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1858: Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant and the War They Failed to See

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  235 ratings  ·  48 reviews
Highly recommended?a gripping narrative of the critical year of 1858 and the nation's slide toward disunion and war. Chadwick is especially adept at retelling the intense emotions of this critical time, particularly especially in recounting abolitionist opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act and Jefferson Davis's passionate defense of this institution. For readers seeking to ...more
Hardcover, 355 pages
Published April 1st 2008 by Sourcebooks, Inc (first published 2008)
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Average rating 3.70  · 
Rating details
 ·  235 ratings  ·  48 reviews

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Feb 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, ebook
Four stars is a gift, but this is a good book. So much of our understanding of the Civil War extends no further than the battles--except for the inane argument about what it was about--States Rights or slavery. ("Yes.") Chadwick goes back before Fort Sumpter to examine how the lives of seven men took turns in 1858 which made the Civil War almost inevitable. (In fact, the Dred Scott decision, the Panic of 1857, James Buchanan's inauguration all in 1857 make a good case for that year being the point of ...more
Jun 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
President James Buchanan
Jefferson Davis
Robert E. Lee
Stephen Douglas
Abraham Lincoln
William Seward
Ulysses S. Grant
William Tecumseh Sherman
John Brown

Historian Bruce Chadwick profiles nine of the key players/instigators of the Civil War and shows where they were and what they were doing in the momentous year of 1858. As someone who probably has studied the Civil War more than most, I found much to surprise me in this slim volume.

Jan 10, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: i-own-this
Not worth the effort to write a review.
Wasted potential. The narrative got sidetracked too many times with chapters on what Robert E. Lee and William T. Sherman were doing in 1858. I'm not even sure why they were included, beyond fluffing out the word count. They weren't in a position to dictate policy and were both out of the army at the time dealing with family/domestic BS. Though I love both figures, they really didn't have a place in this book. Chadwick should have kept his narrative to the slavery issue and Buchanan's bungling o ...more
Jud Barry
Jul 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Of the sub-genre of books-whose-title-is-a-date, I've now read three: April, 1865; 1775; and now this book, the only one of the three that didn't succeed in making the argument that its date-in-title was without question a watershed span of time.

Which is not to say that this isn't a good book. It is very well worth reading. The character sketches in particular of its leading personages -- James Buchanan, Robert E. Lee, William T. Sherman, Jefferson Davis, Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, amon
Sep 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
I found the book very interesting, and it was fascinating to have in depth portraits of individuals and events during a critical year leading up to the War. The only downside is the incredibly numerous incidents of sloppy writing. Some were amusing, some irritating, and a few downright confusing. The book provides a good example of the need for careful editors with sharp pens. Nonetheless, I recommend the book overall.
May 02, 2013 rated it it was ok
Having read Mark Kurlansky's 1968, Charles Mann's 1493, Adam Goodheart's 1861 in recent years (and looking forward to Bill Bryson's upcoming 1927), I have really enjoyed the single year focus found in many new history books. It was therefore somewhat disappointing to realize that this isn't quite in the same league.

At first 1858 seems like an odd year to focus on. John Brown's attack on Harper's Ferry is 1859; The Dred Scott decision was 1857; 1860 is the presidential election year.
Apr 16, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: history-general
Despite inexcusably poor copy editing (a particular bete noire of mine since that's my profession - the national anthem of the French Revolution was La Marseillaise not Marseilles) and, at times, clunky writing, 1858 is a fascinating look at a pivotal period of American history - James Buchanan's disastrous presidency.

Chadwick primarily focuses on the lives of men who would figure large in the Civil War: Jefferson Davis, Robert Lee, Abraham Lincoln, John Brown and William Sherman. He
Jun 26, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: kindle
As the title suggests, this book follows the events in 1858 that presaged the Civil War, which specific chapters focusing on Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, William Seward, Robert E. Lee, John Brown, Stephen Douglas, President Buchanan, and William T. Sherman (oddly, despite being listed in the subtitle there is no chapter on US Grant, who only appears briefly in the Sherman chapter). Some of the chapters are quite interesting, particularly those focusing on Buchanan and Douglas. But others, p ...more
Nov 17, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Although a decent overview of several of the major issues that shaped the political climate of the day, with particular emphasis regarding the importance that the debate about slavery had on the future of the union, the book as a whole was not very tightly written and at times lost focus. Two chapters towards the end of the book in particular stood out for their lack of connection to the rest of the work. Added on at the end of the book chapters on the violent, vigilante abolitionist John Brown ...more
Marti Knight
Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, John Brown - this is an amazing cast of characters! Bruce Chadwick makes it all fascinating - shades of David Baldacci.
Keith Parrish
Apr 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Bruce Chadwick has presented us with an overview of the events of 1858, what he calls a pivotal year in the lead up to the Civil War. He does this by presenting mini-biographies and profiles of some of the key figures of the era including Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, Jefferson Davis, Ulysses Grant, William Sherman, John Brown, and William Seward. Chadwick presents us with compelling stories of these men - Davis nearly dying from an attack of herpes; Seward and Douglas presuming the Presiden ...more
Jeffrey Thomas
May 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Okay. Not that great a book, really. Somewhere between the concept and the editing, Either Chadwick lost track of his concept or either he or his publisher started mis-selling the book. Of the characters in that very listy, poorly edited or selected title, Lincoln seems (by the book’s reporting) to have foreseen in his “house divided” speech a coming conflict over slavery, such that either the author or his opponents accused him of predicting or provoking a war. U.S. Grant doesn’t even figure in ...more
Apr 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
I really liked this book. Bruce Chadwick is a good storyteller. He makes several historical figures 3-dimensional and very human. He also does a great job tying together a series of crucial, and that may appear at first to be unconnected, events that happened in 1858 together to paint a complex picture of a country heading towards civil war but very few of these people realize that.

He uses President James Buchanan as a connecting thread. Buchanan is arguably the worst U.S. President.
Paul J
Jul 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I appreciated Chadwick's approach of telling the stories about significant characters of the Civil War and what they were doing in the pivotal year in 1858. Chadwick is especially hard on Buchanan who did his best to ignore the slavery issue and concentrated on foreign policy, which ended up being a detriment to our country on both accounts. Recommended to history buffs - especially those interested in the Civil War.
Jane Thompson
Civil War Story

This is an interesting history. It gives a good view of what was happening to the major players to the run up to the Civil War. More than usual details is given. It helps a great deal in understanding what led up to the war
R.K. Byers
Oct 01, 2017 rated it it was ok
some pretty detailed history, but when the writer described Jefferson Davis as being "good to his slaves", things went sideways and stayed there.
Dec 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics, history
This was a well-written, interesting look at one year in the political history of the United States. (However, the title is a bit misleading since Ulysses Grant is barely mentioned at all in the book.) In 1858, the issue of slavery became a pivotal issue in American politics, further dividing the North from the South and the abolitionists from the slaveholders.

President Buchanan minimized the issue and thought that by ignoring it, it would simply go away. He was wrong. In fact, he ma
Sep 02, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Interested but don't know much about the era
Starts with only 4 stars because it doesn't cover any new ground. Loses one star for over-repetitious writing (especially the John Brown stuff). Loses another star for poor (missing) analysis and lack of focus.

This book is short biographies of the antebellum (pre-Civil War) people in the title, plus Stephen Douglas, James Seward, William Tecumseh Sherman, and especially James Buchanan. It is also a discussion of three key events. 1) The mid term elections, and especially the Stephens-Lincoln Se
David R.
Nov 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A first rate treatment of a cast of historical figures in the pirvotal year 1858: just before the Warm Between the States. Along the way we encounter James Buchanan, Stephen Douglas, William Seward and Abraham Lincoln in the political arena, Ulysses Grant, Robert Lee and William Sherman in the military arena; and the Oberlin Rescuers, John Brown and Frederick Douglass in abolitionist circles. The accounts are fast paced and utterly intriguing. Chadwick is less interested in the well-covered grou ...more
Dec 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
I always enjoy reading about the Civil War era and the politics and thought behind the war, so it was interesting to be able to look into the lives of all these monumental figures like Lincoln and Lee. The author did an excellent job in portraying the character of these people; for example, Sherman was desperate, Lincoln was motivated, Seward was overconfident, Buchanan was ignorant. The author does, however, put Buchanan in such a bad light that he seems to imply that Buchanan caused the Civil ...more
May 14, 2012 rated it liked it
1858: Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Uylsses S. Grant and the War They Failed to See, covers people and events three years before the Civil War. It is a series of vignettes about people who were instrumental later in the war. The books is similar to The Team of Rivals, but since it covers one year, it doesn't have the scope and depth. Even though I am familiar with the events leading to the CW, this book did have information that I wasn't familiar with. The Oberlin Rescuer sect ...more
Jun 08, 2014 rated it liked it
This was a good read. It tells the tale of 1858 2 years before the election of Lincoln that leads to the Civil War. It tells the tale of the various players and what they did in this year. The book certainly highlights the ineptitude of our 15th President James Buchanan as he fails to see the freight train coming at the country or do anything about it. The chapter on the Lincoln Douglas debates and how Buchanan despised and work against Douglas is excellent. The parts covering William Seward and ...more
Sep 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Probably one of the most unusual books I have read during this period of time. Not only does it go into the professional lives, moments in history, but it also goes into the personal lives and why the men made choices that they had made. I learned alot about the men who led up to the Civil War.

Just a warning, it does read dryly, but is well worth the read. I ended up being able to read about 40 pages per day from this incredibly well researched book per night because of the detail and to ensure
John Hamilton
Jun 09, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Very informative and easy to read and follow. I learned some fascinating detail about these historical figures that makes them much more real. All written without much of the arrogance and judgmental attitude so common in many history books (with the exception of James Buchanan--I don't think the author cared for him much). Only problem I saw was that the narrative would get a little jumpy in certain spots. Nothing that one more round of through editing wouldn't fix. I would certainly recommend ...more
Mar 16, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This book has recurring negative editorials on President Buchanan. I suppose he deserves the criticism, but the switchovers from history to editorials make it seem like the author must let off some steam about Buchanan frequently. There are lots of end-notes and lots of background material on the politicians of the day that were shaping the whole slavery issue, like Senators Davis, Seward and Douglas, and also of others who would figure prominently in the subsequent Civil War (or War or Between ...more
Dec 09, 2013 rated it liked it
Interesting to see the pieces as they fell together in that year, but certainly also mentions events of the year before and after. Before this book I wasn't aware of what Grant, Lee, and Sherman did after the Mexican war and before the Civil War, so those tidbits were interesting. The research put into this book is impressive; I enjoyed direct quotes and learned more about the years before 1861 than I knew before. Most of the Civil War reading I've done started in 1860 with Lincoln, so this was ...more
I liked some parts of this, and had zero interest in others. Each chapter is kind of its own story, which is nice. It seemed inconsistent at times; I was a little confused when people would be described as gracious and respected, and then two sentences later, they couldn't get along with anyone? But overall, I liked the insight into all the influences converging toward the war. (Gosh, Buchanan was an idiot, huh?) So, mixed feelings overall, a decent read for those interested but not something I' ...more
David Elkin
Jan 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A tremendous book about the pre-civil war period and the actions of some of the great personalities on how we hurtled into the Civil War. Much of what Chadwick touches upon will be familiar to Civil War readers, but I learned a lot about how bad Buchanan was as President, and why the fight with "The little Giant" tore up the democratic party and allowed Abe Lincoln to gain the Republican nomination. A fun and interesting read.
Bob Williams
Jan 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
I read this book a second time after reading The Worst.President.Ever about James Buchanan. This book offered a different perspective on Buchanan's presidency than the former did. It also incorporated insights into the lives of some of the men who would play major roles in the Civil War.
Finally, it includes detailed accounts of the Oberlin Rescue and John Brown's Abolitionist activities leading up to Harper's Ferry.
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