1861: The Civil War Awakening
By Adam Goodheart
Alfred A. Knopf, New York.
Review by Ken Ackerman
For Civil War buffs, these are salad days. With the 150th marking of the Great Conflict just begun, we can expect a happy great flood of top-notch books marking every step in the War. 1861: The Civil War Awakening is a good one, a tasty appetizer to the coming feast.
Adam Goodheart, journalist and New York Times Civil War blogger, gives us not the great battles to come, but an appealing, human scale introduction to the people and country preparing to fight them. He tells his story through portraits and panoramas, from Fort Sumter with its outnumbered Union defenders, to the first slaves to taste freedom at Virginia’s Fortress Monroe, saved by the clever strategy of its commanding general, lawyer-politician Benjamin Butler, who cuts the legal knot by declaring them enemy “contraband.” We follow Elmer Ellsworth, creator of the Zouaves regiment, an early version of today’s military Special Forces, and the New York Fireman who volunteer for his. We meet future president James A. Garfield as a young school teacher bringing a deep idealistic intellect to framing the North’s will to fight. And many more.
Then there is Abraham Lincoln. Goodheart gives us a Lincoln still wrestling with unprecedented crises, maligned by all sides until he finally finds his own authentic voice that July.
Adam Goodheart is a fine writer and a pleasure to read. You will appreciate the future volumes on Gettysburg, Antietam, and the rest much more from having first learned the terrain through the lens of this evocative book.