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"In the midst of strange and terrible times": the New York city draft riots of 1863.

"From one point of view, this is doubtless the darkest fourth of July which has dawned on us since the commencement of our National existence.

From another, we sincerely believe that it is the brightest ..."

Horace Greeley, NEW YORK TRIBUNE, 18631 (1)

IN THE ABOVE QUOTATION, written on July 4, 1863, ardent abolitionist Horace Greeley was referring to the ongoing Civil War in the United States. Greeley's statement ominously foreshadowed mounting socioeconomic and racial tensions, which, in the days after he penned those words, exploded into one of the most violent episodes in New York City's history--the Draft Riots of 1863. These have been called by one historian "the largest civil insurrection in American history other than the South's rebellion:" (2)

During the New York City Draft Riots the city's own inhabitants unleashed a torrent of violence and destruction that chiefly targeted African Americans. What originated as a protest against the enforcement of the Conscription Act quickly escalated into a riot that erupted at the volatile nineteenth century crossroads of race, class, and economic competition. In a letter home, the great American poet Walt Whitman wrote: "So the mob has arisen at last in New York. It seems the passions of the people were only sleeping and burst forth with a terrible fury.... We are in the midst of strange and terrible times." (3) In the end, more than one hundred people were killed, hundreds more were injured, and dozens of buildings were destroyed in a rampage that lasted nearly a week.

The 1863 New York City Draft Riots are much more than simply a long-ago or isolated disturbance. This historical event offers students a unique opportunity to analyze and understand how the interaction of complex social issues such as ethnicity, economic status, and immigration can be multifaceted and far-reaching.

The Enrollment Act of Conscription: Opposition

When the Civil War first broke out, no one envisioned a protracted battle. Many believed the war would last no longer than ninety days. At first, it was not difficult to find men to fight for either side. But while men rushed to enlist at the beginning of the war, as the conflict wore on, it became increasingly problematic to enlist willing soldiers. The Confederacy had already instituted a draft in April 1862. The Union introduced its draft in 1863; Congress passed the Conscription Act on March 3rd. Single men, aged twenty to forty-five and married men, aged twenty to thirty-five were eligible to be drafted. Some citizens supported the measure, believing that "The administration is acting wisely in ordering the immediate enforcement of the draft.... The conscription is necessary," according to a New York Times editorial. (4) However, as soon as the draft was declared, rumblings of dissent could be heard throughout the North. Some of the balking was a result of the commutation provision, that is, that drafted men could either pay $300 directly to the government, or they could hire a substitute to fight in their stead. Considering that $300 was more than the average laborer's annual salary, it was obvious that only wealthy men would be able to utilize that provision. Thus, the conflict came to be known as "a rich man's war and a poor man's fight."

Opposition to the draft was made evident in several cities. In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a mob broke windows in the marshal's office and attacked police officers. (5) The state's governor, Joseph A. Gilmore, warned the federal government that if conscription quotas were to be enforced, Washington would have to send a regiment. (6) In Boston, there was immediate opposition to the Enrollment Act. At least 500 people rioted in protest. Swift action by city and state authorities resulted in minimum destruction of property and loss of life. Violence was indiscriminate; African Americans were not targeted in the Boston disturbances and no blacks were listed among the dead or wounded. (7) In Wisconsin, citizens of Ozaukee County rioted for three days, protesting that the draft was unfairly administered. The state draft so incensed citizens that troops had to be called in to put down an angry mob. After arresting hundreds of protesters, the draft lottery was rescheduled without incident. However, more than 120 of the rioters were eventually convicted and sent to jail for at least a year. (8)

New York City, Summer 1863

Although there were disturbances in several cities, no city witnessed as much violence as New York City in July of 1863. By all accounts, that summer was a hot one--temperatures as well as temperaments were running high. The city's poorest citizens, many of them Irish immigrants, lived in congested tenements rife with disease and crime. Half of the residents were foreign-born and at least half of those were Irish. Irish immigrants and African Americans competed fiercely for low-wage, unskilled jobs in an economy marred by wartime inflation; this rivalry served to intensify racial hostilities. (9)

The Civil War and subsequent Emancipation Proclamation exacerbated existing racial tensions, and politicians seized the opportunity to bolster Democratic anti-war support by playing on the fears of white working-class citizens, particularly the Irish, warning them of the increased economic competition that would come from newly emancipated slaves. (10) When the Conscription Act was passed, Horatio Seymour, the governor of New York, fomented dissent by openly opposing President Lincoln and the draft. Nonetheless, the Ninth District draft office was set up on Third Avenue and Forty-Sixth Street to carry out the federal order. On Saturday morning, July 11, 1863, the first names were drawn from a large spinning drum. By 6:00 p.m. the names of 1,236 draftees had been called. These were circulated quickly, posted around the city, and printed in the newspaper. The remainder of the names would be called on Monday morning.

On Saturday night and Sunday, groups of citizens gathered in homes, bars, and cafes to discuss the draft and the war. Wherever people met, the topic of conversation was invariably the draft. Fueled by alcohol, apprehensions and tensions escalated as the weekend came to a close. While the police had been informed of the possibility of protests, they thought they would be able to control things in the "normal, routine way." Still, reports came in that night of several African Americans having been attacked and badly beaten. (11)

By Monday, July 13th, angry citizens organized themselves into a mob, broke into the draft office, smashed the draft wheel, and set fire to the building. Some accounts state this occurred before the draft office even opened that morning; other accounts state that the provost marshal succeeded in drawing about seventy names before violence erupted. Nonetheless, by 11:30 a.m. the federal draft was officially suspended.

As the mob spilled out onto the streets, others joined the group. According to numerous estimates, the rioters numbered approximately 50,000. There were about 800 policemen on duty that day; severely outnumbered from the onset, the police were largely ineffective at quelling the disturbance. Rioters felled telegraph poles and cut the wires, critically curtailing the ability of the police to communicate between precincts.

Well-dressed men--called "three-hundred-dollar men" referring to the commutation provision--were attacked in the streets. One letter to the editor of The New York Times, signed "A Poor Man, But a Man for All That," explains the sentiment:
   ... the 300-dollar law has made us
   nobodies, vagabonds and cast-outs
   of society, for whom nobody cares
   when we must go to war and be
   shot down. We are the poor rabble,
   and the rich rabble is our enemy
   by this law. (12)

But the most horrific of the crimes committed during the riots was the singling out of African Americans, seen by many as the cause of the war. One observer explained the mob's logic this way: "There would have been no draft but for the war--there would have been no war but for Slavery--the Slaves were black--ergo, all blacks were responsible...." (13) Many white workers also saw the specter of freed slaves as direct competition in the labor market, as rivals for scarce jobs. And because African Americans were not full citizens, they were ineligible for the draft.

One of the first buildings to be targeted was the Colored Orphan Asylum on Fifth Avenue where 233 children lived. Searching for food and bedding, a mob of women and children looted the building. Although the children were able to escape through the building's rear entrance, they witnessed horrifying violence:
   Clamoring around the house like
   demons ... the mob burst the door
   with axes....   The mob surged
   through the building, stripping
   it bare.... Carpets, desks, chairs,
   pictures, books, even the orphans'
   clothes, were tossed out of the
   windows to the waiting plunderers.
   Then the handsome building
   was set to fire. (14)

When the children were later transported by steamer to the city, hospital on Blackwell's Island, fifty police officers had to escort the group to protect against possible attack. (15)

By Monday afternoon, the mob had turned its full fury on any African Americans in view: A newspaper item of the day provides this grisly account: "The poor Negroes were hunted, driven about and hanged, Just as on the two previous days, and hundreds of the unfortunate creatures fled terror-stricken from the city." (16) In one particularly gruesome case, Abraham Franklin, a disabled African American coachman, was lynched by a mob and hanged from a lamppost. After the body was pulled down by the crowd, a sixteen-year-old Irish American named Patrick Butler dragged the lifeless body by the genitals while bystanders applauded. (17) lust as the ashes from twenty burned buildings smoldered in the night, so did tensions and racial hatred seethe as the night passed. The following morning, The New York Times headline declared the day "A Day of Infamy and Disgrace." (18)

On Tuesday, July 14, William Jones, an African American laborer, was on his way home with a loaf of bread for breakfast. He was lynched, hanged from a lamppost, and his corpse mutilated and burned. (19) Another African American man, James Costello, suffered a similar fate: his body was mangled, lynched, dragged through the gutter, stoned, and then burned by rioters. (20) That day's front page of The New York Times declared:
   Among the most cowardly features
   of the riot was the causeless
   and inhuman treatment of the
   Negroes of the City. It seemed to
   be an understood thing throughout
   the city that the Negroes should
   be attacked wherever found.... As
   soon as one of these unfortunate
   people were spied ... he was immediately
   set upon by a crowd of men
   and boys.... (21)

Although African American males were the recipients of the most egregious of violent acts, the mob also unleashed their wrath on anyone who was considered sympathetic to the police, the Republican Party, or to African Americans. A white Irishman, Colonel H. J. O'Brien of the Eleventh New York Volunteers regiment of soldiers, was singled out as he returned to inspect his house that had been ransacked by the rioters. His fatal beating lasted six hours. (22) As the mob raged out of control, rioters burned and looted many more buildings.

By Wednesday, July 15, the mob still showed no sign of slowing down. That morning, the son of a white housewife and a black sailor was attacked as he played outside his home. The child was able to escape when his mother intervened but she was beaten so badly that she died a few weeks later at Bellevue Hospital. Not all children were as fortunate: one African American infant--a mere three days old--was killed on impact after being thrown from a window by rioters. The mob also attacked a sickly seven-year-old African American boy; although his illness was evident to the mob, he was nonetheless beaten and stoned to death. (23) In an effort to placate the rioters, an emergency ordinance was passed later that day by the city council allocating $2.5 million to pay the commutation fee of every resident who was drafted.

Finally, on the fourth day, the violence began to abate. On Thursday, July 16, the Seventh regiment of the New York National Guard arrived in the city--a city that was eerily quiet after the three-day rampage. Federal troops in Gettysburg had just defeated General Lee's soldiers and were called back to New York to restore order. Together, with the assistance of the police, naval forces, and cadets from West Point, they worked to end the rioting. By Friday, the mobs had been quelled. By July 18th, the front page of The New York Times declared "Quiet Restored.

Precautions of Authorities." (24)

Afterwards when the official toll was taken, more than one hundred people had died, many more were injured, and more than four hundred were arrested. However, an accurate count of the dead may never be known since many of the bodies were thrown into the river or carried away by friends or family members and buried in unmarked graves. Injured gang members were probably carted away and those who died, secretly buried. Commissioner Thomas Acton estimated the total of gang member deaths to be around 1,200, based on street reports and on what his officers had witnessed. (25)

At least one hundred buildings were reduced to rubble and another two hundred were damaged by fire and looting. After the riots were quelled, police officers and detectives were dispatched to search slum quarters for stolen property. Fine furniture, clothing, and firearms, among many other items, were confiscated and returned, when possible, to their owners. The Brooks Brothers store alone had about $10,000 in merchandise returned. (26) Property damage estimates ran as high as $5 million. The loss of lives and property made the Draft Riots the worst urban uprising in American history.

Many African Americans became displaced as a result of the riots, having been evicted from their residences by anxious landowners fearful that their properties would be destroyed. At least three thousand African Americans became homeless, according to estimates. Even the grounds where the Colored Orphan Asylum stood became off-limits to African Americans as neighboring residents opposed its rebuilding. The riots also fueled an exodus of hundreds of African Americans out of the city, many of whom fled to New Jersey and other surrounding areas. (27) By the end of the Civil War, New York City's African American population had decreased 20 percent from its pre-war population, to its lowest level in forty-five years. (28)

Some African Americans who remained in the city received support and assistance from various organizations in finding homes and jobs, but many relief efforts proved to be problematic. The following year at Thanksgiving an article ran in The New York Times asking citizens for donations for "the colored orphans whose asylum was destroyed by the mob last year." (29) The Colored Relief Committee, which was created to provide assistance to African Americans victimized by the riots, also pledged funds to rebuild the Colored Orphan Asylum. However, the Riots Claims Committee would only issue funds to cover the worth of the goods lost, not the cost to replace the items. In other cases, the claims were not accepted because the claimants had left their homes before being attacked, thus, according to the committee, allowing their goods to be stolen. (30) As a result, many African Americans were not adequately compensated.

Although the government investigated the Draft Riots, rioters were not vigorously pursued or prosecuted. The investigation yielded 443 arrests, but approximately half of those detained were eventually released without being charged. Of those charged, most were booked for robbery or arson. Only twenty of the accused were ever brought to trial, nineteen of whom were convicted, serving an average sentence of five years. The police were unsuccessful at apprehending any leaders of the riots.

As for the Conscription Act, the draft resumed one month after the riots without incident, under the watchful eye of thousands of Union soldiers. (31) The following year the commutation fee of the Conscription Act was modified and the opportunity to purchase exemption from service was limited to conscientious objectors. (32) Racial hostilities persisted, however; discrimination and gang beatings of African Americans continued throughout the summer. (33) The brutal riots and their aftermath served as a grim reminder that the North was not necessarily a safe haven for African Americans.

Teaching about the Draft Riots

As Benjamin Justice pointed out in a 2003 SOCIAL EDUCATION article, the riots seemed to be as much about race--in particular, the tensions between Irish Americans and African Americans--as they were about dissatisfaction with the government. (34) But while the bulk of the rioters seemed to have been Irish, certainly not all Irish Americans supported the riots. In a letter to the editor in late July of 1863, an Irish American wrote in support of a special appropriation for the rebuilding of the orphanage, saying " ... as an Irishman, my blood has tingled with shame to know that this deed of fiendish atrocity was perpetrated mainly by parties ... who claim to have come from that dear old Isle. ..." (35) Another Irish man who openly protested the torching of the Colored Orphan Asylum, pleaded to the crowd: "If there is a man among you, with a heart within him come and help these poor children," was viciously attacked by the rioters. (36) A. F. Warburton, a prominent Irish American citizen, insisted that because Irishmen were mostly to blame for the destruction of the orphanage, the replacement costs should be absorbed by "respectable Irish citizens." (37) There were also accounts of Irish Americans and African Americans uniting to defend themselves and their property from a destructive mob. (38)

Although the effects of the Draft Riots were devastating, the incident signaled a turning point for the city. Several important reforms were initiated as a direct result of the riots. Improvements in law enforcement were made and the police force was expanded. Within months of the riots, the first modern fire department was created in New York City. And, to a lesser degree, the organization of the first board of health can be attributed to the Draft Riots. Finally, new forms of public transportation were also created. (39) However, tensions associated with race, ethnicity, and class would persist long after the conclusion of the Civil War, and well into the twentieth century.

For contemporary students, the New York City riots of 1863 can be a useful lens through which the complex issues of society--race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and immigration, just to name a few--can be viewed and studied. Teachers have the opportunity to examine these concepts and their attendant issues. Just as not all the Irish were to blame in the 1863 riots and not all African Americans were helpless victims, today's societal issues are also not so simplistic. Understanding the complexity of these matters leads to richer, deeper insight into the forces that contribute to ethnic intolerance and escalations of violence in the past as well as the present.

The following section offers various strategies that teachers can use with students to examine the Draft Riots within the larger context of the Civil War or as a multidimensional independent topic. Most of these activities are interdisciplinary in nature, emphasize the analysis of primary source documents, and utilize critical thinking and active learning techniques.

Strategies for Teaching about the 1863 Draft Riots Draft Posters

Appoint students to serve on a draft committee and brainstorm on alternatives to the existing draft. Explain that they will be sending their proposals outlining their plans to President Lincoln. Explain that to inform the populace, they will also design draft posters that illustrate their plan. These posters will be posted throughout the "city" (classroom).


Role-play a New York City town meeting discussing reactions to the draft and alternatives. Inform students that President Lincoln will be attending the town meeting and they must prepare a scripted speech and be prepared to answer any of his questions. Roles could include African American men and women, ex-slaves, Irish Americans, business owners, soldiers, and politicians.


Have students construct an annotated timeline of the events as they unfolded in July 1863.

Newspaper Articles

Using the timeline described above, have students write a series of newspaper articles covering the events as if the students were journalists at the time.

Geography/Mapping Exercise

Have students create a map that identifies the locations of incidents during the Draft Riots. This activity can be used alone or can accompany the student-written newspaper articles.


Stage a debate on the following issues: Is a draft right or wrong? Should the government be allowed to conduct an involuntary draft? If so, under what conditions? This activity can be used as a springboard to research the history of the draft, or to compare and contrast opposition to the draft during the Civil War and the Vietnam War.


Students can explore civic issues such as the rights and responsibilities of citizens to protest versus a responsibility to their government.

Guided Imagery

Using one of the several published diaries or letters written by eyewitnesses, create a guided imagery exercise to help students imagine what one of the events might have been like. (See school teacher Samuel Morehouse's letters archived with the Fairfield, Connecticut, Historical Society; or Martha Derby Perry's letters in Letters from a Surgeon of the Civil War, Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1906.)

Perspective Writing

Students can examine primary source documents and write accounts of the Draft Riots from various perspectives as a "letter to the editor" activity. In groups, students can share their letters to explore diverse points of view.


Lyrics and excerpts from Civil War-era songs can be accessed through Rallying songs from both the North and South, as well as patriotic songs and emancipation spirituals, can be used to highlight the human emotions and perspectives in this conflict. After examining and/or listening to these songs, students can then compose their own lyrics about the Draft Riots to contemporary melodies.


Students can analyze and interpret Melville's poem "The House-Top" ( describing the Draft Riots and then compose their own poetry that illustrates some aspect of the Draft Riots.


An amazing array of photographs from the Civil War can be found via the internet. For example, the Historical New York Times Project ( archives digitized images and articles from the Civil War Years. Students can analyze the pictorials and documents using document analysis worksheets, which can be accessed at and memory.locgov/ammem/ndlpedu/educators/workshop/discover/guide4.html

Primary Source Documents

Engravings, editorials, political cartoons, and first-person reports can be found in several texts (see references) on various websites. For example, Harper's Weekly published detailed accounts. Some may be accessed at: ColoredOrphan-Asylum.htm;; and

Appendix A

Ayers, Edward L., Lewis L. Gould, David M Oshinsky, and Jean R. Soderlund. American Passages: A History of the United States (2nd Edition). Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth/ Thompson Learning, 2004.

Berkin, Carol, et al. American Voices: A History of the United States. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, and Co., 1995.

Brinkley, Allen. American History: A Survey (11th Edition). Boston, Mass.: McGraw Hill, 2003.

Cayton, Andrew, Elisabeth Israels Perry, Linda Reed, and Allan M. Winkler. America: Pathways to the Present. Needham, Mass.: Prentice Hall, 2000.

Jordan, Winthrop D., Miriam Greenblatt, and John S. Bowes. The Americans: A History. Evanston, Ill.: McDougal, Littell and Co., 1992. Petlinski, Jane, and Eleanor Ripp (eds.) Pacemaker United States History (3rd Edition).

Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Globe Fearon, 2001. Viola, Herman J. Why We Remember. New York: Addison Wesley, 1998.


(1.) As quoted in lames McCague, The Second Rebellion (New York: Dial Press, 1968), 3.

(2.) Bob Herbert, "Days of Terror," The Army York Times Op-Ed (October 19, 1997): 15.

(3.) Ric Burns, New York: A Documentary Film: Order and Disorder: Episode Two (PBS Home Video, 2001), as quoted in Alex Blankfein, The Causes and Effects of the New York Draft Riots of 1863., retrieved on July 8, 2004.

(4.) The New York Times, editorial (July 10, 1863): 4.

(5.) Willian Marvel, "New Hampshire and the Draft, 1863." Historical New Hampskire 36, no. 1 (1981): 58-72.

(6.) Donald Dale Jackson, Twenty Million Yankees, (Alexandria, Va.: Time-Life Books, 1985).

(7.) William F. Hanna, "The Boston Draft Riot." Civil War History 36, no. 3 (1990): 262-273.

(8.) Adam J. Kawa. "No Draft!" Civil War Times Illustrated 37, no. 3 (1998): 54-60.

(9.) Leslie M. Harris, In the Shadow of Slavery (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2003).

(10.) Ibid.

(11.) McCague, 56.

(12.) The New York Times. "The Popular Tumult," (July 15, 1863). Retrieved from 10/23/03.

(13.) Charles Chapin as quoted in McCague, 74.

(14.) New York Herald Tribune, July 14, 1863, as quoted in Alessandra Lorini, "Class, Race, Gender, and Public Rituals: The New York African-American Community in the Civil War Era," Storia Nordamericana 7, no. 2 (1990): 111.

(15.) McCague, The Second Rebellion.

(16.) The New York Times (July 15, 1863).

(17.) Iver Bernstein, The New York City Draft Riots (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990).

(18.) The New York Times (July 14, 1863): 1.

(19.) Philip S. Foner, and Ronald L. Lewis, The Black Worker: A Documentary History from Colonial Times to the Present (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1978).

(20.) Joel T. Headley, The Great Riots of New York, 1712 to 1873 (New York: E.B. Treat, 1873).

(21.) The New York Times (July 14, 1863): 1.

(22.) Bernstein, The New York City Draft Riots.

(23.) Headley, The Great Riots of New York, 1712 to 1873.

(24.) The New York Times (July 18, 1863): 1.

(25.) McCague, The Second Rebellion.

(26.) Ibid.

(27.) Adrian Cook, The Armies of the Streets (Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 1974).

(28.) Harris, In the Shadow of Slavery.

(29.) The New York Times, "Thanksgiving for Colored Orphans," (November 23, 1864): 8.

(30.) Cook, The Armies of the Streets.

(31.) Michael J. Swogger, "Federal Conscription and the New York Draft Riots of 1863," (September 1999). Retrieved from, an online publishing group, on February 8, 2004.

(32.) Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition (2004). Retrieved from asp on February 8, 2004.

(33.) Lorini, 117-137.

(34.) Benjamin Justice, "Historical Fiction to Historical Fact: 'Gangs of New York' and the Whitewashing of History," Social Education 67, no. 4 (2003): 214.

(35.) A. F. Warburton, "The Colored Orphan Asylum," The New York Times (July 29, 1863): 5.

(36.) Harris, 281.

(37.) McCague, 167.

(38.) Harris, In the Shadow of Slavery.

(39.) Cook, The Armies of the Streets.

(40). Philip S. Foner, as quoted in Herbert, The New York Times (1997): 15.

Internet Resources

The internet offers many resources, both primary and secondary, that teachers and students can use for the learning activities discussed. Some excellent websites include:

WNET/Public Broadcasting Service

This PBS site, New York: A Documentary Film, includes a "Resources" link that offers a timeline of New York's history, a downloadable teacher's guide to accompany the film, an extensive bibliography, and valuable web links. PBS Kids' online program, Learning Adventures in Citizenship, can also be accessed from this URL. It provides teachers and students with an educational web companion to the documentary. Episode 2: "Order and Disorder, 1825-1863," offers an historical overview of the time period, as well as information on the Draft Riots, primary source illustrations, a video clip from the film, and activities that allow students to explore other urban riots in our nation's history.

American Memory

A general search of this Library of Congress site using the descriptors "New York Draft Riots" will yield hundreds of primary sources ranging from letters, reports, and telegrams, to illustrations, broadsides and nineteenth-century books from collections such as The Abraham Lincoln Papers, The African American Pamphlet Collection, and Civil War Treasures.

The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition

The center's online documents section includes primary sources such as the Conscription Act and various New York Times accounts of the Draft Riots. A search engine is available; key phrases such as "Civil War Draft Riots" or "Conscription" produce a host of relevant documents.

Tangled Roots

Also part of the Gilder Lehrman Center, Tangled Roots is a project exploring the shared experiences of Irish Americans and African Americans in the U.S. More than two hundred source documents (such as cartoons, interviews, speeches, and letters) can be examined to deepen an understanding of these collective experiences.

Virtual New York City

This website, devoted to the history of New York City, includes an online exhibit of the Draft Riots--one of the most thorough resources about the riots on the web. Complete with an interactive map, dozens of annotated primary source illustrations, extensive excerpted eyewitness accounts, and other documents, including Melville's poem about the riots ("The House-Top: A Night Piece"), this site offers background information on the events leading up to the Draft Riots and chronicles it in a day-by-day format.

The American Civil War

This website offers general information about the Draft Riots and includes military telegram reports from the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion.

Gramercy House

This website provides background information (including primary source illustrations) on the Draft Riots, focusing on the brutal battle that took place at the Union Steam Works, an armory once located near the site of the Gramercy House.

Irish in New York City

This website, detailing the historical Irish experience in New York City, provides an extensive day-by-day account of the Draft Riots, and includes primary source documents such as telegrams, eyewitness accounts, speeches, reports, and proclamations.

The Fourth Ward: Life and Death in New York, 1860-1870

Primary Source Collection 8 in this site provides links to news articles about the Draft Riots from sources such as The New York Times, The New York Herald, Continental Montkly, and Harper's Weekly. The documents include maps and illustrations, and highlighted links within the text provide further information, illustrations and related website links about the Draft Riots.

The New York Historical Society

The following links from The New York Historical Society offer several excellent teaching strategies, as well as primary source materials such as illustrations, sheet music, and letters.

Lyrics on Broadside to "When this Cruel Draft is Over:"

Primary source letter from John Torrey to Asa Gray:

In this activity, students incorporate information from primary and secondary sources to craft an essay explaining the causes of the Draft Riots:

The following pages contain primary source illustrations which students can analyze using the accompanying guiding questions:

What Do our Students Know?

A brief analysis of contemporary American history texts (Appendix A) currently in use reveals inconsistencies and sporadic treatment of the inclusion, scope and depth of the Draft Riots. Two of the seven books reviewed omitted the Draft Riots altogether, including the most voluminous text at more than one thousand pages. Of the five remaining textbooks, only one actually listed the Draft Riots by its moniker in the index. The other four textbooks obscurely referenced the event as a sub-category under "Conscription" and the "Civil War."

In the five texts that included content on the Draft Riots, the space devoted to the event ranged from three sentences to a five-paragraph section. Two of the textbooks provided sanitized renditions of the Draft Riots, and appeared reticent to ascribe blame or to acknowledge its intended victims. Indeed, one text claimed that African Americans "seemed to be targeted by the rioters," while the mob was merely referred to as "white." The issue of race relations--an area that routinely suffers from exclusion in instructional materials--was avoided in both textbooks. The reader is left with little understanding of the complexities that contributed to the event and the assumption that the Draft Riots of 1863 simply occurred in opposition to the Conscription Act.

The two most recent publications offered the most balanced and inclusive account of the Draft Riots of the texts under review (American Passages: A History of the United States, 2004 and American History: A Survey, 2003). Both textbooks addressed the myriad of complex social, economic, and political factors that triggered the Draft Riots, and included illustrations that underscored the explosive violence leveled against African Americans. One of the texts acknowledged that "Black Americans suffered the most from the riots" and provided a balanced portrayal of Irish Americans, noting that while the rioters were largely comprised of Irish Americans, Irish military units also helped end the rioting.

It is lamentable that the 1863 Draft Riots merit such little discussion in contemporary texts. What is lost is an excellent opportunity to illuminate the racial, social, and economic tensions that existed in the North during the nineteenth century and, by extension, in contemporary times. Furthermore, the elusive manner in which publishers have placed this significant event precludes a sustained understanding of the racial animosity, that existed in the North and impedes an understanding of the riot's impact on the inhabitants of New York, particularly on African Americans. Clearly, if the event and its attendant issues are to be discussed in social studies courses, it will be up to the classroom teacher to mediate the text and ensure coverage of what is considered to be the "largest [Northern] civil insurrection" in U.S. history. (40)

BARBARA C. CRUZ is professor of social science education at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Her book, MULTIETHNIC TEENS AND CULTURAL IDENTITY, received the Carter G Wood, on Book Award in 2002.

JENNIFER MARQUES PATTERSON currently teaches 8th grade U.S. history at Heron Creek Middle School in Sarasota County, Florida. She is also pursuing her doctoral degree in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in social science education at the University of South Florida.
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Author:Cruz, Barbara C.; Patterson, Jennifer Marques
Publication:Social Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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