New York Draft Riots

Infobox Military Conflict

caption=Rioters and Federal troops clash
partof=American Civil War
conflict=New York Draft Riots
date= July 11–16, 1863
place=New York
result=Riot crushed
casualties3=120 [McPherson, James M Oral by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction 399] , although counts vary by sources.|
The New York Draft Riots (July 11 to July 16, 1863; known at the time as Draft Week [ [ Barnes 5] ] ), were violent disturbances in New York City that were the culmination of discontent with new laws passed by Congress to draft men to fight in the ongoing American Civil War. The riots were the largest civil insurrection in American history apart from the Civil War itself [Foner, E. (1988). "Reconstruction America's unfinished revolution, 1863-1877. The New American Nation series." Page 32. New York: Harper & Row.] . President Abraham Lincoln sent several regiments of militia and volunteer troops to control the city. The rioters numbered in the thousands and were mainly Irish.cite web | url= | title=The Riots | accessdate=2006-08-16 | work=Harper's Weekly, volume vii, no 344 | | pages=382, 394] Smaller scale riots erupted in other cities about the same time.

Initially intended to express anger at the draft, the protests degraded into "a virtual racial pogrom, with uncounted numbers of blacks murdered on the streets". [Foner, E. (1988). "Reconstruction America's unfinished revolution, 1863-1877. The New American Nation series." Page 32. New York: Harper & Row.] The conditions in the city were such that Major General John E. Wool stated on July 16, "Martial law ought to be proclaimed, but I have not a sufficient force to enforce it."cite web | url= | title=Maj. Gen. John E. Wool Official Reports (OR) for the New York Draft Riots | accessdate=2006-08-16 | work=Shotgun's Home of the American Civil War] The military suppressed the mob using artillery and fixed bayonets, but not before numerous buildings were ransacked or destroyed, including many homes and an orphanage for black children.


When the Civil War started in April 1861, New Yorkers quickly rallied behind the Union cause, including a massive rally at Union Square attended by an estimated 100,000 to 250,000.cite book |title=The Epic of New York City |author=Ellis, Edward Robb |publisher=Old Town Books |year=1966 |pages=p. 296] When Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to join the military and fight for the Union, 8,000 from New York City signed up within ten days. The First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861 took a heavy toll on Union forces, including those from New York City, leading to declining enthusiasm and optimism. A large contingent of Democrats in New York City, known as Copperheads, were opposed to the war and favored negotiated peace.cite book |title=The Epic of New York City |author=Ellis, Edward Robb |publisher=Old Town Books |year=1966 |pages=p. 297] New York Governor Horatio Seymour was elected in 1862, running on an anti-war platform. [cite book |title=The Democratic Party of the State of New York: A History of the Origin, Growth and Achievements |author=Littleton, Martin Wilie, James K. McGuire |publisher=United States History Co |year=1905 |pages=p. 385]

As the war dragged on, a military manpower shortage occurred in the Union. Congress passed the first conscription act in United States history on March 3, 1863, authorizing the President to draft citizens between the ages of 18 and 35 for a three-year term of military service.cite book |title=History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 |author=Rhodes, James Ford |year=1899 |publisher=Macmillan |pages=p. 320-323] Copperheads were dismayed by the news. Their main objection was to national service of any kind, but in terms of rhetoric, they attacked the provision allowing men drafted to pay either $300 or supply a substitute as a "commutation fee" to procure exemption from service. [cite book |title=NYPD: A City and Its Police |author=Lardner, James, and Thomas Reppetto |publisher=Owl Books |year=2000 |pages=p. 43] This led to the derisive term "300 dollar man". In actuality, the draft was designed to spur voluntary enlistment, and relatively few men were formally drafted into service. David Donald, "Civil War and Reconstruction" (2002) 229]

In practice, however, men formed clubs whereby if one was drafted the others chipped in to pay the commutation fee. Regardless of the intent of the $300 provision—as a means of securing some much-needed funding for the war effort or sparing the sons of the rich from serving similar to draft dodging—public perception among the middle and lower classes was that the war had become "the rich man's war and the poor man's fight."United States Congress, "Hearings Before and Special Reports Made by Committee on Armed Services of the House of Representatives", U.S. Government Printing Office, (Published 1975), ['s+war%22&pgis=1# available online] , accessed 2007-01-27]

The first drawing of names happened on Saturday, July 11 without incident. Names were put on small pieces of paper, placed in a box, and then drawn one-by-one. The names put into the drawing were mainly mechanics and laborers that had been published in newspapers. Though rioting in New York didn't commence yet, riots involving opponents of conscription broke out in other cities, including Buffalo on July 6, 1863. [cite news |title=The Riot in Buffalo |publisher=The New York Times |date=July 10, 1863] There was speculation about similar reaction in New York City to the draft, which coincided with the efforts of Tammany Hall (the base of Democratic power in the city) to enroll Irish immigrants as citizens so they could vote in local elections. Consequently, many such immigrants suddenly discovered they had to fight for their new country.



The second drawing of numbers was held on Monday, July 13, 1863, ten days after the Union victory in the Battle of Gettysburg. At 10 a.m., a furious crowd of 500 led by the Black Joke Engine Company 33, soon attacked the assistant Ninth District Provost Marshal's Office, at Third Avenue and 47th Street, where the draft was taking place.cite news |title=The Mob in New York |date=July 14, 1863 |publisher=The New York Times] The crowd began throwing large paving stones through windows, bursting through doors, and setting the building ablaze.cite book |title=History of the United States of America, Under the Constitution |author=Schouler, James |year=1899 |publisher=Dodd, Mead & Company |pages=p. 418] Many of the rioters, being Irish labourers, were also opposed to gradualism, because they did not want to compete with emancipated slaves for occupational opportunities. cite book
author=Foner, Eric
title=Reconstruction: America's unfinished revolution, 1863-1877
publisher=Perennial Classics
location=New York
pages=Pg 33

The New York State Militia was absent, having been sent to assist Union troops in Pennsylvania, leaving the police to deal with the riots. The police superintendent, John Kennedy, came by on Monday to check on the situation. Although he was not in uniform, he was recognized by people in the mob and they attacked him. Kennedy was left nearly unconscious, having had his face bruised and cut, an injured eye, swelled lips, his hand cut with a knife, and a mass of bruises and blood all over his body. [Barnes, David M. (1863), p. 12] In response, police drew their clubs and revolvers, and charged the crowd, but the crowd overpowered them. The New York City Police Department forces were badly outnumbered and unable to quell the riots, however, they were able to keep the rioting out of Lower Manhattan, below Union Square. [Barnes, David M. (1863), p. 6] Immigrants and others in the "Bloody Sixth" Ward, around the seaport, refrained from getting involved in the Draft Riots, having experienced more than enough violence in the 1830s and 1850s. [Bernstein, Iver (1990), p. 24-25] The Bull's Head hotel on 44th Street, which refused to provide alcohol, was burned. The mayor's residence on Fifth Avenue, the Eighth and Fifth District police stations, and other buildings were attacked and set on fire. Other targets included the office of the leading Republican newspaper, the "New York Tribune". The mob was turned back at the "New York Tribune" office by staff manning two Gatling guns. [ p.122 Hohenburg, John "Free Press/Free People: The Best Cause" 1973 Free Press] Fire engine companies responded, however some of the firefighters were sympathetic to the rioters, since they too had been drafted on Saturday. Later in the afternoon, authorities shot and killed a man, as a crowd attacked the Armory at Second Avenue and 21st Street.

African Americans became a scapegoat and the target of the rioters' anger. Many immigrants and poor viewed freed slaves as competition for scarce jobs and African Americans as the reason why the civil war was being fought. Irish immigrants comprised a large portion of the rioters, though a large contingent of German immigrants, and other groups also participated. [Bernstein, Iver (1990), p. 23-24] African Americans who fell into the mob's hands were often beaten, tortured, and/or killed, including one man that was attacked by a crowd of 400 with clubs and paving stones, then hung from a tree and set alight. The Colored Orphan Asylum on Fifth Avenue, which provided shelter for hundreds of children, was attacked by a mob. The police were able to secure the orphanage for enough time to allow orphans to escape. However, a nine-year-old girl from the orphanage, who was found hiding under a bed, was clubbed to death.cite book |title=The Epic of New York City |author=Ellis, Edward Robb |publisher=Old Town Books |year=1966 |pages=p. 305]


Heavy rain fell on Monday night, helping to abate the fires and sending rioters home, but the crowd returned the next day. Commerce in the city was halted, with workers joining the crowd. Rioters went after the homes of notable Republicans, including activist Abby Hopper Gibbons, among others. [Bernstein, Iver (1990), p. 25-26]

Governor Horatio Seymour arrived on Tuesday and spoke at City Hall, where he attempted to assuage the crowd by proclaiming the Conscription Act was unconstitutional. General John E. Wool brought approximately 800 troops in from forts in the New York Harbor and from West Point. He also ordered the militias to return to New York.

Order restored

The situation improved on Wednesday, when assistant provost-marshal-general Robert Nugent received word from his superior officer to suspend the draft. As this news appeared in newspapers, some rioters stayed home. But, some of the militias began to return and used harsh measures against the remaining mobs.

Order began to be restored on Thursday as more federal troops returned to New York, including the 152nd New York Volunteers, the 26th Michigan Volunteers, the 27th Indiana Volunteers and the 7th Regiment New York State Militia from Frederick, Maryland, after a forced march. In addition, the governor sent in the 74th and 65th regiments of the New York state militia, which had not been in federal service, and a section of the 20th Independent Battery, New York Volunteer Artillery from Fort Schuyler in Throgs Neck. By July 16, there were several thousand Federal troops in the city. A final confrontation occurred on Thursday evening near Gramercy Park, resulting in the deaths of many rioters.


The exact death toll during the New York Draft Riots is unknown, but according to historian James M. McPherson (2001), at least 120 civilians were killed [McPherson, James M Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction 399] . Estimates are that at least 2000 more injured. Total property damage was about $1 million.cite book|last=Morison|first=Samuel Eliot|title=The Oxford History of the American People: Volume Two: 1789 Through Reconstruction|publisher=Signet|date=1972|pages=451|isbn=0451622545] Historian Samuel Morison wrote that the riots were "equivalent to a Confederate victory". The city treasury later indemnified one-quarter of the amount. Fifty buildings, including two Protestant churches, burned to the ground. On August 19, the draft was resumed. It was completed within 10 days without further incident, although far fewer men were actually drafted than had been feared: of the 750,000 selected for conscription nationwide, only about 45,000 actually went into service.

While the rioting mainly involved the working class, the middle and upper-class New Yorkers had split sentiments on the draft and use of federal power or martial law to enforce the draft. [Bernstein, Iver (1990), p. 43] Many wealthy Democratic businessmen sought to have the draft declared unconstitutional. Tammany Democrats did not seek to have the draft declared unconstitutional, but would help pay commutation fees on behalf of poor who were drafted. [Bernstein, Iver (1990), p. 44]

Fictional portrayals

The Draft Riots are fictionally portrayed in the novels "On Secret Service" by John Jakes and "Paradise Alley" by Kevin Baker. The short-lived 1968 Broadway musical "Maggie Flynn" was set in an orphanage for black children that came under siege during the Draft Riots. In the steampunk novel "The Difference Engine" (1990) by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, readers are told that the riots (during an earlier Civil War finally won by the Confederate States) end in the creation of a Manhattan commune (compare with the Paris commune) led by Karl Marx. In the Newt Gingrich novel "Grant Comes East", the riots are portrayed as far more severe than they were in actuality, as this book is a sequel to his where the Confederacy won the Battle of Gettysburg.

The Martin Scorsese film "Gangs of New York" (2002), set around the time of the Riots, was an inaccurate depiction of conflated events, [ [ Pete Hamill website] ] attempting to depict "the birth of Manhattan and the way the different waves of immigrants have shaped [New York City's] evolution".cite web | url= | title=Gangs of New York Introduction | accessdate=2007-12-08 | work=The Dream Page] According to author and journalist Pete Hamill: "... [T] he Irish hoodlums established the nexus between New York crime and New York politics that would last more than a century. A path was established among the Dead Rabbits, the Plug Uglies, the Bowery B’hoys that continues all the way to today’s Latin Kings, Crips and Bloods." [ [ Pete Hamill website] ]

ee also

* History of New York City (1855-1897)
* Opposition to the American Civil War
* Domestic terrorism in the United States


References and further reading

* New York Evangelist (1830-1902); Jul 23, 1863; 33, 30; APS Online pg. 4.

External links

* [ The New York City Draft Riots of 1863]
* [ New York Draft Riots]
*First Edition Harper's News Report on the [ New York Draft Riots]
* [ Draft Riots] 1863 New York City Draft Riots
* A [ Map of Events] mentioned in this article

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