The Draft Riots

As National Historian for the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America, I am concerned that the 150th Anniversary of the 1863 Draft Riots in New York from July 13 to 15 will be commemorated using some of the bigoted information that appeared in the press at the time.  We all know that the anti-Irish Nativist mentality did not die with the demise of the Know Nothing movement in 1856 and many were quick to blame Irish Catholics as the rioters.  To make it seem even worse, the casualties were grossly exaggerated citing 1,155 killed when, in fact, later studies revealed 119 killed and 181 injured.

The bigotry of the time must be considered.  Many Americans, whose immigrant ancestors had climbed out of the poverty in which they  arrived, considered the poverty of the newly-arriving Irish immigrants to be a ‘function of their lazy character’.  To the contrary, the ambition and determination of the Irish insured the success of subsequent generations, but in the first generation, they suffered from outrageous prejudice.  America’s Irish population grew after 1845 as a result of the Great Hunger in Ireland and didn’t slow down until  after 1855.  This sudden influx of poverty-stricken, often diseased Irish Catholics alarmed the Protestant community, among whom were many so-called ‘nativist’ Americans.  They forced and held the new arrivals in social and economic limbo, denouncing them and their church in biased media, leaflets and forums.

Despite the unfair treatment, the Irish flocked to the defense of the Union when the Civil War broke out.  On April 15, 1861, President Lincoln issued a call for volunteers amid rumors that a force of Confederates was moving up from South Carolina.  Lincoln’s problem was that new volunteers would take weeks to train and arm.  What he needed were well-trained units, already armed and led; and he needed them immediately.  One unit that fit the bill was the Irish 69th Regiment of the NY State Militia.  The regiment asked for 1,000 volunteers from the Irish community to support Lincoln’s call and before they realized their quota had been filled, 1800 had enlisted; the excess 800 were released to New York’s 37th Regiment which became known as the Irish Rifles.  They all rushed to defend Washington D.C. where they were visited by Abraham Lincoln, who thanked them for coming to his government’s rescue.  Just three weeks after the war broke out he sent them to the first battle of Bull Run!  Recognized for their courage, ferocity and resilience in that battle, the 69th was expanded into an entire Irish Brigade under the Irish patriot Thomas Francis Meagher.  Meagher added New York’s Irish 63rd and 88th regiments and in the fall of 1862, the 28th Massachusetts and 116th Pennsylvania were added – all Irish and all volunteers!

The Brigade was fearless and in many battles was used as cannon fodder by unscrupulous and inexperienced commanding officers.  Casualties were horrendous.  In all, more than 150,000 Irishmen, most of whom were recent immigrants and not yet U.S. citizens, voluntarily joined the Union Army.  Between 1861 and 1863, Irish casualties mounted and Meagher returned to New York several times to recruit replacements.  Out of a total enlistment of 7,000 men during the war, the Brigade returned to New York in 1865 with 1,000; one company was actually down to seven men.  In 1863, as Irish units were running out of manpower, so too was the Union.  That’s when Congress passed the first Conscription Act to draft men into service.

The draft was inherently unfair since it gave the wealthy a way to avoid service by buying their way out of serving by paying $300.  Unscrupulous politicians, trying to build their political base, told the working class, You will be drafted and sent to fight while freed blacks will take your jobs and the rich will buy their way out.   It should be noted that the Emancipation Proclamation has just been passed, at the time $300. was more than a year’s wages for a laborer.  Further, if a man was drafted there was no municipal social safety net for his family and a soldier’s pay was small and often delayed.  Impoverished workers felt that they would be leaving their families to starve.  It put the whole sacrifice of life, limb, health and home upon the poor and laboring classes who have the least at stake in the preservation of the Union, wrote Joseph Medill, editor of the Chicago Tribune and a personal friend of the President on 5 March 1863. He added, there is no possible defense, justification or apology that can be made for this outrage.  Opposition to the law poured in from around the Union and the poor rebelled against the law in Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Detroit and other cities, but New York was the worst.

Many historians place Confederate secret service operatives behind the Draft Riots. In Civil War St.Louis, for example, D.H. Rule wrote, For now, bear in mind that a St. Louis Confederate courier enroute from Richmond to Canada made a stop in New York shortly before the Draft Riots began. This same agent’s stop in Philadelphia immediately preceded the most violent draft resistance in that city, too.  Coupled with this is the participation of Missouri agents (documented by a number of noted historians) in the attempted burning of New York.  The ethnic makeup of the St Louis mob was apparently different than the New York mob for several Germans were identified as participants.

By 1863, the ethnic makeup of New York’s Five Points, where the opposition originated, had changed and now included Germans, Jews, and Italians as well as native-born Americans; it was  home to the city’s impoverished though the Irish were still the most numerous among them.  Angered at the fact that the rich could buy their way out of the draft, the poor and laboring class of New York started a protest march headed for the offices of the Draft Board to destroy the ballots.  According to News in History.com, Italian, German and Irish immigrants banded together to march in a protest that turned violentThe Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP.ORG) also recorded, German-speaking artisans, Native-born Protestant journeymen, and working-class Irish laborers attacked and burned the Provost Marshal’s office on 46th Street and 3rd Avenue.   It should be noted that many of the Irish also served in the Metropolitan Police force that was sent to stop the protest march.

When the confrontation became violent, the biased media of the day used it as another opportunity to defame the Irish, claiming that they were the disloyal rioters in spite of the fact that at the time, many  of the Five Points Irish were dying on the battlefield of Gettysburg as they had done at Fredericksberg, Antietam and other fields of conflict defending the Union.  The media also ignored the Irish makeup of the police and that Supervisor of Police John Kennedy was one of those killed by the mob or that the commander of the 11th Regiment State Guard who were called in to assist was Col. H.T. O’Brien.

Fueled by the fear that freed blacks would take their jobs, blacks became a target of the protesters and the media invented an Irish vs black prejudice in spite of the fact that they not only peacefully lived together in the Points, but in earlier times together they had invented tap dancing.  However, in August, 1863, even Harper’s Weekly uncharacteristically had to admit,  It must be remembered that in many of the wards of the City during the late riot, the Irish were the primary, and often only, friends of law and order. That it was the Irish that risked their lives at 43rd street and 5th avenue at the Colored Orphan Asylum to save the little children from certain death at the hands of the mob. That many of the police officers injured during riot were Irish.   And it must also be noted that Police Officer Paddy McCafferty put his body between the mob and 20 colored children and brought them to the safety of the 35th precinct at great peril to his own life.  Further, that to a man, the Catholic Priesthood which is almost entirely Irish in our city used their influence on the side of law and order.

One of the saddest incidents in modern history is the constant accusation in current published media that the Irish were responsible for the Draft Riots in July 1863.  They have used the biased media of the day as source data.  To those of us who know the true story, the authors of such tripe are only embarrassing themselves as Amadons (ignorant people) at best and Gombeen Men (those who seek the favor of the establishment) at worst.  Yet, if we would not be called Lackeys (those who mindlessly go along with the majority), it is up to us to educate the masses.  July 13, 2013 is the 150th anniversary of the tragic event and you can be sure you will see anniversary articles by some ignorant authors.  Start now and send a letter, e-mail, or tweet to your local news media, radio or TV station, politician and/or school with the truth.  Remember, it’s your heritage, DEFEND IT!

Galloping Hogan

In 1649, Cromwell’s Puritan army overpowered all resistance in Ireland.  He introduced the Cromwellian Settlement, by which all land belonging to Irish Catholics were forfeit to pay the debts incurred by the war.  The land was sold to loyal Englishmen, and the Irish land owners were told to relocate or die – To Hell or to Connaught – the most  agriculturally poor province in Ireland.  Over 40,000 Irish were relocated beyond the Shannon by the end of 1654.  Those who didn’t were hunted down and press-ganged into the British Navy, or sold as slaves to Barbados.  There was one group however, who refused to relocate.  They eluded capture in the hills and glens near their ancestral homes and raided the new settlers on the lands of their clans.  They led an outlaw existence, and were called Rapparees after their favorite weapon – a half-pike known in Irish as a rapaire.  They were a  concern to the English for many years.

The new owners of the land refused to stoop to menial labor, so some native Irish were allowed back east of the Shannon to provide that labor for the landlords, but the Rapparees continued to strike from hiding.  By the time Parliament invited William of Orange to usurp the throne of King James II, there were many Rapparees in Ireland.  When James promised religious freedom to those who would support him in defending his crown, many Rapparee’s joined him.  After William’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne however, James fled to France leaving his Irish supporters in the field.  Patrick Sarsfield eventually took command of the remnants of the Irish forces and withdrew to defend the only remaining Gaelic land in Ireland – the portion to which the Irish had been forced by Cromwell 36 years earlier; in hot pursuit was William’s vastly superior army.  Sarsfield decided to make a stand at the walled city of Limerick, but he needed help, and he turned to the local Rapparrees.  There were at least 5 different bands of Rapparees controlling the glens and mountains around Limerick, but the Rapparee who was to ride into history with Sarsfield was Michael ‘galloping’ Hogan, who controlled the mountains of Tipperary and Clare, southwest of Nenagh.

King William’s forces reached Limerick on August 9, 1690, ahead of his siege artillery.  His demand for surrender was refused, and an assault on the town was repelled.  He bellowed for his artillery which, he was informed, was on its way from Cashel.  Hogan’s riders, who had been scouting the arriving siege train, said it was the biggest collection of artillery ever seen in Ireland – 153 wagons drawn by 400 horses.  Hogan proposed a daring plan.  He would lead Sarsfield and a detachment of 500 men out of Limerick under cover of night, travel north along the Clare side of the Shannon to a point where he knew men could cross with ease and attack William’s siege train from the rear.  Sarsfield agreed, and Hogan led the detachment to a point just north of Killaloe where the Shannon was narrow and shallow.  They crossed and began south toward Ballyneety, where the Siege train was camped for the night, using the Silvermines Mountains as cover.  They covered 90 miles through mountain glens, with burlap covering the horses’ hooves to silence their approach.  One of Hogan’s men, left behind to shoe his horse, met the wife of a Williamite soldier headed for the English camp.  The Rapparee befriended her, and learned the password of the enemy camp.  Ironically, it was Sarsfield.

 

On the night of August 11, Hogan led Sarsfield to the edge of the English camp.  Sentries, who accepted the password when they challenged the approaching shadows, were dead before they hit the ground.  The Irish swarmed into the camp, and dispatched the enemy.  Sarsfield ordered the guns into a circle, muzzles inward.  They were filled with gunpowder and the muzzles driven into the ground.  The remaining shells and supplies were put in the middle of the circle, and a powder trail was laid to the edge of the woods.  The troops were ordered into the wood, and Hogan was given the honor of putting a match to the powder.  The resulting explosion shook the earth with the loudest man made sound ever heard in Ireland and it lit up the sky with a flash that was seen from the walls of Limerick.

Without his artillery, William realized that he could not take Limerick, so he offered terms to the Irish.  Those who had fought in James’ army would have to leave Ireland, but their families who stayed behind would get their lands back and the free practice of their religion.  The terms were accepted and the treaty of Limerick was signed on October 3, 1691.  True to its terms, 14,000 Irish left Ireland and among them Sarsfield and Galloping Hogan.  The Flight of the Wild Geese had begun.  They would distinguish themselves in the Irish Brigades of foreign armies, but they never saw Ireland again.  As for those left behind, they never saw the promises of the Treaty fulfilled.  By 1709, when the threat of Irish retribution was gone, it was broken by the Popery Act which denied Catholics the right to own land.

Today, many memorials exist to that time in Irish history; the most notable of which is the road along both sides of the Shannon from Limerick to Killaloe.  It is called Sarsfield’s Ride, but there are many who think it should be called the Hogan Highway, after that superb horseman and early guerilla fighter – the Galloping Hogan.

Lament for Art O’Leary

More than three hundred years ago, in 1691, the Treaty of Limerick was offered by the English to end hostilities between the Irish followers of King James and King William of Orange. By the terms of that treaty, all who took arms against William were to join the English Army or quit Ireland. If they agreed, religious freedom would be guaranteed to those who remained. On October 5, the Irish under Patrick Sarsfield, accepted the terms, laid down their arms and marched out of the besieged City of Limerick. Only 1,046 of the 14,000 Irish forces turned to William’s banner. The rest sailed away to form the Irish regiments in the armies of Europe. Ireland never saw them again, and their grieving families called them `na Gaena Fiadhainne’ – the Wild Geese.

History tells how well the English kept their word, for in 1697 they reversed the terms of the treaty and enacted The Penal Laws – which have been denounced as the most repressive laws ever enacted against a nation. It marked the beginning of a national persecution never before approached in its severity. Professor Leckey, a prominent British historian, stated in his History of Ireland in the 18th Century, It was not the persecution of a sect, but the degradation of a nation. And indeed, when we remember that the greater part of it was in force for nearly a century, that its victims formed at least three-quarters of the nation, that its degrading and dividing influence extended to every field of social, political, professional, intellectual, and even domestic life, and that it was enacted without the provocation of any rebellion, in defiance of a treaty which distinctly guaranteed the Irish Catholics from any further oppression on account of their religion, it may be justly regarded as one of the blackest pages in the history of persecution. The persecution began with the seizure of 750,000 acres of land and forbade the Irish their religion, an education, a profession, a vote, property, and countless other rights. One of the laws even forbid an Irishman to own a horse valued at more than 5 Pounds, and that was the cause of one brave man’s death.

Art O’Leary was the son of one of those Wild Geese and like his father, he entered the service of Austria. A brave and courageous soldier, he was soon elevated to the rank of Captain of Hussars in the Cavalry of Empress Maria Theresa’s Austrian Army. In 1773, he traveled to his ancestral homeland with his wife, Eileen O’Connell of the Derrynane O’Connells and aunt of the Great Liberator, Daniel O’Connell. Since a good Cavalry Officer and his animal were inseparable, the Captain brought his mount – a beautiful brown mare with a white star on its forehead – with him from Vienna. In Ireland, the captain attended a local horse race; he entered and took the top prize much to the surprise of the local English gentry.

The local landlord approached him after the race and offered him 5 Pounds for his horse. The Captain laughed at the insulting offer, but the landlord, who was also the local magistrate, demanded the horse or the Irishman would be arrested for owning an animal worth more than the 5 Pounds that the law allowed. That a free-born Continental Officer should part with a fine cavalry steed at the behest of an alien landlord was more than O’Leary could tolerate; he again refused and departed. He was declared an outlaw and troops were summoned to apprehend him. On May 4, 1773, they caught up with the 26-year old O’Leary near the town of Carriganimy, near Macroom in Co. Cork, and shot him dead. His startled horse ran back to the courtyard at Rath Laoi where his family was staying. His wife ran to it, leapt into the blood-stained saddle and the horse took her back to Art’s lifeless body. Distraught, she reached into her very soul and, in an ancient Gaelic tradition, delivered a tearful caoine (lamentation) for her dead husband.

Art O’Leary was interred in the old Kilcrea Abbey in County Cork, built by Cormac MacCarthy, the builder of Blarney Castle. His wife, Eileen, expanded on her grief and left more than 400 lines of a traditional Caoine (keen) or lamentation in the Irish language. As a literary work, the Lament for Art O’Leary is one of the last of its kind and has taken its place as one of the great pieces of Gaelic Literature, translated centuries later by Frank O’Connor. Today, it serves to keep alive the memory of a proud Irishman, the terrible times in which he lived, and a love remembrance that began with:

Long loss, bitter grief
that I was not by your side
when the bullet was fired
so my right side could take it
my fine-handed horseman!