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


by Barnet Schecter

New York: Walker, 2005. Pp. xiii, 434. Illus., maps, append., notes, biblio., index. $28.00. ISBN:0-8027-1439-0

The Devil?s Own Work is a comprehensive treatment of the New York ?Draft Riots? within the framework of American political and social life before, during, and following the Civil War.

Schecter, author of the well-received The Battle for New York: The City at the Heart of the American Revolution (New York: Walker, 2002), rightly points out that the draft was only the spark that ignited an explosive mixture of ?race, class, and religion? that was exacerbated by political manipulation and ineptitude in high places. Schecter?s sympathies clearly lie with the victimized black citizens of New York, and the other northern cities in which draft resistance erupted into rioting. He also explores the grievances of the city?s Irish immigrants, who suffered under religious and racial bigotry as well, with ample evidence of the vicious anti-Catholicism of some of the notable figures of the abolitionist movement and the state?s Republican establishment, such as the Beechers, Samuel Morse, George Templeton Strong, Horace Greeley, and Thomas Nast.

As part of his investigation of the riots, Schecter examines at the role of supposed agitators and Copperheads, concluding that their influence was exaggerated by both sides for their own ends.

While his discussion of the riots is excellent, his account of events in the war is often characterized by outdated interpretations or mythic events (e.g., Longstreet?s ?slows,? Grant?s ?excessive? casualties during the Overland Campaign, Edmund Ruffin?s ?first shot? at Sumter). But these are minor errors in an otherwise excellent work.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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