As a New Yorker, author Kathleen L. Maher takes great interest in the history of her state’s participation in the Civil War. So I asked her to provide some background into the incident she uses for her novella, Bachelor Buttons, releasing on May 1. Welcome, Kathleen!
It’s been 150 years since Civil War battles were fought on American soil. 1863 was considered the high tide of Lee’s Army, and the South never reached the same altitude again after the North’s famous victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg that July 4. But later that same month, in New York City, a violent struggle erupted that few have ever heard about.
After the heavy casualties that year at Chickamauga, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, Lincoln issued a controversial Conscription Act to rebuild the Union army. Every able bodied man from 20-45 had to serve if their number came up in the draft. Every able bodied man that is, except for those wealthy enough to buy their way out. And every able bodied man except for freedmen, who weren’t yet considered citizens.
No exception was given for recently emigrated men who had come to America in hopes of starting a better life, however. Feeling disenfranchised by policies that threatened their already-challenged job outlook, many newly emigrated Irish mistakenly blamed the freed blacks who competed for laboring jobs. The Emancipation Proclamation heightened tension, but the tipping point came with the draft.
On Saturday July 11, the first draft lottery was held in Manhattan, and though peaceful, it struck a spark that would burn like wildfire throughout the borough all week. On Monday, incensed Irishmen set fire to the Provost Marshal’s office. They then attacked the New York Times and several other Republican papers and businesses, looted stores, and even burned a black orphanage. But not all Irish participated in such heinous acts. In fact, in a few neighborhoods, some Irish protected freedmen from the violence. All told, there were hundreds of casualties, up to 150 black people murdered. A dozen black men were lynched from lampposts. Dozens of public buildings, churches, and private properties were burned or damaged. The Draft Riots, also called the Battle of New York City, finally ended when troops were sent up from Gettysburg to restore order.
To commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, Helping Hands Press and Murray Pura have collaborated on Cry of Freedom, a collection of short stories and novellas by 15 different authors. As a part of this series, my debut novella Bachelor Buttons has just released.
About Bachelor Buttons: The daughter of immigrants who fled the Irish Potato Famine, Rose Meehan longs for a better life than the tenements of New York City. Courted by two men–a young doctor who represents material security, and a poor violin instructor who has captured her heart–she must choose between a life of advantage-grabbing or a life of faith. When Manhattan explodes in mob rule following Lincoln’s unpopular draft, the heroic action of one suitor brings provision for Rose’s loved ones, and reveals God’s plan.
Kathleen L. Maher’s novella Bachelor Buttons releases through Helping Hands Press
in May, 2013 as part
of a Civil War sesquicentennial collection. Her Civil War manuscript won the historical category of ACFW’s Genesis contest in 2012. She has finaled in several writing contests since 2009. Represented by Terry Burns of Hartline Literary Agency, Kathleen blogs about New York State history and enjoys reading and writing reviews for historical CBA releases. She and her husband live in a 100-year-old farmhouse in upstate NY with their three children, two rescued Newfoundland dogs and a tuxedo cat.