The New York Times
Devil's Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct Americaby Barnet Schecter
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.
The New York Times
“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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Meet the Author
Historian Barnet Schecter is the author of The Battle for New York: The City at the Heart of the American Revolution. He lives in New York City.
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Barnet Schecter¿s magisterial study of the five day insurrection that erupted in New York City, ¿The Devil¿s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America¿, is one of those historical accounts that illuminate more than just the times the work is set in. By providing a multilayered analysis to the issues that marked this breakdown of social order, and through a deft, perfect-pitch, use of basic sources, Mr. Schecter lets the contemporary voices of those living through these events and, at times, driving them, speak for themselves. The result is a tableau of compelling immediacy that is rarely seen in a historical study. Some of the expected characters are here: Lincoln, Seward and Lee, etc. but it is the less well-known characters of that era that permit the real force of the book to be felt. By knitting together and contrasting the recorded dialogue of the restive ferment of the slums of New York and Boston with the tense interchanges originating in the mahoganied board-rooms of these same cities Mr. Schecter recreates the social tensions of these turbulent times. With what seems to be an unerring sense of how the character of a subject will define for him the peculiar social reality that he may act in, we meet figures who by virtue of the author¿s skill and sympathy are never rendered as simple, one-dimensional heroes or villains. Landmark works in any field of study require that a sense of scope, sensitivity and balance be observed throughout the effort. But such traits alone cannot mark it as memorable. For this the electricity of personal exchanges in statehouses, boardrooms and back alleys must be captured in their raw force and then be woven in into a narrative that flows with seeming effortlessness, from it its own momentum. This is what Mr. Schecter has accomplished.
Over the years I've read many Civil War books that have mentoned the New York Draft Riots,but have never gone into great detail about the event until now.By July 1863 the fate of the Union hung in the balance.While an anxious Pres.Lincoln and a nation awaited word on the titanic clash that was taking place in a town called Gettysburg,military officials were gearing up for the draft.Battles at Antietam,Fredericksburg,and Chancellorsville had depleted the Union Army's ranks.The Irish already weary of the war (The Irish Brigade had suffered grievous losses at Antitam and Fredericksburg)were further enraged by the $300 it cost to buy a replacement.They also resented the fact that their jobs would go to the blacks while they were off fighting.It only takes a few to roil the masses,which is what exactly took place.Three days of rioting left hundreds dead and wounded,it took an army unit returning from Gettysburg to help put down the insurrection.The book records many of the atrocities committed by the Irish mobs towards the blacks (lynching,dismemberment)but also documents the valor of many Irish towards the blacks.The burning of the Colored Orphanage comes to mind.This book can be read by both historian or someone who doesn't know much about the Civil War and wants to learn more. A solid addition to any Civil War library.
Barnet Schecter's new book is much more than an in-depth examination of one of America's most deadly civil disturbances, it is a tour de force rendering of the many problems the newly 'Re-United' States suffered through during the entire Reconstruction Era (1865-1877). Schecter's exhaustive look at the real causes behind the July 1863 'Draft' Riots is certain to make this book the definitive account of those several tragic days yet, he doesn't end his compelling story when authorities finally -- with the help of Federal troops -- brought the violence to a halt on July 17, 1863. Schecter traces the post-riot effects that the economic, racial and political forces unleashed during the riots had on the attempts to 'reconstruct' the South and achieve social justice for all Americans during the Reconstruction Era. The research is impeccable, the narrative is compelling and the entire book is an outstanding 'window on the past,' chronicling an entire era. Supplementing this 'must-have' book is a delightful appendix, the author's 'Walking Tour Guide to Civil War New York' that readers may use to discover the surprising history of that era still to be found in America's greatest city. I enthusiastically recommend Barnet Schecter's outstanding new book, as well as his previous book, 'The Battle for New York,' an outstanding account of Washington's battles from Long Island/Brooklyn to Ft. Washington during the Revolutionary War in 1776. Like 'Civil War Draft Riots,' Schecter has provided an informative and very interesting walking tour guide for 'The Battle for New York' (also available at Barnes & Noble).