I am studying an item in our collection called the “Draft Wheel.” The “Draft Wheel” is an item that helped initiate the worst urban riots in United States History. Some believe that the riots escalated to such a dangerous level because of Republican Mayor Opdyke’s reaction to the resulting riots in New York City.
Mayor Opdyke’s first mistake was that he initially responded on a model similar to other violent outbursts in New York’s past, such as the labor unrest during the Panic of 1857 and the Astor Place Riot of 1840. He did not recognize the severity of the situation at hand, and therefore, had too much confidence that New York City’s police force could suppress these riots. The Mayor did not ask Secretary of War Stanton for additional federal troops in the city. Instead, Mayor Updyke called upon the commander of army personal in New York City, General Sandford. The military personal were deployed to protect federal buildings, such as post offices and the Customs House. However, on the riot’s first day, General Sandford did little to restore order in New York City.
General Sandford was oblivious to rioting that occurred outside the arsenals, and dismissed all reports of rioting as exaggeration. Many believe that General Sanford did not directly engage the protesters on the first day of the Draft Riots, so he could appease New York’s Democratic leaders. For fifteen years before, during the Astor Place Riots, General Sanford handled protesters aggressively. General Sanford’s idleness helped to increase the longevity of the Draft Riots, for he did not aid New York’s exhausted police force. It was not until day three of the riots that Mayor Opdyke finally telegraphed Secretary Stanton to send federal troops to New York, and restore order the shaken city.
– Gabriel Skoletsky