U.S. Civil War Draft Riots Lesson Plan

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

With this lesson plan, your students are going to learn about the Draft Riots of 1863. They will then examine this event through visual primary sources, which they will analyze for facts and for bias.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Describe the basic sequence of events in the 1863 Draft Riots
  • Explain the motivations and factors that precipitated the Draft Riots
  • Analyze a visual primary source for information and bias


60-90 minutes

Curriculum Standards


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.


Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.



  • Start class by reviewing what you have learned about the U.S. Civil War.
    • How did the U.S. Civil War begin? What were the main causes of this conflict?
    • What do you think Northerners in 1861 expected the war would be like? What do you think they expected from President Lincoln?
  • Distribute copies of text lesson U.S. Civil War Draft Riots of 1863: Summary & Facts.
  • Divide students into small groups. Students will read this lesson in their groups, with one student reading aloud at a time and switching every paragraph. Using this method, have students read through the sections ''Getting Drafted'' and ''Setting the Scene''. Pause here and have students discuss this information.
    • What is conscription? Have you heard of a draft before? What time period of American history do we usually associate with the draft? How did it go then?
    • Considering some of the major themes of the American Civil War, why might a draft be a touchy issue? How does this connect to debates about the power of the federal government? What other factors contributed to the reaction against this draft?
  • Have students continue reading the lesson in their groups and complete the remaining sections. Discuss this information.
    • How did this riot begin? How did it escalate? How do you think various factors combined to fuel the tension in this riot?
    • How and why did the riot end? Is there anything about this ending that you think continued to fuel people's concerns about the power of the federal government?
    • Why do you think there were no more major riots against the draft after this one? What changed? What did the riot accomplish?
  • You may test student understanding with lesson quiz.

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