Only 10 days after the Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg, New York City became embroiled in the largest popular insurrections in American history.
The incident began on the morning of July 13, 1863, when hundreds of young men poured into the streets to protest the federal draft lottery.
New York was deeply divided over the Civil War, and many viewed the conscription law—which excluded blacks and allowed wealthy men to buy their way out of serving for $300—as a blatant civil rights violation.
The demonstration quickly turned violent when the mob stormed the draft office and beat the city’s police superintendent to a bloody pulp. As the protestors’ ranks swelled with armed malcontents, the men marched through Manhattan and began ransacking and burning the homes and offices of prominent draft supporters and other wealthy elites.
The bedlam would continue for four days, as rioters looted businesses, torched buildings and brawled with police and National Guardsmen from behind makeshift barricades.
Convinced that freed blacks were a threat to their livelihood, rioters also beat and lynched several black men, demolished the homes of others and even set a black children’s orphanage ablaze.
Finally, on June 16, some 4,000 federal troops marched into the city and put the uprising down by force.
While the draft would resume only a month later, the riots still left a devastating mark on New York.
All told, the incident claimed the lives of more than 100 people and caused millions of dollars in property damage.