Sunday, July 14, 2013

Civil War Sunday - The New York Draft Riots

The location where it started, 677 Third Avenue, isn't that far from Grand Central Station in midtown Manhattan. There, thousands of commuters pass each day, most unaware of the terrible historical events that occurred over four days. The start was 150 years ago yesterday.

One year ago yesterday, July 13, 1863, was a hot, muggy day, much like the day New York City (and where I live in upstate New York) is having today.

The pay system of the Union and the Confederate States was somewhat complex and beyond the scope of this layperson's blog.

The Union Army had suffered great losses in its effort to keep states that had seceded from the Union from breaking away, and they needed more soldiers. In March of 1863, a National Conscription Act was passed. But, men could buy their way out by hiring a substitute for $300.  $300, in 1863, was a sum only a rich man could afford.

Working people were, to put it mildly, upset at the prospect of being drafted into the Civil War, and they were ready to demonstrate their opposition to the National Conscription Act. 

Working people, knowing the rich were buying substitutions, were ready to protest when the drafts were implemented in July of 1863. 

July 13 was the second day of the draft lottery.

What started out as a draft protest quickly went out of control (with others, not quite interested in protesting the draft but more interested in racial violence, joining in) and turned into the largest civil insurrection in the history of our nation, and a race riot.  Whites were the aggressors, and blacks were the victims. 

One of the "highlights" (or low lights, as you will) was the burning of the Colored Orphan Asylum
a few blocks from the draft lottery office. Amazingly, over 200 black orphans escaped due the heroics of staff and several New York City firemen, and the Asylum was eventually reestablished elsewhere.

Finally, Federal troops, some fresh from fighting at Gettysburg, PA at the beginning of July, suppressed the "draft riots". There are a lot of recent resources online to read more about these riots.

An especially eye opening website shows European reaction to the riots in New York City.

And, a New York Times blog post is a good source of information regarding the life of blacks in New York City in that time era.

Again, history is never clean.  It is always more complicated than we want to think, and sometimes goes in directions never expected. 

Another episode in the epic story of the war that tore our nation apart from 1861-1865.


  1. Alana,
    I so agree with your statement that history is never clean. Men are flawed, even when their intentions are honorable. Thanks again for a fascinating glimpse into the history of the Civil War.

  2. Thanks for writing about this. Interesting how times and events may change but emotions still get out of control. Sad we as people don't learn from past suffering. I see from the link on the riots that a little girl hiding under a bed was dragged out and killed. Very interesting post.


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