THE DOGS OF WAR
the trail of smoking ruins. Black clouds marked the destruction, inert
stains against an overcast afternoon sky. They had burned the Ninth District
draft office and sacked houses on Lexington Avenue. They had attacked
the Twenty-first Street armory and ripped up railroad tracks above 42nd
Street. By the time Waddley caught up with the rioters, they were assaulting
the Colored Orphan Asylum.
Irish flooded over the expansive lawn, the strongest flow surging along
the semi-circular carriage path and foaming up against the front door.
Waddley stepped into the cascading mob and was engulfed by the heat of
bodies, the stink of summer sweat and liquored breaths. His ears filled
with the perpetual roar of hundreds of feet tramping over gravel, cut
by scattershots of angry hollering and uproarious laughter. Chants rose
up around him--Down with the niggers! He heard the clear peals
of shattering glass and the hollower thunder of destruction inside the
building. Somewhere above him, piano notes splattered out, abruptly silenced
by the sound of splintering wood. Waddley looked up at the gaping windows
alive with people flinging down toys, chairs, clothing, carpets. A knock-kneed
boy ran by clasping to his chest a crush of maps and prints. Women toted
pillowcases plump with booty over their shoulders, bent double by their
loads, their grunts alternating with the clink of crockery. A stream of
iron bedsteads emerged from a side door, the procession of straining men
cutting through the tumult. Other men balanced stools and tables on their
heads or tottered under mattresses, followed by children dragging pillows
and bedding. A frightened goat lunged past Waddley, its momentum slowed
by a little girl who stubbornly clung to a rope tied about its neck.
crouched behind one of the trees that bordered the Asylum's brick facade
and furtively palmed his small sketchpad. He overcame the impulse to peer
over his shoulder, he ignored the dollops of sweat splattering upon the
paper and furiously scribbled sticks and circles (a child triumphantly
leading a toy horse) and squares and swirls (a woman, her head flung back
in a banshee wail, keening over the body of a girl crushed by a bureau
flung from one of the windows). His pencil slashed across the pages: a
riot of lines depicting a riot.
the fire started he pocketed the pad and retreated. He wove around the
frenzied looters and abandoned objects, he stumbled over uprooted shrubs
and snapped tree limbs. He finally reached what remained of the fence
facing the property. He sagged against the pickets and let his hands do
the shaking they so desperately wanted to do. He watched the flames leap
from the tall, shattered windows, the green shutters blazing to red, the
whitewashed walls puckering gray, going black.
the fire seized the overhanging trees and the intensity of the heat drove
him further back. He crossed Fifth Avenue, over a carpet of scattered
papers and books. The vantage point was excellent for sketching here,
affording, across the wide thoroughfare, a panorama of destruction: hundreds
of scurrying figures silhouetted against flaming buildings. The perfect
perspective for a war artist--and, in this third summer of the Civil War,
there could be no mistaking the fact that the conflict had finally come
Waddley didn't have the strength to pull his pad from his pocket again.
Exhausted, he couldn't record the volunteer firemen's arrival. When their
engines were overturned, he did nothing. He just stood there as the fire
hoses were sliced into sausages and the fire laddies' red shirts were
smothered in an avalanche of rioters' rags and loot. He could only watch,
and then raise his face to the cooling spray that wafted from the geysers
of smashed hydrants, feeling the water cut runnels through the dirt and
he noticed someone noting him. It was a boy who came squirming out of
the mob, hugging a collection of toys. Cradled in his arms, the lacquered
and painted objects glowed against the concavity of his filthy chest,
fiery coals in a sooty fireplace. Their eyes briefly met in the way glances
do in a crowd, but this momentary and distant encounter stopped the boy
in his tracks. He stood rooted to the spot for at least a minute. Even
at this distance, Waddley marked the expression on the boy's wide, flat-featured
face as it crossed back and forth between fear and excitement, never settling
on one until he seemed to make a decision. Nodding to no one, he disappeared
back into the crush.
The encounter seemed innocent enough, yet it struck Waddley as an unfortunate
turn of events. He was confident that, by now, he looked discernibly no
different from anyone else in the area: grimey, sweaty, collarless, his
trousers torn. His shortness was also a less noteworthy feature among
these lowly Irish. But, despite the dirt covering his face, Waddley realized
his cleanshaven cheeks and defined mustache and goatee contrasted with
the scissored stubble of these wild men, strangers to razors and, some
fear that had been suppressed by single-minded determination and then
exhaustion now threatened to break loose. Waddley looked east to consider
the prospects for escape along Forty-third Street. Fortunately, they looked
excellent because when he turned back to reevaluate Fifth Avenue, he espied
the boy making his way across the thoroughfare toward him.
heart shot into his throat. Still bearing his trophies, the boy also had
gathered a coterie of accomplices: three evil-looking men. The adults
wore the makeshift costumes of the laboring poor, garnished with the peculiar
accoutrements favored by many of the Irish. Waddley noted an accordioned
tophat with the bowl of a clay pipe peeking out from a hole in its crown.
More significantly, the men carried fabricated weaponry--a table leg,
a tree branch, a picket torn from the Asylum fence. As they advanced,
their feet kicking up books and papers, their gazes were fixed upon him.
details were, in fact, the aspects of but a moment's observation. Moving
at a pace he never thought he could ever muster, Waddley bolted eastward.
'im!" he heard someone bellow behind him. "Get the Black Republican scum!"