The names of eligible men went into the wheel, and if your name was drawn you had to serve in the army for three years—unless you were wealthy, because you could buy your way out by paying $300, about a years wages for a working man. The draft began on July 13, 1863 with wheels like this all over the city. This wheel was used on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. At one office an angry mob hurled bricks, set fire to the building, and began one of the worst urban riots in the nation's history. All over New York, thousands of men and women rampaged for four days, tearing up railroad tracks, cutting telegraph lines, torching churches and the homes of abolitionists and preventing firefighters from putting out the fires. Over 100 people died in the riots, including African Americans who were lynched. Many of the rioters were working class and poor people who attacked the homes and churches of rich people, angry that they could escape the draft. And they attacked African Americans because they thought that white workers were being asked to fight for the freedom of blacks, who would inevitably compete with them for jobs, and because African-Americans were exempt from the draft. This Draft Wheel is the only one known to have survived the riots, unsmashed and unburned. It was donated to the Historical Society in 1865 with over a hundred handwritten cards still inside, each card representing a man whose name was never called for the draft. Look closely and you can read their names, addresses and occupations. Many of the names show that the men were immigrants.

This simple, well-designed drum of polished wood touched off a riot. It's a Draft Wheel, used during the Civil War. By 1863 the Union Army was running out of volunteer soldiers, so the government announced the country's first draft.

Creative: Tronvig Group