Battle of the Viaduct
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The Battle of the Viaduct was an event that took place in Chicago due to a much larger and more prolific event, the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. The strike began on July 14, 1877 in Virginia, during a time of great economic woe throughout the country, thus it quickly gained momentum, eventually becoming the first national strike in United States' History. The city of Chicago was quickly affected by the strike. Being one of the most heavily populated cities in America at the time, crowds gathered in extreme numbers to partake in the upheaval. One specific area, the Halsted Street viaduct, saw a huge number of people gather and protest. They began to get violent, and in return they were met by fierce retaliation from the authorities. The conflict that ensued between the two sides quickly turned bloody, and the event that took place became known as the Battle of the Viaduct.
Chicago was "the railroad center of the midwest," and being so, it did not take long for workers of all industries to partake in the great national strike. The city was affected quickly and strongly by the strike because it housed a large and well-organized party of socialists and communists who had frequently shown the disposition and the ability to bring on riots when the opportunities were there.
The decade of the 1870s was marked by economic depression, both in Europe and in the United States, and since many citizens of Chicago were poor and jobless, it did not take much for them to sympathize and be swayed by political radicals. Excitement brewed throughout the entire city, rumors spread far and wide, the masses gathered, and the city authorities quietly but rapidly prepared to deal with the mobs that were forming. In addition, "the militia regiments of the city were ordered under arms by the governor, and were directed to assist the municipal authorizes whenever called upon." Mobs continued to form throughout the city and more and more people continued to join in because there was an overall feeling of dissatisfaction amongst all workers. In addition, many who joined in on the mobs were not even workers, they were "roughs, loafers, and dead beats."
The strike began on July 14, 1877 in Virginia, during a time of great economic woe throughout the country. Thus it quickly gained momentum, eventually becoming the first national strike in United States' history. The city of Chicago was quickly affected by the strike. Being one of the most heavily populated cities in America at the time, crowds gathered in extreme numbers to participate in the strike. One specific area, the Halsted Street viaduct, saw a huge number of people gather and protest.
The mobs were determined to get others to stop working; if their demands were not met, destruction of property usually followed. So, on some occasions, even the bosses ordered their workers to stop work in order to prevent damage to their businesses. The mobs successfully stopped many kinds of work, such as iron works, boiler works, iron, nail, and moulding companies, and die and machine works. The mayor of the city issued many warnings for the mobs to disperse and to obey the law. He even pleaded for neighborhoods to try and stop the looting by forming militias of their own and ordered the closure of liquor saloons. His methods proved incapable of putting an end to the upheaval, and as a result he turned to use of force.
By Wednesday, July 25, it was clear that authorities would not refrain from challenging crowds. The police attempted to disperse crowds wherever they appeared, but the bands of people seemed to disappear and reappear at random, making order very difficult to maintain. A mob numbering about ten thousand men, women, and children had gathered at the Halsted Street viaduct; the sheer size of the mob was extremely threatening and a strong body of police was sent to the viaduct with orders to disperse the mob. At the sight of the police, the mob broke and fled to the other side of the viaduct and as a result the police pursued them and fired at them as they ran.
The mob then turned around and charged the police, angered at the fact that they were shot at when they tried to retreat. The crowd threw stones, some shot their pistols, and other various objects were thrown at the police. At the same time, the police discharged their weapons at the mob for a period of half an hour. The crowd proved too big for them to handle and the police were running out of ammunition, hence their sergeant gave orders to fire off all their remaining ammunition and at the same time withdraw across the viaduct back towards the police station. The massive crowd, still just as big as before and now even angrier, ran after the police in hot pursuit.
The police found themselves trapped at the south side of the street because a gang of roughs had raised the bridge. In the face of certain death, they were saved when an unidentified boy lowered the bridge for them to escape and, more importantly, for the cavalry to come to their rescue. The cavalry was followed by several large wagons filled with reinforcements. Here, the mob once again turned around and retreated to the other side of the bridge while being fired upon by the police and beaten by their clubs. Many reporters were at the scene of the conflict and they reported the typical clashes of that day consisted of guerrilla warfare, when cavalry or police approached, a crowd would part and then close behind it while many threw stones and pieces of wood and coal.
The mobs, though overwhelmed and intimidated, were still not yet conquered. Rumors of fresh outbreaks in the city continued and more and more government troops kept arriving. These troops stationed themselves at various points of the city believed to be susceptible to violent uprisings whilst police patrolled the city and arrested many. The rioters did not dare gather in great numbers like they had at the Halsted Street viaduct, but small crowds kept springing up, even though they continued to be dispersed swiftly.
July 26 passed with no further violence. The rioters remained agitated and restless but avoided further conflict. Many places remained closed until the following week and by then the strike had lost its momentum. Crowds ceased to gather because they feared the fierce police brutality that they would have to face. "Thirty workers died at the Viaduct, 100 were wounded, and at least thirteen cops were injured. The New York Times reported rocks flying from workers' hands, police shooting guns and swinging clubs, and 'no less than 10,000 men present … they were bent on violence and hesitated at nothing.'"
- Richard Schneirov, Labor and Urban Politics: Class Conflict and the Origins of Modern Liberalism in Chicago, 1864-97. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1998; pg. 71. ISBN 0-252-06676-6.
- James Dabney McCabe, The History of the Great Riots. National Publishing Company, 1877; pg. 369.
- McCabe, The History of the Great Riots, pg. 371.
- McCabe, The History of the Great Riots, pg. 372.
- McCabe, The History of the Great Riots, pg. 378.
- Schneirov, Labor and Urban Politics Class Conflict and the Origins of Modern Liberalism in Chicago, 1864-97, pg. 74.
- McCabe, The History of the Great Riots, pg. 387.
- McCabe, The History of the Great Riots, pg. 389.
- McCabe, The History of the Great Riots, pg. 390.
- McCabe, The History of the Great Riots, pg. 391.
- Richard, Schneirov (1998). Labor and Urban Politics: Class Conflict and the Origins of Modern Liberalism in Chicago, 1864-97. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. p. 75.
- "The Battle of the Halsted Viaduct."
- Schneirov, Richard (1998). Labor and Urban Politics: Class Conflict and the Origins of Modern Liberalism in Chicago, 1864-97. Urbana and Chicago, Illinois, U.S.: University of Illinois Press. pp. 75, 95. ISBN 978-0252066764.
Police violence had taken a terrible toll: approximately thirty were killed − the true number could not be reported since many were buried at night in lime pits south of the city − and another two hundred were wounded. (These figures are estimates based on comparing newspaper accounts and names of casualties.) Not one policeman or militiaman was killed.