1861: The Civil War Awakening

1861: The Civil War Awakening

by Adam Goodheart

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A gripping and original account of how the Civil War began and a second American revolution unfolded, setting Abraham Lincoln on the path to greatness and millions of slaves on the road to freedom.
An epic of courage and heroism beyond the battlefields, 1861 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. Their stories take us from the corridors of the White House to the slums of Manhattan, from the waters of the Chesapeake to the deserts of Nevada, from Boston Common to Alcatraz Island, vividly evoking the Union at its moment of ultimate crisis and decision.  Hailed as “exhilarating….Inspiring…Irresistible…” by The New York Times Book Review, Adam Goodheart’s bestseller 1861 is an important addition to the Civil War canon.
Includes black-and-white photos and illustrations.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307596666
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/05/2011
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 210,539
File size: 5 MB

About the Author

Adam Goodheart is a historian, essayist, and journalist. His articles have appeared in National Geographic, Outside, Smithsonian, The Atlantic, and The New York Times Magazine, among others, and he is a regular columnist for The New York Times’s acclaimed online Civil War series, Disunion. He lives in Washington, D.C., and on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where he is the Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of Washington College’s C. V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience.

Read an Excerpt

Lower Manhattan, April 1861
It was a day unlike any the city had known before. Half a million people, or so the newspapers would report, crowded the streets between Battery Park and Fourteenth Street. If you were there among them that day, the thing that you would never forget— not even if you lived to see the next century— was the flags. The Stars and Stripes flew above the doors of department stores and town houses, from Bowery taverns and from the spire of Trinity Church, while Broadway, the New York Herald reported, “was almost hidden in a cloud of flaggery.” P. T. Barnum, not to be outdone, especially when he sensed an opportunity for attention, had strung an entire panoply of oversize banners across the thoroughfare. The national ensign even fl uttered, in miniature, on the heads of the horses straining to pull overloaded omnibuses through the throngs on Fifth Avenue. The one flag that everyone wanted to see— needed to see— was in Union Square itself, the unattainable point toward which all the shoving and sweating and jostling bodies strove. No fewer than five separate speakers’ platforms had been hastily erected there, and every so often, above the ceaseless din, you could catch a phrase or two: “that handful of loyal men . . . their gallant commander . . . the honor of their country . . .”

             If you managed somehow to clamber up onto the base of a beleaguered lamppost and emerge for a moment above the hats and bonnets of the multitude, you might glimpse what was propped up on the monument in the center of the square: cradled in General Washington’s bronze arms, a torn and soot- stained flag on a splintered staff. (One hundred forty years later, in an eerie echo of that long- forgotten day, a later generation would gather around the same statue with candles and flowers in the aftermath of another attack on the nation.) Nearby, waving a bit stiffly to acknowledge the cheers, was a lean, gray-haired officer.1 But then you lost your tenuous foothold, the gray- haired officer and his flag vanished from sight, and you were down off the lamppost again, buffeted this way and that by the odorous masses of New Yorkers, ripened by exertion and by the sunny spring day: Wall Street bankers in black broadcloth; pale, flushed shopgirls; grimy men from the Fulton docks, more pungent than anyone else, smelling of fish. It was hard to imagine anybody swaggering through such a crowd, but here came someone doing just that— and not just one man but three abreast, nonchalant young toughs all dressed in identical, baggy red shirts. One had a fat plug of tobacco in his cheek and looked ready to spit where he pleased; another fellow none too surreptitiously pinched the prettiest of the shopgirls as he passed. Somehow, by common consent, the pressing throngs parted to let them through. They all knew exactly who these superior beings were: the fire b’hoys. And as of today, no longer simply that, either— for these b’hoys had signed their enlistment papers yesterday, and were very shortly to be sworn in as soldiers of the First New York Fire Zouaves.

            On the way home after the great Union rally, you might have seen many more of them, over a thousand red- shirted recruits, crowding a park just off Fourteenth Street, arrayed in rough military formation. Uncharacteristically quiet, even subdued, they raised their brawny right arms as their colonel, the man they had just unanimously elected to lead them into war—for such was the custom still, in those early months of 1861—administered the oath.

            The young colonel—he seemed, from a distance, barely more than a boy—was, unlike all his thousand-odd comrades, not a New York City fireman. He was not even a New Yorker, unless one counted his childhood far upstate. He was different in almost every way from the strapping men of his regiment, with their loose limbs and salty tongues: a small man, neat and self- contained, who never drank, or smoked, or swore. He thrilled to poetry as much as to the tattoo of drums; he had dined at the White House more often than in taverns or mess halls; and he had come not from the teeming wards of Brooklyn but from the West.

            He was also one of those occasional American figures whose death, even more than his life, seemed to mark the passing away of one era and the beginning of another. He would be, briefly, the war’s most famous man. And for that moment, the entire conflict, the irreconcilable forces that set state against state and brother against brother, would seem distilled into—as one who knew him well would write—“the dark mystery of how Ellsworth died.”
Like so m any Americans of his generation, Elmer Ellsworth seemed to emerge out of nowhere. This wasn’t quite true, but almost. In later years, some would swear they had roomed with him in a cheap boardinghouse in Washington, long before he was famous; or been his classmate at a high school in Kenosha before he suddenly dropped out and disappeared; or known him living up among the Ottawa Indians near Muskegon, where the tribe had adopted him as its chief. But no one was ever quite sure.

            Odd remnants of his diaries would eventually turn up. And his parents, at least, who would long outlive him, eventually shared everything they could recall of his boyhood. He had left home early, though. There were few enough opportunities for him there.

            Ellsworth was born in the year of the country’s first great financial depression, 1837, in the small village of Malta in Saratoga County, New York. His ancestors had settled nearby before the Revolution, but the family was poor. Ephraim Ellsworth, the boy’s father, had struggled as a tailor until the Panic ruined him, forcing him to eke out a living doing odd jobs, netting wild passenger pigeons to sell for their meat, and peddling kegs of pickled oysters door- to- door on commission. His son, serious- minded and small for his age, was sent off at the age of nine to work for a man who owned a general store and saloon. Scrupulously, the boy refused to handle liquor or even—as his master expected—to rinse out the customers’ whiskey glasses. In a world where drunkenness was common (among children, too), he had already resolved to be different.

            His early life, Ellsworth would write as an adult, seemed to him nothing but “a jumble of strange incidents.” He was a child who seemed to live half in the gritty reality of his physical surroundings, half in a dream world of his own creation. Sometimes he cadged paint from a wagon shop in the village and daubed scenes onto a scrap of board or an old window shade. One of these has survived; it shows a forest- fringed river that might have been the nearby Hudson but for the turrets and spires of Arthurian castles rising along its banks. In summer, he wandered among the “green old hills” above the actual river, and in winter, he skated on the Champlain Canal, perhaps developing there the ease of movement that would later mature into a kind of balletic grace. His schooling must have been intermittent, and when he did attend, he was often teased; the other children nicknamed him “Oyster Keg,” on account of both his size and his father’s ignominious occupation. The boy learned to defend his honor with his fists.

            Occasionally, though, the larger world offered glimpses of a reality nearly as glamorous as his painted fantasies. Malta lay astride the road to Saratoga Springs, a watering place popular with the officers and cadets of West Point, and in summer, the sprucely uniformed soldiers (with fine young women at their sides) must have passed through the village in hired carriages on their way to the nearby resort. For the watchful boy, the sight must have seemed a visitation from an imagined country. Many years later, Ellsworth’s aunt would recall him making forts out of loose bricks and shaping mud into breastworks; wooden blocks represented American soldiers and enemy redcoats.

            His grandfather, George Ellsworth, had been a teenage militiaman in the Revolution, and although George’s pension application from the 1830s reveals that he was illiterate—he signed the document with a quavering X— it also shows that in old age he could still recount vivid tales of battling Tories and Indians along the Hudson Valley.6 Elmer’s grandfather died when the boy was not yet three, but the old veteran’s widow survived him by many years, and probably shared the stories she knew. The rocky slopes and tidy Dutch towns above the Hudson seemed themselves to tell tales of the many famous deeds they had witnessed. A boy with Ellsworth’s active imagination, looking out over the placid landscape of fields and pastures, must sometimes have felt as if the cannons were still booming and the tomahawks still flying in the forests, somewhere over the next line of hills.

            When the boy was about eleven, his family moved to Mechanicville, a larger town with its own railroad station. Peddling the New York papers through the aisles of the crowded passenger cars, he must have scanned reports of the Mexican War and its aftermath, and of the liberal, nationalist revolutions in Europe, some of them sparked by student agitators not much older than he.

            Perhaps because of these colorful stories in the penny papers, or perhaps from his boyhood sightings of West Point cadets, Ellsworth’s dreams had early on taken a military cast. He organized the local boys into a militia company and somewhat grandiosely dubbed it the Black-Plumed Riflemen of Stillwater, the name stolen from a pulp novel he’d read about the Revolutionary War.

            Soon he was absent from home with increasing frequency, until finally, latching onto a prosperous- looking elderly gentleman who’d taken an interest in him one day on the train, he followed the stranger off to New York City to work in his linen shop. This is where the biographical record suddenly stops.

            But we do know that he turned up eventually—as perhaps he was bound to—in Chicago. That town was in its restless adolescence in the 1850s, a half- wild place where patches of prairie still showed like blank canvas among the two- and three- story office buildings, and the occasional wolf still strayed in from the forested shores along Lake Michigan, to prowl the muddy streets and plank sidewalks.

            Restless, too, were the young men who roamed lean and hungry along those avenues of flimsy buildings. From villages in Ohio and western Pennsylvania, from New York and the stony farms of New England, from Germany and Ireland and Sweden, they crowded into the rising metropolis of the great West. Some found work in the sawmills that ran incessantly, gnawing virgin timber into clapboard and railroad ties; others amid the stench of the stockyards. Sometimes the tideless river ran viscous with the blood of slaughtered beasts.

            A year or two before the outbreak of the war, Elmer Ellsworth was one of these thousands of young men, clerking and copying papers in a law office for meager pay, living on dry biscuits and water, sleeping on the bare wooden floor. It was a life so spartan that when he could get a pound or two of salted crackers to vary his diet, the occasion was worthy of note in his diary: “Am living like a King.” It was a statement of characteristic, wildly unrealistic, optimism. Through all the years of roving, wherever they had taken him, he had never lost his boyhood dreams of glory. In his free time, Ellsworth pored over volumes on military tactics and drill formations until he knew some of them by heart. Not long after his arrival in Chicago, he also joined a local militia, the Cadets of the National Guard, one of many such groups that drew in young men far from home and family, worn thin from hard work and striving, looking for anything solid to which they could fasten themselves.

            Today, in an era of full-time, highly professionalized national armed forces, it is hard to appreciate the vastly different culture of the nineteenth century, when for most Americans, volunteering for military service was more like joining a weekend bowling league than enlisting in the army as we know it. The colonial militia companies, which had provided the rank and file during the Revolution, had faded away in the succeeding decades, especially after the War of 1812 had proven them no match for the British army’s hardened veterans of the Napoleonic campaigns. But the Founding Fathers’ old vision of a United States without standing armies, in which citizen- soldiers were the first line of defense, still beckoned. In both cities and towns, men formed military companies that stood ready— at least in theory— to answer their country’s call in case of emergency. In practice, most of these units were scarcely trained and haphazardly equipped; some marched with sticks or cornstalks instead of muskets. Members paraded on the village green every Fourth of July, unfurling tattered banners that had been stitched by local maidens who were now wrinkled grandmothers. The last serious mobilization had been the one back in 1812. Each month or two throughout the year, the boys gathered for “drills” that were often simply excuses to get away from home and do some hard drinking. Larger towns and cities had rival companies: one militia for the Democrats and another for the Whigs; one for the Methodists and another for the Presbyterians; one for the Irishmen and another for the Germans. New York City even had several all-Jewish units.

            In the 1850s, however, Americans started becoming a bit more serious about their militias, marching in drills and parades with fresh ardor, and even making sporadic attempts at professionalism. The Mexican War, the nation’s most dramatic military victory since the Revolution, had just been fought and won. From Europe came reports of the glorious charges and sieges of the Crimean War, and of the nationalist struggles for independence. And closer to home, some Americans were sensing the approach of civil war and beginning to sharpen their swords—in both the North and the South.

            Elmer Ellsworth does not appear to have been one of these. None of his surviving writings suggests much thought about slavery and abolitionism, about the bloody struggles in Kansas or the wild- eyed prophecies of John Brown. He seems, rather, to have approached military drills with the enthusiasm and relentless discipline of an athlete pushing himself toward the big leagues.

            And, like a basketball genius from the mean streets of the Bronx, or a home- run hitter sprouting amid the cornfields of Iowa, the oyster peddler’s son from upstate New York turned out to be a natural. Quite soon— by the time he was nineteen, if not earlier— the Cadets had elected him their major. What was more, he quickly found himself in demand to serve as drillmaster for regiments throughout Chicago’s environs. A photograph probably dating to around this time shows him in the resplendent but queerly antiquated garb of a militia officer, a remnant of the previous century: plumed cocked hat, tight breeches, and swallowtail coat with white facings.

            It is easy to picture this confident young man putting the even younger privates through their paces, lifting his sword to bark the commands: Attention! Squad forward! Double quick—march! More difficult is imagining the splendid major returning each night to his hard lodgings and meager supper. Ellsworth hid his poverty from all but his closest friends; he would later tell of sitting in a restaurant with acquaintances and watching them feast on oyster stew, as he pretended that he had just dined so he could avoid buying a meal. Such reticence fed the aura of mystery around him. His Hudson Valley origins and military prowess fueled whispers that he had attended West Point and been expelled for some mysterious infraction, rumors that Ellsworth may or may not have disclaimed.

            Sometime in the late 1850s, however, Ellsworth had an encounter that rivaled any romantic tale he might have dreamt up. It happened, improbably enough, in a Chicago gymnasium. There he met one Charles DeVilliers, a French fencing instructor recently arrived in the city. Back in Europe, DeVilliers had served as an officer in the Zouaves, an elite fighting force named for a band of Algerian tribesmen renowned for their ferocity in battle. The French Zouaves copied the North Africans’ uniform—fez, baggy pants, and a loose jacket, “suited to rapid movement and fierce daring”—and developed a reputation both for their dashing appearance and for their fearsome use of the bayonet. Newspapers and illustrated magazines worldwide, America included, covered the Zouaves’ exploits in the Crimea (where DeVilliers had served) and in Italy’s war of unifi cation. How a French Zouave ended up in Chicago is still a mystery, except that all sorts of people ended up in Chicago in those days. In any event, it is no surprise that the young militiaman gravitated toward the older officer and insisted on learning the Zouaves’ distinctive tactics. Somehow, over the course of just months— in a miraculous transformation that Hollywood, had it existed yet, might have invented—the threadbare clerk became an expert fencer, gymnast, and drill instructor.

            Before long, he was teaching those skills to others. The cadets’ regiment was a militia unit “of the old school,” one member recalled many years later, composed of young men who drilled in old- fashioned uniforms and bearskin hats, “ponderous, slow, and heavy.” It was also on the verge of bankruptcy; membership had been dwindling, perhaps due to competition from newer and more glamorous organizations. Ellsworth saw an opportunity. When he showed the militiamen the Zouave moves he had learned from DeVilliers, they were fascinated. Within a month or two, he was drilling them six nights a week, for hours at a time, and the unit had renamed itself the U.S. Zouave Cadets.

            The cadets’ devotion to their new commandant was all the more remarkable in light of the strictures he imposed. The new company, he told them, was to be not merely a military organization but “a source of improvement morally as well as physically.” No member was allowed to enter any drinking saloon, gambling hall, or “house of ill- fame,” on pain of immediate expulsion. Even playing billiards was off- limits, on the grounds that it might “naturally lead to drinking.” The preamble to these rules explained that while many militia groups existed “with no higher object than the mere pursuit of pleasure,” this one would be different. And remarkably, the more rigid Ellsworth’s strictures became, the more the men seemed to thrive under them. “The clerk from behind the counter, the law student from the books, the young man of leisure from his loiterings around town— all have lived under strict military discipline, self- imposed,” wrote one impressed visitor to the regimental armory.

            And so it was that on July Fourth of the following year, Chicagoans lined the shore of Lake Michigan to observe a wholly unanticipated spectacle. Some forty cadets in the traditional blue- and- buff uniforms of the eighteenth- century militias—Algerian Zouave–style attire had been ordered but didn’t arrive in time—gave a performance that was more like a gymnastics event (or a nineteenth-century version of Cirque du Soleil) than any military drill the onlookers had ever seen. Instead of forming neat lines, shouldering their guns, and marching straight ahead, these militiamen leapt and rolled and yelled, loaded muskets while lying on their backs, jumped up to fire them and then fell again, thrust and twirled their bayonets like drum majors’ batons—all with a beautiful and precise synchrony. “The cadets are not large in stature, but athletes in agility and strength, moving at the word of command with the quickness and precision of steam men,” one newspaper editor marveled.

            On the day before the Zouaves’ first performance, on the far side of the Appalachians— and unknown but to a few others— John Brown arrived, incognito, at Harper’s Ferry. His deeds in the months to come would electrify the country and the world. But so, too, would the sensation born that Independence Day beside Lake Michigan and soon to be sweeping beyond Chicago, across the Midwestern prairies and then past them, throughout an unquiet land.

Table of Contents

Prologue: A Banner at Daybreak: Charleston Harbor, December 1860 3

Chapter 1 Wide Awake: Boston, October 1860 23

Chapter 2 The Old Gentlemen: Washington, January 1861 57

Chapter 3 Forces of Nature: Central Ohio, February 1861 89

Chapter 4 A Shot in the Dark: Charleston Harbor, April 1861 135

Chapter 5 The Volunteer: Lower Manhattan, April 1861 185

Chapter 6 Gateways to the West: Lower Carson River, Nevada Territory, May 1861 217

Chapter 7 The Crossing: Washington, May 1861 267

Chapter 8 Freedom's Fortress: Hampton Roads, Virginia, May 1861 293

Chapter 9 Independence Day: Washington, July 1861 349

Postscripts 373

Notes 385

Bibliography 445

Acknowledgments 457

Index 461

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1861 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 87 reviews.
lrtbooks More than 1 year ago
Not to be missed, and not your typical Civil War volume. Rather than focusing on detailed description of the early 1861 battles (although the surrender of Fort Sumter is given extensive coverage), this book is at its best when describing little known events and characters, and always in sparkling, descriptive prose. For example, a section on Elmer Ellsworth (one of the first conspicuous casualties of the war) and his fighting "Zouaves" is absolutely riveting and very entertaining. I predict glowing critical reviews of this one, and indeed, Kirkus Reviews has already given it a starred rave. Highly recommended for Civil War fans and lovers of great writing.
Brainylainy More than 1 year ago
As a Civil War buff, I thought I knew all about 1861. I did not. This is an engagingly written, beautifully researched gripping account that takes you from December 20, 1860, the day South Carolina seceded, to the end of the fateful year that followed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fascinating book, lots of stories I never knew. Written with humor and intelligence--really hard to put down.
catwak More than 1 year ago
Ignorance of a subject has never stopped me from expressing an opinion in the past, but here I speak with some (self-proclaimed) authority, having earned 2 degrees in American history many years ago and having slogged through much of the material I'm sure Mr. Goodheart had to endure in order to write this wonderful book. His narrative makes the complexity of time and place come alive with graceful, entertaining, engaging prose. One of the dirty little secrets about much 19th century source material is that it is ponderously written and often boring, despite the drama of thesubject matter. *1861* is anything but. Nor can today's historical purists gripe that *1861* is merely a popularized rehash; the reliance on original source material is prodigious and meticulous. If I could fault *1861* for any one thing, it would be that the narrative reads like it was written by someone with a mild case of ADD. By that I mean that instead of a linear tale, the story jumps around in place and time, so that it really helps to have a NOOK link to Google and Wikipedia, even though the actual time period covered barely gets you past First Manassas! Adam Goodheart is truly gifted. I hope that *1861* is just the first of many.
bjgard More than 1 year ago
While this book hasn't named my ancestors, it provides the background on the political climate of the times. One of the best books to tell of the times. It has given my research new energy and direction.
lucas21181 More than 1 year ago
I had a great feeling about this book. And my gut was PERFECT! I really hope Adam Goodheart writes "1862"
revgirl More than 1 year ago
What a treat! First book I've read on the Civil War & I wasn't disappointed!
jerseydevil More than 1 year ago
In 1861: The Civil War Awakening author Adam Goodheart tells the story of this extraordinary year in America. This is not just a history of the start of the Civil War, it's more of a collection of gripping biographies of remarkable, yet little-known Americans at the start of the second American Revolution.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is one of the most entertaining and enlightening books on the Civil War I have ever read. This is not a military history but rather a social history of a society dramatically coming to terms with issues it has avoided for decades. The author brings things into focus that students of the war will recognize, but not in the manner presented here. This is the first book that showed me why people would view John Brown as anything but a religious zealot. Adam Goodheart writes with the entertaining style, and historical detail that reminds me of Barbara Tuchman and Ted White. This book will be on everyone's year end top ten
Jtdraig More than 1 year ago
This is one of the better history books I have read on the events that led to the US Civil War. I was fascinated with the detail. I do recommend this book to any serious student of US history in that era.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Highly readable; as much a cultural history as a political one. Our book group was amazed at the information we'd never learned in HS/College history class.
jccMA More than 1 year ago
a great book...one of the best in recent memory
Bentley74 More than 1 year ago
Extremely well written and a cogent presentation of differing perspectives of opinions and allegiances that evolved in the year prior to the onset of war, this book brings out many , hitherto little or unknown facts about the opinions and the causes that broke down any chances of peaceful resolution of the slavery question. The role of German immigrants is only of the elements that are often omitted in most histories of that era. Indeed the whole course of the war turned"on a dime" with several key incidents described well in this easily read and hard to put down book. "1861" seemed an appropriate bookend to another great read, "April 1865" in that they both give fresh perpectives, little known facts, and some great portrayals of the great leaders of that era. The focus of this work is mostly from the pro-Union side, but nevertheless appeared reasonably objective even to this "unreconstructed" Southern historian and civil war "buff".
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you are then get this book. A nice fresh perspective on this time period.
BkCltr More than 1 year ago
This book has some very interesting stories and tidbits of history, but was a bit too chaotic jumping back and forth in time and from person to person. If you can handle scatter shot writing with no thought out story line, you may like this. If you like linear history, find something else.
JEROME ARNOLD More than 1 year ago
Should be required reading in any study of American History. Well done.
civilwar-buff More than 1 year ago
I have always been mystified about why this great country almost tore itself apart during the civil war. Much of the existing material is about the actual war and the skirmishes or tend to focus on Abraham Lincoln. Nothing wrong with that, however, there was always something missing. Adam Goodheart brings in the human angle and you almost feel like you are reliving the days leading upto the civil war.
billiecat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An interesting book about the first year of the Civil War. Actually covers much of the Election of 1860 and ends about mid-way through 1861. A lot of detail on Fort Sumter, much of it interesting and revealing of the motivations of the various parties involved. Not an in-depth analysis, but a good feel for the era, nevertheless.
rnsulentic on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Starting in 1860, and only really going until just before the battle of Bull Run in July, this feels like an unfinished book-Goodheart does however, manage to cover different people in different parts of the country, and how their actions had important effects at the time, but are forgotten mostly now: Thomas Starr King's speeches in California, Captain Nathaniel Lyon's defense of the US Arsenal in St. Louis, Lucy Bagby and her trial in Ohio, Elmer Ellsworth and his Fire Zouaves (although the latter is more well known than most)--Also, it feels as if Goodheart concentrates on "Northern" reaction to events, much more than Southern, (not that there is any thing wrong with that). His chapter on the importance of, and events at, Ft. Monroe is excellent. But by stopping where he does, Goodheart misses, in my opinion, the opportunity to more fully explore the 'Civil War Awakening' and what that meant for the country and the war.
annbury on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Terrific new book on the events of the earliest phase of the Civil War (the last few months before it began, and the first few months thereafter) which deserves the critical praise that's been heaped upon it. It takes an unusual slant on Civil War history, focusing on popular movements and popular heroes of the day, not on the usual parade of generals and battles. This doesn't preclude a lot of attention to key figures, most notably Abraham Lincoln, whose development in the months in question is central to the book. (Goodheart also focusses on other lesser know actors on the Civil War stage whose deeds and words make fascinating reading -- particularly the irrepressible Ben Butler, a.k.a "Beast".)The book is vividly written, full of color and emotion, in strong contrast to many other valuable works of history. But it is also meticulously footnoted: I'm not a scholar, but it seems eminently scholarly to me. It also has a compelling narrative drive. In his first chapter, the author says that "I wanted to learn more about how Americans -- both ordinary citizens and national leaders -- experienced and responded to a moment of sudden crisis and change as it unfolded". He communicates those experiences and responses as they happened, not as they look through the backward looking lens of history. But the reader does know what will happen -- a tension that produces narrative drive. I very much enjoyed reading this book, and I learned a lot from it. Most important, it underlined for me the fact that the war really was about slavery, on both sides of the battlefronts. In the North, that became clearer as the war raged on, but the roots of an anti-slavery commitment were there in 1861, as Goodheart makes clear. As we enter the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, however, it's important to remember what happened after it ended, as well as how it began. A sad counterpoint to "1861" is provided by Nicholas Lemann's "Redemption", which shows how the whites took back power in Mississippi in 1875, an event which was shortly repeated across the South. The war did end slavery, but the other two grand promises that it achieved -- 14th and 15th amendments -- were still unfulfilled 100 years after the War ended. Indeed, many would question whether or not they have been fulfilled today.
Big_Bang_Gorilla on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Being a very interesting choice of vignettes illustrating how a variety of Americans were caught up in the events between Sumter and Bull Run. The author is an erudite man who chooses his stories well and is capable of some marvellous turns of phrase.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not exactly what I expected...This book was good but I feel like it was filled with a lot of unnecessary information, which honestly bored me. It's not so much a chronicle of the early parts of the war as it is a chronicle of different people's lives in the 1860s. Some chapter were exceptional; some were long and irrelevant, in my opinion.