THE NEW YORK CITY DRAFT RIOTS: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War by Iver Bernstein

THE NEW YORK CITY DRAFT RIOTS: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Here, Bernstein (History/Washington Univ.) offers an impressive chronicle of a particularly black chapter of the Civil War--the New York City draft riots of July 1863, the bloodiest riots (105 dead) in American history. As the Civil War reached its midpoint, many Union soldiers, discouraged by the pace and the carnage, served out their duty contracts and opted for returning to their homes--prompting the federal government to institute the first draft in the country's history. But, particularly in N.Y.C., where the contrasts between rich and poor were most pronounced, those most liable for the draft--the working poor--quickly rebelled, seeing the draft as an instrument for Lincoln's Republican Party to maintain its ascendancy, and as a concerted effort by the government to transfer the burden of the war to the poor. An ugly racial dimension also arose, since the Conscription Act exluded blacks, thus inflaming the white poor who saw the draft law as degrading the status of white labor. The placement of the city's draft lotteries in the heart of the uptown tenement and shanty district was the straw that broke the camel's back. Though the riot was ultimately quelled by five regiments rushed north from Gettysburg, Bernstein argues that the outcome was by no means assured (e.g., had Lee not retreated south from Gettysburg, the feds might not have had the might available to end the riots). A well-documented work that should stand as the definitive account of this civil siege.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press