July 13, 1863, dawned a miserable hot, muggy morning in New York. Inside a four-story building at 677 Third Ave., military officers were moving ahead with the nation’s first draft, authorized by Congress and ordered by the Lincoln administration to fill the depleted ranks on the battlefields. It was the second day of pulling names at random from a hand-cranked drum, and it would lead to the deadliest riots the country has ever seen. In the often glamorized accounts of Civil War lore, this unsavory episode goes mostly unmentioned.
The officers had a quota to fill of 1,500 men who didn’t want to go to war. There weren’t enough volunteers for the Army to fill the holes left by the thousands killed and the hundreds deserting.
Only the rich could escape, by paying $300.
Aside from this blatant exception, great care was taken to make the process look fair. The names were gathered by assistant provost marshals who had visited homes and factories during the past month looking for eligible white men between the ages of 20 and 45. It was a tough job. Some marshals had been attacked, and almost all had been lied to.