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.
Now those names, written on slips of paper, rolled tightly and secured with rubber bands, were being drawn by a blindfolded clerk from what the New York Herald called the “wheel of misfortune.”
Outside, the crowd began to build into the thousands, filling Third Avenue and spreading into the side streets. There were men who had taken a day off work to protest the draft as well as others who didn’t like the idea of the federal intervention into their lives. But there was another element, mostly Irish, who constituted 25 percent of the city’s population, who took advantage of the draft issue to have a protest. Few had a stake in the draft controversy; the marshals had little success in finding candidates in the tough Five Points neighborhood. The men did, however, have serious gripes about finding jobs and feeling they had to compete with African Americans, who would work for less. The men, as well as women and children who followed along, came armed with paving stones, bricks and iron pipes.
“A ragged, coatless, heterogeneously weaponed army” was how journalist Joel Tyler Headley described them.
Up front, facing off against a thin line of police officers, who stood with their backs against the door, wooden clubs at the ready, were the firefighters of the Black Joke company, one of the city’s many volunteer companies. These linebacker-size men loved to brawl as much as put out a fire. Their chief’s name had been drawn on the first day of the lottery, and they had come to save him from the Army by destroying the draft machinery and records.
When someone fired a pistol into the air at 10:30 a.m., the mob behind the firefighters starting throwing stones and other missiles through the windows. Then the Black Jokers shoved their way forward, pushing past police and roaring through the doors and into the offices. The mob piled in behind them.
The provost marshal had just enough time to shove the enrollment log into an iron safe, lock it and then run for the back door along with the other draft administrators. The police, hugely outnumbered, followed quickly.