At the height of the Civil War, word spreads through the poorest quarters of New York City that a military draft is about to be implemented -- a draft from which any rich man's son can buy an exemption. The outrage this inspires escalates into the worst urban conflagration in American history.
Down in the waterfront slum of Paradise Alley, three women -- Deirdre Dolan O'Kane, Ruth Dove, and Maddy Boyle -- struggle with their private fears as they wait for the storm to descend upon them. Deirdre, devastated by the news that her husband, Tom, has been wounded in Gettysburg, must turn for comfort and aid to two women she has always judged as morally depraved -- Ruth, married to an ex-slave, and Maddy, a hard-living prostitute.
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