Charles Editors

The History and Legacy of America’s Most Unusual Riots in the Late 19th Century

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Riots are an aspect of American history that do not show up much in history textbooks, except for famous disturbances like the Boston Tea Party or the infamous New York City draft riots of 1863. The reality is that the country has experienced thousands of riots, from early colonial times through to the present, and the issues leading up to some of the riots may seem quite peculiar to modern Americans. Americans have rioted over who was the best actor, and to free pirates from jail. Americans have rioted against bad working conditions, for the 8-hour day, against immigrants, for and against civil rights. Americans have had riots over eggnog, which Bible to use in schools, and when their favorite sports teams have won, and lost.
The riots discussed in this work are just as weird as any others in American history. The 1857 Dead Rabbits Riot featured gang violence in New York City, but it could only be understood by knowing about a previous police riot, and that for a time there were two separate police forces in New York City. The police were as apt to club each other as they were to club rioting gang members.
The 1863 Richmond Bread Riot was unusual in that the riot consisted of angry women, many of whom worked not only in Confederate war industries, sewing uniforms, but also making ammunition and working at the Tredegar Iron Works. Needless to say, that doesn’t fit so well with the Southern belle stereotype.
The comically named Battle of Fort Fizzle was a combination of riot and rebellion. It took place in rural Ohio and was an act of resistance against the severe 1863 Conscription Act. Men could pay $300 to purchase an exemption or hire a substitute, and poor men who couldn’t do so understandably didn’t like the law. A thousand gathered in a sort of fort and faced off against veteran troops with fixed bayonets, leading to a surreal confrontation.
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