CIVIL WAR BOSTON by Thomas H. O’Connor


Home Front and Battlefield
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 In this informative microcosmic study of a city during four crucial years, O'Connor (The Boston Irish, 1995) describes how the Civil War's battlefield upheavals were matched by quieter revolutions in metropolitan society, commerce, and politics. One part of O'Connor's narrative--the progress of the Hub's soldiers through four unexpected years of agony--is enlivened by excerpts from contemporary diaries and letters, but covers the same ground as regimental and Army of the Potomac histories. Fortunately, he also spotlights how four local groups, often at loggerheads in the antebellum period, rallied behind the Union after the attack on Fort Sumter. Yankee businessmen, once conservative, not only lent their financial support and civic influence to the mobilization effort, but joined former abolitionist foes like William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips in pressing Abraham Lincoln for emancipation. Women witnessed the end of their monopoly of the high-skill dressmaking trade, as a result of innovations such as the sewing machine, yet began shedding their professional subjection by becoming nurses and by lobbying for humanitarian causes, thus honing skills they would later employ as suffragettes. Irish Catholic immigrants showed courage in war that mitigated the antipathy of Brahmins; the Irish grew more attached to America and gained economic stability via new jobs then opening up. Still, although Boston's African-Americans cheered the 54th Massachusetts Regiment and slavery's destruction, they remained, at war's end, in segregated neighborhoods that limited their political and educational opportunities for another long century. O'Connor could have made this a more useful contribution to Civil War studies by reducing battlefield summaries in favor of exploring how the wartime economy redrew boundaries of class, ethnicity, race, and gender. But he achieves his ambition to show how the war ``disrupted [Bostonians'] homes, altered their work habits, reshaped political alliances, [and] transformed their ideas.'' An estimable contribution to Civil War, urban, and reform- movement history. (illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Dec. 5th, 1997
ISBN: 1-55553-318-3
Page count: 352pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1997


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