One hundred and fifty years ago, hostilities between the northern and southern states spilled over into a civil war. Like any significant anniversary, a number of books will be published on the Civil War over the next five years. A large number. Our collection of books in the 973.7 range will expand like Union enlistments after the Battle of Fort Sumter. Most of these books will fall to the wayside, unread once the anniversary is over, while others will stand up on their own. I think Adam Goodheart’s 1861: The Civil War Awakening falls into the latter camp.
Goodheart provides an interesting snapshot of the nation on the eve of the Civil War and the few months following Fort Sumter. He looks at the political and intellectual changes in the Union, such as the changing attitudes toward slavery, patriotism, and democracy. Ohio, California, and Missouri are used as extended test cases, where Goodheart explores the reactions by the states’ ideologically-diverse population to the conflict as it unfolded. We are introduced to individuals shaped by the start of the war, including the commander of Union forces at Fort Sumter, Major Robert Anderson, future president James Garfield, writer and activist Jessie Benton Frémont, and Lucy Bagby, an escaped slave returned under the Fugitive Slave Act in January of 1861.
Overall, Goodheart argues that 1861 isn’t a mark on a timeline. It represents an idea, another revolution, like the spirit of 1776 or Europe’s 1848. This book is full of emotion and momentum that you will believe. If you would like to read more of Adam Goodheart, he writes for The New York Times‘ blog Disunion.