In protest of the Enrollment Act and in response to the belief that the Civil War was benefitting a people they despised, white New Yorkers launched a violent protest against the draft and Emancipation. The riots culminated in the destruction of an orphanage for African American children that stood at this location, and many of the children were killed during the riots. Aside from the children in the orphanage, hundreds of other New Yorkers died during the New York City Draft Riots, which remains the largest civil insurrection in American history, but as of 2015, there is still no historic marker related to the draft riots.
The Enrollment Act was enacted March 3, 1863. The act empowered government officials to draft men for service and called for the addition of 300,000 soldiers for the Union Army. However, the law included several exemptions to the draft, such as the ability to hire a substitute or pay a commutation fee. These provisions raised money for the Union Army but also allowed wealthy men to avoid military service. The rioters protested this and other aspects of the draft law, but their anger was specifically directed against African-American civilians.
Protests against the draft and responses to the belief that white men were dying in order to benefit African Americans escalated throughout the spring and summer. Between July 13 and July 16, 1863, protests turned extremely violent. Forcing men into the military through the draft, while allowing more wealthy men to pay a commutation fee or hire a substitute, angered many of New York’s immigrant laborers. New York’s black community became a scapegoat and an easy target. The rioters caused an estimated 119 deaths and $1.5 million in damages. The riots were so severe that the War Department redeployed the Army of the Potomac from the battle against the Confederacy to the streets of New York to restore order. In the aftermath, many African Americans abandoned this part of the city.