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The Devil's Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America Hardcover – December 27, 2005

4.4 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

When fireman Peter Masterson led a mob's attack on a federal draft office, producing the first murders of New York City's 1863 riot, he ignited social tinder that was not exclusive to New York in mid-nineteenth-century America. Historian Schecter backgrounds his thorough account of the tumult with social disorders that frequently occurred elsewhere. To existing social resentments, particularly of Irish immigrants toward economic competition from blacks, the Civil War added its combustibles, for New York was not stoutly Unionist. Peace Democrats dominated its politics; its business class sympathized with the South; and its Copperhead newspapers denounced the war and the draft. These factors affected the course of events that Schecter masterfully narrates. From Masterson's initial incitement to the frenzy's subsidence several days and hundreds of deaths later, the author moves seamlessly between the conflagration on the street and the frantic attempts of authorities to quell the mayhem, and explains the affair's ramifications on the Reconstruction era. An excellent encapsulation of the war's social context in the North. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books; First Edition edition (December 27, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802714390
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802714398
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #340,261 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Well, I'm only on page 110, but I couldn't resist being the first reader reviewer (disclosure: Barnet and I went to school together). This is a highly engaging and detailed account of the urban paroxysm of 1863, but it's more than that. Having chronicled the siege of New York during the Revolutionary War in his first book, Schecter has turned to the second of the city's three major conflagrations (the third being of course 9/11, with the nearly bloodless English victory over the Dutch in 1664 not really counting) and has produced an essential addition to any self-respecting shelf on the world's greatest city.

Many people these days may have formed their main impressions of the riots from the last scenes of Martin Scorsese's film "Gangs of New York." The reality given here is quite different but even more shocking. And although "The Devil's Own Work" is similarly peopled by colorful and often grotesque characters, its mood is if anything more like Luc Sante's books, or like the original "Gangs" by Herbert Asbury. More importantly, Schecter's book is incisive and very readable military history. One of the book's most thoughtful features is a "walking tour" appendix which points out almost all the key locations in the text, some of which are still enough like their 1864 selves to give you a touch of the time-traveler's shiver -- or is it more of a prescient apprehension that events very much like these could easily happen here again?
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Format: Hardcover
This bit of American history was unknown to me until I read this book. That alone made it worthwhile. Why it remains under-reported is unclear, but anyone who wants to expand their knowledge of the Civil War beyond the Ken Burns basics should grab this book.

Especially interesting were the descriptions of living conditions in New York, the rabble-rousing, solicitous nature of democratic politicians and the history of urban violence. Many will find irony in the fact that at that time, the Republican party was considered socially liberal and had the support on New York's newspapers.

The only fault I can find with this book is its sometime tedious treatment of minor events and details of the week-long riot. The reader can easily fix that by skipping pages and quickly get caught up in the flow of events. The immensity of detail makes that easy.
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Format: Hardcover
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 on amazon).
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Format: Hardcover
The Devil's Own Work by Barnet Schecter is a highly informative book on the New York City Draft Riots of July 1863. In addition, he focuses on the events leading up to and resulted after the riots, who some of the participants were, and what legacy this period of American history has left. The subtitle also points out that the Reconstruction period is the other main focus of his book, which he believes began with the Emancipation Proclamation.

The first part of the book seems a bit disjointed at times as he tries to discuss so many events occurring around the same time frame of the New York riots, as well as previous events that led up to the Civil War and the growing racial and class tensions that would most notably erupt in New York City. Schecter properly gives us this context to view the events leading up to the riots as well as events playing out in the national crisis. We get a brief discussion of the military campaigns between the Union armies and Lee's forces, a history of events that led up to the Civil War and the growing class differences that were emerging in many urban settings like New York. Some of these periods and events he includes are Andrew Jackson's attack on the bank and the rise of capitalism, the wave of immigrants coming into New York, the birth of the Republican party and the growing divisions in the Democratic party, and so forth.

Schecter is effective in showing us the divisions between the politics playing out in the North during the war.
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