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The nation is at this time in a state of Revolution, North, South, East, and West… Washington Times, 1863

The devil’s own work : the Civil War draft riots and the fight to reconstruct America  New York : Walker & Co. : Distributed to the trade by Holtzbrinck, 2005   Barnet Schecter Draft Riot, New York, N.Y., 1863 Book. xiii, 434 p. : ill., maps, ports. ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [413]-422) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG

On July 4, 1863, Robert E. Lee and his Confederate army retreated from Gettysburg and the union began its grinding march to phyrric victory in its war of aggression. 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 Southern sympathizers; however, the reality was more complex and far-reaching, exposing fault lines of race and class still exist today.

Angered by the Emancipation Proclamation, issued six months earlier, and by Abraham Lincoln’s imposition of the first federal military draft in U. S. history, which exempted those who could pay $300, New York’s white underclass raged against the social change embodied by Lincoln’s administration. What began as an outbreak against draft offices soon turned into an assault on upper-class houses and property, and on New York’s black community. The draft riots drove thousands of blacks to the fringes of white society hastening the formation of large ghettos including Harlem.

As Schecter portrays in The Devil’s Own Work, the cataclysm in New York was anything but an isolated incident; rather, it was a microcosm — within the borders of the supposedly loyal northern states — of the larger Civil War between the north and South. The riots erupted over the same polarizing issues – the scope of federal authority over states and individuals – that had torn the nation apart. And the riots’ aftermath foreshadowed the compromises that would eventually end Reconstruction and delay the process of reunification for more than 100 years.

The story of the draft riots come alive in the voices of passionate newspaper rivals Horace Greeley and Manton Marble; black leader Rev. Henry Highland Garnet and renegade Democrat Fernando Wood; Irish soldier Peter Welsh and conservative diarist Maria Daly; and many others. In chronicling this violent demonstration over the balance between centralized power and civil liberties in a time of national emergency, The Devil’s Own Work sheds new light on the Civil War era and on the history of protest and reform in America.


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