Puneet Varma (Editor)

New York City draft riots

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
Death(s)  119–120
Injuries  2,000
Dates  11 Jul 1863 – 16 Jul 1863
New York City draft riots New York Draft Riots American Civil War HISTORYcom
Location  Manhattan, New York, U.S.
Result  Riots ultimately suppressed
Similar  American Civil War, Anaconda Plan, Enrollment Act, Battle of Fort Sumter, Siege of Vicksburg

The New York draft riots (July 13–16, 1863), known at the time as Draft Week, were violent disturbances in Lower Manhattan, widely regarded as 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 remain the largest civil and racial insurrection in American history, aside from the Civil War itself.


New York City draft riots On This Day 1863 The New York City Draft Riots Notes From The

U.S. 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, resenting particularly that wealthier men, who could afford to pay a $300 (equivalent to $9,157 in 2017) commutation fee to hire a substitute, were spared from the draft.

New York City draft riots White Riot Why the New York Draft Riots of 1863 Matter Today

Initially intended to express anger at the draft, the protests turned into a race riot, with white rioters, predominantly Irish immigrants, attacking blacks throughout the city. The official death toll was listed at either 119 or 120 individuals. Conditions in the city were such that Major General John E. Wool, commander of the Department of the East, said on July 16 that "Martial law ought to be proclaimed, but I have not a sufficient force to enforce it."

New York City draft riots httpsuploadwikimediaorgwikipediacommonsthu

The military did not reach the city until after the first day of rioting, by which time the mobs, primarily ethnic Irish, had already ransacked or destroyed numerous public buildings, two Protestant churches, the homes of various abolitionists or sympathizers, many black homes, and the Colored Orphan Asylum at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue, which was burned to the ground.

New York City draft riots The New York City Draft Riots of 1863

The area's demographics changed as a result of the riot. Many blacks left Manhattan permanently (many moving to Brooklyn). By 1865 their population fell below 10,000, the number in 1820.


New York's economy was tied to the South; by 1822 nearly half of its exports were cotton shipments. In addition, upstate textile mills processed cotton in manufacturing. New York had such strong business connections to the South that on January 7, 1861, Mayor Fernando Wood, a Democrat, called on the city's Board of Aldermen to "declare the city's independence from Albany and from Washington"; he said it "would have the whole and united support of the Southern States." When the Union entered the war, New York City had many sympathizers with the South.

The city was also a continuing destination of immigrants. Since the 1840s, most were from Ireland and Germany. In 1860, nearly 25 percent of the New York City population was German-born, and many did not yet speak English. During the 1840s and 1850s, journalists had published sensational accounts, directed at the working class, dramatizing the "evils" of interracial socializing, relationships, and marriages. Reformers joined the effort. Newspapers carried derogatory portrayals of blacks and ridiculed "black aspirations for equal rights in voting, education, and employment". Pseudo-scientific lectures on phrenology were popular, although countered by doctors. At the time, some areas of the city, such as Lower Manhattan, had mixed populations of residents.

The Democratic Party Tammany Hall political machine had been working to enroll immigrants as U.S. citizens so they could vote in local elections, and had strongly recruited Irish, most of whom already spoke English. In March 1863, with the war continuing, Congress passed the Enrollment Act to establish a draft for the first time, as more troops were needed. In New York City and other locations, new citizens learned they were expected to register for the draft to fight for their new country. Black men were excluded from the draft as they were largely not considered citizens, and wealthier white men could pay for substitutes. Free blacks and immigrants competed for low-wage jobs in the city.

New York political offices, including the mayor, were held by Democrats, but 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 competed as hacks (carriage drivers), craftsmen, and in other jobs.


There were reports of rioting in Buffalo, New York, and certain other cities, but the first drawing of draft numbers — on July 11, 1863 — occurred peaceably in Manhattan. The second drawing was held on Monday, July 13, 1863, ten days after the Union victory at Gettysburg in southern Pennsylvania. At 10 a.m., a furious crowd of around 500, led by the volunteer firemen of Engine Company 33 (known as the "Black Joke"), 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, burst through the doors, and set the building ablaze. When the fire department responded, rioters broke up their vehicles. Others killed horses that were 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 blacks for jobs.

As the New York State Militia had been sent to assist Union troops in Pennsylvania, the local New York Metropolitan Police Department was the only force on hand to try to suppress the riots. The police superintendent, John A. Kennedy, arrived at the site on Monday to check on the situation. Although not in uniform, people in the mob recognized him and attacked him. Kennedy was left nearly unconscious, his face bruised and cut, his eye injured, his lips swollen, and his hand cut with a knife. He had been beaten to a mass of bruises and blood all over his body.

Police drew their clubs and revolvers, and charged the crowd, but were overpowered. The police 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 involvement in the rioting.

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 firefighters were sympathetic to the rioters, as they had also 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, viewing free black men as competition for scarce jobs, and worried about more slaves being emancipated and coming to New York for work. The mob beat, tortured and/or killed numerous blacks, including one man who was attacked by a crowd of 400 with clubs and paving stones, then lynched, hanged from a tree and set alight.

The Colored Orphan Asylum at 43rd Street and Fifth Avenue, a "symbol of white charity to blacks and of black upward mobility" that then provided shelter for 233 children, was attacked by a mob at around 4 p.m. 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 burned down. Throughout the areas of rioting, mobs attacked and killed at least 120 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.

Near the midtown docks, tensions brewing since the mid-1850s boiled over. As recently as March 1863, white employers had hired blacks, with whom Irish men refused to work, as longshoremen. An Irish mob attacked two hundred blacks who were working on the docks, while other rioters went into the streets in search of "all the negro porters, cartmen and laborers ..." to attempt 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.


Heavy rain fell on Monday night, helping to abate the fires and sending rioters home, but the crowd returned the next day. Rioters burned down the home of Abby Gibbons, a prison reformer and the daughter of abolitionist Isaac Hopper. They also attacked white "amalgamationists", such as Ann Derrickson and Ann Martin, two white women who were married to black men, and Mary Burke, a white prostitute who catered to black men. The women escaped personal physical harm.

Governor Horatio Seymour arrived on Tuesday and spoke at City Hall, where he attempted to assuage the crowd by proclaiming that the Conscription Act was unconstitutional. Gen. John E. Wool, commander of the Eastern District, brought approximately 800 soldiers and Marines in from forts in New York Harbor, West Point, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard. He also ordered the militias to return to New York.

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 postpone 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.

Order began to be restored on Thursday. The New York State Militia and some federal troops were returned to New York, including the 152nd New York Volunteers, the 26th Michigan Volunteers, the 27th 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. The NYSM units were the first to arrive. By July 16, there were several thousand Federal troops in the city.

A final confrontation occurred on Thursday evening near Gramercy Park. According to Adrian Cook's analysis in Armies of the Streets (1974), twelve people died on the last day of the riots in skirmishes between rioters, the police, and the Army, including one African American, two soldiers, a bystander, and two women.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that Plug Uglies and Blood Tubs gang members from Baltimore, as well as "Scuykill Rangers [sic] and other rowdies of Philadelphia," had come to New York during the unrest to participate in the riots alongside the Dead Rabbits and "Mackerelvillers". The Times editorialized that "the scoundrels cannot afford to miss this golden opportunity of indulging their brutal natures, and at the same time serving their colleagues the Copperheads and secesh [secessionist] sympathizers."


The exact death toll during the New York Draft Riots is unknown, but according to historian James M. McPherson (2001), 119 or 120 people were killed. In all, eleven black men were lynched over five days. The riots forced hundreds of blacks to flee the city. Violence by longshoremen against black men was especially fierce in the docks area.

The most reliable estimates indicate at least 2,000 people 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, but this figure is not widely accepted. Total property damage was about $1–5 million ($19.5 million – $97.3 million, adjusted for inflation). The city treasury later indemnified one-quarter of the amount.

Historian Samuel Eliot Morison wrote that the riots were "equivalent to a Confederate victory". Fifty buildings, including two Protestant churches and the Colored Orphan Asylum, were burned to the ground. During the riots, landlords, fearing that the mob would destroy their buildings, had driven blacks from their residences. As a result of the violence against blacks, hundreds left New York, including James McCune Smith, moving to Williamsburg, Brooklyn (still a separate city until 1898) and New Jersey.

The white elite in New York organized to provide relief to black riot victims, helping them find new work and homes. The Union League Club and the Committee of Merchants for the Relief of Colored People provided nearly $40,000 to 2,500 victims of the riots. By 1865 the black population had dropped to under 10,000, the lowest since 1820. The white working-class riots had changed the demographics of the city, and whites exerted their control in the workplace; they became "unequivocally divided" from blacks.

On August 19, the government resumed the draft in New York. It was completed within 10 days without further incident. Fewer men were drafted than had been feared by the working class: of the 750,000 selected nationwide for conscription, only about 45,000 were sent into active duty.

While the rioting mainly involved the working class, middle and upper-class New Yorkers had split sentiments on the draft and use of federal power or martial law to enforce it. Many wealthy Democratic businessmen sought to have the draft declared unconstitutional. Tammany Democrats did not seek to have the draft declared unconstitutional, but helped pay the commutation fees for those who were drafted. In December 1863, the Union League Club recruited over 2000 black soldiers, outfitted and trained them, honoring and sending men off with a parade through the city to the Hudson River docks in March 1864. A crowd of 100,000 watched the procession, which was led by police and members of the Union League Club.

New York's support for the Union cause continued, however grudgingly, and gradually Southern sympathies declined in the city. New York banks eventually financed the Civil War, and the state's industries were more productive than those of the entire Confederacy. By the end of the war, more than 450,000 soldiers, sailors, and militia had enlisted from New York State, which was the most populous state at the time. A total of 46,000 military men from New York State died during the war, more from disease than wounds.

New York Metropolitan Police Department

New York Metropolitan Police Department under the command of Superintendent John A. Kennedy.
Commissioners Thomas Coxon Acton and John G. Bergen took command when Kennedy was seriously injured by a mob during the early stages of the riots.
Of the NYPD Officers-there were four fatalities-1 killed and 3 died of injuries

New York State Militia

1st Division: Major General Charles W. Sandford

Unorganized Militia:

Union Army

Department of the East: Major General John E. Wool headquartered in New York

Defenses of New York City: Brevet Brigadier General Harvey Brown, Brown was in overall command of the military fortresses in New York city at the time and volunteered his services to General Wool. Wool instructed Brown to serve under the command of militia General Sandford to which Brown initially refused but eventually offered to serve in whatever capacity needed. Brig. General Edward R. S. Canby

  • Artillery: Captain Henry F. Putnam, 12th United States Infantry Regiment.
  • Provost marshals tasked with overseeing the initial enforcement of the draft:
  • Provost Marshal General U.S.A.: Colonel James Fry
  • Provost Marshal General New York City: Colonel Robert Nugent (During the first day of rioting on July 13, 1863, in command of the Invalid Corps: 1st Battalion)
  • Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton authorized five regiments from Gettysburg, mostly federalized state militia and volunteer units from the Army of the Potomac, to reinforce the New York City Police Department. By the end of the riots, there were more than 4,000 soldiers garrisoned in the troubled area.


  • The Banished Children of Eve, A Novel of Civil War New York (1995) by Peter Quinn
  • My Notorious Life: A Novel (2014) by Kate Manning
  • On Secret Service (2000) by John Jakes
  • Paradise Alley (2003) by Kevin Baker
  • New York: the Novel (2009) by Edward Rutherfurd
  • Newt Gingrich's alternate history novel Grant Comes East (2004)
  • An Assassins Creed Series: Last Descendants (2016) by Matthew J. Kirby
  • Theatre and film:

  • The short-lived 1968 Broadway musical Maggie Flynn was set in the Tobin Orphanage for black children (modeled on the Colored Orphan Asylum).
  • Gangs of New York (2002), a film directed by Martin Scorsese, includes a fictionalized portrayal of the New York Draft Riots.
  • References

    New York City draft riots Wikipedia