“The Devil’s Own Work” by Barnet Schecter

Here’s Barnet Schecter speaking in 2009 at the US Army Heritage and Education Center as part of their Perspectives in Military History series.  His presentation is based on his book about the July 1863 Draft Riots in New York City, The Devil’s Own Work.  He’s not the most scintillating speaker, and the video has some focusing problems, but the information is still pretty good.

“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 more complex and far-reaching, exposing fault lines of race and class still present in America today. Barnet Schecter argues that 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–of slavery versus freedom for African Americans and the scope of federal authority over states and individuals–that had torn the nation apart. The riots’ aftermath foreshadowed the compromises that would bedevil Reconstruction and delay the process of integration for the next 100 years.”

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