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1861: The Civil War Awakening

4.01 of 5 stars 4.01  ·  rating details  ·  3,641 ratings  ·  330 reviews
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
Hardcover, 481 pages
Published April 5th 2011 by Knopf (first published 2011)
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Community Reviews

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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
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 ...more
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
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 ...more
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 ...more
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
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 ...more
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 ...more
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 ...more
Geoff Sebesta
I appreciate the maddening nature of a 400-page book titled "1861" that spends 200 pages describing 1860 and then quits abruptly in mid-July of 1861.

This is a good book that casts light on some obscure corners of American history. I'm particularly grateful for the elucidation of the affair of Elmer Ellsworth and the Zouaves. That was a story so weird that I didn't even understand that I didn't understand it, but now it makes perfect sense. He also gets across the "accidental emancipation" that G
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."
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
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 ...more
Tim Dean
Good discussion of the critical events of the year 1861. I enjoyed the book but because it is a bit disjointed on the subjects, I rated it 3 stars. I did enjoy the author's discussion as to reasons for the north actually caring enough about the south's secession to agree to fight a war. This is attributed to several factors but primarily because 1861 related back to 1776. The declaration created a country from a colony - a fight by a people not represented in government and who had no representa ...more
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
1861 was a fascinating read. Everyone hears about Fort Sumter, and Lincoln, and some of the major generals or famous battles, but what you miss out on in classes is the nervousness and tension - and ultimately resolve - of a nation about to go to war with itself. It was made all the more tense because we know what happened, ultimately. I was able to sit and read and know fully well that the war they were trying to avert at the start of the year couldn't be put off, that the unreal body count was ...more
This is a beautiful, thoughtful, surprising portrait of the figures, grand and small, who helped shaped that fateful year before the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter. I have wanted to read about the Civil War for some time, but couldn't bring myself to commit a tome of battles, generals, etc. This book was perfect - a humanizing portrait of the events in the year up to the beginning of the war.

The divisions over slavery were especially revealing, in that the opinions didn't divide cleanly
Bill Rogers
About 2,750,000 soldiers fought in the United States Civil War, and I would guess there were about 2,750,000 different reasons why they went. We, today's readers, can't handle that, so we narrow it down to one or two.

Shelby Foote tells the story of a southern infantryman who, asked why he fought, said "Because you're all down here." He fought to defend his home from destroying armies. Many, I'm sure, ran off to war because all the cool kids were doing it. Many were drafted and felt they had no c
Very surprised at the approach on this book. What I thought was yet another book analyzing the beginning of the Civil War actually is a mosaic of people and places during 1860-61. Goodheart researched letters and newspapers from that time and gives the reader a snapshot of life in America from those who lived it. It was interesting to also read of the deft juxtaposition of the bombing of Fort Sumter in 1861 to 9/11 in that the writers in 1861 almost mirrored to writers of 2011 about the irrevoca ...more
Schawn schoepke
I must say I like these different perspectives and looks into the people and events of this turbulent time period. I feel like I am searching for something. But the main thing I continually get especially from this book was that we unfortunately have changed little. What we really lack is the presence of a great leader like Lincoln. Politically we certainly are not any more amicable and certainly no better at coming to any kind of compromise. Though what does lack is a true commitment. The south ...more
Marc Weidenbaum
The battle for the union may have been paid for with blood, but it is generally written in perfume. I found it difficult to locate a book about the Civil War that doesn't drown in its own magnolia-scented prose. I started reading a half dozen different books about the Civil War before selecting and managing to get all the way through Adam Goodheart's 1861: The Civil War Awakening. It's a solid overview of the way North and South perceived and dealt with the crisis that had lingered since the uni ...more
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 ...more
Goodheart, Adam. 1861: THE CIVIL WAR AWAKENING. (2011). ****.
There’s a lot of old material rehashed here, but the author manages to broaden the base of our understanding of the Civil War beginnings by drawing his coverage of events occurring in other parts of the country in addition to those happening at Fort Sumter. We also see that the first shots on Sumter by the Confederacy were likely orchestrated by Lincoln and his staff to justify the onset of military conflict. We also get to see what
Sep 13, 2014 Emilymcmc rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Emilymcmc by: Lisa Bu
Last month I started reading "Storm Over the Land," by Carl Sandburg, and realized I didn't remember enough about the actual events of the Civil War -- not the general gist but the specific timeline -- to enjoy Sandburg's lyrical, poetic account, billed as "a profile of the Civil War." It glances at many events, or makes quick references to people, and I knew I was missing out because I didn't really know what those events and people were, aside from generally knowing they were Civil War-y. (It' ...more
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.
A rather odd book...certainly not military history (though it has some), not political history (though it has some). Perhaps it comes closest to cultural history, trying to capture the mood of the country in the period from Lincoln's election, up to Independence Day in 1861. This it does--I think--pretty well, but it feels somewhat patchwork, going into excruciating depth into some people as being representative of the era, even though they may have played fairly small roles (e.g., Garfield twen ...more
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.
Fantastic! What an astonishing work! And what a kluge our government is! Adam Goodheart does a tremendous job of weaving together the stories of major players of 1861, and has finally explained to me how slavery fell. I wish they gave us a sixth star for this book.

Thanks, Carrie, for your goodreads review!
Thought I would try a little history. Learned a few things I didn't know about the start of the Civil War, but only got about half way through. Pretty sure I know how it ended!
Rob Mentzer
Aaaah it is a great great book, just gripping, with these amazing great digressions about the symbolism behind Lincoln's nickname "the railsplitter" and why that was such an effective piece of political theater, and the meaning of beards in the antebellum era of peak beard. Oh man I loved listening to this book (I listened to it, but that does count, right? I am new to audiobooks but I like them), the tight focus of it -- not the whole Civil War, not a Lincoln biography -- makes each move so ten ...more
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U.S. History Read...: 1861: The Civil War Awakening 17 7 May 13, 2015 05:00AM  
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  • The Battle of the Wilderness May 5-6, 1864
  • Grant and Sherman: The Friendship That Won the Civil War
  • The Impending Crisis: America Before the Civil War, 1848-1861
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 Times’ acclaimed Civil War series, “Disunion.” He lives in Washington, D.C., and on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where he is director of Washington College’s C. V. Starr ...more
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“By the age of twenty-five, [Louis T. Wigfall] had managed to squander his considerable inheritance, settle three affairs of honor on the dueling ground, fight in a ruthless military campaign against the Seminoles, consume a small lakeful of bourbon, win an enviable reputation in whorehouses throughout the South, and get hauled before a judge on charges of murder. Three years after that, he took the next logical step and went into Texas politics.” 7 likes
“For my own part,” the president began, “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.” 0 likes
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