Monday, July 14, 2014

JULY 13 = New York City Erupts in Draft Riots

                                              THE MOB IN NEW-YORK.
                Resistance to the Draft--Rioting and Bloodshed. 
                      Conscription Offices Sacked and Burned. 
                           Private Dwellings Pillaged and Fired. 
                                  An ARMORY AND A HOTEL DESTROYED.
              Colored people Assaulted--An Unoffending Black Man Hung.
The Tribune office Attacked--The Colored Orphan Asylum Ransacked and Burned--Other Outrages and Incidents.
                             A DAY OF INFAMY AND DISGRACE

These are the details which greeted New Yorkers on the front Page of the New York Times on the morning of July 14, detailing the mayhem and destruction which was visited the previous day.  It was on July 13, 1863 that three full days of riots broke out in New York City in reaction to the new Draft Law which had been passed in Congress to raise more men to fight in the Civil War. The headlines are to be sure, lurid and sensational.  But they are essentially correct. And it would take troops brought directly from the Battle of Gettysburg and a Napoleonic "Whiff of Grapeshot" to finally quell the riots.

The Draft Law

The draft law was adopted to fill the ranks of the Union Army which had been sorely depleted by the recent Gettysburg campaign, as well as
other battles in the increasingly bloody Civil War which by then was well into it's third full year.  While the Draft was highly unpopular, it wasn't so much the idea of conscription which turned the scales from anger to violence.  It was the fact that the law made it possible for any man who had the money to simply pay his way out for $300.00, or to provide any man who was willing to take his place as a "substitute".  Both President Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton had opposed this provision in the law, but Congress had insisted on adding it.  Thus the draft law was correctly seen as favoring the rich man. This was mixed with fear among men going into the Army that newly emancipated slaves would flood the market while they were away fighting and take their jobs. This, along with some simple racism made an atmosphere ripe for violence when the law went into effect.

Monday, July 13

The method for drawing the names for this, the first such draft in U.S. history was to place the names of in a giant wheel, spin it, and then draw names from it until quota of men needed was filled.  The first day of such drawings on July 11 had come off peacefully.  So it was that nobody was prepared for what happened on July 13 at the U.S. Provost Marshall's Office at 47th St. and Third Avenue when the wheel began turning and the crowd got ugly.  The New York Times reported:

"Scarcely had two dozen names been called, when a crowd, numbering perhaps 500, suddenly made an irruption in front of the building, attacking it with clubs, stones, brickbats and other missiles... Following these missiles, the mob rushed furiously into the office on the first floor, where the draft was going on, seizing the books, papers, records, lists, &c. all of which were destroyed..... The drafting officers were set upon with stones and clubs, and, with the reporters for the Press and others, had to make a hasty exit through the rear. They did not escape scatheless, however, as one of the enrolling officers was struck a savage blow with a stone, which will probably result fatally, and several others were injured."

The rioters were made up primarily, but not exclusively of Irish immigrants who feared loosing their jobs to blacks.  But there were a good many others involved as well, mostly white and poor. The riots quickly took on an anti-black mood spread through to other parts of the city.  One of President Lincoln's aides, William O. Stoddard wrote of his surprise:

"We took our breakfasts early that July morning in New York City Hall Park. Not a word of any uprisings such as were going on uptown had been heard. Suddenly I saw a cart, driven furiously, on which lay a Negro, while a small mob of ruffians appeared to be trying to drag him off. In another direction a Negro was being chased and maltreated, and the air was full of dire exclamations and prophecies."

The worst of the rioting took place at the Colored Orphans Asylum on 5th and 43rd St. as reported in the Times (pictured above):"The Orphan Asylum for Colored Children was visited by the mob about 4 o'clock... Hundreds, and perhaps thousands of the rioters, the majority of whom were women and children, entered the premises, and in the most excited and violent manner they ransacked and plundered the building from cellar to garret....  the entire building had been ransacked, and every article deemed worth carrying away had been taken -- and this included even the little garments for the orphans... -- the premises were fired on the first floor."

Troops are Brought In

The rioting and destruction went on largely unchecked for another three days. This was because most of the Army troops which had been in New York had been sent to Gettysburg to take part in the huge battle which raged there from July 1 through 
the 3rd, and the police were over- whelmed. Finally, these troops were brought back to New York and in addition to New York State Militia numbered some 6,000 by Thursday the 16th. These troops who came with artillery batteries were obliged to line up their guns across street intersections, and dispense grapeshot (a pack of small metal balls or slugs bunched tightly into a canvas bag) - just as Napoleon did against the mobs of revolutionary Paris over 60 years earlier in order to restore law and order. The New York City Draft Riots stand as the worst civil insurrection (apart from the Civil War itself) in American History.  The exact death toll is unknown, but at least 120 civilians were killed, and eleven black men were lynched over five days, and anywhere between 19 and 95 million dollars in damage (in today's dollars) was sustained. Historian Samuel Elliot Morrison wrote that it was "...equivalent to a confederate victory." But New York remained quiet for the rest of the war.  


"Team of Rivals" by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2006

"The Most Notorious Crimes in American History", Robert Sullivan, Editor ,Life Books, New York, 2007

Image: Riot at the Provost Marshall's Office =

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