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The New York City Draft Riots of 1863

Realizing that the war would be long and bloody, the North enstated the first* U.S. draft in March,1863. However, a man could avoid being drafted by paying $300 for a substitute. To average factory workers in NY, this was most of a year's pay. This large, predominantly Irish immigrant population, moreover, was told it was fighting for the black man's freedom. Aware that free blacks might then come north to compete for their jobs, these New Yorkers were enraged by the draft. The result would be a 3 day riot, the deadliest in U.S. history.

On June 11, 1863, the first names of draftees were drawn. On July 13th, in the Ninth Congressional District, filled with Democratic Irish laborers, it all blew. A mob swarmed into the draft office at 3rd Ave. and 46th St. and set it on fire, with the superintendent nearly beaten to death. Within the hour the entire block was burned. Although most of the men (and women) looted, they quickly turned violent, killing a police captain, burned the ground floor of the Tribune, and attacked any well-dressed man they saw in the street, with shouts of "There goes a $300 man." They also assaulted anti-labor employees and particularly blacks. Rioters beat any black person they could find, a half-dozen caught by the crowd were lynched, a couple burned alive, and a few others beaten to death. Businesses that employed blacks were burned to the ground, as well as the Colored Orphan Asylum on Fifth Avenue, while the children escaped out the back.

The New York police fought valiantly (losing two men) but with only some success. The police force had been way too small to handle any disturbance of this magnitude, a problem which would be rectified later in the century because of this very riot. Several regiments were rushed from Pennsylvania, where on July 15th and 16th they fired upon the crowd the same as they had 2 weeks earlier at Gettysburg. 105-120 people were killed (11 blacks, 8 soldiers, 2 policemen, and the rest were rioters), over 300 people were seriously injured, and $1.5 million (a tremendous amount of money at that time) of damage was caused.

* The Confederacy resorted to a draft starting in April, 1862.


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