New York City Draft Riots (July 13-16, 1863)

Rachael Renzi
New York City Mob Rioting
New York City Mob Rioting

The immigrants that traveled to New York City with their American Dream were promised a better life and prosperity. When they arrived, they had to live in misery and an overcrowded city. The Irish immigrants especially, were poor and unskilled. They lived in poor, decaying neighborhoods known as the Five Points. The city at the time, was not a melting pot of races since the various religions and ethnic groups did not get along well. The Irish, Natives, and African Americans competed for any low paying job. This demand for work created labor tensions among the working class. New York wanted war to preserve the Union and government, but did not want to pay for the consequences of war. All they wanted was a prosperous economy. After George B. McClellan's Union Army beat General Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army in Antietam Maryland, President Lincoln decided to turn the war against slavery by passing the Emancipation Proclamation. New Yorkers disagreed: they wanted the war solely to benefit the Union. New York businessmen insured and financed slaves and Bankers accepted slaves as property and loans. The ship owners that profited from the cotton industry benefited from slavery. Their contempt towards Lincoln's goal during the Civil war resulted in racism towards African Americans. The governor of New York Horacio Seymour, wanted to come up with a plan to restore the Union, even if he had to grant concessions to the South. Ex-mayor Wood wanted to form an active resistance to emancipation. In March of 1863, the National Conscription Act, passed by Congress, authorized government to forcefully draft men into the army. In a provision in the National Conscription Act exempted anyone who would pay $300 or find a substitute. This way, wealthy men vital to the society would not enroll. This emphasized the wealthy class' dominance over the poor. The immigrants and poor in New York were forced to fight regardless of their take on the war. At the beginning of the Civil war, the New Yorkers fought and died for a prosperous Union but it was turned into fighting for African American freedom. The anger of the working class citizens of New York produced the bloodiest, most destructive riot of United States history.
African Americans fleeing for their lives
African Americans fleeing for their lives

The Rioting in New York:
Volunteer fire regiments in New York were like small gangs and organized forces to resist the draft. Officials did not think much of the people in these since they were formed of working class men. On the day of the lottery for drafting, Police superintendent John Kennedy ordered 12 policemen outside the Provost Marshal's office, but as the crowds arrived, he ordered 50 more. Hundreds of the city's workers had traveled to the office with iron clubs and bludgeons. Black Joke Engine Company, a volunteer fire regiment, set fire to the building after its leader and several members had been drafted into the war. Mayhem was cut loose from there on, targeting rich people and republicans, wealthy people's houses and stores and African Americans, who had become the symbol of the Civil War after Lincoln passed the Emancipation Proclamation. They rioted against city elites exploiting immigrants and the working class. The mob, made mostly of Irishmen, dragged, beat, robbed, and burned its victims and their homes and businesses.
On the first day (Monday, July 13):
Police and soldiers were beaten and dragged trying to stop riots. Stores for wealthy people, such as Brooks Brothers were raided by the mob, and houses burned down. The rioting was out of control of the police force. Mayor Opdyke asked the Secretary of War Stanton for soldiers as African Americans and rich people and property were damaged as time went on. The African Americans were dragged and beaten, lynched and burned by the mob. Colonel Henry O'Brien, after trying to clear the streets with a Howitzer cannon, killed a woman and child bystander. O'Brien was beaten, stripped, tortured, and shot in the head. By the end of the day, some people had decided they had enough violence and tried to slow the crowd. But some were still more angry and more violent. In the Five Points, where the poor Irish lived, it was relatively quiet. That night was quiet and rainy before resuming the next
Attacking the Tribune Building
Attacking the Tribune Building

The Second day (Tuesday, July 14):
Custom House workers prepared bombs, Bank Note employees prepared sulfuric acid to pour on rioters, and a warship was anchored, ready to fire cannons if Wall Street was attacked. Wall Street was attacked, but the mob could not get very far before turning around. The same with Horace Greely, author of the Tribune. The mob expected to confront him personally, but he did not show, so they decided to attack police in Printing House Square instead. More wealthy republicans were attacked. Blacks were beaten nearly to death or lynched or burned if the mob could find them. One escaped, another was grabbed and killed. The Black institutions and places that catered to African Americans were burned. A Colored Orphan Asylum, home to 237 African American children, was burned, but all of the children were escorted out thanks to the heart of one man. Rioters created barricades protecting their neighborhoods using debris.
The Third day (Wednesday, July 15):
The violence continued against blacks and the wealthy. Peter Houston, who was a Mohawk Indian, was mistaken for being African American by the mob and was beaten so badly that he died two weeks later in the hospital. The owner of a colored sailor's boarding house was robbed and his building was set on fire. This man was white. Also, rioters attacked amalgamationists, who were white women married to black men or white men married to black women. The blacks tried to protect themselves, but is was no use. They had to at least try to escape. Finally the army called for arrived. They threatened to kill any resisters in the mob, but the violence continued, and the army fought the citizens.
The Fourth Day (Thursday, July 16):
African Americans freed the city, and finally, after four days, the government regained control. Over 100 people were killed and many more were injured. Three thousand were left homeless and very poor, and millions of dollars were lost in property damage overall. It was almost as if another civil war had broken out in New York City.
The Results:
Democrats in Tammany Hall gave two million dollars to buy draft exemptions for the poor New Yorkers that did not want to serve in the war. The wealthy helped the poor reform. The businessmen that were earlier against government led reform were scared into a renewed interest. One of these government reforms was the Tenement House Act in 1867 that limited the number of people per given area. It also required proper ventilation and a fire escape, but the act had many loopholes. The poor, seeing the extreme mess they created, realized they needed a more peaceful voice. The African Americans, even though the timeframe was a time of abolitionists, fled from New York to less violent cities.