Hello from the Governor’s Island curating squad of 2014! This year we are working on some really cool material and we would love to share it with you! Since we have started our internship/curatorial work we have been doing a lot of research – about… the Civil War! Yes – it is confirmed that our satellite exhibit this summer will be about the Civil War and New York City!
We have broken down into groups and begun to research different topics – but to get inspiration we took a look through the Luce center. Take a look at one of the coolest and most interesting objects that we found…
Hmmm so what is this? It looks like some sort of sideways barrel with a handle thing on it – maybe a wooden version of the barrel at bingo night. Very close, it is a draft wheel that was used during the Civil War. Although this wheel did not cause rioting (because it is obviously an inanimate object) it certainly stood for a tumultuous and tense time of history.
In the year of 1863 a draft was issued which stated that all male citizens between the ages of twenty and forty-five were “subject to military duty.” Those who could afford to could pay a fee of three hundred dollars and have their names taken out of the lottery. This “loop-hole” to the draft created many internal problems. Upper class males were able to avoid the draft while poorer, typically Irish immigrants, were forced to populate the army.
The working class was forced to shoulder the burden of the war; and the draft was just enough to push them over the edge. Not only were they angered that the wealthy men of the time were able to avoid the draft, but their main source of anger was the lack of blacks being forced into the draft. At the time blacks were not citizens, therefore they were not able to be drafted. For five days they rioted in the streets of New York City. What had initially started as a group of citizens expressing anger and resentment towards the government quickly turned into a race riot.
Ultimately the vicious Draft Riots of New York has become one of the most notable events of the Civil War, the five days of rioting is considered the largest internal insurrection during the war.
It is with artifacts like this that we can connect to history. Something tangible, such as this wheel brings history to life, and the meaning behind the artifact is essential to understanding history. Although the Draft Wheel will not be able to physically be at Governor’s Island this summer, there will certainly be depictions of essential artifacts like this. Stay tuned for our weekly blog!