The Riot Begins

As a hot and muggy Monday morning dawned on July 13, 1863, a large crowd of New York working people moved uptown, gathering workers from workshops and factories along the way. German-speaking artisans and native-born Protestant journeymen (many of them volunteer firemen, a powerful political and organizational force in the city) marched alongside working-class Irish laborers; women joined with men. They banded together to express their collective outrage at the new draft law. Once they reached the Provost Marshall's office on 46th Street and Third Avenue, the scene of Saturday's first draft lottery, the crowd attacked the building, setting it on fire.

The crowd quickly moved beyond the initial target of its ire: the draft office. By Monday evening militant protest against the draft law had been transformed into a series of violent attacks on a broad range of human and institutional targets that quickly escalated into confrontations between groups of rioters-- overwhelmingly poor, Irish workers-- and the beleaguered civil authorities. Over the course of the next three days bloody street battles raged across New York City's rich and poor neighborhoods. Before peace was finally restored with the arrival of federal troops (many directly from the battlefield at Gettysburg) on Thursday, July 16, New York City's draft riot would become the nation's single most violent civil disorder, with more lives lost than in any other instance of urban domestic violence in American history.

A City Divided