In March of 1863 the American Civil War had been raging for nearly two years. The Union Army had lost a lot of soldiers in those bloody two years, that combined with falling enlistments and increased desertions had compelled President Lincoln to take action. Lincoln signed the Enrollment Act on March 3rd of 1863 requiring all northern men between the ages of 20 and 45 to sign-up for possible military service; the first draft ever in US history. The draft caused protest and rage throughout the north; his rage would boil over in New York City on July 13th and result in the New York City Draft Riots. Besides the Civil War itself the New York City Draft Riots was the largest civil insurrection in U.S. history. The list of interesting kid-friendly facts below explains what caused the riots, who the rioters were, why the rioters thought the draft was unfair, and how many people lost their lives.
New York City Draft Riots Interesting Facts
The riots broke out on Monday July 13th of 1863 on the second day of the New York City draft. Approximately 500 rioters attacked the assistant 9th District provost Marshal's office located on 3rd Avenue at 47th Street where the draft was being conducted. The riot would last 4 days and involve thousands of rioters.
The rioters were mostly Irish working-class immigrants.
Although sparked by the draft the violence of the New York City draft riots was fueled by more than the anger over the possibility of mandatory military service. Working-class Irish immigrants who were living in poverty lashed out against the wealthy and against African-Americans.
There had been increasing tension between the Irish and the African-American communities in New York City prior to the riot which had been brought on by competition for jobs and racism. The fact that African-Americans were not required to sign-up for the draft enraged the Irish workers.
Many innocent African-Americans were killed, several being lynched, and many others had their homes and property destroyed. Scores of African-Americans fled the city to escape the violence.
The rioters in the New York City draft riots were extremely upset with the fact that wealthy men could pay three hundred dollars to hire a substitute to serve in the army for them and therefore avoid being drafted. Three hundred dollars was a huge sum of money in 1863; an amount well beyond what a working-man could afford.
Soldiers who had fought at the famous American Civil War battle of Gettysburg just 10 days before the start of the riots in New York City were sent to put down the riot. They did not arrive in New York City until the second day of the riots.
The number of people killed and wounded during the riots is debated however it is believed at least 120 people were killed and 2,000 or more wounded.
Approximately fifty buildings were destroyed during the riots including a Colored Orphan Asylum at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue. Fortunately all the children at the asylum were evacuated prior to the building being burnt to the ground.
On July 16th army troops, now numbering in the thousands, ended the riots after a final clash against rioters near Gramercy Park.
On August 19th of 1863, the New York City draft continued and was completed in ten days.