Draft Riots

By January 1863 it was clear that state governors in the north could not raise enough troops for the Union Army. On 3rd March, the federal government passed the Enrollment Act. This was the first example of conscription or compulsory military service in United States history. The decision to allow men to avoid the draft by paying $300 to hire a substitute, resulted in the accusation that this was a rich man's war and a poor man's fight.

The Enrollment Act resulted in Draft Riots in several American cities. There was heavy loss of life in Detroit but the worst rioting took place in New York City in July, 1863. The mob set fire to an African American church and orphanage, and attacked the office of the New York Tribune. Started by Irish immigrants, the main victims were African Americans and activists in the anti-slavery movement. The Union Army was sent in and had to open fire on the rioters in order to gain control of the city. By the time the riot was over, nearly a 1,000 people had been killed or wounded.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Samuel Gompers and his family emigrated to the United States in the summer of 1863.

The Cigarmakers' Society Union of England, whose members were frequently unemployed and suffering, established an emigration fund - that is, instead of paying the members unemployment benefits, a sum of money was granted to help passage from England to the United States. The sum was not large, between five and ten pounds. This was a very practical method which benefited both the emigrants and those who remained by decreasing the number seeking work in their trade. After much discussion and consultation father decided to go to the New World. He had friends in New York City and a brother-in-law who proceeded us by six months to whom father wrote we were coming.

There came busy days in which my mother gathered together and packed our household belongings. Father secured passage on the City of London, a sailing vessel which left Chadwick Basin, June 10, 1863, and reached Castle Garden, July 29, 1863, after seven weeks and one day.

Our ship was the old type of sailing vessel. We had none of the modern comforts of travel. The sleeping quarters were cramped and we had to had to do our own cooking in the gallery of the boat. Mother had provided salt beef and other preserved meats and fish, dried vegetables, and red pickled cabbage which I remember most vividly. We were all seasick except father, mother the longest of all. Father had to do all the cooking in the meanwhile and take care of the sick. There was a Negro man employed on the boat who was very kind in many ways to help father. Father did not know much about cooking.

When we reached New York we landed at the old Castle Garden of lower Manhattan, now the Aquarium, where we were met by relatives and friends. As we were standing in a little group, the Negro who had befriended father on the trip, came off the boat. Father was grateful and as a matter of courtesy, shook hands with him and gave him his blessing. Now it happened that the draft and negro rights were convulsing New York City. Only that very day Negroes had been chased and hanged by mobs. The onlookers, not understanding, grew very much excited over father's shaking hands with this Negro. A crowd gathered round and threatened to hang both father and the Negro to the lamp-post.