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1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam…

1861: The Civil War Awakening

by Adam Goodheart

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Goodheart has given us an excellent snapshot of the values, beliefs and norms of a society teetering on the edge of civil war. His thorough research has explored some of the lesser known peculiarities and incidents that affected our society on the eve of secession and has explored little known details about key players such as Garfield, Anderson (the commander at Fort Sumpter) and others. Even his depiction of Lincoln as an inexperienced and beleaguered man, learning politics on the fly as it were, and not widely regarded with respect or admiration immediately after his election, is fresh. The book is beautifully documented, and will provide the interested reader with a bibliography to take them many steps further in learning about this fascinating era in American history. ( )
  turtlesleap | Oct 6, 2014 |
Excellent book filled with details about historical figures that, even as a history teacher, I had not heard before. Garfield's early years are heralded. What an interesting early career he had. I also learned details and anecdotes about several lesser known persons who were fascinating. One example was Elmer Ellsworth, mentioned briefly in Doris Kerns Goodwin's excellent Team of Rivals. One newspaper compared his relationship to Lincoln like that of Jonathan to David.
Very well written book that kept my attention throughout. ( )
  RobynELee | Jun 11, 2014 |
1861 by Adam Goodheart describes America in the year that saw Abraham Lincoln elected President of the United States and the beginning of the Civil War. There is a lot of colorful detail about the people involved; I was particularly interested in Thomas Starr King. And there is a lot of colorful detail about what was going on at the same time; an easily seen comet came by, for example. The writing gets a little turgid when the author seems to reach for poetry. He keeps himself out of the narrative for the most part, but occasionally there is the jarring impact of the entrance of the observer. I learned stuff from this book; it was okay. ( )
  Mr.Durick | Apr 2, 2014 |
Well written and interesting history of lesser remembered figures; only wish there was more of those lesser remembered figures from the Southern side as balance. ( )
  bontley | Aug 24, 2013 |
Recommendation: If you have already read Bruce Catton, Shelby Foote or any of the other major chroniclers of the Civil War and are looking for a different perspective this is the book for you. If you are just starting out it will have less resonance, read Catton first and come back to this later to get the most out of it.

Quick Take: Really solid in-depth exposure the causes and perspectives of the American Civil War. Presents some interesting perspectives for anyone interested in the emotional aspects of why Northerners ardently accepted war against their own fellow citizens.

I was really not that interested in this book to begin with as I had just finished the Bruce Catton trilogy and a book on reconstruction. Also having already read a multitude of books on the Civil War over the years - including the Shelby Foote trilogy, Shaara's "The Killer Angels", several Catton volumes and biographies on each of the major participants, I really didn't want another rehash of the causes of the war and especially not another rehash of why Lincoln was unsure or how Buchanan's cabinet was corrupt.

I need not have worried. Goodheart's excellently researched book asks interesting questions, adds a great deal of nuance and even manages to shed some light on things that Catton and others have passed over. The exposure of all this is done by asking relatively simple questions. "How does a nation of real people go from a relatively peaceful state to a willingness to engage in bloody civil war in just a short matter of time? What changed within the minds of individuals, never mind the political and military figures, that allowed for this to happen?"

In answering his questions the author exposes in greater detail than I have seen elsewhere the responses, motivations and actions of several lesser known characters in the drama that unfolded. His delineations of the character and outlook of Elmer Ellsworth, Benjamin Butler and Major Robert Anderson are insightful and well researched. They add the color that turns the historical work into something with the feel of a novel. While not a page turner the revelations make for interesting reading and the work moves along at a brisk pace. His somewhat sympathetic portrayal of Butler is particularly interesting, a controversial character that played a much larger role (both good and bad) in how the war played out.

Another aspect that is well dealt with is the overall impact and role of emancipation, while not an original argument the author does accept that slavery was the major motivation for the war and that despite both sides denials in the end it explains a good portion of why the war had to happen. Overall an excellent overview of the opening of the Civil War, albeit primarily from a Northern perspective and yes despite my misgivings he does explain that Buchanan's Cabinet was corrupt. This, in the end, is particularly relevant since there currently seems to be a push to re-invent Buchanan as a less inept figure in the contemporary perspective. Also recommended for anyone who is interested in this pivotal time in American History that wants to understand some of the sideshow aspects of the war's opening. I doubt there is anyone who can read the Elmer Ellsworth story and not shake their head in wonder at how it all played out. ( )
  statmonkey | Aug 18, 2013 |
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150 years after the surrender of Fort Sumter, the journalist, travel writer and historian Adam Goodheart has let loose his own salvo in what will be a four-year firestorm of books commemorating the Civil War. Many good studies about the struggle will be published, but few will be as exhilarating as “1861: The Civil War Awakening.”
"Slated for release in conjunction with the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Fort Sumter, 1861 is essential reading for those who wish to learn more about the Civil War’s crucial first months."
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It seems as if we were never alive till now; never had a country till now. -A young woman in New York writing to a friend, May 1861
For my family / and in memory of / Rose Sudman Goodheart (Teleneshty, Russian Empire, 1905 - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1997), / who made America's history ours, too.
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(Prologue) Night fell at last.
On a fine afternoon in the lst autumn of the old republic, an ancient man stepped haltingly onto the platform of the Boston & Maine Railroad depot and peered about him with watery eyes.
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As the United States marks the 150th anniversary of our defining national drama, historian Adam Goodheart presents an 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. 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.--From publisher description.… (more)

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