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One part of O'Connor's narrative—the progress of the Hub's soldiers through four unexpected years of agony—is enlivened by excerpts from contemporary diaries and letters, but covers the same ground as regimental and Army of the Potomac histories. Fortunately, he also spotlights how four local groups, often at loggerheads in the antebellum period, rallied behind the Union after the attack on Fort Sumter. Yankee businessmen, once conservative, not only lent their financial support and civic influence to the mobilization effort, but joined former abolitionist foes like William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips in pressing Abraham Lincoln for emancipation. Women witnessed the end of their monopoly of the high-skill dressmaking trade, as a result of innovations such as the sewing machine, yet began shedding their professional subjection by becoming nurses and by lobbying for humanitarian causes, thus honing skills they would later employ as suffragettes. Irish Catholic immigrants showed courage in war that mitigated the antipathy of Brahmins; the Irish grew more attached to America and gained economic stability via new jobs then opening up. Still, although Boston's African-Americans cheered the 54th Massachusetts Regiment and slavery's destruction, they remained, at war's end, in segregated neighborhoods that limited their political and educational opportunities for another long century. O'Connor could have made this a more useful contribution to Civil War studies by reducing battlefield summaries in favor of exploring how the wartime economy redrew boundaries of class, ethnicity, race, and gender. But he achieves his ambition to show how the war "disrupted [Bostonians'] homes, altered their work habits, reshaped political alliances, [and] transformed their ideas."
An estimable contribution to Civil War, urban, and reform- movement history.
“This is an indispensable book for any serious student of the Civil War.”—David Herbert Donald
“This is a fine addition to the growing literature about the home fronts in the Civil War.”—James M. McPherson
“[Thomas O’Connor] captures these tumultuous times with vital portraits of preachers and workmen, copperheads and abolitionists. O’Connor has again done Boston the favor of resurrecting its riotous and vivid past.”—Martin F. Nolan, Boston Globe