Joseph F. Smith and the New York City Draft Riots, Part 3: 15-18 July 1863

By July 16, 2013

This is the third in a three-part series of posts about Joseph F. Smith?s experiences during the New York Draft Riots of July 1863.  See the first two parts here and here.


Map of Manhattan Island:  the cluster of attacks on property in the southwestern portion of the island is close to the Stevens House, where Joseph F. was staying with John W. Young.[1]



In the previous post I argued that Joseph F. Smith seemed to be simply an observer for the first two days of the draft riots.  Late in the night on July 14, 1863, however, the riots came dangerously close, momentarily changing the nature of his relationship to them.  In this last post of my brief series, I have transcribed Joseph F.?s diary entries for the last few days of the riots and their aftermath.  I think they provide an interesting, if brief, look into how the riots affected him. 

This is what he recorded in his diary, with minimal commentary from me:

 [July 15, 1863; Wednesday]

Last night just as John W. [Young] and myself were getting into bed, we were startled and rather roused by the mashing in of windows and the inhuman yells of the mob, who had pitched upon a house adjoining the hotel.  the screaming of women and children, we began to think the Hotel was surrounded and beset.  we dressed and packed up our boxes and made ready for anything that might occur.  All was excitement in the Hotel.  we went down into the Hall, here we found nearly all the male lodgers in the Hotel assembled not knowing what to Expect.  all this time the mob were tearing down and sacking a house joining the Hotel, and litterly [literally] rending the air with yeals and screams, which la[s]ted about three quarters of an hour when they [the mob] began to disperse, and soon the yells died away in the distence, and all retired to bed again.  All the Coaches and omnibuses were stoped yesterday, and none are running today giving the Streets in the more quiet portions of the City, the appearance of Sunday or a holiday.  to day all is excitement still.  we took a walk up in the City [and] saw several bullitons out giving desperate accounts of the Riots throughout the City.  Soldiers and cannons are constantly arriving.

The riots had come dangerously close?to the point where he was ready to flee or fight, with all the other male lodgers in the hotel.  This was something worth recording, after all?and not just because it was a remarkable historical event.  It was something that Joseph F. was right in the middle of.  And what does he do first thing in the morning?  He writes a letter to his brother John, on a mission in Scandinavia, reporting the events taking place[2]:

[July 16, 1863; Thursday]

I wrote to my brother John [Smith], giving him a Short account of the disturbances in the City.  Last night a battle took place between the mob, and military, there were some 40 killed, two or three officers and 15 of the troops.  It is reported to day that some 500[3] have been killed during the Riots, since Monday night.  The omnibuses are running again to day.  Troops have been coming in from neighbouring States most of the day.  It is reported this evening that another fight has taken place, and quite a number killed.  A proclamation from the Mayer, earges the people to band together and organize, to protect property and life, tho? he thinks the riots about quelled, and says ?law and order must and shall be maintained.?  I bought a Coat, cost $3.00, and ½ a dozzen Collers, Cost 95 cts.  The day was very sultry and uncomfortable, Shower in the evening.

Thursday is generally regarded as the last day of the riots.  Clearly, the riots had affected Joseph F. personally.  He tried to return to normal activities like shopping and bathing, though he came back to more riot news in his next two diary entries:

[July 17, 1863; Friday]

Last night?as it was reported late?another battle took place between the military and mob, which lasted half an hour.  several Officers and Soldiers were killed and wounded, and many of the mob.  one woman on going to the door to empty some slops, was shot and killed, and was picked up by her brother who was standing by.  one gentleman ?in[n]ocently looking on? was shot.  Grape and Canister was fired from two Howitzers right into the Crowd some three or fore times raking everything in their path.  some 30 Stores on Grand St. were broken open and robbed.  The negrows are still hunted and dispoil[e]d, Cruelly beaten or killed where ever they can be found by the mob.  no one but the police or military dare to stand in their defence, and then in sufficient number to insure safty, all the negrows have disappeared from the Eating saloons and the greater portion of the City.  Troops have been coming in the greater part of the day.

[July 18, 1863; Saturday]

The City was tolerably quiete to day.  John [W. Young] and myself rode rode [sic] as far as we could and walk[ed] the remainder to the top of 4th Avenue, and had a good view of the City and East River.  Returned to the Office by way of the principle Scenes of the Riots and Broadway.  Troops are arriving constantly to day.  there are now about 7000 in the City.  Bros. W[illia]m. Weighter, Moor Gillit, and Wood Sailed for Liverpool to day on board the ?City of Washington.?  I sent letters by them to Bros. [George Q.] Cannon and H[enry].C. Fowler, and the saints in Sheffield.  Bro. Perry Knebicar [Nebeker] arrived here, from visiting the Folks in Ill[inois].  I felt impressed all day yesterday that one of the Ships would arrive to day.  no news.

And it seems that Joseph F. had returned once again to a sense of normalcy?or at least, the same pattern of behavior he had chosen before the riots began?touring the city and scenes of the riots, once again as if he were examining a curiosity in Barnum?s American Museum.  He continued his time in New York for another week, managing the affairs of the arriving Mormon emigrants and taking care of other business.   Then he headed home toward Utah and the wife whom he had not seen for three quarters of their marriage (the story of their estrangement and divorce is a tragic one, but one for another time!)

One last item bears mentioning:  on board the train, bound for Nebraska, Joseph F. laid down to try and sleep on the uncomfortable benches that were available.  Seized by a terror, perhaps due to the scenes of violence he had witnessed in New York, he nearly attacked another Mormon.  In his own words,

I laid on a board bench most of the night.  one of the brethren mistook me for a breakman and woke me up, while stopping a few moments to get water.  I dreamed while waking that I was attacked by a man, and began to defend myself, I found myself suddenly confrunting the brother that woke me, in the attitude of sparring, having already kicked him twice on the right sho[u]lder vehemently.  I soon begged pardon, and explained myself.[4]

So though the riots were over, I think it safe to say that they would continue to have an impact on Joseph F. Smith–and those who came within kicking distance–for at least a short time.






Thank you for your comments on the series.  I will be traveling for the next few days–in beautiful Oahu!–but will try to reply to questions and comments when I can.  For those interested in more background on the New York City Draft Riots, and a more thorough discussion of what took place, the following resources will be helpful:

Ivar Bernstein, The New York City Draft Riots: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War (Bison Books, 2010)

Adrian Cook, The Armies of the Streets: The New York City Draft Riots of 1863 (Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1982)

Barnet Schecter, The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America (Walker & Company, 2007)

[1]  Courtesy The Lincoln Institute,, accessed 11 July 2013.

[2]  I was unable to locate the letter in either John Smith?s papers at BYU (Vault MSS 803, L. Tom Perry Special Collections) or at the Church History Library.

[3] A more accurate figure, generally accepted by historians today, is about 120 killed (most of them African American) and about 2000 injured.

[4] JFS Diary, 25 July 1863, Joseph F. Smith Papers, MS 1325, Church History Library.

Article filed under Biography Categories of Periodization: Territorial Period From the Archives Miscellaneous


  1. Thanks, Nate, for this interesting series.

    It’s interesting that the part of the riots that got most of JFS’s attention–the attack on the building next to his hotel–got a “flame” on the map but was not one of the incidents listed in the legend. I suspect that if JFS had written the legend, the attacks on property in lower Manhattan on the night of 14-15 July would have made the list.

    Comment by Mark B. — July 16, 2013 @ 8:47 am

  2. This has been a fascinating story.

    It looks like the weather was pretty much the same 150 years ago today, except in 2013 the thundershower is going to hold off until the weekend.

    Comment by Amy T — July 16, 2013 @ 9:38 am

  3. Loved hearing first-person accounts from one who was so close to the action. Loved the series.

    Reading this third installment, I kept wondering how JFS was personally affected by witnessing such scenes. On the one hand, I assume that the riots must have made him feel increased appreciation for law and the established order; on the other hand, I wonder whether he didn’t feel some validation or that the riots were some sort of reckoning for American society. Neither sentiment seems evident in these journal entries, though. Thoughts?

    Comment by Hunter — July 16, 2013 @ 9:59 am

  4. (I should add that, for those interested in guilty pleasures, the BBC television series “Copper” takes place in NYC in the immediate aftermath of the draft riots. The series is available on Netflix.)

    Comment by Hunter — July 16, 2013 @ 10:18 am

  5. Nate, Thanks for a great, informative series. I hope this isn’t the last of your interest in JFS.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — July 16, 2013 @ 10:30 am

  6. This has been a great series.

    Your reference to JFS’s “terror” reminded me of Scott Kenney’s article on the young JFS which portrayed him as having (to put it mildly) a temper. Does your study of JFS bear out Kenney’s portrayal?

    Comment by Craig M. — July 16, 2013 @ 10:38 am

  7. My own reading of JFS through his journals and letters indicate to me that he was indeed an “angry young man,” and his marriage to second wife Julina marked a cooling of the temper that seemed so close to the surface earlier in his life. He still struggled with outbursts from time to time, but life with Julina, her sister Edna, and his other wives provided the stability, security, and peaceful home life that he had been deprived of in his youth.

    Comment by kevinf — July 16, 2013 @ 11:28 am

  8. Nate, this has been an absolutely fascinating series. Do you have plans to do something more with it? It seems like you have enough to form the basis of an article for one of the various Mormon studies/history journals. Good luck and thanks again!

    Comment by Christopher — July 16, 2013 @ 3:31 pm

  9. […] did great damage to Brooks Brothers; you can follow one’ s observer’s comments here; and this blog entry offers a slide show of images of the riots. Nor were the riots limited to New […]

    Pingback by The New York City Draft Riots of 1863 | Crossroads — July 17, 2013 @ 2:25 am

  10. Loved this series, Nate! Joseph F. is one of my favorite people in Mormon History.

    Comment by J Stuart — July 17, 2013 @ 7:49 am

  11. Great series, Nate.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — July 17, 2013 @ 8:07 am

  12. Thanks Mark, Amy, Joey, and Edje.

    Hunter: You imagine exactly what I imagine about JFS and his relationship to law & order and the USA; I haven’t been able to find any additional evidence that would inform the discussion more. As near as I can tell, he only wrote the one letter to his brother John Smith, and I have not been able to locate that. Other letters to his friends and family in Utah describing the riots are not likely to exist, since he knew he would be traveling home within a short while and would probably beat them there. (and a BBC take on post-riot NYC? Fascinating!)

    Gary & Christopher: thanks as always. I hope to continue to tinker with JFS now and then–there really is a great wealth of untold stories and unexamined perspective on his early life and apostolic years.
    Craig: Ditto to what Kevin said. I think “Another Rough Stone Rolling” might be an apropos title for a biography of JFS.

    Comment by Nate R. — July 19, 2013 @ 1:49 am

  13. Another Rough Stone Rolling”

    Ha! Thanks for that, Nate, and for your response to my question. Good stuff.

    Comment by Hunter — July 19, 2013 @ 10:13 am


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