Civil War Wiki
New York Draft Riots
Part of American Civil War
File:New York Draft Riots - fighting.jpg
Rioters and Federal troops clash
Date July 13–16, 1863
Location New York
Result Riot crushed
Casualties and losses
120[1]-2,000[2] killed (counts vary by sources)

2,000-8,000 wounded

The New York Draft Riots (July 13 to July 16, 1863; known at the time as Draft Week[3]) were violent disturbances in New York City that were the culmination of discontent with new laws passed by Congress to draft men to fight in the ongoing American Civil War. The riots were the largest civil insurrection in American history apart from the Civil War itself.[4] President Abraham Lincoln sent several regiments of militia and volunteer troops to control the city. The rioters were overwhelmingly working class men, resentful, among other reasons, because the draft unfairly affected them while sparing wealthier men, who could afford to pay a $300.00 Commutation Fee to exclude themselves from its reach.[5][6]

Initially intended to express anger at the draft, the protests turned ugly and degraded into "a virtual racial pogrom, with uncounted numbers of blacks murdered on the streets". The conditions in the city were such that Major General John E. Wool stated on July 16, "Martial law ought to be proclaimed, but I have not a sufficient force to enforce it."[7] The military suppressed the mob using artillery and fixed bayonets, but not before numerous buildings were ransacked or destroyed, including many homes and an orphanage for black children.[8]

"The U.S. government's first direct conscription of men into the army was the spark that lit a long smoldering racial conflagration."[9]



An illustration of a building fire on Lexington Avenue during the riots.

When the Civil War started in April 1861, New Yorkers quickly rallied behind the Union cause, including a massive rally at Union Square attended by an estimated 100,000 to 250,000.[10] When Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to join the military and fight for the Union, 8,000 from New York City signed up within ten days.[10] The First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861 took a heavy toll on Union forces, including those from New York City, leading to declining enthusiasm and optimism.[10] A large contingent of Democrats in New York City, known as Copperheads, were opposed to the war and favored negotiated peace.[11] New York Governor Horatio Seymour was elected in 1862, running on an anti-war platform.[12]

As the war dragged on, a military manpower shortage occurred in the Union. Congress passed the first conscription act in United States history on March 3, 1863, authorizing the President to draft citizens between the ages of 18 and 35 for a three-year term of military service.[13] Copperheads were dismayed by the news. Their main objection was to national service of any kind,[citation needed] but in terms of rhetoric, they attacked the provision allowing men drafted to pay either $300 (equivalent to about $5300 in present day termsTemplate:Inflation-fn) or supply a substitute as a "Commutation fee" to procure exemption from service.[14] This led to the derisive term "300 dollar man". In actuality, the draft was designed to spur voluntary enlistment, and relatively few men were formally drafted into service.[15]

In practice, however, men formed clubs whereby if one was drafted the others chipped in to pay the commutation fee. Regardless of the intent of the $300 provision—as a means of securing some much-needed funding for the war effort or sparing the sons of the rich from serving similar to draft dodging—public perception among the middle and lower classes was that the war had become "the rich man's war and the poor man's fight."[16]

The first drawing of names happened on Saturday, July 11 without incident. Names were put on small pieces of paper, placed in a box, and then drawn one-by-one. The names put into the drawing were mainly mechanics and laborers that had been published in newspapers.[13] Though rioting in New York did not commence yet, riots involving opponents of conscription broke out in other cities, including Buffalo on July 6, 1863.[17] There was speculation about similar reaction in New York City to the draft, which coincided with the efforts of Tammany Hall (the base of Democratic power in the city) to enroll Irish immigrants as citizens so they could vote in local elections. Consequently, many such immigrants suddenly discovered they had to fight for their new country.[18]



File:John Alexander Kennedy 3c09831r.jpg

John Alexander Kennedy (1803-1873)

numbers was held on Monday, July 13, 1863, ten days after the Union victory in the Battle of Gettysburg. At 10 a.m., a furious crowd of 500 led by the Black Joke Engine Company 33, attacked the assistant Ninth District Provost Marshal's Office, at Third Avenue and 47th Street, where the draft was taking place.[19] The crowd began throwing large paving stones through windows, then burst through the doors and set the building ablaze.[20] Many of the rioters, being Irish laborers, were also opposed to gradualism, because they did not want to compete with emancipated slaves for occupational opportunities.[21]

The New York State Militia was absent, having been sent to assist Union troops in Pennsylvania, leaving the police to deal with the riots.[20] The police superintendent, John Kennedy, came by on Monday to check on the situation. Although he was not in uniform, he was recognized by people in the mob and they attacked him. Kennedy was left nearly unconscious, having had his face bruised and cut, an injured eye, swelled lips, his hand cut with a knife, and a mass of bruises and blood all over his body.[22] In response, police drew their clubs and revolvers, and charged the crowd, but the crowd overpowered them.[13] The police forces were badly outnumbered and unable to quell the riots; however, they were able to keep the rioting out of Lower Manhattan, below Union Square.[23] Immigrants and others in the "Bloody Sixth" Ward, around the seaport, refrained from getting involved in the Draft Riots. [24]


Bull's Head Hotel, depicted in 1830, was burned in the riot

The Bull's Head hotel on 44th Street, which refused to provide alcohol, was burned. The mayor's residence on Fifth Avenue, the Eighth and Fifth District police stations, and other buildings were attacked and set on fire. Other targets included the office of the leading Republican newspaper, the New York Tribune. The mob was turned back at the Tribune office by staff manning two Gatling guns.[25] Fire engine companies responded, but some of the firefighters were sympathetic to the rioters, since they too had been drafted on Saturday.[13] Later in the afternoon, authorities shot and killed a man as a crowd attacked the Armory at Second Avenue and 21st Street.[19]

African Americans became scapegoats and the target of the rioters' anger. Many immigrants and poor viewed freed slaves as competition for scarce jobs and African Americans as the reason why the Civil War was being fought. African Americans who fell into the mob's hands were often beaten, tortured, and/or killed, including one man who was attacked by a crowd of 400 with clubs and paving stones, then hung from a tree and set alight.[19] The Colored Orphan Asylum on Fifth Avenue, which provided shelter for hundreds of children, was attacked by a mob. The police were able to secure the orphanage for enough time to allow orphans to escape.[13]


Heavy rain fell on Monday night, helping to abate the fires and sending rioters home, but the crowd returned the next day. Commerce in the city was halted, with workers joining the crowd. Rioters went after the homes of notable Republicans, including activist Abby Hopper Gibbons, among others.[26] Governor Horatio Seymour arrived on Tuesday and spoke at City Hall, where he attempted to assuage the crowd by proclaiming the Conscription Act was unconstitutional. General John E. Wool brought approximately 800 troops in from forts in the New York Harbor and from West Point. He also ordered the militias to return to New York.[13]

Wednesday and Thursday: order restored[]

The situation improved on Wednesday, when assistant provost-marshal-general Robert Nugent received word from his superior officer, Colonel James Barnet Fry, to suspend the draft. As this news appeared in newspapers, some rioters stayed home. But some of the militias began to return and used harsh measures against the remaining mobs.[13]

Order began to be restored on Thursday as more federal troops, some of them veterans of the recent fighting at Gettysburg, returned to New York, including the 152nd New York Volunteers, the 26th Michigan Volunteers, the 30th Indiana Volunteers and the 7th Regiment New York State Militia from Frederick, Maryland, after a forced march. In addition, the governor sent in the 74th and 65th regiments of the New York state militia, which had not been in federal service, and a section of the 20th Independent Battery, New York Volunteer Artillery from Fort Schuyler in Throgs Neck. By July 16, there were several thousand Federal troops in the city.[7] A final confrontation occurred on Thursday evening near Gramercy Park, resulting in the deaths of many rioters.[13]


The exact death toll during the New York Draft Riots is unknown, but according to historian James M. McPherson (2001), at least 120 civilians were killed.[27] Estimates are that at least 2,000 more were injured. Herbert Asbury, the author of the 1928 book Gangs of New York upon which the 2002 film was based, puts the figure much higher, at 2,000 killed and 8,000 wounded.[2] Total property damage was about $1–5 million.[2][28] Historian Samuel Eliot Morison wrote that the riots were "equivalent to a Confederate victory".[28] The city treasury later indemnified one-quarter of the amount. Fifty buildings, including two Protestant churches, burned to the ground. On August 19, the draft was resumed. It was completed within 10 days without further incident, although far fewer men were actually drafted than had been feared: of the 750,000 selected for conscription nationwide, only about 45,000 actually went into service.[15]

While the rioting mainly involved the working class, the middle and upper-class New Yorkers had split sentiments on the draft and use of federal power or martial law to enforce the draft.[29] Many wealthy Democratic businessmen sought to have the draft declared unconstitutional. Tammany Democrats did not seek to have the draft declared unconstitutional, but would help pay commutation fees on behalf of those who were drafted.[30]

New York City's support for the Union cause continued, however grudgingly. By the end of the war over 200,000 soldiers, sailors and militia enlisted at New York City. 20,000 of them died during the war. The city's Irish and Excelsior brigades were among the five Union brigades with the most combat dead. Including its losses at Bull Run, no Union army infantry regiment had more combat dead than the city's 69th "Fighting Irish" Regiment.[citation needed]

Fictional portrayals[]

The Draft Riots are fictionally portrayed in the novels On Secret Service by John Jakes and Paradise Alley by Kevin Baker. The short-lived 1968 Broadway musical Maggie Flynn was set in the Tobin Orphanage for black children (Maggie's maiden name was Tobin), that came under siege during the Draft Riots, and was subsequently burned to the ground (although the children were allegedly saved).[citation needed]

In Newt Gingrich's alternate history novel Grant Comes East, the riots are portrayed as far more severe than they were in actuality, as this book is a sequel to his previous novel, in which the Confederacy won the Battle of Gettysburg.[citation needed]

The Martin Scorsese film Gangs of New York (2002), which culminated around the time of the beginning of the Riots, was a fictional portrayal of conflated events,[31] attempting to depict "the birth of Manhattan and the way the different waves of immigrants have shaped New York City's evolution".[32] According to author and journalist Pete Hamill: "...The Irish hoodlums established the nexus between New York crime and New York politics that would last more than a century. A path was established among the Dead Rabbits, the Plug Uglies, the Bowery Boys that continues all the way to today’s Latin Kings, Crips and Bloods."[31]

See also[]


  1. McPherson, James M., Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction, p. 399
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Asbury, p. 169
  3. Barnes 5
  4. Foner, E. (1988). Reconstruction America's unfinished revolution, 1863-1877. The New American Nation series, p. 32, New York: Harper & Row
  5. The Draft in the Civil War
  6. The Draft Riots, Part II NY Press
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Maj. Gen. John E. Wool Official Reports for the New York Draft Riots". Shotgun's Home of the American Civil War. Retrieved 2006-08-16. 
  8. The New York City Draft Riots In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863, by Leslie M. Harris
  9. Schecter, Burnet, The Civil War Draft Riots, North & South - The Official Magazine of the Civil War Society, Volume 10, Number 1, Page 72.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Ellis, Edward Robb (1966). The Epic of New York City. Old Town Books. pp. 296. 
  11. Ellis, Edward Robb (1966). The Epic of New York City. Old Town Books. pp. 297. 
  12. Littleton, Martin Wilie, James K. McGuire (1905). The Democratic Party of the State of New York: A History of the Origin, Growth and Achievements. United States History Co.. pp. 385. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 13.6 13.7 Rhodes, James Ford (1899). History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850. Macmillan. pp. 320–323. 
  14. Lardner, James, and Thomas Reppetto (2000). NYPD: A City and Its Police. Owl Books. pp. 43. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 David Donald, Civil War and Reconstruction (2002), p. 229
  16. United States Congress, "Hearings Before and Special Reports Made by Committee on Armed Services of the House of Representatives", U.S. Government Printing Office, (Published 1975), available online, accessed 2007-01-27
  17. "The Riot in Buffalo". The New York Times. July 10, 1863. 
  18. Why the Irish Fought for the Union
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 "The Mob in New York". The New York Times. July 14, 1863. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 Schouler, James (1899). History of the United States of America, Under the Constitution. Dodd, Mead & Company. pp. 418. 
  21. Foner, Eric (2002). Reconstruction: America's unfinished revolution, 1863-1877. New York: Perennial Classics. pp. 33. ISBN 0-06-093716-5. 
  22. Barnes, David M. (1863), p. 12
  23. Barnes, David M. (1863), p. 6
  24. Bernstein, Iver (1990), pp. 24-25
  25. p. 122 Hohenburg, John Free Press/Free People: The Best Cause 1973 Free Press
  26. Bernstein, Iver (1990), pp. 25-26
  27. McPherson, James M., Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction, p. 399
  28. 28.0 28.1 Morison, Samuel Eliot (1972). The Oxford History of the American People: Volume Two: 1789 Through Reconstruction. Signet. pp. 451. ISBN 0451622545. 
  29. Bernstein, Iver (1990), p. 43
  30. Bernstein, Iver (1990), p. 44
  31. 31.0 31.1 Pete Hamill (2002-12-15). "TRAMPLING CITY'S HISTORY 'Gangs' misses point of Five Points". New York Daily News. 
  32. "Gangs of New York Introduction". Retrieved 2007-12-08 work=The Dream Page. 

References and further reading[]

  • Asbury, Herbert (1928). The Gangs of New York. Alfred A. Knopf. 
  • Barnes, David M. (1863). The Draft Riots in New York, July, 1863: The Metropolitan Police, Their Services During Riot. Baker & Godwin. 
  • Bernstein, Iver (1990). The New York City Draft Riots: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War. Oxford University Press. 
  • Cook, Adrian (1974). The Armies of the Streets: The New York City Draft Riots of 1863. 
  • Fry, James Barnet (1885). New York and the Conscription of 1863. 
  • McCabe, James Dabney (1868). The Life and Public Services of Horatio Seymour. Oxford University Press. 
  • McPherson, James M. (2001). Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction. 
  • Template:Cite map
  • New York Evangelist (1830–1902); Jul 23, 1863; 33, 30; APS Online pg. 4.
  • Nicolay, John and John Hay (1890). Lincoln, volume vii. 
  • Schecter, Barnet (2005). The Devil's Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America. 
  • Template:Cite magazine
  • United States War and Navy Departments (1889). Official Records of the American Civil War, volume xxvii, part ii. 

External links[]

da:New York Draft Riots de:Draft Riots fr:Draft Riots ko:뉴욕 징병거부 폭동 it:Disordini di New York (1863) nl:Dienstplichtrellen in New York ja:ニューヨーク徴兵暴動 ru:Бунты в Нью-Йорке из-за призыва (1863) simple:New York Draft Riots zh-yue:紐約徵兵暴動 zh:紐約徵兵暴動