Growing up in southwestern Virginia I studied the
War of Northern Aggression American Civil War twice before leaving elementary school. Book reports, timelines, war monuments, heroes’ homes, battlefields and class lectures were integral pieces of the Lost Cause/States’ Rights curriculum. None of that childhood education or my recent family research prepared me for the chaos I found myself in among the pages of 1861: The Civil War Awakening. Adam Goodheart has stripped away 150 years in this great narrative, sweeping the reader into the sights and sounds, the worry and the hope of that year in America.
The Union was a sentiment, but not much more. ~Henry Adams
Writing from his barracks inside the Capitol, Theodore Winthrop wrote a dispatch to The Atlantic Monthly. “Our presence here was the inevitable sequel of past events,” he wrote. “We appeared with bayonets and bullets because of the bosh uttered on this floor; because of the bills — with treasonable stump-speeches in their bellies — passed here; because of the cowardice of the poltroons, the imbecility of the dodgers, and the arrogance of the bullies, who had here cooperated to blind and corrupt the minds of the people. Talk had made a miserable mess of it.”
Goodheart’s account of this year deftly uses such original sources to construct character and narrative; it is a lively, compelling story of our country’s descent into the madness of fratricidal war.