Is Gangs of New York an accurate Civil War era movie?

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leftyhunter

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I just watched Gangs of New York and based on he 1928 book by Herbert Asbury "Gangs of New York" and the History Channel documentary it seems a very accurate film.
Now by very accurate the movie is not a documentary and does not need to be 100%accurate.
For example it is true that the U.S. Navy did not fire on the rioters. However the New York Times most definitely reported that the Union Army did fire cannons at the rioters.
I was not able to access the links in the thread about Irish immigrants being recruited right off the boat. On the other hand both sides aggressively recruited immigrants.
The riot scenes appeared authentic. Also the Five Points neighbourhood was by all accounts a horrid place. There were two police forces in New York city at the time neither one was,a paragon of virtue.
So what do my distinguished friends think?
Leftyhunter
 

Bruce Vail

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I think Gangs of New York is pretty accurate in a general sense. It's not meant to be an account of the NY riot itself, but background for the movie plot. The costumes, settings and general action are all consistent with what is known of the riots.

What is really missing from the historical record is an account of the riot from the perspective of the rioters. For obvious reason, rioters were reluctant to identify themselves publicly at the time, or later.
 
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leftyhunter

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That's a good article. So no The Gangs of New York is not one hundred percent accurate. On the other hand it touch's on a neglected aspect of the antebellum and Civil War era U.S. and that is what life was like in big cities. Yes the majority of the American population were still rural but that was,already changing by 1860.
Also cities particularly New York City were chaotic and corrupt. So lots of good historical detail but yes it's a movie not a documentary.
Great acting particularly by Daniel Day Lewis. Lewis captures the complex politics of 1860s New York City.
Leftyhunter
 
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Burning Billy

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The battle in the beginning of the film is loosely based on the Dead Rabbits Riot:

"The Dead Rabbits riot was a two-day civil disturbance in New York City resulting from what was originally a small-scale street fight between members of the Dead Rabbits and the Bowery Boys into a citywide gang war which occurred July 4–5, 1857. Taking advantage of the disorganized state of the city's police force—brought about by the conflict between the Municipal and Metropolitan police—the fighting spiraled into widespread looting and damage of property by gangsters and other criminals from all parts of the city. It is estimated that between 800 and 1,000 gang members took part in the riots, along with several hundred others who used the disturbance to loot the Bowery area. It was the largest disturbance since the Astor Place Riot in 1849 and the biggest scene of gang violence until the New York Draft Riots of 1863...."

"....During the two days, eight men were killed and between thirty [2] to a hundred others injured, roughly half requiring hospitalization. It was believed that many gang members were carried off by their friends and, over the next few days, those who were killed in the fighting were buried in cellars, hidden passageways, and other locations in the Five Points and Paradise Square. Many known "sluggers" from both sides were noticeably absent from the area following the riot. According to underworld legend, these sites would be used for secret burials by street gangs for the next several decades."

Dead Rabbits Riot

So it seems the movie went with a local legend version of the riot, since "only" 8 men were known to be killed, and moved it to an earlier time period so that the protagonist could be an adult during the Draft Riots.
 
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leftyhunter

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The battle in the beginning of the film is loosely based on the Dead Rabbits Riot:

"The Dead Rabbits riot was a two-day civil disturbance in New York City resulting from what was originally a small-scale street fight between members of the Dead Rabbits and the Bowery Boys into a citywide gang war which occurred July 4–5, 1857. Taking advantage of the disorganized state of the city's police force—brought about by the conflict between the Municipal and Metropolitan police—the fighting spiraled into widespread looting and damage of property by gangsters and other criminals from all parts of the city. It is estimated that between 800 and 1,000 gang members took part in the riots, along with several hundred others who used the disturbance to loot the Bowery area. It was the largest disturbance since the Astor Place Riot in 1849 and the biggest scene of gang violence until the New York Draft Riots of 1863...."

"....During the two days, eight men were killed and between thirty [2] to a hundred others injured, roughly half requiring hospitalization. It was believed that many gang members were carried off by their friends and, over the next few days, those who were killed in the fighting were buried in cellars, hidden passageways, and other locations in the Five Points and Paradise Square. Many known "sluggers" from both sides were noticeably absent from the area following the riot. According to underworld legend, these sites would be used for secret burials by street gangs for the next several decades."

Dead Rabbits Riot

So it seems the movie went with a local legend version of the riot, since "only" 8 men were known to be killed, and moved it to an earlier time period so that the protagonist could be an adult during the Draft Riots.
So in essence the opening gang fight was rather accurate. It appears that Martin Sorcesse to his credit has a good eye for historical detail and Sorcesse captures the historical spirit of Civil War and antebellum era New York City. In the end that is all we can hope for from film makers.
Good point about the Dead Rabbit riot. Asbury may have mentioned it in his book but I forgot.
Leftyhunter
 

Bruce Vail

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The battle in the beginning of the film is loosely based on the Dead Rabbits Riot:

"The Dead Rabbits riot was a two-day civil disturbance in New York City resulting from what was originally a small-scale street fight between members of the Dead Rabbits and the Bowery Boys into a citywide gang war which occurred July 4–5, 1857. Taking advantage of the disorganized state of the city's police force—brought about by the conflict between the Municipal and Metropolitan police—the fighting spiraled into widespread looting and damage of property by gangsters and other criminals from all parts of the city. It is estimated that between 800 and 1,000 gang members took part in the riots, along with several hundred others who used the disturbance to loot the Bowery area. It was the largest disturbance since the Astor Place Riot in 1849 and the biggest scene of gang violence until the New York Draft Riots of 1863...."

"....During the two days, eight men were killed and between thirty [2] to a hundred others injured, roughly half requiring hospitalization. It was believed that many gang members were carried off by their friends and, over the next few days, those who were killed in the fighting were buried in cellars, hidden passageways, and other locations in the Five Points and Paradise Square. Many known "sluggers" from both sides were noticeably absent from the area following the riot. According to underworld legend, these sites would be used for secret burials by street gangs for the next several decades."

Dead Rabbits Riot

So it seems the movie went with a local legend version of the riot, since "only" 8 men were known to be killed, and moved it to an earlier time period so that the protagonist could be an adult during the Draft Riots.
I'm impressed that the movie makers tried so hard to make the scene historically accurate. I had just assumed that they were employing poetic license to indulge in the Hollywood love of extreme violence.

I didn't like the movie much when I first saw it, but I think I'll go back and take another look.
 

Pat Young

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I just watched Gangs of New York and based on he 1928 book by Herbert Asbury "Gangs of New York" and the History Channel documentary it seems a very accurate film.
Now by very accurate the movie is not a documentary and does not need to be 100%accurate.
For example it is true that the U.S. Navy did not fire on the rioters. However the New York Times most definitely reported that the Union Army did fire cannons at the rioters.
I was not able to access the links in the thread about Irish immigrants being recruited right off the boat. On the other hand both sides aggressively recruited immigrants.
The riot scenes appeared authentic. Also the Five Points neighbourhood was by all accounts a horrid place. There were two police forces in New York city at the time neither one was,a paragon of virtue.
So what do my distinguished friends think?
Leftyhunter
Except for the look of the Five Points, it is almost entirely inaccurate. Tyler Anbinder has a very good and easy to read book on the real Five Points.
 
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leftyhunter

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Except for the look of the Five Points, it is almost entirely inaccurate. Tyler Anbinder has a very good and easy to read book on the real Five Points.
What is so inaccurate about the movie? Sorcesse seems to capture quite well the spirit of the time and place.
The white Anglo Saxons as a whole hated the Irish. Maybe not to the same extent as local gangs such has the Bowery Boys and Alantic Guards but the hate was there.
Tammany Hall and both police depts in New York City were ineffective at best and corrupt at worst.
The volunteer fire dept were at best thinly disguised gangs of thieves and frequently were gang members themselves.
The,Irish immigrants were poor and lived in substandard novels.
So on the whole Gangs of New York seems to be reasonably accurate.
If course I haven't yet read the recommended book. I bought a big batch of books that I still have to read .
Leftyhunter
 
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Bruce Vail

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What is so inaccurate about the movie? Sorcesse seems to capture quite well the spirit of the time and place.
The white Anglo Saxons as a whole hated the Irish. Maybe not to the same extent as local gangs such has the Bowery Boys and Alantic Guards but the hate was there.
Tammany Hall and both police depts in New York City were ineffective at best and corrupt at worst.
The volunteer fire dept were at best thinly disguised gangs of thieves and frequently were gang members themselves.
The,Irish immigrants were poor and lived in substandard novels.
So on the whole Gangs of New York seems to be reasonably accurate.
If course I haven't yet read the recommended book. I bought a big batch of books that I still have to read .
Leftyhunter
I'm with you, Lefty. It's a fictional story with a historical background. The background is well done, and reasonably consistent with the historical record.

What more can a history buff hope for in a Hollywood production?
 
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