Post 13 Trivia
HISTORY OF NEW YORK CITY / DRAFT RIOTS – 1863
Submitted by Gene Murphy
With the Civil War continuing, additional manpower was needed and President Abraham Lincoln issued the First Federal Draft Call in the summer of 1863. He called for about 300,000 draftees to help finish the war.
All men between twenty and forty-five years of age were to be enrolled, and all men inducted were to serve three years. The draft law, of course, favored the well to-do. Any man who could come up with $300.00 as a “commutation fee” or could find a substitute (who was willing to serve in his place) was exempt. The fathers of Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt paid for their substitutes, as did Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan and two future presidents — Chester A. Arthur and Grover Cleveland. Abraham Lincoln himself, though technically overage, set an example by paying for a substitute.
Opportunities for unwarranted deferments for a price surfaced almost everywhere and the prospect of involuntary service produced an amount of latent diseases and physical disabilities that were, to say the least, perfectly astounding. Alcoholics, invalids and mentally challenged males found on the streets (or lured from their homes) were approved by unscrupulous doctors and recruiters to take the place of the rich and influential.
Bounty jumpers (men who signed up in one district to receive an award for enlisting and then deserted to do the same thing in another district) became common place. The Irish immigrants became quite resentful of these system failures and inequities and also feared the Blacks (with whom they competed for the lowest paying jobs) would be treated better than they would.
On Saturday, July 11, 1863, the names of the first draftees were drawn in New York City. The names appeared in the newspapers, alongside a long list of those soldiers dead and wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg, many of them Irish. As more names were drawn again on Monday morning, a mob of hooligans attacked the draft office, destroying the files, setting fire to the New York Tribune building, looting businesses and stores. Among the stores looted were the fashionable Brooks Brothers clothing store, which survives to this day.
For three days the East Side of Manhattan belonged to the rioters. They broke into homes, smashed windows, killed two disabled veterans, beat a chief of police unconscious, and stoned to death an army officer who was home on leave. Blacks, however, were their special targets. Mobs burned down black boardinghouses, churches and orphanages.
Police and soldiers battled the mob through the streets, alleys and rooftops of Manhattan for four days. Finally, on the 4th day, additional troops (fresh from the Battle of Gettsyburg) arrived and put down the riot. At least 105 people had been killed and a total of 43 army regiments had to be encamped about the city to ensure that no further rioting developed. Riots also occurred in Boston and Troy, New York, but were quickly put down.