Gangs of New York:


The New York


Draft Riots



The Civil War draft riots protested unfair Union conscription. The Union Conscription Act of Mar. 3, 1863, provided that all able-bodied males between the ages of 20 & 45 were liable to military service.  But a drafted man who furnished an acceptable substitute or paid the government $300 was excused.



A federal call for Draftees, signed by President Abraham Lincoln,  was first issued for Massachusetts on July 1 1863  (See Exhibit)

… and then for New York on July 4, 1863.

The first selection fof draftee names was made in New York on July 11 and riots started the same day … lasting until July 13.



The unpopular legislation caused nationwide riots that were most serious in New York City. Many people in New York sympathized with the South. The "substitute clause" angered the poor and the laborers, mostly Irish-Americans who overpowered the police and militia, attacked and seized the Second Ave. armory containing rifles and guns, and set fire to buildings.  Abolitionists and blacks were especially singled out for attack. Many Blacks were beaten to death, and a black orphanage was burned, leaving hundreds of children homeless. Business ceased, and robbing and looting flourished. Since the conscription provision that allowed the rich to buy exemption was especially resented, the Tammany city government voted to pay the necessary $300 for anyone who might be drafted. Meanwhile, New York troops from the invalid regiment (!!) were rushed in, and with the aid of the police, militia, naval forces, and cadets from West Point, they succeeded in restoring order. President Lincoln supported a Democratic-dominated commission that investigated the draft in New York and suggested a court test of its constitutionality (which never came about). In August the draft was peacefully resumed. The privilege of buying one’s way out of service was limited (1864) to conscientious objectors. The riots had inflicted property damage of $1.5 million, and it has been estimated that total casualties could have been as low as well under 100 or as high as 1,000.


The newly released movie, "Gangs of New York" takes place almost exclusively, unfortunately, in the small "tough" area of the slums. However the last few minutes does give an exaggerated portrayal of these historic Draft riots.