A narrative of service with the Third Wisconsin Infantry/On draft riot duty

On Draft Riot duty

On July 31 we went into camp near Kelly's Ferry on the Rappahannock, where for the next two weeks we did guard duty along the river and rested from the fatigue of the long marches we had made since leaving Stafford Court House. On August 15 came orders to move. The next morning we marched down to Rappahannock Station in company with two other old regiments of the Brigade, and boarded the cars for Alexandria, on our way to New York. We were joined at the station by five other regiments from the different brigades, all under command of General Ruger.

It seems that during the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania, the New York militia regiments had been called off for duty in Washington, Baltimore, and other places. A riotous mob in New York City had taken advantage of this circumstance to break out in defiance of the authorities, and in resistance to the execution of the draft. They had for several days held the city in a reign of terror, and it had been necessary to stop all proceedings under the draft.

After a wait of several days, we embarked at Alexandria on the steamer "Merrimac," and proceeded down the Potomac to the ocean, thence to New York City. We landed at the foot of Canal Street, and quietly marched to the City Hall Park, where we arrived at about ten o'clock on Saturday night. Barracks had been provided for the enlisted men, but the officers' tents had not arrived. This did not trouble us much, however, as we had been without tents much of the time during the past two months. Wrapped in our rubber blankets, we lay on the grass and slept, as the landlady in Rob Roy says, "like a good sword in its scabbard." We awoke in the morning to find the sun well up in the heavens, and the park surrounded by a crowd of curious people, surprised to see a number of fairly well-dressed officers, sleeping on the ground like a lot of vagrants.

The next day, tents were pitched and cots prepared, and we were enjoying the delights of camp life amid all the surroundings of civilization. We had our dress parades and guard mountings with all the pomp and show that 300 men can make, to the delight of the great crowds who had come to see the veterans of Antietam and Gettysburg. Soon after our arrival I was detailed for duty in the provost marshal's office of the Fifth District of New York, where the rioting had been most desperate. I had charge of the guard stationed there to preserve order and see that those who brought substitutes or recruits were promptly admitted.

There were no disturbances in the city while we were there, except such as our men made for themselves, at the instigation of the police. We had plenty of bold fellows in the Regiment, who wanted no better amusement than to raid a saloon that had been the headquarters of the rioters. They would get out of camp at night, and gather in such a saloon pointed out to them by the police. Then they would get up a row on some pretext, and pitch bartenders and bummers out of doors, and smash everything breakable about the place. Everyone in the Regiment could find a way to enjoy himself, and a policeman to help him, and would have been content to stay in the city much longer than we did.

On September 6 came orders to return to our camp. We marched down to the Battery in the evening, and were conveyed in small boats to the steamer "Mississippi." In the morning, when I awoke, we were rolling and pitching in a manner that I had never before experienced in my limited travels by water. A few of the officers had become seasick on our way up to New York, and those of us who escaped had enjoyed the fun of laughing at them. I did not propose therefore to give up now. So I dressed and started for breakfast. One smell of the coffee, and I had business on deck. But after gazing steadily over the side of the vessel for a time, I felt better, and by noon had recovered my appetite.

We arrived at Alexandria on the 9th. On the 13th we reached our camp at Kelly's Ferry, and found the Thirteenth New Jersey drawn up in line to welcome us back to the old Brigade. We did not, however, remain long in camp. Rumors began to float about, that Lee was sending a part of his army to reënforce Bragg in north western Georgia. Within two days we were again on the march to the Rapidan, behind which the enemy had retired. We reached Raccoon Ford on the 16th, and our Regiment and the Second Massachusetts were detailed to support pickets at the Ford.

We camped in the woods near the river, with sentinels at night down to the bank, but during the day they were withdrawn to the most convenient cover in the neighborhood. The enemy were camped just behind the hills on the other side. Just about this time they appeared to be having a religious revival. While visiting my sentinels after dark, I could hear them preaching, praying, and singing, whole regiments apparently being thus engaged. Under orders from Corps head quarters we refrained from firing upon their pickets and they reciprocated the courtesy, which made it much pleasanter for the sentinels on both sides of the river.