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    GIDEON WELLES: HISTORIC CIVIL WAR-DATE MILITARY LETTER SIGNED. One page, quarto, dated July 26, 1863 from the Navy Department. Written to "Capt. Alexander M. Pennock, Snr. Naval Officer, Cairo, Ill." (Capt. Pennock finished his military career at the rank of rear admiral [1872], and died on Sept. 20, 1876.) A handwritten telegram, the order reads (in full):

    "Colonel Harris' order is suspended, and the marines need not be sent to New York. Gideon Welles, Sec'y of the Navy. Will Major Eckert dispatch this immediately as the marines leave to day at 1 p.m. C. Fox".


    "The nation is at this time in a state of Revolution, North, South, East, and West," wrote the Washington Times during the often violent protests that occurred after Abraham Lincoln issued the March 3, 1863, Enrollment Act of Conscription. Although demonstrations took place in many Northern cities, the riots that broke out in New York City were both the most violent and the most publicized.

    With a large and powerful Democratic party operating in the city, a dramatic show of dissent had been long in the making. The state's popular governor, Democrat Horatio Seymour, openly despised Lincoln and his policies. In addition, the Enrollment Act shocked a population already tired of the two-year-old war.

    By the time the names of the first draftees were drawn in New York City on July 11, reports about the carnage of Gettysburg had been published in city papers. Lincoln's call for 300,000 more young men to fight a seemingly endless war frightened even those who supported the Union cause. Moreover, the Enrollment Act contained several exemptions, including the payment of a "commutation fee" that allowed wealthier and more influential citizens to buy their way out of service.

    Perhaps no group was more resentful of these inequities than the Irish immigrants populating the slums of northeastern cities. Poor and more than a little prejudiced against blacks - with whom they were both unfamiliar and forced to compete for the lowest-paying jobs - the Irish in New York objected to fighting on their behalf.

    On Sunday, June 12, the names of the draftees drawn the day before by the Provost Marshall were published in newspapers. Within hours, groups of irate citizens, many of them Irish immigrants, banded together across the city. Eventually numbering some 50,000 people, the mob terrorized neighborhoods on the East Side of New York for three days looting scores of stores. Blacks were the targets of most attacks on citizens. In all, the mob caused more than $1.5 million of damage. The number killed or wounded during the riot is unknown, but estimates range from two dozen to nearly 100. Eventually, Lincoln deployed combat troops from the Federal Army of the Potomac to restore order; they remained encamped around the city for several weeks.

    A great letter from the Secretary of the Navy, in which he directs a group of Marines from Illinois to stand-down after the riots had been sufficiently suppressed. That Welles believed the unrest serious enough to call up troops all the way from Illinois is a testament to the gravity of the situation. In fine condition.


    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    December, 2007
    1st Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 2
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