July 13, 1863: New York City Draft Riots Begin

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July 13, 1863: New York City draft riots begin.

Initially intended to express anger at the draft, the protests turned into an ugly race riot, with the white rioters, chiefly Irish immigrants, attacking blacks wherever they could be found. 120 people were killed, at least 100 of them were black. Over 2,000 people were injured.

The conditions in the city were such that Major General John E. Wool, commander of the Department of the East, stated on July 16, “Martial law ought to be proclaimed, but I have not a sufficient force to enforce it.”

Many black homes and the Colored Orphan Asylum at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue, were burned to the ground.

The New York City draft riots (July 13 to July 16, 1863; known at the time as Draft Week) were violent disturbances in New York City that were the culmination of working-class discontent with new laws passed by Congress that year to draft men to fight in the ongoing American Civil War. The riots were the largest civil insurrection in American history at the time.

President Abraham Lincoln diverted several regiments of militia and volunteer troops from following up after the Battle of Gettysburg to control the city. The rioters were overwhelmingly working-class men, primarily ethnic Irish, resenting particularly that wealthier men, who could afford to pay a $300 commutation fee to hire a substitute, were spared the draft.

The military did not reach the city until after the first day of rioting, when mobs had already ransacked or destroyed numerous public buildings, two Protestant churches, the homes of various abolitionists or sympathisers.

While New York political offices, including the mayor, were held by Democrats, the election of Abraham Lincoln as president had demonstrated the rise in Republican political power nationally. The Emancipation Proclamation of January 1863 alarmed much of the working class in New York, who feared that freed slaves would migrate to the city and add further competition to the labor market. There had already been tensions between black and white workers since the 1850s, particularly at the docks.
In March 1863, white longshoremen had refused to work with blacks and rioted, attacking 200 black men. In this area of the city, there were a variety of interracial venues of brothels and bars, and neighborhoods were mixed in terms of residents. Men also competed as hacks, craftsmen and in other jobs.

There were reports of rioting in Buffalo, New York, and certain other cities, but the first drawing of numbers on July 11, 1863 occurred peaceably in New York City.

The second drawing was held, this was 10 days after the Union victory at Gettysburg. At 10 a.m., a furious crowd of around 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.The crowd threw large paving stones through windows, then burst through the doors and set the building ablaze.

When the fire department responded, rioters broke up their vehicles. Others killed horses pulling streetcars and smashed the cars. To prevent other parts of the city being notified of the riot, they cut telegraph lines. Many of the rioters were Irish laborers who feared having to compete with emancipated slaves for jobs.

Police drew their clubs and revolvers, and charged the crowd, but were overpowered. The police forces were badly outnumbered and unable to quell the riots; but they kept the rioting out of Lower Manhattan below Union Square. Immigrants and others in the “Bloody Sixth” Ward, around the seaport and Five Points area, refrained from getting involved in the Draft Riots.

The Bull’s Head hotel on 44th Street, which refused to provide alcohol to the mob, 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 New York Times. The mob was turned back at the Times office by staff manning Gatling guns, including Times founder Henry Jarvis Raymond. Fire engine companies responded, but some of the firefighters were sympathetic to the rioters, since they too had been drafted on Saturday.

Later in the afternoon, authorities shot and killed a man as a crowd attacked the Armory at Second Avenue and 21st Street. The mob broke all the windows with paving stones ripped from the street.

Rioters turned against black people as their scapegoats and the primary target of their anger. Many immigrants and the poor viewed free black men as competition for scarce jobs, and worried about more slaves being emancipated and coming to New York for work. Some rioters thought slavery was the cause of the Civil War. The mob beat, tortured and/or killed numerous black people, including one man who was attacked by a crowd of 400 with clubs and paving stones, then L*nched—hanged from a tree and set alight.

The Colored Orphan Asylum at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue, which then provided shelter for 233 children, was attacked by a mob about 4 in the afternoon. It was a “symbol of white charity to blacks and of black upward mobility.” A mob of several thousand, including many women and children, looted the building of its food and supplies. However, the police were able to secure the orphanage for enough time to allow the orphans to escape before the building was burned down.

Throughout the areas of rioting, mobs attacked and killed at least 100 black people, and destroyed their known homes and businesses, such as James McCune Smith’s pharmacy at 93 West Broadway, believed to be the first owned by a black man in the United States.

While removed from the midtown area of the riots, white longshoremen used the chaos of events to “remove all evidence of a black and interracial social life from the area near the docks. White dockworkers attacked and destroyed brothels, dance halls, boarding houses, and tenements that catered to blacks; mobs stripped the clothing off the white owners of these businesses.”

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