Between July 13 and July 16, 1863, shortly after the Union victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, riots broke out in New York City. On March 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Enrollment Act of Conscription, subjecting 300,000 men in the Union to a mandatory and random draft. Wealthy citizens, however, could pay a “commutation” fee of $300.00 to guarantee their removal from the random draft. The commutation fee brooded resentment among the poor populations of major northeastern cities, particularly those of Irish immigrants, who competed for low paying jobs with African-Americans.
On July 13, the names of the draftees were announced in New York City. Before long, a huge mob of up to 50,000 New Yorkers rioted, looting business, destroying buildings, and targeting the city’s African-American population. The rioting lasted three days and resulted in the torching of an African-American orphanage and church and the murder of dozens if not hundreds of people (the exact number of deaths has never been documented and estimates range from several dozen to up to one thousand). The local police were powerless to stop the mob. President Lincoln was forced to deploy Federal troops to restore order to the city. The New York City Draft Riots represent the largest and most violent civil insurrection (other than the Civil War itself) in American history.