The Riot's Targets
By analyzing who and what
the rioters targeted for attack during the riot we can begin to
understand the complicated social, economic, and political conflicts
that divided New York City's citizens in July 1863.
The city's black citizens
were perhaps the most obvious and visible targets of the rioters'
wrath. By the end of the first day of rioting, It was not safe for
African Americans to appear in public. Rioters beat individual black
citizens and, in several instances, brutally murdered and mutilated
African-American men. Black New Yorkers weren't even safe inside
their homes as roaming bands of rioters attacked black neighborhoods.
Not only were African Americans in danger; rioters also attacked
white New Yorkers who provided shelter for endangered African Americans,
sacking and burning the homes of white sympathizers. The crowd even
attacked and burned brothels that catered to both white and black
The largely Irish crowds
also subjected persons and institutions linked to the Republican
party to a variety of attacks. The Republican party had an influence
in New York City that reached beyond its relatively small numbers,
a function of the wealth and power of Republican business and civic
leaders who had benefited from the growth of the city as a commercial
center before and during the war and controlled many of the city's
major institutions. The Republican-led federal government started
the war, instituted the hated draft, and expanded Union war aims
to embrace the abolition of slavery. Irish
Catholic workers also
resented the continual efforts of Republican and Protestant reformers
to close saloons and limit drinking in the city's Irish wards.
In lower Manhattan, rioters
attacked and set fire to Horace Greeley's New York Daily Tribune,
the city's most pro-Republican newspaper. Rioters even assaulted
well-dressed pedestrians whom they presumed to be Republicans and
sacked the homes of wealthy citizens, which the crowd assumed must
be owned by Republicans. The crowd also targeted the badly outnumbered
Metropolitan police force, not only because of police efforts to
contain the rioting but also because of the Metropolitans' close
political affiliation with the state Republican party.
Rioters also attacked
city merchants and their stores throughout the four days of upheaval.
While many of the crowd attacks on mercantile establishments were
merely acts of looting-- rioters especially prized weapons, luxury
goods, and liquor--other assaults had more complicated roots. The
looting and destruction of the Brooks Brothers' store in lower Manhattan
on the second day of rioting, for example, reveals a variety of
crowd motivations, both political and sartorial. Brooks Brothers,
a leading clothier of the city's wealthy citizens, also produced
clothing for the Union army under contract to the federal government.
And Brooks Brothers had been involved in a lengthy and very public
labor dispute with four hundred of its tailors during the spring.
In attacking Brooks Brothers, the crowd lashed out at an anti-labor
symbol of the city's wealthy citizenry that also happened to be
a major supporter of the Union war effort.