Devil's Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America

Devil's Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America

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by Barnet Schecter
     
 

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On July 4, 1863, Robert E. Lee and his Confederate army retreated in tatters from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and the Union began its march to ultimate victory in the Civil War. Nine days later, the largest riots in American history broke out on the streets of New York City, nearly destroying in four days the financial, industrial, and commercial hub of the nation.… See more details below

Overview

On July 4, 1863, Robert E. Lee and his Confederate army retreated in tatters from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and the Union began its march to ultimate victory in the Civil War. Nine days later, the largest riots in American history broke out on the streets of New York City, nearly destroying in four days the financial, industrial, and commercial hub of the nation. Northerners suspected a Confederate plot, carried out by local "Copperhead" sympathizers; however, the reality was much more complex and far-reaching, exposing fault lines of race and class still present in America today. The riots erupted over the same polarizing issues-of slavery versus freedom for African Americans and the scope of federal authority over states and individuals-that had torn the nation apart. Drawing on the experiences of newspapermen and politicians, soldiers and Citizens, Barnet Schecter sheds new light on the Civil War era and Reconstruction, and on the history of protest and reform in America.

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Editorial Reviews

Alison McCulloch
Schecter throws a wide net in his detailed account of the riots, setting the violence amid the racism, political corruption and brutal inequities of the time, looking not only at what inspired the rebellion, but also at what it left in its wake: a seven-year exodus of black residents and a political climate ripe for the "ongoing counterrevolution against Reconstruction."
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
The 1863 draft riots in New York City, the bloodiest in the nation's history, emerge as a microcosm of the convoluted and contradictory politics of the Civil War era in this absorbing study. Historian Schecter (The Battle for New York: The City at the Heart of the American Revolution) pens with a gripping account of the five days of rioting. But he also probes beneath the turmoil to examine the ethnic, religious and class conflicts that made the confrontation so explosive. The rioters, largely working-class Irish Catholics, vented their fury at a draft law that exempted those who could pay $300, at the city's WASP Republican business elite and, inflamed by racist demagoguery, at African-Americans with whom they competed for low-wage jobs and status in America's racial hierarchy. Schecter contends that these dynamics played out nationally in the gradual demise of Reconstruction, thus setting the stage for racial and labor conflict in the century to come. Copiously researched and highlighted with a wealth of period commentary, his lucid narrative colorfully recreates a historical watershed and offers a rich exploration of the Civil War's unfinished business. 40 b&w photos, maps, not seen by PW. Agent, Sabine Hrechdakian. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
For several days in mid-July 1863 New York City, white working-class, mainly Irish Catholic mobs rebelled against the government's first military draft, which allowed those capable of paying the $300 exemption to avoid conscription. Before being brutally suppressed, rioters caused great destruction in the city, battling police and soldiers, torching rich Republican Protestants' homes, and seeking ethnic cleansing of the city's African Americans. Like historian Iver Bernstein's The New York City Draft Riots, independent scholar Schecter's (The Battle for New York) book explores immediate antebellum and postbellum economic and social relationships that buttressed antidraft riots in New York and other cities. But building upon more recent scholarship and his own archival research, Schecter presents a gripping story, clearly and accurately centering the riots in the context of political power relationships: New York City Democratic Party leaders, with pro-Confederate sympathies, played upon class, ethnic, and religious animosities and antiblack racism to mobilize white working people in support of their party's objectives in reshaping the national agenda, first for the Civil War and later for Reconstruction. An appendix offers a walking tour of Civil War New York, for which additional details are provided via the book's eponymous web site. Highly recommended for public and undergraduate libraries.-Charles L. Lumpkins, Pennsylvania State Univ., State College Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
"The most lethal urban riot in American history, the New York City draft riots in July 1863 were not an isolated event. Barnet Schecter provides the most detailed narrative of the riots, and also places them within the national context of the Civil War and the local context of ethnic, racial, and political conflict during the decades from the 1840s to the 1870s. The experience of New York's African American community receives more attention in The Devil's Own Work than in any other study."—James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom

"An acute study of perhaps New York City's most barbarous episode...Schecter throws a wide net in his detailed account of the riots, setting the violence amid the racism, political corruption and brutal inequities of the time, looking not only at what inspired the rebellion, but also at what it left in its wake."—Alison McCulloch, New York Times Book Review

"A coruscating chronicle of this shameful episode in American history. He might well have contented himself with a blow-by-blow account, but he also lays bare the depth of pro-Southern "copperhead" sentiments in the North—in New York City in particular—and the persistence of such sentiments after the war."—Fergus M. Bordewich, Wall Street Journal

"A fascinating look at the explosive witches' brew of resentment and rage that ignited deadly Civil War draft riots and which continued to haunt the nation for another hundred years thereafter. It's all here in this thought-provoking and meticulously rendered work: race and class, protest and reform, and a myriad of colorful voices."—Jay Winik, author of April 1865: The Month That Saved America

"Schecter's riveting narrative places the violence, dramatized by Martin Scorcese's "Gangs of New York," in a national context, as a microcosm of forces that deferred integration for a century."—USA Today

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780802714398
Publisher:
Walker & Company
Publication date:
12/27/2005
Pages:
448
Product dimensions:
6.28(w) x 9.46(h) x 1.53(d)

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