Monday, July 16, 2012

New York City Draft Riots

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.
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. They resented that the draft spared wealthier men, who could afford to pay a $300 commutation fee to hire a substitute.
Initially intended to express anger at the draft, the protests turned ugly. At least 100 black people were estimated to have been killed. 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." The military did not reach the city until after the first day of rioting, when mobs had already ransacked or destroyed numerous buildings, including public buildings and homes of abolitionist sympathizers, many black homes, and the Colored Orphan Asylum at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue, which was burned to the ground. The children were not harmed.

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. At least eleven black men were lynched.  Violence by longshoremen against black men was especially fierce in the docks area.
The most reliable estimates indicate that 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 and is considered myth. Total property damage was about $1–5 million ($15 - $75 million in 2011, adjusted for inflation). The city treasury later indemnified one-quarter of the amount. The 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, burned to the ground.

“We drew in a load of raking this morning which finished our hay and then commenced cutting wheat.  We cut what rest of the day. Has been a very fine day.”

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