Seventh Regiment Memorial, Central Park
Ward, 7th Regiment Memorial, 1869. Central Park. Photo copyright © 2019 Dianne L. Durante

Seventh Regiment Memorial, Central Park

  • Date: 1869
  • Sculptor: John Quincy Adams Ward
  • Granite pedestal by Richard Morris Hunt.
  • Medium & size: Bronze, over lifesize.
  • Location: Central Park, West Drive at 67th St.

The “Silk Stocking Brigade,” also known as the Seventh Regiment of the New York State Militia, helped control New York’s conflagrations – literal and metaphorical. The 7th was made up of local men who mostly dealt with local problems.

Astor Place Riot, 1849. Image: Wikipedia

 

Otto Boetticher, Seventh Regiment on Review in Washington Square, 1851. Image: MetMuseum.org

 

In 1861, they briefly went national. That April, the flag from Fort Sumter was unfurled over the new sculpture of George Washington, whipping a crowd of 100,000 into a patriotic frenzy.

Fort Sumter flag at Union Square, 1861. Image: Wikipedia

Responding to President Lincoln’s urgent request, New York’s governor sent a thousand men of the 7th Regiment off to defend the nation’s capital. By May 31st, thousands of volunteers had swelled the ranks of the Union Army, and the 7th Regiment returned to guard New York.

But the Civil War – bloody and brutal- dragged on. In early July 1863, at Gettysburg, 93,000 Union soldiers took the field. Over 20,000 were killed, wounded, captured, or missing. And that was a Union victory.

With reports of the massive losses at Gettysburg still filling the newspapers, the draft board convened in New York to draw the names of several thousand men for the nation’s first ever mandatory military service.

Drawing lots for the military draft in New York City, 1863. Image: Harper’s Weekly

If your number was drawn, you could pay $300 to send a substitute. But for a manual laborer in New York, $300 was a whole year’s salary. On July 13th, a mob of laborers attacked the draft office. Before long, the mob turned racist. Many blamed blacks for “causing” the war – and for competing with whites for low-paying jobs. Over the next few days, the violence escalated across the city. The New York Times defended its headquarters with Gatling guns.

New York City draft riots, 1863: burning the Second Avenue Armory.
New York City draft riots, 1863: burning the Coloured Orphan Asylum.
New York City draft riots, 1863: the riot in Lexington Avenue.

The Seventh Regiment and other troops were hastily recalled from chasing Confederates at Gettysburg to chasing rioters in New York. When they restored order after four days of mob violence, fifty buildings had been torched. At least 105 people had died. The New York Draft Riots of 1863 remain the largest incident of civil disorder in the history of the United States.

When Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant in April 1865, over three million men had fought in the Civil War. Over 600,000 of them had died: a whole generation of young men. Of those, about 50,000 were New Yorkers.

Ward, 7th Regiment Memorial, 1869. Central Park. Photo copyright © 2019 Dianne L. Durante

In 1867, two years after the war ended, the 7th Regiment requested permission to erect a memorial in Central Park to its 58 dead. Although it looks ordinary, this figure is the first of its kind: a war memorial that represents not a military leader, but a citizen-soldier. Towns across the United States commissioned mass-produced variations of the 7th Regiment Memorial. Not every town could boast a Civil War general, but every town had lost fathers, husbands, and sons.

Ward, 7th Regiment Memorial, 1869. Central Park. Photo copyright © 2019 Dianne L. Durante

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