U.S. History Reading Group discussion

1861: The Civil War Awakening
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Book Discussions > 1861: The Civil War Awakening

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Mike | 0 comments Since there were no objections, we will read this book next while we wait for our various libraries to get us Sherman's Ghosts!

Since this isn't a particularly long book, I'm not going to create different discussion posts.

So just post away with your thoughts about the book as it comes up.


Mike | 0 comments So far I'm really enjoying Goodheart's story. By far the most captivating image up to this point (page 90) has been the Wide Awakes and their marches in favor of Lincoln. I have to admit that I wasn't familiar with them prior to reading this and it is a great moment to imagine. I'm also enjoying the various ideas to keep the union together and imagining what might have happened had any of them been attempted (like Winfield Scott's suggestion of four sections with their own capitals!)


Mike | 0 comments I was really struck by the discussion of Crittenden's proposal:

"The Crittenden Compromise, as it came to be known, proposed six amendments to the U.S. Constitution, all of them granting major concessions to the peculiar institution. The first of these amendments would reinstate the Missouri Compromise line, protecting slavery in all the states and territories south of it—including any territories that might be acquired in the future. The second would deny Congress the authority to abolish slavery anywhere under its jurisdiction within a slave state (a military base, for instance). The third specifically protected slavery’s existence in the District of Columbia. The fourth barred Congress from interfering with the interstate slave trade (and thus abrogated the Commerce Clause, which since 1787 had been a cornerstone of the Constitution). The fifth promised that slaveholders who had been forcibly prevented from recovering escaped slaves—prevented by abolitionists, that is—would receive full restitution for their “property” from the federal government. Crittenden’s sixth and final amendment would block all the other amendments from ever being altered, and deny Congress forever the power to abolish slavery."

It's interesting how much of the narrative about the causes of the war tends to overlook how much was offered to the South. Seems unlikely that they would have accepted any effort at compromise.


Mike | 0 comments "Ironically, the Confederates’ attack on, and swift victory at, Fort Sumter turned out to be their worst strategic blunder of the war, a blunder, indeed, that may have cost the South its independence. It is difficult to see what the rebels would have lost if they had allowed Major Anderson and his tiny force to be provisioned and remain indefinitely."

A really fascinating point. I'm curious what the rest of you think of this. What if they hadn't attacked when they did?


Steve | 19 comments I don't believe they would have lost anything other then pride in regards to leaving Sumter alone. The fort wasn't finished when Major Anderson and his men occupied it after abandoning Ft. Moultrie. Neither was it fully armed yet and Anderson and his men were only able to bring along a few of the smaller guns from Moultrie, they had to spike the rest lest they be captured. A small garrison occupying an unfinished fort that is tactically isolated is not a good combination but it is still a small thorn in the side of the south and we as humans sometimes only need pride to do some dumb or brilliant things. If not Sumter I'm sure it would have been only a short matter of time before another flashpoint to light the whole powderkeg was found.


Mike | 0 comments Good point, Steve. But suppose the North struck first? Interesting to think how that might have changed things in the eyes of Britain and France.


Steve | 19 comments Possibly. I'll admit I haven't read much on the British and French positions about getting involved but I've always had the impression that they weren't to eager to jump in. Maybe I'm wrong but seems that they had plenty of opportunities, say after the Peninsula Campaign or Second Manassas in 1862. Remember that both of these countries had just fought in the Crimea a few years before and had their empires to watch over. Germany was also in the process of unifying and had to be watched. Both the Austro-Prussian war and Franco-Prussian war were only a few short years in the future.


Mike | 0 comments There was a lot of internal pressure to get involved and the French were more interested than the British. There's a good book called "World on Fire" that talks about the Civil War from the British perspective. If you haven't already, consider giving it a look!


Mike | 0 comments Anyone else reading this one? Or read it already? Let me know how you like/liked it. I finished the other day and really enjoyed it.


message 10: by Will (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will | 12 comments Those were both good points, steve and Mike. The North had little to gain by initiating. Lincoln also did not want to make the undecided states choose the south due to northern aggression.
I am slowly getting through this book, sorry. Ended up having to teach night school the last couple weeks so I haven't had the time to read.


message 11: by Mike (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike | 0 comments No problem, Will!

What are you teaching? How's it going so far?


message 12: by Will (last edited May 04, 2015 08:22AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will | 12 comments I teach high school U.S. History, government and Econ. It's going great, but one of the night teachers at my school found a different job so I was subbing for a week. I already teach during the day.


Steve | 19 comments I just picked this up from the library yesterday and am at chapter 3. I had read Shelby Foote a few years back and a few other books on the war but so many new or maybe things relearned so far in the leadup to actual hostilities. Definitely a good read to this point.


message 14: by Mike (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike | 0 comments Steve, I think this is one of the merits of this book. Most books I have read tend to rush through the early events of '61 to get to the action on the battlefield. Goodheart seems interested more in how complex the buildup was in the different sections of the country. While I knew things were not as simple as the unified North versus the unified South, it was interesting to see just how complicated thing were across all aspects of the country.


Steve | 19 comments Agreed. I always knew that for the North freeing the slaves wasn't as big a priority as preserving the union but I never realized that there was a vocal minority in the north that wanted disunion.


Steve | 19 comments Finished this book tonight. It reminded me a little of Barbara Tuchman's The Proud Tower in how it told more of the story of the lead up and earliest days of the war as opposed to just conveying dates, places and events.


message 17: by Mike (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike | 0 comments I haven't read Tuchman, Steve, but I agree that a real strength is his ability to show the reader what people were thinking and feeling in the run up to war.

I felt a bit disappointed that it ended before the war got fully underway, but I suppose that is an even bigger endorsement of the author's style - that he left me wanting more!

Glad you enjoyed it!


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