The Civil War – Another siege, another riot

Submitted by C.J. Johnson

 

Battery Wagner, on Morris Island in the vicinity of Charleston, South Carolina, was a huge sand fort, housing 1,600 Confederate troops. The fort had 30 foot high walls made from sand and earth, as well as palmetto. Fort Wagner was 300 feet long and 600 feet wide, and was also protected by its many heavy cannons, its mortars that were capable of hitting ships at sea, and other artillery pieces.

Union General Quincy Gillmore attempted to capture the City of Charleston, the birthplace of the Southern Rebellion, during the summer of 1863, but could not accomplish this task. However, Union blockades had already effectively shut down Charleston’s harbor. Once again, Gillmore attempted to take Charleston, by way of Morris Island on the south side.

In mid-July 1863, Union forces made two attempts to capture the massive stronghold, on the 10th and 18th of July. On July 10, Union troops swiftly took control of most of the island, but not the fort. On July 18, they tried again, this time with even heavier losses.

Following the second failed attempt, General Gillmore decided on a siege. After all, both Vicksburg and Port Hudson had succumbed to the siege tactics.

Meanwhile, in the northern states, trouble was brewing once again, this time in the form of draft riots. Encyclopedia Britannica described the situation this way. “Although labouring people in general supported the Northern war effort, they had no voice in Republican policy and occasionally deserted from the army or refused reenlistment. Because of their low wages, often less than $500 a year, they were particularly antagonized by the federal provision allowing more affluent draftees to buy their way out of the Federal Army for $300. Minor riots occurred in several cities, and when the drawing of names began in New York on July 11, 1863, mobs (mostly of foreign-born, especially Irish, workers) surged onto the streets, assaulting residents, defying police, attacking draft headquarters, and burning buildings. Property damage eventually totaled $1,500,000.”

July 16th was the fourth day of riots in the city of New York, against the draft. According to history.com, riots were “…in response to the Enrollment Act, which was enacted on March 3, 1863. Although avoiding military service became much more difficult, wealthier citizens could still pay a commutation fee of $300 to stay at home. Irritation with the draft dovetailed with opposition to the Emancipation Proclamation of September 1862, which made abolition of slavery the central goal of the war for the Union.

Particularly vocal…were the Democratic Irish, who felt the war was being forced upon them by Protestant Republicans and feared that emancipation of slaves would jeopardize their jobs. Their fears were confirmed when black laborers replaced striking Irish dock workers the month before the riots. Discontent simmered until the draft began among the Irish New Yorkers on July 11.

Two days later, a mob burned the draft office, triggering nearly five days of violence…Not until July 17 was the violence contained by the arrival of Union troops, some fresh from the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. More than 1,000 people… The draft was temporarily suspended… As a result of the riots and the delicate political balance in the city, relatively few New Yorkers were forced to serve in the Union army.”