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As the United States marks the 150th anniversary of our defining national drama, 1861 presents a gripping and original account of how the Civil War began. 1861 is an epic of courage and heroism beyond the battlefields. Early in that fateful year, a second American revolution unfolded, inspiring a new generation to reject their parents’ faith in compromise and appeasement, t As the United States marks the 150th anniversary of our defining national drama, 1861 presents a gripping and original account of how the Civil War began. 1861 is an epic of courage and heroism beyond the battlefields. Early in that fateful year, a second American revolution unfolded, inspiring a new generation to reject their parents’ faith in compromise and appeasement, to do the unthinkable in the name of an ideal. It set Abraham Lincoln on the path to greatness and millions of slaves on the road to freedom. The book introduces us to a heretofore little-known cast of Civil War heroes—among them an acrobatic militia colonel, an explorer’s wife, an idealistic band of German immigrants, a regiment of New York City firemen, a community of Virginia slaves, and a young college professor who would one day become president. Adam Goodheart takes us from the corridors of the White House to the slums of Manhattan, from the mouth of the Chesapeake to the deserts of Nevada, from Boston Common to Alcatraz Island, vividly evoking the Union at this moment of ultimate crisis and decision.


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As the United States marks the 150th anniversary of our defining national drama, 1861 presents a gripping and original account of how the Civil War began. 1861 is an epic of courage and heroism beyond the battlefields. Early in that fateful year, a second American revolution unfolded, inspiring a new generation to reject their parents’ faith in compromise and appeasement, t As the United States marks the 150th anniversary of our defining national drama, 1861 presents a gripping and original account of how the Civil War began. 1861 is an epic of courage and heroism beyond the battlefields. Early in that fateful year, a second American revolution unfolded, inspiring a new generation to reject their parents’ faith in compromise and appeasement, to do the unthinkable in the name of an ideal. It set Abraham Lincoln on the path to greatness and millions of slaves on the road to freedom. The book introduces us to a heretofore little-known cast of Civil War heroes—among them an acrobatic militia colonel, an explorer’s wife, an idealistic band of German immigrants, a regiment of New York City firemen, a community of Virginia slaves, and a young college professor who would one day become president. Adam Goodheart takes us from the corridors of the White House to the slums of Manhattan, from the mouth of the Chesapeake to the deserts of Nevada, from Boston Common to Alcatraz Island, vividly evoking the Union at this moment of ultimate crisis and decision.

30 review for 1861: The Civil War Awakening

  1. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    I would consider myself a Civil War enthusiast. I read books about the war; watch movies and documentaries about the war; and I love visiting the battlefields, though one invariably finds that they are either fast-disappearing due to development, or so cluttered with bronze cannon and statuary that it is impossible to imagine what took place (and sometimes, you find both these things). Admittedly, my interest has always been the interest of a ten year-old boy chasing his brother around with a ca I would consider myself a Civil War enthusiast. I read books about the war; watch movies and documentaries about the war; and I love visiting the battlefields, though one invariably finds that they are either fast-disappearing due to development, or so cluttered with bronze cannon and statuary that it is impossible to imagine what took place (and sometimes, you find both these things). Admittedly, my interest has always been the interest of a ten year-old boy chasing his brother around with a cap gun while wearing a blue kepi. That is, I’ve always tended to focus on the “war” half of the Civil War equation, while mostly ignoring the “civil” side of things. Sure, the causes of the war are important, as was the financing of the war, and the demographic shifts it caused, and the changes in law and technology and society that ensued. But the battles are the fun stuff. I mean, when it comes down to a choice between a discussion of Lincoln’s authority to suspend habeas corpus or Pickett’s Charge – well, it’s really not a choice at all. I’ll choose cold steel every time. Thus, it’s a good thing that a book like Adam Goodheart’s 1861: A Civil War Awakening exists. It is a book without battles or bloodshed. Its scope, as the title asserts, is the first year of the Civil War, a year that saw only one major conflict (the First Battle of Bull Run, which took place in July 1861 and is not covered). Goodheart is not interested in military strategy, the composition of armies, or the clash of bayonets. He is not even that interested in a straight chronology of events. Instead, he has created a Civil War mood piece. His purpose, to which he succeeds, is to give contemporary readers an idea of what it felt like to witness this incredible drama unfold in real time. And it’s a testament to Goodheart’s talent that you never feel the lack of the cannon’s roar (the only military action described in any detail is the somewhat desultory, bloodless exchange at Fort Sumter). While following a rough timeline, Goodheart incorporates a mosaic-like approach to this project. He focuses on certain characters or places or groups, and then follows that character or place or group through a short arc that describes their burgeoning awareness and response to secession and war. Looking back, it is easy for us to say that actual conflict was inevitable. In reading 1861, you realize that nothing was further from the truth. The people living out these times had no idea how this roll would unspool. They did not know whether there would be fighting; whether the South would simply be allowed to pick up their ball and go home; or whether there would be some grand compromise that would patch things back together. Goodheart has chosen a wide variety of lenses through which to view this tumultuous year. He spends time with a famous president, Abraham Lincoln, and a less-famous future president, James Garfield, who was then a young representative from Ohio (sadly, Garfield, a dark horse presidential winner in 1881, would share Lincoln’s fate, though not his fame). He takes us to Charleston, South Carolina, where a southern-sympathizing Union major, taking his own initiative, makes the fateful decision to defend Fort Sumter, thereby forcing the Confederacy to fire the first shots of the war (ultimately dooming them as the aggressor). Also covered within Goodheart’s purview are the staunchly Unionist German immigrants of St. Louis (Frederick Douglass once wrote: “A German only has to be a German to be utterly opposed to slavery”), Jessie Benton Fremont and her efforts to keep California in the Union fold, and the darkly ironic existence of slavery in the Nation’s capital. Goodheart maintains a good balance of the familiar with the fresh. Along with time devoted to Lincoln, one of the most written-about men in history, Goodheart also relies on diarists George Templeton Strong and Mary Chestnut, both of whom have become household names (sort of) since Ken Burns’ The Civil War. The bulk of 1861, however, is devoted to less-glamorous figures, whose names have been either obscured or unduly tarnished by the passage of time. For instance, one of Goodheart’s central figures is the dashing young Elmer Ellsworth, who formed and trained a unit of Fire Zouaves (the 11th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment) patterned after French colonial troops that served in Algeria. Ellsworth had gained some earlier renown for leading a flamboyant militia unit that traveled around the country putting on drills for adoring crowds (they were more of a marching band than a combat force). The day after Virginia seceded, Lincoln ordered Ellsworth across the Potomac to Alexandria. While there, Ellsworth attempted to tear down a large Rebel flag hanging from a building called the Marshall House. The Marshall House’s owner murdered Ellsworth with a shotgun, as Ellsworth descended the steps. Briefly, Ellsworth was one of the most famous men in America, a young martyr to the cause of Union. After four years of blood war, followed by 146 years of discussion about that bloody war, Ellsworth name is mostly a footnote. Goodheart does a fine job giving him life once again. When you stitch together a narrative, as Goodheart has done, some swatches are going to be better than others. I really enjoyed the chapter on John J. Crittenden, a Kentucky Senator who attempted to cobble together an 11th hour compromise to keep the South from seceding. The final product was called the Crittenden Compromise, and included six constitutional amendments meant to appease the South. The attempted Compromise was one-third nobility, and two-thirds groveling at the feet of the Slaveocracy. You have to respect Crittenden for doing what he thought he had to do to save his country; on the other hand, the South’s obdurate response is so infuriating that I wanted William T. Sherman to storm through the doors of Congress and punch some of those recalcitrant Southern politicians in the nuts. On the other hand, I was less enamored with the section on James Garfield. Yes, Garfield is an overlooked historical figure. Yes, his nascent belief in civil rights makes you wonder what he might have done for this country, had Charles Guiteau not opened up on him with a revolver as Garfield walked through a Washington, D.C. train station. Still, I never felt any special illumination from the Garfield saga. For me, the best part of 1861 is its limited reclamation of General Benjamin Butler from the trash bin of history (naturally, he has been placed in the trash bin by pro-Southern historians, since the Civil War is the only war on record in which the losers wrote the history). Goodheart’s handling of Butler exemplifies one of Goodheart’s virtues as an author: his ability to evoke a person via a thumbnail sketch: [A]s far as faces went, his was not a pleasant one. It was the face of a man whom many people, in the years ahead, would call a brute, a beast, a cold-blooded murderer. It was a face that could easily make you believe such things: low, balding forehead; slack jowls; and a tight, mean little mouth beneath a drooping mustache. It would have seemed a face of almost animal-like stupidity, had it not been for the eyes. These glittered shrewdly, almost hidden amid crinkled folds of flesh, like dark little jewels in a nest of tissue paper. One of them had an odd sideways cast, as though its owner were always considering something else besides the thing in front of him. Butler, a political appointee, was in charge of Fortress Monroe when he was confronted with three runaway slaves seeking asylum. Butler could have given the slaves back to their owners, who had the gall to demand their return. Indeed, under the Fugitive Slave Act, Butler arguably was required to consent to their return. Ever the lawyer, Butler decided that the Fugitive Slave Act did not apply, since the Southern states were no longer subject to federal law. Using a connotation that gained incredible traction, he deemed the slaves contraband – the lawful spoils of war. Goodheart uses this mostly-forgotten event to embark on a wider discussion of slavery as the cause – and later the purpose – of the Civil War. He seems to take some enjoyment from the fact that a hideously ugly man with clever eyes, who proved woefully inept in the practice of the military arts, somehow became the jeweled bearing of a vault, upon which the terrible door of slavery finally slammed shut. Beyond its structure and narrative choices, 1861 is simply a pleasure to read. Goodheart is a smooth writer, seamlessly merging quotations into the text, balancing vivid narrative with critical analysis, and presenting a scholarly work (the book is well sourced, and includes informative endnotes) in an easily-digestible form (the overall tone is conversational, with parenthetical digressions, an acute eye for detail, and a pleasant wit). In my own studies of the Civil War, I have been prone to rushing towards “the good stuff.” I’ve never wanted to spend time on the Constitutional implications of secession, Buchanan’s ineffectual lame-duck attempts to avert a crisis, or even the symbolic exchange of artillery at Fort Sumter. Rather, in my own mind, the Civil War started at Bull Run and ended at Appomattox. Adam Goodheart’s 1861 weaned me off my battle-fixation without a single symptom of withdrawal. He does not have an overarching theme; he does not set out to prove a thesis or ask us to totally reevaluate everything we know about the Civil War. Instead, he gives us a ground-level view of what it must have been like to experience this thing, this event, as it started to gain momentum. The Grandmaster Savielly Tartakower famously said of the beginning of a chess match: “The mistakes are all waiting to be made.” I found myself thinking of that quotations as I finished 1861. The Civil War, as we now know it, comes neatly packaged. It lasted four years – a nice round number – and its central figure, Lincoln, was assassinated at its conclusion, giving the story a perfect ending (in a narrative sense only, obviously). The arc is almost too tidy. It has rising action, falling action, and the resonant theme of redemption through suffering. One hundred and fifty years later, it all seems ordained. It didn't seem that way in 1861. All the mistakes were still waiting to be made. The most fascinating aspect of Goodheart’s book is seeing the ordinary people muddling through a momentous occurrence that seemed so far out of their control. In their very human responses, within their very limited spheres – Ellsworth tearing down a Rebel flag; Anderson deciding to hold Fort Sumter; Butler refusing to return escaped slaves – you see the small actions that, as they accumulated, shaped the grand events to come.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    "This is essentially a people's contest. On the side of the Union it is a struggle for maintaining in the world that form and substance of government whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men--to lift artificial weights from all shoulders, to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all, to afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance, in the race of life. Yielding to partial and temporary departures from necessity, this is the leading object of the government for whose existenc "This is essentially a people's contest. On the side of the Union it is a struggle for maintaining in the world that form and substance of government whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men--to lift artificial weights from all shoulders, to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all, to afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance, in the race of life. Yielding to partial and temporary departures from necessity, this is the leading object of the government for whose existence we contend." -- Abraham Lincoln's First Message to Congress, at the Special Session. July 4, 1861. One of the best histories I've read during the last couple years. I went in knowing, kinda, what I was getting into. '1861' was published in 2011 150 years after the start of the Civil War. Obviously, it was going to be about the start of the Civil War, duh. But the book is more than that. It is chapter, by chapter, a series of vignettes that try to capture the complexity and details of our nation at the start of the Civil War, during that fateful year. One chapter focuses on Major Robert Anderson and the officers and men who held Ft Sumter. Another chapter explores the 1861 from the perspective of James Garfield, an Ohio professor and preacher, later General and President, Another chapter follows Elmer Ellsworth, a charismatic Ohio youth who becomes a Colonel in charge of a flashy group of recruits modeled on the French Zouaves. Another beautifully written chapter relates the experiences of Jessie Fremont and the young reverend Thomas Starr King, who passionate Californian's who were largely responsible for keeping California in the Union. The book is filled with these stories, amazing all, that weave together like a giant flag or tapestry of our history. It isn't a book of battles as much as it is a book of people and one year. This is a book that couple be optioned seven or eight times. I can imagine several of these single chapters being made into amazing movies, but still, it seems impossible that any movie, or other art form could capture the elements found within this book as artistically and beautifully as Adam Goodhearted did with this masterful classic.

  3. 5 out of 5

    A.J. Howard

    150 years ago this month, Secessionist forces opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. After 34 hours hours of bombardment, Major Robert Anderson agreed to surrender the fort. The day's fighting resulted in no casualties on either side, except a donkey caught in the cross fire. Within a few years, maybe months, of the firing on Fort Sumter, the proceeding conflict has taken on an air of inevitability. "A house divided can not stand," as Lincoln said; the fundamental issue at stake would 150 years ago this month, Secessionist forces opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. After 34 hours hours of bombardment, Major Robert Anderson agreed to surrender the fort. The day's fighting resulted in no casualties on either side, except a donkey caught in the cross fire. Within a few years, maybe months, of the firing on Fort Sumter, the proceeding conflict has taken on an air of inevitability. "A house divided can not stand," as Lincoln said; the fundamental issue at stake would eventually have to be settled by violence. I aree that the war became inevitable at a certain point, whether it was with the election of a Republican president, the disintegration of the Whig Party in 1854, the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, the compromises made at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, or as far back as the arrival of the first African slaves in 1619. By December 1860, when South Carolina seceded, Southern secession had been a Damocles' sword hanging over the young republic for over 40 years. Yet, at the same time, most Americans weren't expecting an imminent conflict in April 1860. There may have been problems, but these things had a history of working themselves out. Lost in many accounts of the origins of the Civil War is how quickly things escalated. The onset of the Civil War in 1861 may seem inevitable on a macro level, but not necessarily on a micro level. The propulsive momentum of events left most Americans, from Lincoln and Davis to ordinary citizens, struggling to accomodate with new realities. Adam Goodheart's 1861: The Civil War Awakening is the story of the country's realization that this is happening. The book is a portrait of how Americans came to terms with and preparing themselves for the coming conflict. Before I go further, allow me to quickly justify this book's existence. You would be justified see this book was published this year and ask yourself if we really need another general chronology of the Civil War. How much more is out there that hasn't been amply covered many times before? I'll answer by saying that this is not a traditional or 'been-there' Civil War book. 1861 is a somewhat misleading title, Goodheart does not aim to write a broad historical survey of a particular year. The book's chapters are each an in-depth portrait of how Americans reacted to the onset of the war on the micro-level. In fact, the subtitle, The Civil War Awakeninggives a far-better sense of what the book is. This format allows Goodheart to give a unique and refreshing perspective on familiar events. The book opens conventionally in Charleston Harbor, but somewhat ironically in the last days of 1860. Although the importance of the actual 'battle' at Fort Sumter has been exaggerated, the effect of these events were extremely influential. Non-Civil War buffs may not be aware that Charleston Harbor had been at the center of national attention for months before the first shot was fired. In fact the first aggressive action of the Civil War occurred as early as December, when Anderson ordered the quiet evacuation of the impossible to defend Fort Moultrie and the consolidation of his garrison at the recently (kinda) completed Fort Sumter. This action did not come lightly. Anderson, a Kentucky native and Southern sympathizer, justified this by an artful interpretation of an order. Anderson himself probably knew his interpretation was not only erroneous, but directly contrary to the intention of his superior, the Secretary of War John Floyd, a Virginian who was not so discreetly using his position to secure arms for the soon-to-be Confederate states. Anderson's dilemma is an appropriate one to open the book with. 1861 was a year of conflicted or ambiguous loyalties and the difficult choices that ensued. Following this introduction, Goodheart leaves Charleston for several chapters. If the national mood wasn't hell-bent on war in the early months of 1861, it wasn't exactly the epitome of brotherhood. By electing Abraham Lincoln president in November, forty percent of the country had to know they were casting votes for a man whom the vast majority of Southerners would find utterly unacceptable. Goodheart relates how there was a good deal of belligerence behind the 1860 election and the effect of a younger generation on the American politic. Republican voters went beyond exercising their democratic rights, and in many ways courted conflict with the slaveholding states. Meanwhile, Washington still a very Southern town where the consensus was on some sort of compromise, and Goodheart provides an intriguing portrait of the final, mostly pathetic, months of the Buchanan administration. Everything changed after Sumter. The material is familiar, but Goodheart does an admirable job retelling how Lincoln exploited an impossible situation in a way that let the new president craft the narrative of the conflict. The surrender of Fort Sumter electrified and unified much of the remaining country. For the Confederacy, the handling of the Sumter crisis resulted in a mostly meaningless victory, but was certainly a tremendous strategic misstep. The argument could be made that the Confederacy would have won the war if they had let Sumter be. Goodheart then relates how loyalty to the Union was ensured in California and Missouri; albeit two different kinds of loyalty achieved in two different manners. Also, Goodheart portrays how the public began to come to initial terms with the sacrifices the war would demand, with the account of the life and death of Elmer Ellsworth. Probably the high point of the book is the chapter devoted to General Benjamin Butler's decision to treat escaped slaves as contraband. Goodheart makes the case that Butler's decision, made at the location where the first African slaves arrived over two hundred years earlier, was the first real harbinger of the extinction of slavery in America. An abridged version of this chapter appeared in The New York Times a few weeks back, and is worth seeking out if you're not interested in the entire book. Goodheart expertly shows how Butler's decision not only changed the situation in Virginia, but irretrievably changed the national consensus. Finally, the book closes with Lincoln crafting his message to the special session of Congress which opened on July 4, the first time the body met since April. No matter how much some people focus on the societal aspect of the history, certain individual presences play a irreplaceable part. The fact remains that Lincoln knew that the direct cause of the Civil War was his election. Contrary to his address at Gettysburg two years later, Lincoln spent months on this message to Congress. Because he did the hard work two years earlier, Lincoln was able to repeat himself in a much shorter and much more poetic manner. Lincoln was able to distill his solution of the 'why are we fighting' question in the general population. It wasn't so much that he was able to move the population to him, as he was able to understand the irrepressible moment of events. Lincoln's understanding of the meaning behind the impersonal force of history was the rock on which eventual victory was built. Because of this, Lincoln's July 4th message to Congress is the perfect place for Goodheart's book to end. 1861 isn't concerned with generals, battles, etc. In fact, the last chapter takes place in July, a month before the first major conflict of the War. Actually, the books isn't really concerned with the Confederate side of the issue. That's not an issue because what the book is concerned about is the shaping of the Union resolve, and it would be this resolve that would be the main dynamic force behind the war. For all the talk of revolution, the Confederate Rebellion was a retrograde and traditional. The dynamism that influenced the country at large almost totally emerged from the Union side. Goodheart's book gives the reader some understanding of the initial sparks that fueled this dynamism that we are still coming to terms with 150 years later.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Deacon Tom F

    An Academic Overview I enjoyed "1861: The Civil War Awakening" by Adam Goodheart. It was very well written and easy to follow. I loved how the author took time to make each character and incident call me alive. Recommend to history buffs. An Academic Overview I enjoyed "1861: The Civil War Awakening" by Adam Goodheart. It was very well written and easy to follow. I loved how the author took time to make each character and incident call me alive. Recommend to history buffs.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart This history book is a fascinating window into America at the beginning of the Civil War. It contains nine chapters covering the first six months of 1861: 1. Wide Awake - this intriguing chapter bridges the beginning of the republic with the Civil War. It focuses on Ralph Farnham, a war hero from Maine who had fought at Bunker Hill in 1775 and other technological anachronisms like the telegraph and railroad that weren't even imagined way back in 1775 1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart This history book is a fascinating window into America at the beginning of the Civil War. It contains nine chapters covering the first six months of 1861: 1. Wide Awake - this intriguing chapter bridges the beginning of the republic with the Civil War. It focuses on Ralph Farnham, a war hero from Maine who had fought at Bunker Hill in 1775 and other technological anachronisms like the telegraph and railroad that weren't even imagined way back in 1775. By late December 1860, Farnham was a very old man when he died at his home in Maine, the same day that Federal troops abandoned Fort Moultrie in Charleston to make their stand at the better reinforced Fort Sumter across the harbor. 5 stars 2. The Old Gentlemen - Sen. Crittenden from Kentucky, eldest Senator, was supposed to rally the North and South to compromise. "All the wrong is never on one side, or all the right on the other" as he was fond of saying. But despite Crittenden's impassioned pleas and a notable Senate speech in late 1860, the Southern conspirators' minds were made up following Lincoln's election victory. Since the Southern radical Senators comprised such a large block and were strongly supported by the southern voters en masse, this left the Northerners, many of whom were not abolitionists, with little to compromise on. And outgoing President Buchanan, normally not a disagreeable fellow but hardly a leader, had long since checked out and stopped offering public guidance. He simply did not want to see a war start on his watch and so appeased the Southern gentlemen when they came to see him about the federal forts in South Carolina. 4 stars 3. Forces of Nature - this chapter focuses on president-elect Lincoln as he travels through a prosperous Ohio which would produce some six presidents in the next fifty years. The chapter also highlights a young and insightful Ohio politician named James Garfield who like his idol Lincoln was also born in a log cabin and the last such president to be born on the frontier. Ohio was also the home of a sizable population of abolitionists and when the slave catchers captured fugitive Lucy Bagby and returned her to Virginia, the incident only solidified the resolve of abolitionists like Garfield. 4.5 stars 4. Shot in the Dark - this chapter was about the surrender of Fort Sumter. Although there were a few insights I learned about one Major Anderson, this event in U.S. History has been covered so many times. 3 stars. 5. The Volunteer - we learn about Elmer Ellsworth who was one of Lincoln's best friends from Springfield and led the NY Zouaves. Sadly he became the first Union death of the war when he is shot during the occupation of Alexandria. A wonderful chapter on a secondary character but representative of the book. 5 stars. 6. Gateways to the West - largely concerned with St. Louis and the heroic role of the German brewers who took up arms against the "Confederate" governor of Missouri who tried to raid the Federal armory. There's even a cameo by U.S. Grant who was a private citizen at the time. I knew nothing of this historical event. My favorite chapter. 5 stars. 7. The Crossing - a continuation of the Elmer Ellsworth story. Ellsworth now a colonel stays with Lincoln at the White House as the Zouaves are now stationed in D.C. Ellsworth is close with Tad and Willie. Across the river in Alexandria, a man at the Marshall is flying an oversize flag. When Union troops go to occupy Alexandria, Ellsworth goes to the home and removes the flag. Sadly he becomes the first Union death of the war when he is shot in retaliation. Lincoln upon hearing the news hours later, uncharacteristically bursts into tears. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote an article about Ellsworth and the house he died in. A few weeks later Union soldiers used Ellsworth as a rallying cry during the 1st Battle of Bull Run. 5 stars 8. Freedom's Fortress - this chapter covers Butler's decision at Fort Monroe to provide safe harbor to hundreds of fugitive slaves, many of whom would eventually fight for the Union. 4 stars 9. Independence Day - short chapter on how the North and South celebrated the 4th of July. 3.5 stars. This book is special because it adds richness to the Civil War story. It covers several distinct narratives, with nuance not seen in many other books on the Civil War that just focus on battles. 5 stars. A good read for anyone who has an interest in Civil War History or anyone who likes narrative history.

  6. 5 out of 5

    David Eppenstein

    I found this book thanks to the positive review of a GR friend (thanks Jim). The friendships GR cultivates is one of its best features. Now if only they would create a platform so that GR friends could engage in group messaging and discussion that would be fantastic. I guess I'll give them time to think about that as I'm sure one day one of those geeks will think of this as another way to confuse old timers with another hi-tech application. Anyway those of us that enjoy reading history are all to I found this book thanks to the positive review of a GR friend (thanks Jim). The friendships GR cultivates is one of its best features. Now if only they would create a platform so that GR friends could engage in group messaging and discussion that would be fantastic. I guess I'll give them time to think about that as I'm sure one day one of those geeks will think of this as another way to confuse old timers with another hi-tech application. Anyway those of us that enjoy reading history are all too familiar with the major events and personalities of history. We become so familiar that, at times, the material can become boring when nothing new is developed or opined. For that reason I really enjoy finding a book like this one. This book does deal with familiar events, at least the events occurring in 1861 and 1860 but it does something different with those events. It tells us how those major events and personalities were perceived by the common people that witnessed them and had to live with their results. It also gives us an understanding that some of these major events may have even been the result of actions by ordinary or uncredited actors in history. The notion that General Butler is credited with creating the concept of "contraband" to classify runaway slaves is one thing but that his actions were the foundation for the Emancipation Proclamation is quite another but it is probably true. The book also dwells on the perceptions people had of Lincoln as he entered the White House and how both the people and Lincoln evolved their thinking during the entry phase of the Lincoln Administration. I found this book to be most enlightening and in our present circumstances most reassuring. If the American people weathered what started in 1861 then shouldn't we be able to weather our present differences? I sure hope so. If not then we have shamed those, all of those, that went before us.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mary Catherine Pace

    Just a few quick comments about this uniquely readable episodic narrative history of events and interesting people in the period just before and after Fort Sumter. I enjoyed the book, which contains 35 percent footnotes, according to my Kindle—so it is a relatively short history, but contains a compendium of fascinating source material for history scholars and teachers. I learned more about the Wide Awakes than I had ever learned before. They were a nationwide Northern movement (they were driven Just a few quick comments about this uniquely readable episodic narrative history of events and interesting people in the period just before and after Fort Sumter. I enjoyed the book, which contains 35 percent footnotes, according to my Kindle—so it is a relatively short history, but contains a compendium of fascinating source material for history scholars and teachers. I learned more about the Wide Awakes than I had ever learned before. They were a nationwide Northern movement (they were driven out in the South) that soon replaced the Rail-splitters, who were Lincoln partisans. The Wide Awakes marched by hundreds and thousands in close formation, wearing dark oilcloth cloaks, carrying torches in dark streets. They didn’t speak, but were known for their opposition to slavery. Their dramatic silence caught on, and Irish, German, and various company towns and farmers across the country started their own branches. Military officers, including U.S. Grant, even taught them to march properly. (In St. Louis, a shop assistant and former army lieutenant named Ulysses Grant often coached the local Wide Awakes.) “The sinister symbol of the new organization, painted on its banners and printed on its membership certificates, was a single all-seeing, unblinking eye.” “The one thing nearly all members had in common is that they were young—many were teenagers not even old enough to vote.” The author calls the Wide Awake rally of October 16, 1860, “the last great parade of peace,” citing this contemporary report of the event: “As the banners passed, he read them one by one: Vigilance the Price of Liberty; No More Slave Territory; The Pilgrims Did Not Found an Empire for Slavery. But the sight that made his heart leap was the company of West Boston Wide Awakes: two hundred black men marching proudly in uniform, keeping stride in perfect tempo with their white comrades, under a banner that read God Never Made a Tyrant or a Slave.” I learned another surprising fact in the section about California, admitted to the Union as a non-slave State in 1850. I had not realized the strength of the Southern grandees in formation of the large estates that were the political power in California. According to the record, “Though California may officially have been free territory, its political leadership was still dominated by Southern sympathizers—voters called them the Chivalry faction, or the Chivs. No Northern state had more draconian laws restricting the lives and rights of its black inhabitants.” So California (and, later, Southwest Washington and Oregon) had a racist cohort in their early history that affected their laws from territorial times. A considerable section of the book was devoted to the siege of Fort Sumter, which was probably about as tedious as the actual siege, without the hunger and uncertainty of the actual event. The story of how slaves came to be called contraband at Fort Monroe by the Yankee lawyer major general Benjamin Butler, was my favorite part of the story. It was revealing that the absurdity of classifying humans as property seemed to couch a central problem of emancipation into a kind of nonsensical humorous approach whereby this comedy of necessity—protecting runaway slaves as a policy to defeat Southern slaveholders—changed many in the North to support abolition, and even eventual emancipation. The evolving idea of emancipation of slaves and abolition of slavery as being central to the war for Lincoln and the North is the most important focus of the book. By July 4, 1861, Lincoln has decided on his course, and his resolve never falters after he finishes the speech that hints at his course—a speech that will be distilled two years later, to become the ringing phrases of the Gettysburg address. But the author says all of this much better than I. A very enjoyable and informative reading experience.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Louise

    Adam Goodheart recounts the events both large and small that define the character of America, as the war came down around it. Despite the extreme polarization, it does not seem that many expected a real war and certainly did not understand the destruction it would bring. There are glimpses of the ineffectual President Buchanan in his last days in office and the young future President Garfield growing in political awareness. Wide-Awake marches are described as is the story of re-captured slave Luc Adam Goodheart recounts the events both large and small that define the character of America, as the war came down around it. Despite the extreme polarization, it does not seem that many expected a real war and certainly did not understand the destruction it would bring. There are glimpses of the ineffectual President Buchanan in his last days in office and the young future President Garfield growing in political awareness. Wide-Awake marches are described as is the story of re-captured slave Lucy Bagby, Lincoln’s train ride to Washington, DC and many other events. You see imagery of the rail splitter and meet Senator Crittenden whose advocacy for compromise is lost in the extremely polarized climate. It was a great book, which, for me included three highlights. The first was the detail on the seizure of Fort Sumter. Later in the book when you learn about Buchanan’s neglect of the Federal Arsenal in Missouri, you see how without federal support (Buchanan’s neglect) or citizens taking the initiative, bloodless surrender of federal property was easy. (Page 139 lists the federal property seizures before the firing on Fort Sumter.) Goodheart tells the human story of a commander, sympathetic to the south who faces off his former West Point student leading the Confederacy and the political story of the relief mission and the Union surrender/public relations victory. It was not as simple as in high school history where you learn that shots were fired and the war began. Next highlight was the chapter “Freedom’s Fortress” which shows how a “contraband policy” for fugitive slaves evolved. Especially of interest was the character of General Butler and how this “policy” played out in different circumstances. The third highlight (for me) was the short chapter on Lincoln’s July 4, 1861 address to Congress and how it capsulized Lincoln’s thoughts and presaged the Gettysburg Address. There is detail on the flamboyant Zouaves (which had been a mystery to me) and the sad fate of the brigade and its leader/founder. There is detail on the political climates of California and Missouri and the individuals who were instrumental in their staying with the Union. The “Postscripts” give the later history of many of the people who made the book so alive. The author succeeds in defining how Americans “woke up” to this war. You see how the south began to suffer its unintended consequences and the north, once captured by the visual valor of the Zouaves, learned what war was really about. The book is a good read for most Civil War readers.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Terry Curtis

    This is an extraordinary piece of work -- extremely well-written history that subtlety makes three major arguments without ever being heavy-handed. The first is to demonstrate how the Civil War was entirely about slavery ***even when individuals were acting out of other motives.*** In other words, while many people took sides and acted out of a conscious desire to preserve the union, they would never have had to take sides or actions if it were not for slavery. And Goodheart demonstrates that be This is an extraordinary piece of work -- extremely well-written history that subtlety makes three major arguments without ever being heavy-handed. The first is to demonstrate how the Civil War was entirely about slavery ***even when individuals were acting out of other motives.*** In other words, while many people took sides and acted out of a conscious desire to preserve the union, they would never have had to take sides or actions if it were not for slavery. And Goodheart demonstrates that be mid-1861, Emancipation was inevitable. The second argument is Lincoln's, to which Goodheart adheres: it's the argument against secession in the abstract, and it's presented here clearly and cogently. (I still have some reservations about any contract that can never be undone, but at least I now perceive the philosophy in a much deeper way.) And finally, the book itself is a counter to the current-day apologists for the Confederacy. This is the most obvious argument, but one, alas, that still needs stating. By the end of this book, one can have no doubt that the Confederacy was without a shard of moral or intellectual justification.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    As a life-long student of American history, I know quite a bit about the period of the Civil War. But this book by Adam Goodheart about the opening months of the Civil War was simply fascinating. Goodheart examines the goals, aspirations, and hopes of the people involved in the Civil War in every section of the country. And he is able to bring 1861 to life by filling the book with accounts of the lives of people--both well-known and more obscure--who played a part in the beginning of the conflic As a life-long student of American history, I know quite a bit about the period of the Civil War. But this book by Adam Goodheart about the opening months of the Civil War was simply fascinating. Goodheart examines the goals, aspirations, and hopes of the people involved in the Civil War in every section of the country. And he is able to bring 1861 to life by filling the book with accounts of the lives of people--both well-known and more obscure--who played a part in the beginning of the conflict. Goodheart's book serves as a reminder that history is not only composed of decisions and actions of political and military leaders but that it is also driven by the everyday decisions made by millions of citizens who are trying quietly to live their lives. People as different as James Garfield, Benjamin "Spoons" Butler, Abby Kelly Foster, Abner Doubleday, William Sherman, and Jessie Fremont fill the pages along with hundreds of others. This is a fascinating book that propels readers into the complexities that grippled the United States in the opening months of the Civil War and serves as a reminder that the "what ifs" in history can be as interesting and important as the events that eventually unfold.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    I've always felt like I understood the Civil War, but in a distant, hazy kind of way - even after reading several books about it. So reading Adam Goodheart's book was a revelation. It was like taking a time machine back in time to 1861. He really helps you get a feel for what being an American during that crazy time period was like, and how Americans saw the issues that would push the country to war. More than that, it really makes the Civil War era clear in your mind - like you're watching it u I've always felt like I understood the Civil War, but in a distant, hazy kind of way - even after reading several books about it. So reading Adam Goodheart's book was a revelation. It was like taking a time machine back in time to 1861. He really helps you get a feel for what being an American during that crazy time period was like, and how Americans saw the issues that would push the country to war. More than that, it really makes the Civil War era clear in your mind - like you're watching it unfold for yourself. It brought depth to several people/events I thought I knew about - Elmer Ellsworth, Fort Sumter, etc. It also opened my eyes to stories that I can't believe I've never heard before - the Wide Awakes, how California and Missouri stayed Union, Lincoln's trip to Ohio, the "contrabands" at Fort Monroe. Couldn't hardly put the book down. Can't wait to see what Goodheart puts out next.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Albert

    One of the most remarkable thing that Goodheart does in this book is show you how hearts and minds changed over the course of a relatively short period of time. The simple view of the war doesn't show how many Northerners were racist and anti-abolitionist and how many Southerners didn't want secession. We see Northern soldiers meeting Southern slaves for the first time and hearing their stories. He shows us people "on the ground" making hard decisions and being changed by them (and changing othe One of the most remarkable thing that Goodheart does in this book is show you how hearts and minds changed over the course of a relatively short period of time. The simple view of the war doesn't show how many Northerners were racist and anti-abolitionist and how many Southerners didn't want secession. We see Northern soldiers meeting Southern slaves for the first time and hearing their stories. He shows us people "on the ground" making hard decisions and being changed by them (and changing others by them). The story of how escaped slaves became "contrabands" through the quick thinking of General Butler is fascinating--it caused a flood of black men, women and children into Union strongholds. Their hard work and information about Confederate troops in turn changed some minds about their capabilities and humanity.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Rachelle

    This was not your average Civil War book. It rarely discussed any battles with the exception of Fort Sumter. The focus of the book is on the confluence of disparate people and events that contributed to the direction and the eventual outcome of the Civil War. The list of people will probably contain names of many that you know and probably a few you do not: Ralph Farnham, Jessie Fremont (John C. Fremont's wife), James Garfield, Abby Kelly Foster, Lucy Bagby, Elmer Ellsworth (and the Zouave's), G This was not your average Civil War book. It rarely discussed any battles with the exception of Fort Sumter. The focus of the book is on the confluence of disparate people and events that contributed to the direction and the eventual outcome of the Civil War. The list of people will probably contain names of many that you know and probably a few you do not: Ralph Farnham, Jessie Fremont (John C. Fremont's wife), James Garfield, Abby Kelly Foster, Lucy Bagby, Elmer Ellsworth (and the Zouave's), Gen. Benjamin Butler (and the "Contraband" argument), Abner Doubleday, Thomas Starr King and many others. I look at the war differently now and believe it could have gone a different path had not these people among others help steer it with their actions.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Krisette Spangler

    This book is only about the events leading up to and beginning the Civil War in 1861. It was riveting to learn of what was happening across the country, and how some states erupted in mini Civil Wars to determine their allegiance. Abraham Lincoln entered the scene just a few days before the Confederacy fired on Fort Sumter. He was untried politically and many felt he would not be able to lead the country through the crisis that was unfolding. I loved watching Lincoln grow into his role as Comman This book is only about the events leading up to and beginning the Civil War in 1861. It was riveting to learn of what was happening across the country, and how some states erupted in mini Civil Wars to determine their allegiance. Abraham Lincoln entered the scene just a few days before the Confederacy fired on Fort Sumter. He was untried politically and many felt he would not be able to lead the country through the crisis that was unfolding. I loved watching Lincoln grow into his role as Commander in Chief and prove even his most trusted advisors wrong about who he was. Favorite quotes: "For my own part, I consider the central idea pervading this struggle is the necessity that is upon us, of proving that popular government is not an absurdity. We must settle this question now, whether in a free government the minority have the right to break up the government whenever they choose. If we fail it will go far to prove the incapability of the people to govern themselves." - Abraham Lincoln "If it be the business of the North to squander her millions, and to give up her sons, simply that we can place the old flag-staff again in the hands of those who ask protection of slavery, then...you will see an inglorious termination to the campaign. But, if we are to fight for freedom; if we are to wipe out the curse that infects our borders; if we are to establish, justice, teach mercy, and proclaim righteousness, then will our soldiers be animated by a heroic purpose that will build them up in courage, in faith, in honor, and they will come back to us respected and beloved." - Reverend J.D. Fulton

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jerome

    An insightful and informative history of the war’s first year, Goodheart’s story mostly revolves around people, and he does a great job telling these interesting stories without getting bogged down in minutiae fact-wise. Goodheart’s main purpose is to answer a single question: how a relatively peaceful nation transitioned into two parts willing to wage a violent people’s war against each other. Goodheart’s basic time frame is the election of 1860 to the battle at Bull Run. All of the notable figu An insightful and informative history of the war’s first year, Goodheart’s story mostly revolves around people, and he does a great job telling these interesting stories without getting bogged down in minutiae fact-wise. Goodheart’s main purpose is to answer a single question: how a relatively peaceful nation transitioned into two parts willing to wage a violent people’s war against each other. Goodheart’s basic time frame is the election of 1860 to the battle at Bull Run. All of the notable figures are covered such as James Buchanan (who both northerners and southerners denounced as a weakling and a traitor), Robert Anderson, Nathaniel Lyons, Benjamin Butler, and Elmer Ellsworth, among others. He does a great job showing how Lincoln evolved from the inheritor of a messy crisis to a shrewd and masterful statesman. Goodheart does a fine job focusing the year’s dramatic events around what was going on in these people’s heads. Goodheart’s writing is clear and concise. The narrative is smooth and Goodheart displays a dry, sardonic sense of humor laden with heavy irony. As Goodheart reveals, the likelihood of the slavery issue being resolved peacefully was quite low since slavery was such an integral part of the South’s economy and culture. Lincoln estimated that the south’s slave population was worth two billion dollars, a figure most historians think is too low. The South’s slave population was worth more than all of America’s factories and railroads at the time. Thus, any form of compensated emancipation that moderates favored would consume an impractically huge amount of the federal budget for at least decades. The more new territory was opened to slavery, the greater the demand for slaves and the greater their value---which explains why southerners were so opposed to any limits to slavery’s expansion. The stake of southerners in the system was too valuable. Hence the argument of southerners that American freedom was dependent on American slavery. And up until this era, both major American political parties avoided a firm stance on the slavery issue. An excellent book, although it is more about the “awakening” part than the actual start of the war. And annoyingly, Goodheart at one point inserts a firsthand account of his own research into the narrative. Still, a great history of a pivotal year.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Ribera

    One of the best books I have ever read about the causes and events leading to the bloodiest conflict on U.S. soil. I have long been interested in the Civil War, strange because my ancestors did not come to this country until 25 to 30 years after the war had ended. This book addresses the first year, 1861, and the characters and events leading to the shelling of Fort Sumter and the first combat of the war between the states. What is very clear is that this was both a war to end the peculiar institu One of the best books I have ever read about the causes and events leading to the bloodiest conflict on U.S. soil. I have long been interested in the Civil War, strange because my ancestors did not come to this country until 25 to 30 years after the war had ended. This book addresses the first year, 1861, and the characters and events leading to the shelling of Fort Sumter and the first combat of the war between the states. What is very clear is that this was both a war to end the peculiar institution of slavery, and to preserve the union created by the constitution of 1788. One disturbing fact was that a proposal was considered by Congress to amend the constitution to make slavery a part of the constitution and to prohibit it ever being abolished! The Southern secessionists declared it the war of Northern Agression, however the South began arming a year before the assault on Ft. Sumpter and fired the first salvo. The North, very few of whom were abolutionists, called it the war of secession. What struck me reading this book in our time of tea party, birthers, etc. was the rancorous rhetoric and unbridled hate that was spewed by both sides against their fellow citizens. This tale identifies people not recognized today who were every bit as heroic and who contributed as much to the preservation of the union and emancipation of slaves as did Frederick Douglas, John Brown and Abraham Lincoln. That said, it also addresses the intelligence, compassion and wisdom of Abraham Lincoln in his first 4 months as President and shows how his beliefs about the union and American democracy and its importance to the world were reflected in his speeches and decisions as the storm clouds of war were forming.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    have you ever read an outdated edition of "us weekly"? that is kind of what this book was like. i listened to it at work over a couple of days and at least three times wanted to just shut it off. but listening to books is so passive i let it ride. the fault is all mine on this one. i figured that i would be reading a history if the civil war from the awakening...not just about events in 1861, and before but also 1989, the 1930's and 1963. i should have been more diligent. it felt like, a number of have you ever read an outdated edition of "us weekly"? that is kind of what this book was like. i listened to it at work over a couple of days and at least three times wanted to just shut it off. but listening to books is so passive i let it ride. the fault is all mine on this one. i figured that i would be reading a history if the civil war from the awakening...not just about events in 1861, and before but also 1989, the 1930's and 1963. i should have been more diligent. it felt like, a number of times, we were building up to a crescendo but never actually reaching it. i kept listening waiting to hear names that i would recognize and kind of go "aha, this was the the root cause for (some big event that we all recall)". i think this book would have been easier to "read" or at least be interested in if it were more like a detailed timeline. start in january 1861 and just go one from there in chronological order. we got plenty of backstory to the things that occurred in 1861 and a fair amount of story to the things that transpired in 1861. we also got recollections from people who lived in 1861 from well after the war but pretty much nothing about the war itself. ah, whatever.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Cornmaven

    I learned a lot of new stuff about the foundation for the Civil War from this book, which basically takes part of 1860 and part of 1861 and digs into events and people that are not normally front and center in this history, along with the usual stuff. Great insights into the country's feelings about slavery at the time, both in the North and the South. And if anyone continues to insist this war was NOT about slavery, hopefully reading this book will finally disabuse them of that belief, given th I learned a lot of new stuff about the foundation for the Civil War from this book, which basically takes part of 1860 and part of 1861 and digs into events and people that are not normally front and center in this history, along with the usual stuff. Great insights into the country's feelings about slavery at the time, both in the North and the South. And if anyone continues to insist this war was NOT about slavery, hopefully reading this book will finally disabuse them of that belief, given that slavery drove not only the economy in the south but in the north as well. It was interesting to follow the North's movement toward a collective belief that slavery is truly wrong, and how certain people/events in 1861 were pivotal in that movement. I never knew about Benjamin Butler until I read this book. His lawyerly decision regarding three slaves who escaped to Fort Monroe at the beginning of the war was truly a catalyst for much of the transformation.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Bridget

    1861 is a book about the Civil War, but it's unusual in that it is written through the lens of 1861 itself. It uses contemporary sources to paint a detailed and nuanced snapshot of the United States in the few months before and after the start of the war. There are no sweeping historical judgments here, or consultations of modern scholarship that color most depictions of the Civil War as we view it now, 150 years on. It puts you right in the year 1861 and helps you see how the war unfolded in th 1861 is a book about the Civil War, but it's unusual in that it is written through the lens of 1861 itself. It uses contemporary sources to paint a detailed and nuanced snapshot of the United States in the few months before and after the start of the war. There are no sweeping historical judgments here, or consultations of modern scholarship that color most depictions of the Civil War as we view it now, 150 years on. It puts you right in the year 1861 and helps you see how the war unfolded in the most realistic sense, since the people writing and speaking at that time did not know how it would end (or even begin). You could say the scope of the book is very narrow, centering as it does on only about six months of history. But the foundation it lays for that time period helped me understand so much about the rest of the Civil War. I've never read a history book quite like this one and I must say that I really enjoyed the author's interesting approach to the subject!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Fantastic! This was a beautiful read. It was such a pleasure that now that I'm done I almost want to pick it up and read it again. I loved the writing, I loved the subject matter and I loved that the author caused me to re-think preconceived notions and taught me knew things- or helped me see them from a new angle. Highly recommended to all lovers of history. Fantastic! This was a beautiful read. It was such a pleasure that now that I'm done I almost want to pick it up and read it again. I loved the writing, I loved the subject matter and I loved that the author caused me to re-think preconceived notions and taught me knew things- or helped me see them from a new angle. Highly recommended to all lovers of history.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Shawn Deal

    A very good book of the year. It is a bit different in it's approach. It is like grandfather sitting down and telling you about the year of 1861. A very informal style that took me quite a long time to get use too. A very good book of the year. It is a bit different in it's approach. It is like grandfather sitting down and telling you about the year of 1861. A very informal style that took me quite a long time to get use too.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Doug McNair

    This is a wonderful book that paints a vivid picture of America during the Secession Crisis and the early days of the Civil War. But beyond mere narrative, "1861"'s main focus is its chronicling of the psychological shift among Northerners that made the Civil War possible. Until the mid-1800s, the North had seen compromise on the issue of slavery as the greatest virtue, with the goal of keeping the South in the Union trumping all other concerns. Even though most northerners reviled slavery and s This is a wonderful book that paints a vivid picture of America during the Secession Crisis and the early days of the Civil War. But beyond mere narrative, "1861"'s main focus is its chronicling of the psychological shift among Northerners that made the Civil War possible. Until the mid-1800s, the North had seen compromise on the issue of slavery as the greatest virtue, with the goal of keeping the South in the Union trumping all other concerns. Even though most northerners reviled slavery and slaveholders, they hated abolitionists even more because they saw them as dangerous radicals who were hell-bent on tearing the nation apart all for the sake of the slaves. Goodheart chronicles how and why Northerners came to reject compromise in favor of quashing secessionism at all costs, including war. He does this by focusing not so much on well-known or politically important individuals like Lincoln, but on lesser-known people like future president James Garfield (whose extensive diaries reveal the evolution of his thoughts) and also now-forgotten people like Elmer Ellsworth (the founder of the New York Fire Zouaves regiment that would be blamed for the disaster at Bull Run). He also chronicles popular movements of the day like the Wide Awakes, a Republican paramilitary group that sprang up overnight and became a national craze. Training in secret, the St. Louis Wide Awakes (composed mostly of immigrant Germans) became so formidable that a wily Missouri politician and a maverick (and possibly psychotic) Union army officer were able to turn them into a fighting force that scored the first significant Union victory of the war (and probably saved Missouri for the Union). Fascinating chronicles of many more little-known early-war events and a very entertaining (though sometimes a bit too florid and digressive) writing style make "1861" a fine addition to any Civil War library.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ilya Gerner

    A beautifully written book about...1861, as seen through the eyes of contemporaries. Read it for the story of the German immigrants, among whom were scores of liberal and radical refugees from the failed revolutions of 1848, who saved Missouri for the Union. Read it for the story of Jesse Fremont. Read it, to know the slaves who forced the hand of Gen. Butler and set abolition in motion. Mostly, read it because there are too many books and documentaries (looking at you, Ken Burns' Civil War) tha A beautifully written book about...1861, as seen through the eyes of contemporaries. Read it for the story of the German immigrants, among whom were scores of liberal and radical refugees from the failed revolutions of 1848, who saved Missouri for the Union. Read it for the story of Jesse Fremont. Read it, to know the slaves who forced the hand of Gen. Butler and set abolition in motion. Mostly, read it because there are too many books and documentaries (looking at you, Ken Burns' Civil War) that bemoan the Civil War as tragedy and treat the year 1861 as a warning about what can befall our country when compromise fails. This isn't that sort of book. It lays bare the many moral imperfections of the Northern cause without losing sight of who was in the right and who was grievously, maliciously wrong.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Sloan

    Not what I expected. Fresh, different! If you're not really a hardcore dates, names, and battle maps history person, and you want to read about the civil war, this wouldn't be a bad one to pick up. The author leads off by explaining that this is a book about how people reacted and dealt with the unprecedented early months of the war. These are personal stories and they run the gamut of class and social standing but they do not run south of the mason Dixon often. Most stories are of union heroes, Not what I expected. Fresh, different! If you're not really a hardcore dates, names, and battle maps history person, and you want to read about the civil war, this wouldn't be a bad one to pick up. The author leads off by explaining that this is a book about how people reacted and dealt with the unprecedented early months of the war. These are personal stories and they run the gamut of class and social standing but they do not run south of the mason Dixon often. Most stories are of union heroes, and the author has zero sentimentality toward or understanding for the people of the south, but if you're cool with that you'll probably like it.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Micah Lasher

    Absolutely riveting work of history. Paints on a big and broad canvas, giving readers a real sense of this incredible moment in history. A particularly good book for those (like me) who have difficulty with more traditional military histories that focus heavily on the battlefield and want instead to understand how we ended up there.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie E.

    This is an amazing multi-layered book which introduces readers to a little-known cast of heroes. It is exceptionally well-written and presents a very original and evocative interpretation of the Civil War's beginnings. Highly recommended." This is an amazing multi-layered book which introduces readers to a little-known cast of heroes. It is exceptionally well-written and presents a very original and evocative interpretation of the Civil War's beginnings. Highly recommended."

  27. 5 out of 5

    Timons Esaias

    I am heavily read on the Civil War (lifelong interest, and also taught the Civil War course for undergraduates), so I can be a tough sell on newer books on the subject. I tend not to learn much from them, and find myself twitching at mistakes and omissions. The main title is slightly deceptive. The first 55 pages occur mainly in 1860, and the narration ends (except for brief Postscript notes) in July of 1861. First Bull Run is only briefly discussed, primarily in reference to the New York Fire Zo I am heavily read on the Civil War (lifelong interest, and also taught the Civil War course for undergraduates), so I can be a tough sell on newer books on the subject. I tend not to learn much from them, and find myself twitching at mistakes and omissions. The main title is slightly deceptive. The first 55 pages occur mainly in 1860, and the narration ends (except for brief Postscript notes) in July of 1861. First Bull Run is only briefly discussed, primarily in reference to the New York Fire Zouaves and their inglorious collapse there. That said, the book has a logical structure, and it is focused on the historical pivot that takes place between November of 1860 and July of 1861, with the main changes occurring in the first seven months of 1861, so the title isn't that far off. I did learn a fair amount in reading this book, and I found it clearly spoken and perceptive. It focuses on certain key players and their moments, being partly a collection of minibiographies. Ralph Farnham, the last veteran of Bunker Hill is used to contrast with the Wide Awakes. Louis T. Wigfall is the main fire-eater, contrasted with Crittenden's attempts to broker peace. Lincoln, especially his passive phase from nomination until the attempt to supply Sumter, then contrasted with his grasping the nettle in full from that point on, with his hand clearly revealed in the July 4, 1861 message to Congress. Elmer Ellsworth, whose story is fascinating, and much of it I didn't know, and his Zouave drill teams, mutating into the New York Fire Zouaves; and Ellsworth's martyrdom. Ben Butler, with all the focus on his decision to declare escaped slaves as contrabands of war, and therefore his refusal to return them. (Butler's key role in keeping Maryland in the Union, and the suppression of threats to trains moving through Baltimore, is given less than a sentence, as I recall. Which is unfair to him; but he's also spared the criticism of his generalship that should be attached to his name at all times. But the pivot for the country was the "contraband" decision, so I see keeping the spotlight on that moment.) The Frémonts, especially Jesse. Her acolyte, Thomas Starr King. And, of course, Abner Doubleday and Robert Anderson down in Forts Moultrie and Sumter. One thing I particularly admired in this narration is something most histories miss: that when the Southern states started seceding, most of the world didn't take them as seriously as you'd think. Weeks and weeks and weeks went by with nobody quite taking these folks at their word. Since secession was clearly illegal, it was thought to be a negotiating ploy; and there were all sorts of Peace Conferences (one chaired by an ex-President) going on, along with other wrangling; and the Senators and Congressmen of seceded states didn't automatically leave Washington. Which means it wasn't quite real. Until, to keep the Secession movement from slipping away, the South Carolinians insisted on shelling Fort Sumter. This is a good book, and I see why so much fuss was made about it. I'll end with a quote from almost the end of the book, where the author lets us know exactly what he thinks (and I share his view); in clearer terms than writers of history usually allow themselves: In a sense, Nicolay's simple trip down Pennsylvania Avenue was an eloquent statement of its own. This ritual of the democracy reaffirmed the chief executive's accountability to Congress and to the American people. And the grueling labor that Lincoln had put into the message attested to his faith in the power and necessity of words, of arguments, of explanations, in a democratic system. By contrast, the lackluster, shopworn rhetoric of the new Southern republic's leading statesmen was not merely a failure of aesthetics, but proof of the intellectual poverty and moral laziness undergirding their entire enterprise. The Confederacy was never truly much of a cause -- lost or otherwise. In fact, it might better be called an effect; a reactive stratagem tarted up with ex post facto justifications. This was borne out in the practices of the two national legislatures. Over the next four years, the Confederate Congress would transact almost all its important business in secret.... By contrast, the Congress of the United States -- notwithstanding all the bitter infighting that lay ahead -- would never once go into closed session during the course of the war.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Shelby Foote wrote a three volume history of the Civil War. I recently finished the first volume. It is about 80-90% about the battles, in a somewhat relentless slog through the war. Foote is very literary and writes well, but the details of battle after battle can get a bit much. 1861 is a different book, a different way to look at the Civil War. Focusing on the war's first year, the buildup to the war, 1861 focuses a lot more on the people involved in the push towards a nation-splitting act an Shelby Foote wrote a three volume history of the Civil War. I recently finished the first volume. It is about 80-90% about the battles, in a somewhat relentless slog through the war. Foote is very literary and writes well, but the details of battle after battle can get a bit much. 1861 is a different book, a different way to look at the Civil War. Focusing on the war's first year, the buildup to the war, 1861 focuses a lot more on the people involved in the push towards a nation-splitting act and the resulting war. Goodheart writes extensively about a whole cast of characters, some you typically don't read about in a history of the Civil War or of Lincoln's time as President, and some you have read about before -- but cast in a bit of a different light. I highly recommend this book for somebody interested in delving into the details of the Civil War a little more deeply.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Stuart

    This is an excellent book. One of the most engaging, informative and well written civil war histories I've read. Focusing on the first half of 1861, the book is less about the war and more about the events and characters leading to war. The author chooses certain aspects to explore in depth which evoke the time and people. This is much more revealing and enjoyable than a standard history of the year. This is an excellent book. One of the most engaging, informative and well written civil war histories I've read. Focusing on the first half of 1861, the book is less about the war and more about the events and characters leading to war. The author chooses certain aspects to explore in depth which evoke the time and people. This is much more revealing and enjoyable than a standard history of the year.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Psotka

    Great popular history of the country as it falls into civil war, including lots of good vignettes and tracing major social movements and controversies that have been all but forgotten due to the conflagration that followed.

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