new-york-draft-riots

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July 13th 1863: New York Draft Riots begin

On this day in 1863, riots broke out in New York City in protest of Congress’ passage of a conscription law to enlist all men aged between 20 and 45 to fight in the Union army during the Civil War. Violence began on the second day of military officers randomly selecting names for the draft, when a notoriously aggressive volunteer fire department arrived and began a brawl. The majority of rioters were poor members of the working classes, as they were particularly aggrieved by the law’s $300 commutation clause which allowed richer men to pay their way out of enlistment. Over the following days, the riot became less about the draft and more about general grievances, and many of the initial rioters backed away from the ugly turn the revolt had taken. Anger at the Republican government was expressed though attacks on symbols of their power like railroads and telegraph lines and the headquarters of Republican newspaper the New York Tribune. This led some contemporary observers, like diarist George Templeton Strong, to see the riot as a pro-Confederate plot. Racial tensions also came to the surface as Irish workers, who had long competed with African-Americans for jobs, took out their anger by attacking black citizens and burning a black orphanage. The riot only ended on July 16th when federal troops, many fresh from the fields of Gettysburg, intervened and quashed the riot; the riots remain the largest civilian insurrection in American history, bar the Civil War itself.

We are the poor rabble, and the rich rabble is our enemy by this law. Therefore we will give our enemy battle right here, and ask no quarter. Although we got hard fists, and are dirty without, we have soft hearts, and have clean consciences within”
- a letter from one of the rioters, published in the New York Times

New York, July 13, 1863

Colonel James B. Fry
Provost Marshal General
Washington, DC

My Head Quarters are destroyed and the draft in the Ninth district of this state is temporarily suspended.  My lists etc are I think preserved in the safe.

I opened my Head Quarters this morning at 7.15 o clock and soon after began to receive reports from my special officers who are well acquainted with the district and which satisfied me that an attempt would be made to stop the draft.  They were trustworthy men and I was obliged to believe the reports.  I at once sent a request to AAPM G Nugent to detail for my support a sergeant two …

Letter from Charles Jenkins to Provost Marshal General James Fry, 07/13/1863

July 13th, marks the 150th anniversary of the New York City Draft Riots, violent protests against the Civil War draft that lasted four days and resulted in over 1,000 casualties and millions of dollars of property destruction. 

This document provides an eyewitness account from the Ninth District Provost Marshal office.  Located on the corner of Third Avenue and 46th Street, the Ninth District office was chosen to begin the draft on July 11th because it was in a less densely populated part of 19th century Manhattan; Provost Marshal General James Fry elected to stagger the draft process to subdue potential rebellion.  Within a half hour of resuming the draft lottery on July 13th, the building was overtaken by hundreds of people and burned to the ground.  At the time this letter was written, the full extent of damage was still unknown.  Similar acts of vandalism and destruction were reported throughout the city as the riots spread.  The mobs initially targeted government buildings and representatives before focusing their violence towards the African-American community. 

via the National Archives at New York on Facebook

On this date, July 13, in 1863, the New York Draft Riots occurred. This has been described as Four Days Of Terror centered on racism over the Civil War.

Lincoln had freed the slaves and now he was recruiting Northern men into the army and forcing them to fight and die to make his proclamation a reality. As a result, many white workers in the North reasoned that free Blacks would be competing for their jobs. The unfair draft laws caused deep resentment throughout the North, and in the summer of 1863, protests and outbreaks of violence were common in virtually every Northern state.  [Continue reading at the African American Registry.]

For further reading and research, see also:

The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America

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by Barnet Schecter. [book link
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The New York City Draft Riots: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War

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by Iver Bernstein. [book link
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The Draft Riots in New York, July, 1863 (Civil War)

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by David Barnes. [book link
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The Armies of the Streets: The New York City Draft Riots of 1863

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by Adrian Cook. [book link
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Irish anger at the New York City draft led to the New York Draft Riots of 1863
The New York City draft riots (July 13 to July 16, 1863; known at the time as Draft Week) were violent disturbances in New York City that were the culmination of working-class discontent with new laws passed by Congress that year to draft men to fight in the ongoing American Civil War. The riots were the largest civil insurrection in American history.

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$300 Man. Live, in a laundry mat…

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“There was some terrific fighting between the regulars and the insurgents; streets were swept again and again by grape, houses were stormed at the point of the bayonet, rioters were picked off by sharpshooters as they fired on the troops from housetops; men were hurled, dying or dead, into the streets by the thoroughly enraged soldiery; until at last, sullen and cowed and thoroughly whipped and beaten, the miserable wretches gave way at every point and confessed the power of the law.” –A New York diarist, recording the quelling of the New York draft riots by Union troops in July 1863.

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151st anniversary of the beginning of the New York Draft Riots on July 13-16, 1863, so 2002's Gangs of New York.  The actual depiction of the riots is somewhat fictionalized though, so here is the somewhat factual Wikipedia article as well.

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“…the news from New York City indicates that both mail & telegraphic communications are interrupted with Washington…”

Letter to Captain John Godfrey Calling for the Postponement New Hampshire Draft because of Draft Riots in New York, 07/14/1863

July 13th marks the 150th anniversary of the New York City Draft Riots, violent protests against the Civil War draft that lasted four days and resulted in over 1,000 casualties and millions of dollars of property destruction.  This letter from New Hampshire on July 14th indicates the widespread effects and alarm raised by the riots.

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“Whereas there appears to be much opposition to the operations of the act of enrollment and such opposition seems likely to result in a demonstration which may endanger the safety of the property now occupied by the Provost Marshall’s Office, and the buildings adjoining, which are private property, and are likely to be destroyed or injured to a great extent in case of a disturbance,–

We the undersigned Citizens of Tarrytown do hereby respectfully suggest and ask the removal of said office and for the adoption of such other precautionary measures by the Provost Marshall, as shall tend to secure the safety and tranquility of all concerned.”

Petition from Citizens of Tarrytown to Captain Moses G. Leonard, 07/16/1863

From the series Letters Received (1863-1865) from the Records of the Provost Marshal General’s Bureau

July 13th, marked the 150th anniversary of the New York City Draft Riots, violent protests against the Civil War draft that lasted four days and resulted in over 1,000 casualties and millions of dollars of property destruction.   Acts of vandalism and destruction were reported throughout the city as the riots spread.  The mobs initially targeted government buildings and representatives before focusing their violence towards the African-American community. 

via the National Archives at New York on Facebook

“Warned by the fearful riots in N.York. I hope this District will be well guarded…" 

Letter from Hoboken Mayor L.W. Elder to Provost Marshall E.N. Miller, 07/13/1863

July 13th, marks the 150th anniversary of the New York City Draft Riots, violent protests against the Civil War draft that lasted four days and resulted in over 1,000 casualties and millions of dollars of property destruction.   Acts of vandalism and destruction were reported throughout the city as the riots spread.  The mobs initially targeted government buildings and representatives before focusing their violence towards the African-American community. 

via the National Archives at New York on Facebook

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“…The Enrollment is complete except in one sub-district, located in the mining districts where the population consists mostly of Irish & under the excitement of the past week, it would have been indiscreet to have attempted to proceed – it shall be completed however as soon as possible…”

“…Precautionary measures have been taken by this board since the outbreak in New York.  To prevent similar recurrences in this district special Watchmen + scouts have been employed.  Scouts to bring information from the sections which seemed most turbulent + the Watchmen to gaurd [sic] the office Building, wherein the clothing is stored.  Threats have reached me that this Office together with Enrollment + clothing would be destroyed.  The danger seemed imminent and the utmost vigilance was required.”

Tri-monthly Reports from James Brown to Provost Marshal General James Fry, 07/20/1863

This report reflects the concern and issues raised a week following the  the New York City Draft Riots Violent protests against the Civil War draft, the riots lasted four days and resulted in over 1,000 casualties and millions of dollars of property destruction.   Acts of vandalism and destruction were reported throughout the city as the riots spread.  The mobs initially targeted government buildings and representatives before focusing their violence towards the African-American community. 

via the National Archives at New York on Facebook