbated the severity of the riots was the disobedient actions of Brevet Maj. Gen. Harvey Brown, commander of the harbor forts (except for Fort Columbus) in New York City. Brown's actions complicated Wool's command and impeded its effectiveness in quelling the riots. On the evening of July 13, Brown offered his services to Wool, expressing willingness to serve in any capacity during the emergency. Because Brown was a battle-tested war hero, Wool believed that Brown could help in the crisis and readily accepted his offer. (29)
At the start of the riots, Wool had a force of fewer than four hundred able-bodied Federal troops at the harbor forts, so he was dependent on the six-hundredman state militia which arrived at his disposal on July 13. Wool chose Gen. Charles Sandford, the head of the New York State Militia, to lead and coordinate the response of this mixed force, comprised mostly of New York policemen, state militiamen, and a few Federal troops. Unfortunately, Sandford was a bureaucrat who had not been battle-tested. For three weeks, Wool had pleaded with state officials to reinforce his skeletal harbor detachment. Thus, because of his dependency on the city's police and non-Federal troops, Wool had little choice but to name Sandford to head the mixed force to quell the riot, much to the regret and protest of Brown. Wool, a man of vast administrative experience, was in no position to alienate state officials. Since he was desperate for militia to put down the riots, he could not accede to Brown's demands.
Knowing full well that Wool had chosen Sandford to head the bulk of the mixed force, with Colonel Nugent in charge of a portion of Federal troops, Brown nevertheless disobeyed Wool's orders and refused to serve under Sandford. In response, Wool summarily dismissed him. At 8:00 A.M. on July 14, Brown apologized and asked to be restored to his post, stating that he "would be willing to serve as ordered." Needing competent officers with combat experience, Wool overlooked Brown's insolence and granted his request to be reinstated. Wool ordered Brown to take over Nugent's small Federal force and punish the rioters, to use "no child's play," and to immediately attack them in an offensive in YorkviUe and Harlem. (30) Despite Wool's forgiveness, Brown once again countermanded his orders, refusing to accede to Sandford's leadership and complaining that he had only eighty men under his direct authority, even though Wool had dispatched artillery pieces for their use. Brown's insubordination would have led to a court martial under less pressing circumstances, but Wool needed every last officer to put down the dots. To that end, he ignored Brown's actions and complaints and "tolerated" the general until the violence had largely subsided. At that point, Wool replaced Brown with Gen. E. S. Canby. (31)
Historians such as Adrian Cook have justified Brown's insubordination as an appropriate response to Wool's inadequacies, arguing that Brown "showed a sensible disregard for service prejudices and rank." Brown is undeserving of such praise because what he actually produced was confusion. One officer in the state militia described receiving five competing orders at the same time. The city's Federal provost marshal wrote his superior in Washington, D.C., requesting a change in command because the "confusion, vacillation and conflict of orders" had encouraged the rioters. (32) Brown, who subverted Wool's authority and tried to direct his own antiriot response from New York City Police Department headquarters, has to take at least some of the blame for the ensuing disaster.
Yet Wool soon became a scapegoat because of his age. The panic caused by threats to life and limb and the devastating loss of property owned by leading merchants in the city resulted in a barrage of letters to Federal authorities complaining about Wool's handling of the situation. These critics, who included former Wool supporter George Templeton Strong, charged that the general was too old to command effectively. They suggested that the aged general be replaced by Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler, the no-holds-barred commander who had "tamed" New Orleans. One Syracuse resident lambasted Seymour for holding to the "heresy of state rights," but labeled Wool as being "too far advanced in life and too infirm to endure the fatigue and labor incident to such an emergency." (33)
Wool's response to the riots was clearly impeded by Washington officials who ignored the general in dealing with the riots. Even after dispatching two Federal regiments on July 14, Halleck continued to depend on the unreliable Seymour instead of Wool. He wrote the governor to take care of the New York City rioters himself by sending more militia because Halleck did not want to send more Federal troops to the city. That same day, Secretary Welles told Admiral Paulding that his first priority was to protect the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Federal property, even to the detriment of state and private property. Later that evening, Stanton finally ordered five regiments to the city "for the restoration of order in New York," but the troops proved too little too late. (34)
Fearing that a Confederate vessel was patrolling the waters of the North, Wool ordered all guns at the harbor forts loaded and ready. Civil disturbances were spreading throughout the state, leading to riots from Brooklyn to Troy to Buffalo, so Wool had to consider the possibility that this was a great Copperhead or even Confederate plot to weaken the war effort. While New York City burned, Federal officials acted too slowly to meet the threat at hand. That night, Wool wrote his wife that the mob was in the thousands and that a "Negro" was hanged. He apologized for not telegraphing her because he was "constantly engaged day and night with the mob, [such] that I have not had a moment to write." (35)
Despite his frustrations with Seymour and Federal officials, Wool did not stand idly by waiting to act. After Col. Henry O'Brien of the nth New York Volunteers was attacked, beaten, and killed by the mob on July 14, Wool implemented an additional nine-part plan to quell the riot the next morning.36 His Special Order 111 addressed organizational problems and authorized sufficient arms and ammunition to quell the riots. The general ordered reconnaissance details to monitor the rioters and report their movements. Wool ordered a detachment of artillery containing two mountain howitzers to take up positions on Wall Street and sent troops to bolster Brown and his Federal force at the Center Market. The general commanded Brown to use these troops to protect "the works of the Manhattan Gas Company, in order that it may proceed in the manufacture of gas, and not leave the city in darkness." Wool ordered other troops to guard City Hall, the sub-treasury, and banks and to clear the city's parks of crowds. (37)
On July 17, Wool issued his final military order, General Order No. 3. He told Canby not to interfere with a planned gathering at Archbishop Hughes' residence during which the cleric would address the crowd. Wool ordered Canby to place his troops at a distance, and Canby complied by installing his men thirteen blocks away. Wool also advised Canby to "be careful not to molest persons passing to and from" and not to pay "attention to harsh words [of the rioters], only interfering when actual force or violence Occurs." (38)
Initially, contemporary observers supported Wool for his handling of the riots. On July 23, an editorial writer for the New York Herald noted that both Wool and Brown were summarily put on the military's retirement list as a result of their actions during the draft riots. The journalist wrote favorably of Wool and made veiled references to Brown's insubordination:
During the late disturbances in this city General Wool acquitted himself with credit. Had some of the regular officers under him obeyed his orders, instead of zealously laboring to stir up dissensions and refusing to report as General Wool ordered them to, the reign of terror would not have existed as long as it did, and much of the sacrifice of life and destruction of property might have been avoided. Although General Wool is far advanced in years, his action during last week in this city proves very conclusively that there are many officers much younger in years who should have been retired before him. (40)
In his final report to Stanton, Wool praised several of his junior officers. He also thanked Paulding, Sandford, and Opdyke. Wool did not want to damage relations between Federal authorities and Seymour, so he tempered his remarks, stating that he was "indebted" for the governor's "prompt and efficient action in the emergency." As a loyal, patriotic army officer, Wool did his duty, placing the good of the army and the Union ahead of personal pride and professional aspirations. The war effort was more important to him than challenging an obstructionist governor. (41)
Despite this magnanimity, Wool had no kind words for Brown in his final report. To Wool, disobedience to a commanding officer was unforgivable. When Brown used the newspapers to attack Wool soon after his retirement, Wool defended his actions, maintaining that no one heeded his many warnings, warnings that would have prevented the riots. Sadly, he later commented, "No general officer during the rebellion was treated so unceremoniously." Perhaps with one eye on Welles, the general insisted that "if my earnest and urgent appeals to guard the city and harbor had been heeded and acted upon, I am confident there would have been no riots in New York." (42)
Wool's forced retirement was a bitter pill. Until the end of the war, he hoped to get another assignment, appealing directly to Grant. But his days as a commander of armies had passed. In November 1863, Harper's Weekly published a statement from Wool that is most revealing. After being asked whether he would again command troops during the war, the general "replied sternly, giving ample evidence of his ancient vigor." Wool lamented, "They don't want me. They think of me too old." (43)
The stigma of the draft riots has overshadowed Wool's significant contributions in three wars. Because of this proud officer's stern manner and age, he became a convenient scapegoat for those who contributed to making New York City a tinderbox in mid-July 1863. While Governor Seymour's star continued to rise, nearly winning the presidency in 1868, Wool spent the last years of his life rebuilding his reputation. In May 1865, he took his place with other Union generals in a major parade in New York City celebrating victory over the Confederacy.44 The general spent the last four years of his life in Troy as a leading citizen of the city. His impressive monument and grave site in Oakwood Cemetery, not far from the tomb of Maj. Gen. George Thomas, the "Rock of Chickamauga," indicate that, upon his death in 1869, his neighbors in New York State's capital district recognized Wool's overall service to his country. That they embraced him in death suggests they believed he should not have borne responsibility for the disasterous draft riots. Perhaps historians should finally learn that lesson as well.
The author acknowledges the assistance of Craig Williams of the New York State Museum, Henry Illnicki of the New York State Library, and Daniel Lorello of the New York State Archives and Records Service in the preparation of this article.
(1.) For biographical information about Wool, see Harwood E. Hinton, "The Military Career of John Ellis Wool, 1812-1863" (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Wisconsin, 1960); Samuel Rezneck, "The Civil War Role 1861-1863 of a Veteran New York Officer, Major General John E. Wool," New York History 44 (July 1963): 237-57; Laurence M. Hauptman, "General John E. Wool in Cherokee Country, 1836-1837: A Reinterpretation," Georgia Historical Quarterly 85 (Sept. 2001): 1-26; Obituary, New York Times, Nov. 11, 1869; and Editorial, Obituary, Troy [New York]Daily News, Nov. 10, 1869. Both Hinton and Rezneck provide incomplete discussions of Wool's role in the draft riots, largely because many of the general's papers were deposited in the New York State Library after their research was undertaken.
(2.) See Iver Bernstein, The New York City Draft Riots: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1990); and Adrian Cook, The Armies of the Streets: The New York City Draft Riots of 1863 (Lexington: Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1974).
(3.) Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1999), 887-99; Ernest A. McKay, The Civil War and New York City (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse Univ. Press, 1990), 191-213.
(4.) Bernstein, The New York City Draft Riots, 17-42.
(5.) Cook, TheArmies oftheStreets, 83-87,165--66.
(6.) Diary of Gideon Welles, ed. Howard K. Beale, 3 vols. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1960) 1:373.
(7.) Bernstein, The New York City Draft Riots, 54; McKay, The Civil War and New York City, 71; Allen C. Guelzo, "Wool, John Ellis" in American National Biography, ed. John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, 24 vols. (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1999) 23:842-44.
(8.) Hinton, "The Military Career of John Ellis Wool," 382.
(9.) Hauptman, "General John E. Wool in Cherokee Country," 1-26.
(10.) McKay, The Civil War and New York City, 71-72. In explaining why the general was passed over for promotion, historian T. Harry Williams argues that as early as 1861, Lincoln could not rely on Wool because he "showed the effects of age. He repeated things he had said a few minutes before, his hands shook, and he had to ask his aides if he had put his hat on straight." Lincoln and His Generals (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1952), 4.
(11.) Stephen W. Sears. To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992), 29-30. For a ess flatter ng treatment of Wool, see Rowena Reed, Combined Operations in the Civil War (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1978), 19, 39-41, 139-41, 160-64.
(12.) Hinton, "The Military Career of John Ellis Wool." 405-10.
(13.) Ibid., 411-12.
(14.) Ibid., 412; The Diary of George Ternpleton Strong, 4 vols. (1952; reprint, New York: Octagon Books, 1974) 3:139.
(15.) John E. Wool to Sarah Wool, June 20, 22, 1863, Wool MSS, box 2, folder 3, New York State Library Manuscript Division, Albany (hereafter cited as NYSL).
(16.) John E. Wool to Sarah Wool, April 29, May 1, 1863, Wool MSS, box 3, folder 3, NYSL; John E. Wool to Sarah Wool, May 25, June 4, June 20, July 4, 7, 8, 1863, Wool MSS, box 2, folder 3, NYSL.
(17.) John E. Wool to Sarah Wool, June 20, 1863; McKay, The Civil War and New York City, 71; Hinton, "The Military Career of John Ellis Wool," 414.
(18.) John E. Wool to Horatio Seymour, July 6. 1863, Wool MSS, box 6, folder 5, NYSL; Wool to Seymour, July 9.1863, Wool MSS, box zo, folder lO, NYSL; McKay, The Civil War and New York City, 191; Wool to Seymour, June 20, July 6, 1863, Fairchild Collection, Seymour MSS, New-York Historical Society, New York City.
(19.) Edwin D. Morgan to Edwin Stanton, June 24,1863, John E. Wool to Edwin D. Stanton, June 27, 1863, and John E. Wool to Gideon Welles,June 27, 28,1863, in The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 vols (Washington, D.C.: G.P.O., 1889-1901), vol. 27, 3:298,367, 392 (hereafter cited as OR).
(20.) Bernstein, The New York City Draft Riots, 120; McKay, The Civil War and New York City, 192; OR, vol. 27, 3:367.
(21.) Lorenzo Thomas to John E. Wool, June 30, July 3, 1863, and Wool to Thomas, July 1, 3, 1863, in OR, vol. 27, 3:435,477-79, 509-10.
(22.) John E. Wool to Admiral Paulding, July 2,1863, John E. Wool to Edwin M. Stanton, July 5, 1863. both in OR, vol. 27, 3:497-98,551-52.
(23.) John E. Wool to E. D. Townsend, July 8,1963, Wool MSS, box 6, folder 5, NYSL; Wool to Seymour, July 9,1863; Josiah Miller to John E. Wool, July 8,1863, Wool MSS, box 20, folder 10, NYSL.
(24.) Charles Z. Lincoln, ed., State of New York: Messages from the Governors, 11 vols. (Albany: J. B. Lyon, 1909) 5:455-58; Burrows and Wallace, Gotham, 888.
(25.) Burrows and Wallace, Gotham, 888; Eugene C. Murdock, Patriotism Limited, 1862-1865: The Civil War Draft and the Bounty System (Kent, Ohio: Kent State Univ. Press, 197a), 63-80. Recent scholarship has downplayed the economic inequities of the draft by emphasizing other factors that contributed to dissent, including regional discontent, the constitutionality of draft legislation, and moral opposition to war and Copperhead activities. See James Geary, We Need Men: The Union Draft in the Civil War (DeKalb: Northern Illinois Univ. Press, 1991), 106-9. Geary is more sympathetic than Murdock and I about Seymour and his role in the draft riots.
(26.) Horatio Seymour to Edwin D, Stantun, July 16, a863, OR, vol. 27, 2:925.
(27.) For Wool's formal report on the riot dated July 20, 1863, see OR, voL 27, 2:878 (hereafter cited as Wool Report).
(28.) George Opdyke, Official Documents, Addresses, etc. of George Opdyke, Mayor of the City of New York During the Years 1862 and 1863 (New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1866), 268-69.
(29.) For a positive portrait of Gen. Harvey Brown, see Cook, The Armies of the Streets, 85-86. For General Brown's version of the story, see "The Draft: The Late Troubles in the Metropolis," New York Herald, July 30, 1863, 8.
(30.) Wool Report, July 20,1863.
(31.) Cook, The Armies of the Streets, 85-86.
(32.) Rezneck, "The Civil War Role 1861-1863 of a Veteran New York Officer," 251.
(33.) John Jay, George Templeton Strong, Wolcott Gibbs, and James Wadsworth to Abraham Lincoln, July 13,1863, and David Dudley Field to Edwin Stanton, July 15, 1863, Abraham Lincoln MSS, microfilm reel 55, Library of Congress; Thomas T. Davis to Stanton, July 14, 1863, OR, vol. 27, 2:914, 917.
(34.) Henry W. Halleck to General Couch, July 14, 1863, Halleck to Horatio Seymour, July 14, 1863, Gideon Welles to Admiral Paulding, July 14, 1863, and Edwin M. Stanton to George Opdyke, July 14, 1863, in OR, vol. 2.7, 2:914-916.
(35.) Richard Delafield (on orders from General Wool) to Joseph G. Totten, July 15, 1863, OR, vol. 2.7, 2:922.-2.3; John E. Wool to Sarah Wool, July 15, 1863, Wool MSS, box 2, folder 3, NYSL.
(36.) OR, vol. 27, 2:924.
(37.) OR, vol. 2.7, 2:928.
(38.) Bernstein, The New York City Draft Riots, 62.
That same day, the weary general wrote his wife that he had been relieved of his command and was being replaced by Gen. John A. Dix, the same man who had replaced Wool in Baltimore. Wool saw the decision as a political move because Dix was a rival of Seymour within the Democrat party in New York who, like the governor, aspired to be President of the United States. In a letter to his wife, Wool conceded his disappointment at being forcibly retired from the army, but he also expressed relief. "I shall not regret it," he wrote, "for it is anything but a pleasant command." (39)
(39.) John E. Wool to Sarah Wool, July 17, 1863, Wool MSS, box 2, folder 3, NYSL.
(40.) "More Officers Placed on the Retired List," New York Herald, July 23, 1863, 4.
(41.) Wool Report, July 20, 1863.
(42.) "The Draft: The Late Troubles in the Metropolis," New York Herald, July 30, 1863, 4: John E. Wool to "My dear friend," Aug. 1863, Wool MSS, box 6, folder 5, NYSL.
(43.) John Y. Simon, ed., The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, 22 vols. (Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ., 1988) 15:558; "Army and Navy Item," Harper's Weekly, Nov. 21, 1863.
(44.) Diary of George Templeton Strong 4:51.
LAURENCE M. HAUPTMAN is SUNY Distinguished Professor of History at the State University of New York at New Paltz. He is the author of Between Two Fires: American Indians in the Civil War (1995). His current research on the Civil War is on the Oneida Indians of Companies F and G of the 14th Wisconsin Infantry.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||Hauptman, Laurence M.|
|Publication:||Civil War History|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2003|
|Previous Article:||The minister, the martyr, and the maxim: Robert Lewis Dabney and Stonewall Jackson biography.|
|Next Article:||Awards and Prizes.|