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The Draft in the Civil War

The Draft in the Civil War


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The initial war fever soon dissipated in both the North and South, and each side was compelled to resort to conscription. A large number of exemptions were allowed and there were provisions for substitutions.The threat of a draft was used in Missouri and Iowa to speed up the rate of volunteer enlistment. However, the threat of conscription was for the time being enough to keep enlistments at an adequate level.The Draft Act of 1863 was the first instance of compulsory service in the federal military services. No married man could be drafted until all the unmarried had been taken.Two methods of evading the draft were available. A man could hire a substitute who would serve in his place, or he could simply pay $300 to get out of the obligation.The lower classes resented this system; resistance and anger were especially fierce in the Northern cities, where large groups of immigrants lived. In July 1863, draft riots broke out in New York City and lasted four days. Some of the anger had been fueled by the Democratic Party, whose leaders doubted the wisdom of the war and hated Lincoln. News of heavy losses at Gettysburg ignited smoldering racism and led to a number of very unfortunate incidents. The rage subsided only when the Army of the Potomac, supplemented by cadets from West Point, was deployed in New York.Despite the resistance, the Civil War conscription policy established that it was within the powers of the federal government to compel enlistment without using the states to administer or approve.


The Drafts – Building The Armies Of The American Civil War

In America, the draft is a controversial subject. Many people support it, as they feel it is necessary for a country at war, while many people are against it, as they feel they should not be forced to go to war. Whatever your stance is, the draft has always created some controversy, from Vietnam to way back in the past, as in the Civil War draft.

The rules and regulations used in the Civil War, are similar to that employed today. A group of men, who were a certain age, would be drafted – up to a certain amount. Both the North and the South ran drafts during the war. It was to make sure there were enough troops available.


How Mandatory Military Service Started In The Civil War

On July 7, during the height of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation putting into effect the first military draft after several months of registration. It was authorized by the Enrollment Act of 1863 passed in March, and was the first draft actually enforced in the history of the United States.

Though the Militia Act of 1792 ostensibly ordered every able-bodied man into the militia, it was never consistently enforced. The wave of enthusiasm and volunteers at the outbreak of the Civil War had waned in the face of defeat and slaughter in the eastern campaigns.

The enrollment act affected all able-bodied male citizens and immigrants who had applied for citizenship aged from 20 to 45, with deferments granted to anyone who could pay $300 or hire a substitute.

Abraham Lincoln&aposs order that sparked the New York City Draft Riots of 1863.Image via Shapell Manuscript Foundation

To call the draft unpopular would be an vast understatement. Many criticized it as an affront to personal liberty that undermined voluntary enlistments. Volunteer soldiers often held draftees in contempt, and there was fear that men forced to fight would do so poorly. Many draftees did the equivalent of burning their draft cards and simply did not show up.

Some of the loudest complaints were over the $300 deferments and the hiring of substitutes. That was a huge sum for the average laborer in 1863, making it seem like the well-to-do could simply buy themselves out of the conflict. Such were labeled “$300 men” and viewed as plutocrats sending the working man to die in their place. A rallying cry for anti-draft protesters was “A rich man’s war but a poor man’s fight.”

The practice of employing substitutes sparked some of the same complaints, but beyond that it was riddled with fraud. Professional “jumpers” would take the substitution payment, desert their units before they left for the front, then repeat the process. Officers would complain about seeing the same men arrive with new recruits multiple times.

Resentment boiled over in New York City on July 13, 1863, when the New York draft riots broke out. It was the worst civil disturbance in New York’s history, requiring troops to be called fresh from the battlefield at Gettysburg to bring order. Rioters composed mostly of Irish immigrants targeted black New Yorkers in particular, resenting them as the cause of the war and the competition for jobs. Many were lynched, and even the Colored Orphans Asylum on Fifth Avenue was burned to the ground.

In the face of such opposition, Congress amended the enrollment act twice in 1864 and 1865. The first limited an exemption to one year after paying $300, after which they had to serve or hire a substitute privately. The second imposed denationalization, or loss of citizenship, for deserters and draft dodgers. By this point, however, the war was as good as over.

In reality, few facing the draft ever had to serve. Extended families would pool money to buy out whatever member was drafted. Jumping allowed one man essentially take the place of many. It was observed that the draft was better at raising money then raising men. Of the more than 750,000 drafted in 1863 and 1864, only roughly 46,000 ever saw the battlefield.

The Confederacy had actually instituted a draft a year earlier in 1862. They faced a critical manpower shortage in the face of the Union’s huge population advantage. But they had many of the same problems and complaints, with men who owned more than 20 slaves exempted. Considering the South seceded ostensibly due to government tyranny, the draft was seen as deeply ironic.

In the end, the draft during the Civil War produced much more acrimony than men, effectively functioning as a tax more than as a way to raise armies. The Selective Service Act of 1917, instituted following an extreme shortage of volunteers for World War I, proved far more comprehensive and successful.

By the end of the Vietnam War, widespread opposition to the draft lead to its repeal. The last men were conscripted in December 1972. Chief Warrant Officer 5 Ralph E. Rigby, the last Vietnam-era draftee to still be on active duty, retired in 2014.


Civil War Draft Riots in Wisconsin, 1862

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln established the military draft for the Civil War. It was unpopular in many German communities around Wisconsin. Many Germans had left their homeland to escape compulsory military service. Anti-draft riots broke out in several cities. On November 10, 1862, a mob of roughly 300 attacked the Port Washington draft office and vandalized the homes of Union supporters until troops arrived to quell the disturbance. The same week, a mob of protesters shut down the draft proceedings in Milwaukee, and in West Bend the draft commissioner was beaten bloody and chased from the scene.

Related Resources

&ldquoResistance to the Draft in Wisconsin&rdquo Milwaukee Pilot, (newspaper), Nov. 12, 1862 Oliver, John W. &ldquoDraft Riots in Wisconsin During the Civil War&rdquo Wisconsin Magazine of History: Vol. 2, No. 3, March 1919: 334-337.


US Military Draft, Facts and History

On January 8, 2020, speculation as to whether or not the United States will re-institute a military draft not seen since 1973 is causing heated discussions among politicians, pundits and citizens. We have previously discussed the American military draft in articles “New York City Draft Riots (Worst Riot in US History),” “10 “Patriots” Who Dodged the Draft or Did Not Serve,” “Jimmy Carter Pardons Draft Dodgers!” and “Was Tough Guy Donald Trump a Draft Dodger?” (That last article listed was published before Trump was elected President.) The military draft and those men that did and did not submit to induction into the armed forces were contentious subjects in the past and remain so today.

Digging Deeper

Also known as “conscription,” the United States has used the draft to compel military service in times of national emergency (war or imminent war) starting with the American Revolutionary War. Back then various colonies (states) and cities or regions had a militia system of citizen soldiers and drafted eligible young men (up to middle aged) for military service in contingencies of fairly short term, such as specific battles or campaigns. A proposed national conscription in 1778 to bolster the national army was quite haphazard and uneven in application with no consistent standards. Back then, a draftee could avoid service by paying a substitute inductee to take his place. The first draft related national laws allowed only for the conscription (also known as impressment for naval purposes) of men to serve in the Continental Navy. After Independence, conscription was authorized by Article I.8.15 of the US Constitution to allow for a national draft if needed of men between the ages of 18 and 45.

American draft laws were put to the test by the massive manpower needs of the American Civil War, although about 92% of those that served in the Union armed forces were volunteers. About 2% of the Union military were draftees and another 6% were paid substitutes for draftees. In spite of the low percentages of draftees involved, public backlash caused rioting to break out in New York City in 1863. The Confederate States suffered an even worse manpower shortage, and also instituted conscription in 1862, a measure that also met with resistance and sometimes violence. Not only were women exempt from the draft, African Americans were also exempt, a factor resulting in resentment against African Americans by Northerners that bitterly declined to fight for the freedom of a people not required to fight for their own freedom. In the South, slaves freed in order to serve in the Confederate Army could take the place of White Southerners so drafted. During the Civil War fierce disagreement between the economic classes over who and why men were exempted from service exposed deep rifts between the social classes.

The global conflict known as World War I saw the next round of American military conscription, a necessary fact sadly illustrated by a paltry 73,000 volunteers answering the call of President Woodrow Wilson for 1 million men! The Selective Service Act of 1917 was intended to rectify many of the contentious issues of the Civil War era draft, providing for more consistent and equitable deferments. The target ages of 21 to 31 years were changed later to 18 to 45. This time, no substitute draftees were authorized to allow rich men to avoid service. A whopping total of about 24 million American men were registered for the draft, and about 3 million inducted. This time, the draft included African American men, and the government shut down any publications that railed against selective service. Among the 3 million draftees were about a half million immigrants to the US, creating a cultural and language problem for the armed forces. Although some draftees were allowed to plead conscientious objector status, others that refused to be inducted and serve were treated harshly by the courts, often given long jail sentences. The “left wing” of American politics was particularly opposed to the draft.

After World War I, the US military wisely prepared for the next time national conscription would be necessary, and set up the draft mechanism ahead of time so as to be ready for a contingency requiring a draft. Efforts were accelerated to prepare for what seemed to be a sure return to a draft by passage of the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 (STSA).

Hostilities in Asia in 1937 and the outbreak of full fledged war in Europe in 1939 spurred popular support among US citizens for the adoption of a national military draft. In 1940 the first peacetime military draft in US history commenced, with men between the ages of 19 and 57 required to register with their local draft board. In this pre-war period (for the US), conscription was limited to 900,000 men at any given time (for training) and a conscription term of only 12 months. By August of 1941, as the winds of war gathered, the term of conscription was increased by 18 months. After the entry to the War by the US following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, the term of mandatory service was increased to the duration of the war plus an additional 6 months. Registration requirements were changed to include men between 18 and 64 years of age. During the course of World War II, 49 million American men were registered for the draft and 10 million were eventually drafted. The draft had started as a national lottery and shifted to local control as the war progressed. The US Navy and US Marine Corps were not initially included in the draft of inductees, but in 1943 they both began accepting draftees. Oddly enough, other American men between the ages of 18 and 37 were actually prohibited from volunteering for service in the military so that vital home front manpower would not be depleted! The draft would provide a regulated and predictable source of manpower for the military. A target of 200,000 draftees per month was achieved from 1943 to 1945.

As always with a military draft, there was some opposition to US military conscription during World War II, especially by African Americans that chafed under Jim Crow type laws and discriminatory practices, including a segregated military. In particular, the Nation of Islam opposed the drafting of African Americans. Japanese Americans were likewise not all that enthusiastic about being drafted, some of whom were residing in internment camps at the time! American communists opposed the draft until the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, then communist opposition largely disappeared.

In 1948 the draft was re-instituted, a contingency based on the rumblings of the beginnings of the Cold War. Men between 18 and 26 were required to register. Terms of service for draftees was limited to 21 months of active service and 5 years in the Reserve. The number of men drafted prior to the Korean War was quite low.

During the Korean War (1950-1953), the US drafted a total of about 1.5 million men, compared to about 1.3 million American volunteers for military service. The American population continued to support selective service throughout the Korean War by a large majority.

The Great Depression (1929-1939) had resulted in a decrease in the birth rate in the United States, and thus a lessening of the manpower pool of men of military age during the 1950’s, necessitating a continuation of selective service, though at a greatly reduced rate. The very possibility of being drafted allegedly fueled the enlistment rolls of volunteers to the US military, young men that would voluntarily sign up with the service of their choice and specialty training rather than leave their fate to the whim of a draft board. About 11 million Americans volunteered for military service between 1954 and 1975, many supposedly in an attempt to avoid the draft. The system of deferments for various special training careers also affected the way young American men went about structuring their education, often specifically to avoid liability to be drafted.

The Vietnam War (1964-1974) created a whole new national debate over the conscription of young men (still no females eligible for the draft), including many violent encounters between authorities and protesters. Despite the popular depiction of the Vietnam War as being fought by American draftees, only about 1/3 of the US military in the war was drafted and the remaining 2/3 were volunteers. That is in stark contrast to almost the exact opposite of World War II in which only 1/3 of those that served were volunteers. Draft dodging and protests became a national pastime, as did falsification of medical and school records to avoid service.

Resistance to the military draft during the Vietnam Era resulted in the suspension of selective service in the US after 1972, although young men continued to register for the draft. (Note: 18 year olds required to register for the draft were issued “draft cards” and were required by law to carry that document with them at all time. This author personally knew at least one guy that was cited by a police officer for not having his draft card with him.) From late 1975 until 1980, young American men no longer had to register for the draft. In 1980, registration with the Selective Service System was again mandated.

While the United States still has the military draft to rely on if a national emergency or war makes this scenario necessary, no American has been drafted since 1972. To this day, female Americans are still not liable for the draft, a situation that would almost assuredly change if the Equal Rights Amendment was ever passed. The criteria for deferments has changed time and again over the years, and is probably still in a state of flux just waiting to be tested by the next time we experience a military draft.

The latest increase in tensions with Iran (January 2020) has raise the subject of whether or not the US will have to institute a military draft in order to meet manpower requirements. In theory, a draft is more equitable across social class lines because an all volunteer force is likely to come from the lower economic classes and a drafted force is supposedly evenly taken from all levels of American society, a theory often attacked as false in practice.

A military draft remains a contentious subject, with no real national agreement on the subject. Does a free society need to mandate military service, or is such a mandate tantamount to slavery? Does a democracy have the right to choose whether or not to defend itself, or does the representative government have the right to choose the when, where, who and how of making war? As with many subjects, the answers are not so easily arrived at.

Question for students (and subscribers): Will the US start a military draft in 2020? Should they? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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American Civil War: No Draft!

A crowd gathered around the steps of the Ozaukee County courthouse in Port Washington, Wisconsin, on November 10, 1862. For the first time ever, Wisconsin men were going to be drafted into the army, and not even the cold rain that was falling that day could keep people away from this historic and potentially life-changing event. But as county draft commissioner William A. Pors drew the first name, the thump of a cannon resounded through the streets. Pors turned. Marching toward him was a mob of angry citizens wielding clubs and bricks and carrying banners scrawled with the words ‘No Draft!’ Thinking the demonstration was merely a protest, Pors went back to drawing names. He had made a grave miscalculation, and if he lived to tell what happened next, he would be fortunate indeed.

Only one year earlier, few in Wisconsin would have believed conscription would ever be necessary for the Union army. As in most Northern states, the men of Wisconsin, brimming with patriotism, had rushed to enlist in 1861. So many men volunteered nationwide in the war’s first months that, in early 1862, Edwin Stanton, the new secretary of war, slowed the Federal drive for recruits, believing that the swelled army ranks would be sufficient to put down the Southern ‘rebellion.’ But by summer, the war showed no signs of coming to a speedy conclusion, so, in July, President Abraham Lincoln called for 300,000 three-year volunteers. Again Wisconsin responded, supplying enough men to create 14 new regiments.

However, a few weeks later, on August 4, Lincoln and his administration tried to mine the Northern states for an additional 300,000 troops, this time to serve nine-month terms. If the number of volunteers any state raised fell short of the Federally assigned quota, that state would have to conduct its own draft–and soon. The states had only until August 15 to recruit volunteers. For its part, Wisconsin faced a quota of 11,904 enlistees. Governor Edward Salomon was uneasy. His state was rapidly running short of willing men, and the quota seemed out of reach.

Salomon immediately petitioned the War Department for a postponement. Wisconsin was a state of farmers, he explained, and if the draft were delayed until after the autumn harvest, many of them would join the army willingly. The War Department responded by extending the deadline–to August 22, one week later. Only a handful of Wisconsin men volunteered for these nine-month stints, but several counties managed to meet their quotas and avoid the draft. The additional week, however, was not nearly enough time to fill this latest statewide quota.

A half-dozen counties lagged far behind the others in enlistments, and the farthest behind was Ozaukee County. These six counties were mostly rural, and their populations included a high proportion of Catholic immigrants. According to 1860 census figures, 15,000 people lived in Ozaukee County, just north of Milwaukee on the shoreline of Lake Michigan, and most of them were German. Like many other European immigrants, they were farmers who had come to the United States to find a better life in what they believed was the land of freedom they had no intention of fighting someone else’s war. They said the Lincoln administration was ‘tainted by abolitionism, nativism, and the godlessness of German anti-church liberals.’ Lincoln’s Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, issued on September 22, only further angered them. The Milwaukee See-Bote, the newspaper of Wisconsin’s German Catholics, expressed horror that immigrants would be ‘used as fodder for cannons’ in an abolitionists’ war.

The Federal deadline had come and gone, and Wisconsin had still not met the War Department’s quota. So, even though Salomon knew it would be extremely unpopular, he prepared to conduct a draft. The governor ordered each county’s sheriff to compile a list of all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 45 with no special restrictions. All of these men would be eligible for military service. Each sheriff was to post his completed roll publicly and send a copy to the state government in Madison.

Ozaukee County’s immigrant farmers were incensed by what they perceived as the unfairness of these enrollment lists. Many members of the Republican Party–the governor’s party–were conspicuously absent from the rolls, the farmers claimed. Several German farmers responded to Salomon’s draft plans by declaring themselves ‘aliens’ and thus ineligible for armed service. As plans for conscription progressed, threats of mob action arose not just in Port Washington, but also in Milwaukee, Sheboygan, and West Bend. A letter from a Port Washington citizen that appeared in the Wisconsin Daily Patriot explained the growing tension: ‘What has caused all this trouble is not a desire to shirk responsibilities, but it is the belief, which is common, that the government officials have exempted about one half the men of the county, who should be liable for military service, and the consequence is that nearly 4 /5ths of those returned on the enrollment lists are to be drafted. This was peculiarly hard on the few, while the many escaped.’

The threats of violence personally embarrassed Salomon. The governor was an immigrant himself he had fled from his native Prussia in 1848, the same year Wisconsin entered the Union. Salomon refused to be intimidated by his former countrymen, and after tallying the eligibility rolls from across the state, he set quotas for the individual counties on October 21. If the number of new volunteers failed to meet these quotas, a draft lottery to fill the deficiency would begin on November 10. In it, a draft commissioner appointed for each county would draw names from a box and continue until his county’s quota was filled.

Wisconsin’s Democrats immediately started to use Salomon’s unpopular decision against the Republicans in the upcoming elections. The Democrats had a grudge against Salomon, who had defected to the Republican Party after years as a Democrat. The snubbed Democrats accused the governor of postponing the draft so his party mates would have a better showing in the November elections. In many counties, Democrats were swept into office. Charles A. Eldredge was particularly successful. Once a dark-horse Democratic candidate for Congress, Eldredge ran on an anti-draft, anti-taxation platform. Playing on the fears of the electorate, he won his election by 200 votes.

By voting in favor of the Democrats, Ozaukee County’s farmers seemed to think they had avoided the draft. But their newly elected representatives could not prevent it, and finally, draft day arrived. Angered by what they felt was fraud at the state’s highest levels, the immigrants were determined to take matters into their own hands. At 9:00 a.m. on November 10, Pors, a local attorney appointed by Salomon to administer the draft in Ozaukee County, arrived at the courthouse in Port Washington with his assistants. A small group of citizens gradually gathered to witness the proceedings.

After setting up his equipment, Pors was beginning the draft when a cannon blast reverberated in the distance. Startled, the commissioner halted the lottery and looked through the sheets of rain. Voices in the distance grew louder as a group of angry farmers some 200 strong marched toward the courthouse. The banners reading ‘No Draft!’ made the reasons for their demonstration clear, and the clubs and bricks they carried made it clear they meant it. But Pors continued if these people wanted to protest, he thought, they had that right. Pors drew a few more names until rocks, bricks, and shouts of ‘No more draft!’ fell on him along with the rain. The mob rushed the courthouse steps. Before Pors or any of his assistants could escape, the rioters overwhelmed them. Pors was beaten mercilessly, then thrown down the steps and into the street. The mob’s ringleaders snatched the enrollment records and, despite the rain, set them ablaze. Other rioters, meanwhile, charged to the top of the courthouse and tore down the American flag.

Pors struggled to his feet and staggered to the post office, where he locked himself in the cellar and waited for a chance to escape. Meanwhile, the mob headed to his house, one newspaper later reported, ‘and attacked and demolished the doors and windows, destroyed the fence, shrubbery, gates and everything in reach out of doors. They then entered the house and literally destroyed everything within it.’ According to another account, ‘the furniture was smashed up and dumped into the street. Jellies, jams, and preserves were poured over the Brussels carpet, and ladies’ apparel [was] torn into shreds.’

While the crowd was destroying his home, Pors boarded a carriage driven by a friend and fled south to Milwaukee, where he wired news of the riot to state authorities in Madison. The furious farmers barely noticed he was gone targeting other prominent Republicans, they had moved on. The town physician, Dr. H. Stillman, who was also a draft clerk, ‘had his fence broken down, shrubbery ripped from his property, and had every door and window demolished,’ one newspaper reported. The mob stole about $200 to $300 worth of medicine from his office while ‘every looking glass, picture, bed, chair, sofa, clothing, indeed everything [was] just turned into rubbish.’ The doctor and his family, however, were not hurt fearing the persistent threats of mob action, they had fled before the draft began.

With two houses destroyed, the mob fed on its own fury, and the violence spread. The rioters drifted to the warehouse of a Mr. B. Blake, who had earlier denounced opposition to the draft. The crowd, which had grown to more than 1,000 people, shattered every window in Blake’s building, broke in, and dumped several thousand bushels of wheat that were stored inside into the streets. Next, the enraged farmers headed to Julius Tomlinson’s stone mill, one of Port Washington’s main businesses. In addition to breaking all the windows, the mob gutted the office, destroyed books and papers, and stole $60 from the safe. Tomlinson’s only apparent crime was his membership in the Republican Party and his employment of other Republicans. The rioters also damaged nearby Wolf’s tannery, threatening to hang every Republican worker, and gutted the Freemason’s hall because most of the county’s Masons had managed to have their names removed from the draft rolls.

Heightened by the mob’s frequent stops at saloons, the violence continued through the day. Law-abiding citizens tried to get out of the rioters’ path, but many of them failed. Even when nightfall quieted the riot, no one was completely safe from danger.

The next morning, Salomon learned the disturbing news and realized that an armed force was needed in Port Washington to quell the riot. He ordered Colonel James M. Lewis of the 28th Wisconsin Infantry, which had mustered in at Milwaukee only four weeks earlier, to send a detachment of troops to the besieged town. He also dispatched W.D. McIdoe, the provost marshal general of the state, to Milwaukee that evening to join the six detached companies of the 28th, which had a total of 600 men.

About 9:00 p.m. on November 11, the propeller ship Kenosha brought the soldiers word that the mob had effectively taken over the town. The enraged farmers had three pieces of artillery, and one was planted on the pier and two were on a hill with a commanding view of Lake Michigan. They posed a serious threat to any troops who tried to land at the port. Lewis devised a plan of attack. The soldiers would land five miles south of Port Washington and then march into town before daybreak. Two companies would march in from the rear while the other four charged in from the front. McIdoe and the men from the 28th left Milwaukee at 3:30 a.m. on November 12 on two state-chartered ships, the Comet and the Sunbeam.

The six companies landed south of town without incident and split up. The two marching in from the rear advanced and soon met part of the unruly crowd. Taken by surprise, 50 rioters surrendered immediately while others retreated wildly to the other side of town. There, they ran head-on into another advancing line of soldiers. The armed men gradually surrounded the rioters. ‘They were found in cellars, bars, saloons, and in bed, and in every conceivable hiding place,’ one soldier said. ‘One was even found four feet deep buried in hay, and he would not come out until he was persuaded by a bayonet.’

The arrival of the troops left the farmers dumbstruck they had not expected an armed response. A story in the Manitowoc Herald reported that the alleged ringleader, a ‘Mr. Kemp,’ had had a change of heart as soon as the soldiers arrived. ‘…Kemp, the ringleader, made boasts before the troops arrived in Port Washington that there were not enough soldiers in the state to take him,’ the report stated. ‘When Col. Lewis, Marshall McIdoe, and a few others repaired to his house, however, and took him into custody, he was as tame as a chicken, and wrang his hands in agony of cowardice.’ Soon, all the rioters were in custody, caught amid the ruin and destruction they had created.

According to one of the soldiers in the 28th Wisconsin, streets once trembling with angry words and threats soon began echoing with laughter and cheers. ‘We were greeted with shouts of joy and exultation from ladies at almost every house,’ he recalled. ‘The scene was truly affecting. We could frequently hear them say, ‘Bless God! We can say our souls are our own.’ ‘We can breathe free again. God bless you!’ ‘You won’t go and leave us today, will you?’ A general feeling of gratitude and thankfulness and of security seemed at once to take the place of great personal fear.’

The soldiers celebrated their nearly bloodless victory by restoring the national flag to the top of the battered courthouse. They had captured more than 150 of the most conspicuous rioters. The next day, a provost court examined the cases of those arrested and declared 82 of the men guilty. They were taken to Camp Washburn in Milwaukee, but when subsequent arrests raised the number of those found guilty to 126, the prisoners were moved to Camp Randall, a larger facility in Madison.

A soldier stationed there described the conditions the prisoners faced. They were ‘closely confined in a single room, or board shanty, about 30 feet wide and 50 feet in length,’ he wrote. ‘There was one stove in the room, but no bedding, not even straw to lie upon. The prisoners were not permitted to leave the shed under any pretense whatever.’

The Ozaukee rioters remained prisoners at Camp Randall for about a year before they were finally released. An event that started with the blast of a cannon was officially over, but it could not be forgotten. More than a half-dozen homes had been damaged, and Tomlinson’s mill, which had sustained thousands of dollars in damage, was closed for months. Dozens of citizens had been injured, and many more had feared for their lives. But there had been no loss of life, no usurpation of power, and no change in the government’s draft policy.

Shortly after the riot, Pors returned to Port Washington. This time, with armed troops by his side, he finished the draft. Twenty-five miles away, Milwaukee County’s draft commissioner wisely waited a week before conducting his lottery, long enough for Union soldiers to arrive. He had learned a lesson.

This article was written by Adam Kawa and originally published in the June 1998 issue of Civil War Times Magazine.

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The New York City Civil War Draft Riots of 1863: Four Days of Unrest

On the morning of July 13 th , 1863, the American Civil War had been ongoing for two years. The Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Lincoln on the first of that year, freeing the slaves. The battle of Gettysburg had claimed its lives, just over 200 miles away, earlier that month, where there were between 46,000 and 51,000 casualties.[1] 23,050 New Yorkers took part in the battle around 1000 were killed, 4,000 injured, and 2,000 were presumed either captured or missing.[2] Riots broke out in New York City in response to the draft list published by the government, lasting until July 16 th , 1863. The riots resulted in more than 100 lives lost, $1.5 Million damage, and about 2,000 injured. Police could not control the mobs, and the chaos was only quelled when the army stepped in. The draft riots remain the largest civil and racial uprising in American history, apart from the Civil War itself. But what of the surrounding areas that were so close to where the riots were sparked? What happened on Manhattan Island that resonated in two of the future five boroughs of New York City? How were the people of Staten Island and Brooklyn affected? We will briefly look to the testimony of those who lived through those three days and two nights of fear and anger.

Though slavery had been abolished in New York City since 1827, race tensions were still present, especially in the workplace. “Northern labour feared that emancipation of slaves would cause an influx of African American workers from the South, and employers did in fact use black workers as strikebreakers during this period. Thus, the white rioters eventually vented their wrath on the homes and businesses of innocent African Americans” [3]. New York City was greatly affected by the war, as the economy heavily relied on shipping and the textile industry, thus relying heavily on cotton from the south. By the mid-1830s, cotton shipments accounted for more than half the value of all exports from the United States thus, “…there is a marked similarity between the trends in the export of cotton and the rising value of the slave population,” [4]indicating that New York City as a major export city relied on the South’s economic prosperity that flourished largely due to the institution of slavery. This was most likely a factor on people’s minds during this time, especially the lower working class who worked on docks and those who labored to spin and make the textiles, and that the prosperous economy of the city may be devastated. Fernando Wood, mayor of New York City, even proposed seceding from the Union to become “The Free City of Tri-Insula”.

Though free African Americans had settled and held business in and near New York City since before 1800 and slavery was abolished, racism that separated them was still present in society. A major mark of this lies in the popularity of minstrel shows. Originating in New York City in 1828, Thomas Dartmouth Rice was the first to perform a ‘comedic’, racist song and dance in ‘blackface’. Minstrel shows were widely popular in the United States, especially so in New York City, through the civil war. Irish were also subject to blatant racism in New York City. Immigration from Ireland to America peaked in the mid 1800s, and many lived in poor conditions in the 5 points neighborhood. Many were met by American Nativist sentiment and blatant discrimination, especially in the workforce as ‘no Irish need apply’ was common among job postings. Regarded as ugly, lazy drunks, many Irishworked as laborers in low paying jobs. There was competition between free African Americans and Irish workers, and this was further onset by the Emancipation Proclamation ordered by President Lincoln. There was a present fear among Irish workers that a large influx of freed slaves would enter the workforce and take jobs away from them, and to die in a war that now aimed for the freeing of said slaves was seen as more than just unfair.

Classism and increased distance between rich and poor also made itself evident. In March of that year, Congress passed the Enrollment Act, requiring “all able-bodied men” between the ages of 20-45 to enlist and serve in the military, including those who were in the process to become citizens. However, a commutation fee of $300 (equivalent to $5,775 today) could be paid to have a substitute serve in place of the giver, thus avoiding the draft. The average worker made less than $500 a year. [5]In light of all this mobs primarily comprised of the Irish working class, many who were drafted, took to the streets to protest the unfairness they felt, as only the wealthy could afford to exempt themselves from the war that many New Yorkers at the time felt was not their own.

Saturday, July 11 th felt hardly a stir from the people, though it was the first drawing of the draft. The morning of the second draft on Monday, July 13 th was met by a crowd of about 500 people gathered on 3 rd Ave and 47 th street outside the ninth district provost. Here, led by ‘Black Joke’ Engine Co. No. 33, (famous for their fist-fighting skills as they were for their fire-fighting skills), the discontent mob threw stones threw the window and set the building ablaze. They dismantled any fire fighting vehicles that came, even killing horses. Rioters attacked police that responded or tried to avoid the mob after being beaten, and police stations were also destroyed The Brooks Brothers store that had been selling Union uniforms was targeted, as well as the New York Times and Tribune building, but only Brooks Brothers’ was profoundly affected by the mob. Rioters then targeted African Americans, abolitionists, and slavery sympathizers, seeing them as the new reason for the war, the reason why they were being drafted. Not only were many ‘negroes’ killed-either hung, burned, or beaten to death- but also their homes and businesses destroyed. Two churches and the Colored Orphan Asylum were among the places burned, but the orphans were evacuated before the attacks. Abraham Franklin, Augustus Stewart, Peter Heuston (a Mohawk Indian), Jeremiah Robinson (whose wife attempted to escape with him safely by dressing him as a woman, but was found out by the mob), a Mrs. Derickson (a Caucasian woman), and others were listed among the dead and injured victims of the mob. [6].

A lawyer and diarist, George Templeton Strong, was present in New York City for the duration of the riots and recorded his views and experience of the situation. “Here and there a rough could be heard damning the draft. No policemen to be seen anywhere. Reached the seat of war at last, Forty-sixth Street and Third Avenue. Houses…were burned down, engines playing on the ruins.” He goes on to describe the crowd that was there as “… a posse of perhaps five hundred [of the] lowest Irish day laborers. Every brute in the drove was pure Celtic.” [7]He goes on to comment that Jefferson Davis seemed spiritually present in the city. It is important to note the last phrase here, as Strong’s view exemplifies the upperclasses’ view of the mob and its majority Irish as ‘brute’ and something apart from them as ‘Celtic’. The Pennsylvanian-African American paper The Christian Recorder published on July 25 th comments on the mob, “Just think of it, reader, that so many innocent and inoffensive of God’s human beings should be driven from their quiet homes…beaten and left almost lifeless, [many] killed dead on the spot. Oh! Such bloody, fiendish murderers will receive their reward at the hands of a just God. We are not disappointed as to the class of men generally engaged in that wicked, hellish act. The New York papers say that they were mostly Irish who were engaged in the riot of course there were hundreds of others who may be called Americans, but the Irish were in the majority.” [8]We can see here that the African American community also had a low opinion of the Irish people in America, here being unsurprised-almost expectedly, that the mob was mostly Irish New Yorkers.

9th District Marshall Provost’s Office 1863- The Civil War Draft Riots

9th District Marshall Provost's Office 1863- The Civil War Draft Riots

The Draft Riots: Brooklyn

Brooklyn had a free black community as well, called Weeksville. Established in 1838, and allowed economic mobility, intellectual freedom, and was self-sustaining . By the 1850s, Weeksville had over 500 residents, “ boasting more opportunity for homeownership, employment and success for its black residents than any other part of Brooklyn, and well beyond.”. Many African .

The Draft Riots: Final Thoughts and Bibliography

The riots were quelled when federal troops faced off with rioters on Thursday, July 16th, eventually ending the immediate disarray in New York City. After the riots were over, Governor Horatio Seymour addressed the people of New York City and made a statement to the rioters, “I know that many who have participated in these .

The Draft Riots: Its Roots and Occurance

The New York City Civil War Draft Riots of 1863: Four Days of Unrest On the morning of July 13th, 1863, the American Civil War had been ongoing for two years. The Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Lincoln on the first of that year, freeing the slaves. The battle of Gettysburg had claimed its lives, .

The Draft Riots: Staten Island

Staten Island traditional oral history recalls the events of the initial response to the riots as a single noble defense, but in actuality had two outcomes. The main telling goes that citizens in Port Richmond, which was a ‘hop, skip, and jump’ away from Manhattan, pointed a cannon towards the bridge at Bodine’s Creek to .

9th District Marshall Provost’s Office 1863- The Civil War Draft Riots

9th District Marshall Provost's Office 1863- The Civil War Draft Riots

The Draft Riots: Brooklyn

Brooklyn had a free black community as well, called Weeksville. Established in 1838, and allowed economic mobility, intellectual freedom, and was self-sustaining . By the 1850s, Weeksville had over 500 residents, “ boasting more opportunity for homeownership, employment and success for its black residents than any other part of Brooklyn, and well beyond.”. Many African .

The Draft Riots: Final Thoughts and Bibliography

The riots were quelled when federal troops faced off with rioters on Thursday, July 16th, eventually ending the immediate disarray in New York City. After the riots were over, Governor Horatio Seymour addressed the people of New York City and made a statement to the rioters, “I know that many who have participated in these .

The Draft Riots: Its Roots and Occurance

The New York City Civil War Draft Riots of 1863: Four Days of Unrest On the morning of July 13th, 1863, the American Civil War had been ongoing for two years. The Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Lincoln on the first of that year, freeing the slaves. The battle of Gettysburg had claimed its lives, .

The Draft Riots: Staten Island

Staten Island traditional oral history recalls the events of the initial response to the riots as a single noble defense, but in actuality had two outcomes. The main telling goes that citizens in Port Richmond, which was a ‘hop, skip, and jump’ away from Manhattan, pointed a cannon towards the bridge at Bodine’s Creek to .

[7] “George Templeton Strong: Diary, July 13-17, 1863”, The Civil War: the Third Year Told by Those Who Lived It. The library of America.p382-389

Colored orphans Asylum located at 5th ave and 43rd street, 40.754177, -73.980421


July 13, 1863: New York City Draft Riots and Massacre

On this anniversary of the New York City Draft Riots and Massacre, July 13 – 16, 1863, we share a teaching activity that helps students explore what Howard Zinn described as the most destructive period of civil violence in U.S. history. Lasting nearly a week, the riots were the largest civil insurrection in U.S. history besides the Civil War itself.

. . . the Conscription Act of 1863 provided that the rich could avoid military service: they could pay $300 or buy a substitute. In the summer of 1863, a “Song of the Conscripts” was circulated by the thousands in New York and other cities. One stanza:

Historical fiction for young adults by Walter Dean Myers.

We’re coming, Father Abraham, three hundred thousand more
We leave our homes and firesides with bleeding hearts and sore
Since poverty has been our crime, we bow to thy decree
We are the poor and have no wealth to purchase liberty.

When recruiting for the army began in July 1863, a mob in New York wrecked the main recruiting station. Then, for three days, crowds of white workers marched through the city, destroying buildings, factories, streetcar lines, homes.

The draft riots were complex — anti-Black, anti-rich, anti-Republican. From an assault on draft headquarters, the rioters went on to attacks on wealthy homes, then to the murder of African Americans. They marched through the streets, forcing factories to close, recruiting more members of the mob. They set the city’s colored orphan asylum on fire. They shot, burned, and hanged African Americans they found in the streets. Many people were thrown into the rivers to drown.

On the fourth day, Union troops returning from the Battle of Gettysburg came into the city and stopped the rioting. Perhaps four hundred people were killed. No exact figures have ever been given, but the number of lives lost was greater than in any other incident of domestic violence in U.S. history.

Harper’s Weekly illustration of the burning of the orphanage during the Draft Riots. Source: Black Gotham Archive

Click the book cover for a detailed description of the Draft Riots by Leslie M. Harris.

The Zinn Education Project offers a teaching activity called “The Draft Riot Mystery” by Rethinking Schools editor Bill Bigelow that focuses on the conflict between recently arrived Irish immigrants and African Americans.

As Bigelow explains in the introduction to the lesson:

One of the critical “habits of the mind” that students should develop throughout a U.S. history course is to respond to social phenomena with “why” questions. They should begin from a premise that events have explanations, that people don’t, for example, kill each other simply because they speak different languages, attend different churches, or have different skin colors.

This activity takes the outrages of the 1863 riots as its starting point, and asks students to piece together clues that help account for this sudden explosion of rage. It’s important to note that making explanations is different than making excuses. Here, we’re asking students to try to understand the horrors committed, not to rationalize them.

Read a detailed description, read an online excerpt from In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863 by Leslie M. Harris.

Related Resources

The Draft Riot Mystery

Teaching Activity. By Bill Bigelow.
Students are invited to solve a mystery, using historical clues, about the real story of the Draft Riots.

Teaching a People’s History of Abolition and the Civil War

Teaching Guide. Edited by Adam Sanchez. 181 pages. 2019. Rethinking Schools.
Students will discover the real abolition story, one about some of the most significant grassroots social movements in U.S. history.

Dayshaun’s Gift

Book – Historical fiction. By Zetta Elliott. 2015. 88 pages.
Time travelling historical fiction for upper elementary school students on the New York City Draft Riots.

Book – Fiction. By Walter Dean Myers. 2011.
Historical novel about the 1863 draft riots in New York for young adults.

July 16, 1854: Elizabeth Jennings Graham

Schoolteacher Elizabeth Jennings Graham successfully challenged racist streetcar policies in New York City.


Each time the military has used a conscripted force, it has engaged in social engineering.

No military draft has ever required universal service. That is why it is called Selective Service the draft selects those who, by virtue of their sex, age, physical and mental abilities, educational background and work skills, will best meet the military’s needs. Those deemed more valuable to the home front have been granted exemptions and exclusions. In many cases, those exemptions and exclusions hampered military efficiency for the sake of social concerns.

During the Civil War, both the Union and the Confederacy used conscription to preserve the social and racial order by allowing the wealthiest members of society to buy their way out of service. Wealthy men could pay a flat fee or offer a substitute in lieu of service. The Confederacy also exempted one white man on a plantation for every 20 slaves in an attempt to stave off potential slave revolts. These exemptions did little to bolster either side’s military forces. Instead, they led poor men to allege, not for the last time, that they were fighting a rich man’s war.

Conscription was a social laboratory again during both world wars. The Selective Service Acts excluded farmers, steelworkers and cod fishermen, to name but a few examples, not because they would not make good infantrymen but because their labor was deemed more essential to the home front than to the military. Mostly white local draft boards handed out the exemptions, though, and their racial, ethnic and class biases created a drafted force that was overrepresented by poor men of all races.

The impact of biases and non-military factors on the composition of the military force is especially clear when considering race. A day after the attack at Pearl Harbor, to keep African Americans out of the military, one Army adjutant general insisted that “the Army is not a sociological laboratory to be effective it must be organized and trained according to the principles which will insure success.” This push failed, but the armed forces wasted a lot of money and resources supporting a segregated force that might have been better spent on the war effort.

After only a brief reprieve at the end of World War II, the draft was quickly reinstated, thanks to the nascent Cold War. But even after Harry Truman integrated the military racially, the Selective Service Administration engineered a socially stratified force to fight in Korea and Vietnam by granting college deferments. Scientists and engineers, they argued, would better serve national defense working in the civilian sector than in the military. It didn’t hurt that the educated were also the most well-connected in society.

Opponents resurrected the social-laboratory argument in the 1990s to oppose the open service of gay men and lesbians. They succeeded in forcing President Bill Clinton to renege on a campaign pledge and agree to the compromise “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which stood until 2011.


It’s the 150th anniversary of the 1863 Civil War Draft Riots. Why should we care?

Why are there no permanent remembrances of any significant kind in New York City to the Civil War Draft Riots? It was the most grave, the most tumultuous event in New York City history between the Revolutionary War and September 11, 2001. Doesn’t it merit some mention?

The leading answer, of course, is that New Yorkers don’t end up looking very good. This isn’t New York’s finest moment in fact, it’s probably its worst. Many of the hundreds who died during that week were rioters, lawbreakers, killers. The racism of many was laid bare, exposed brutally. On the first day of rioting, firemen — the Black Joke Engine Co. — were actually complicit in kicking off the violence. Even the leaders of the period had ulterior motives.

At right: The Black Joke firemen help plunder the draft office

For almost five days, the angered and the desperate rampaged through the streets of New York. The violence was only superficially fueled by anger over the actual conscription act, an excuse to vent other frustrations, some understandable, others reprehensible. For several days, nobody was safe — from the moment the Ninth District Draft Office was incinerated on Monday morning to the final sweep of barricaded streets by state militia and federal troops on Thursday night.

It’s a complicated, ugly, confused time in New York City history. But how does a city acknowledge a self-inflicted tragedy? Who wants to remind America of how duplicitous many New Yorkers were during the Civil War?

The Draft Riots are a nuisance of fact, sometimes serving to obfuscate the sacrifice of the many thousands of New Yorkers who gave their lives in service of the Union Army. New York holds up its reputation as a melting pot, as a place where people of different ethnicities co-exist, if not always peaceably. The images of the Draft Riots — black families fleeing the city in terror, lynched bodies from trees and streetlamps — serve only to remind you that the spirit of inclusiveness is merely a modern notion and possibly a mirage.

Anniversaries are important. They reflect how we want to present our past and illustrate our present frame of mind. On the one hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, people re-watched the James Cameron movie and took a (strangely morbid) memorial voyage along the same watery path the original ship was to have taken. On the centennial of the Triangle Factory Fire, hundreds marched through the street and chalked memorials on the sidewalk in front of the homes of the victims.

On America’s bicentennial, New York briefly awoke from its bankrupt, gritty slumber to present a shimmering display of patriotism featuring Queen Elizabeth, festive parades, and battalions of ships in the harbor. Every September, we revisit the horror and suffering of the attacks upon the World Trade Center because the idea of forgetting about it is simply unimaginable.

The Draft Riots fit none of the criteria of something we’d like to remember. It’s for that reason we should.

Today we remember the Civil War in iconic terms, good and evil, right and wrong. The Draft Riots presents a nuanced reinterpretation of that story line. It places New York City not outside the significance of the battlefield, but squarely within it. The Union was not united, but an assortment of different viewpoints. That Lincoln and the Union Army succeeded is even more remarkable when you realize the dissension from within.

For that reason, I hope one day the city of New York will take upon itself to memorize this event in the same way it has so many others. Until then, I’m at least grateful to those various private institutions around the city who will ensure that future New Yorkers will continue to be stunned, horrified and otherwise amazed at the extraordinary events which took place in this city on July 13-16, 1863.

According to this article from the New York Times in 1963, there were once three temporary plaques placed in significant places for the centennial marking — at Fifth Avenue between 43rd and 44th (site of the Colored Orphanage), Third Avenue and 46th Street (site of the Ninth District Draft Office) and, oddly, at Tenth Avenue and 46th Street (site of the home of Willy Jones, the first person chosen in the draft lottery). I do not believe these plaques to still be in existence, but if you know otherwise, please email me.

Here’s a few ways to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War Draft Riots over the next few days:

Exhibit : There are no Draft Riot exhibits currently in New York, but the Metropolitan Museum of Art has two must-see shows about the Civil War that would make a fine substitute — ‘The Civil War and American Art’ and ‘Photography and the American Civil War‘

Discussion : The Museum of the City of New York is presenting a panel discussion on Monday, July 15, with a superb line-up, including Craig Stephen Wilder, filmmaker Ric Burns, historian Joshua Brown and author Kevin Baker. Check here for more information.

Podcast : Then of course there’s our 2011 podcast on the Civil War Draft Riots. You can find it on iTunes or download it from here. And I’ve finally uploaded it onto SoundCloud, so you can listen to it right here!

And if you’d like more information on how the Draft Riots affected the future boroughs of New York City, you can check out my article on Huffington Post: The Many Civil War Draft Riots: Violence From 150 Years Ago, in New York and Beyond.

NOTE: If you know of any events relating to the Draft Riots, please email me and I will include them in the list above. Thanks!


Watch the video: Δεκέμβρης 1944.. Ποιός ήθέλε τον εμφύλιο πόλεμο; (May 2022).