NY City Draft Riots during the Civil War by Rachel Niland
New York Draft Riots (July 13 to July 16, 1863; known at the time as Draft Week )
These were violent disturbances in New York City that were the result of discontent with new laws passed by Congress to draft men to fight in the ongoing American Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln sent several regiments of militia and volunteer troops to control the city.
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.
Causes When the Civil War started in April 1861, a massive rally at Union Square was attended by an estimated 100,000 to 250,000. When President 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. As the war dragged on, a military manpower shortage occurred in the Union. Congress passed the first conscription act on March 3, 1863, authorizing the President to draft citizens between18 & 35 for a 3-year term of military service. The draft was designed to encourage voluntary enlistment. The first drawing of names happen- ed on Saturday, July 11,1863 without incident. The names put into the drawing were mainly mechanics and laborers.
Monday The second drawing of numbers was held on Monday, July 13, 1863, ten days after the Union victory of the Battle in Gettysburg. The Bull's Head hotel on 44th Street, which refused to provide alcohol, was burned. African Americans became scapegoats 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. African Americans who fell into the mob's hands were often beaten, tortured, and/or killed. Bull's Head Hotel, depicted in 1830, was burned in the riot. Tuesday Governor Horatio Seymour arrived on Tuesday and spoke at City Hall, where he attempted to moderate 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.
Wednesday and Thursday: order restored The situation improved on Wednesday, when assistant provost-marshal-general Robert Nugent received word from his superior officer, Colonel James Barnet Fry, to suspend the draft. Order began to be restored on Thursday as more federal troops returned to New York. 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. Gramercy Park, May 2007, with the statue of Edwin Booth in the center.
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 and estimates that at least 2,000 more injured.
Total property damage was about $1 million. Historian Samuel Morison wrote that the riots were "equivalent to a Confederate victory”. 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 nationwide, only about 45,000 actually went into service.
By the end of the war over 200,000 soldiers, sailors and militia enlisted at New York City. 20,000 of them died during the war
Including its losses at Bull Run, no Union army infantry regiment had more combat dead than the city's 69 th “Fighting Irish” Regiment.