Little Bits of History

Avoiding the Draft

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 13, 2015
New York City draft riots

New York City draft riots

July 13, 1863: The New York City draft riots begin. Congress had passed a law to draft men for participation in the Union’s fight in the US Civil War. Unlike later draft laws, this one had a clause which permitted a commutation fee in which someone with $300 ($5,750 today) could hire a substitute to fight for them and thus avoid the draft. Working class men, mostly Irish, were resentful and met to express anger at the draft. The meeting became violent and turned into a race riot. White rioters, again mostly Irish but not limited to them, attacked blacks wherever they found them. The death toll was at least 120 and the numbers given for injuries were about 2,000. Others numbers have been put forth but there is no substantiating data.

New York City’s economy was tied to the South with nearly half of their exports being cotton shipments. Textile mills located in the North also depended on cotton grown in the South. In 1861, New York City Mayor Fernando Wood called for a declaration of separation from both Albany and Washington, D.C. and threw the city’s support to the South. German-born people made up ¼ of the population of the city and many of them did not speak English. Foreign language papers pointed out the scarcity of jobs and the fight over who would get them – blacks or whites. Irish immigrants were wooed by Democratic Party Tammany Hall and encouraged to enroll as citizens so they could vote but this also put them in line for the draft. Black men were excluded from the draft because they were not considered to be citizens.

The first draft numbers had been completed on July 11, 1863 and the second was on Monday, July 13 – ten days after the Union victory at Gettysburg. At 10 AM, a crowd of about 500 attacked the Ninth District provost marshal’s office where the draft was taking place. They began to riot and set the building on fire. When the fire department responded, they attacked their vehicles. Horses pulling streetcars were killed and the cars destroyed. Rioter cut the telegraph lines so calls for help could not get through. The New York State Militia was busy fighting the War and so only the New York City Police Department was available for crowd control. They tried, but were overpowered by the crowd. Led by Superintendent, John A Kennedy, they were able to keep the crowds out of Lower Manhattan. On Tuesday, Kennedy was attacked by the mob and stabbed at least 70 times. He lived, but never fully recovered.

The rioting went on for days and left the city in shambles. Lincoln had to pull troops away from follow up efforts after their momentous win in order to bring order to the city. Eleven black men were lynched and many blacks fled for their lives and the demographics of the city changed. At least 50 buildings were burned, including two churches and the Colored Orphan Asylum (home to 233 children). Property damage was between $1 and 5 million or $19.2 to 95.8 million today. By the end of the war, nearly a half million men had enlisted in the various branches of the military. New York was the most populous state in the Union at the time. About ten percent of those who fought in the war died, more from disease than from injury.

Martial law ought to be proclaimed, but I have not a sufficient force to enforce it. Major General John Wool

The scoundrels cannot afford to miss this golden opportunity of indulging their brutal natures, and at the same time serving their colleagues the Copperheads and secesh [secessionist] sympathizers. – The New York Times editorial

A riot is at bottom the language of the unheard. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

You can’t just lecture the poor that they shouldn’t riot or go to extremes. You have to make the means of legal redress available. – Harold H. Greene

Also on this day: You’re Out – In 1978, Lee Iacocca was fired from Ford.
Hollywood – In 1923, the HOLLYWOOD sign was dedicated.
Pop Goes the Weasel – In 1812, New York City passed its first pawnbroker ordinance.
Cubed – In 1944, Erno Rubik was born.
When the Lights Went Out – In 1977, New York City lost power.


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