The Draft Riots of 1863 are regarded as the deadliest racially incensed insurrection in American history, aside from the Civil War. Image from Library of Congress
A number of factors led to the worst series of street riots in American History. With the Civil War well underway and the Union army strapped for supplies and soldiers, draft officers were forced to make a difficult decision in New York, whose economy was still tightly connected with the South and whose population contained a large number of working class Irish citizens and families who resented the laws that allowed wealthier men to circumvent the upcoming drafts. What followed the second drawing of the Union Army draft in New York was four days of destruction cutting a swathe across the entire island, ending only when President Abraham Lincoln ordered military force against it.
The riots reached far and wide throughout 19th century Manhattan; here are seven notable spots, famous now for their fighting, or their surprising lack of fighting.
1. The Provost Marshal’s Office – 3rd Ave and 47th Street
152 years ago, July 13th was also a Monday. At 10 am on that Monday, the day of the second drawing of draft numbers (the first had progressed two days earlier without incident), 500 angry protestors, led by members of the volunteer fire company of Engine 33, stormed the 9th District provost marshal’s office at 3rd Avenue and 47th Street. Very quickly, what began as simple protest turned into an all-out riot. The office building was burned to the ground. Responding firefighters’ vehicles were destroyed, their horses killed, and telegraph lines were cut to prevent further notification of the police. Four days of riots were to start on this busy street corner. Today, the intersection is occupied by apartment buildings and office towers.