1861: The Civil War Awakening
There are a lot of books about the Civil War out there. Most focus on the military side. Strategy and tactics, battles and losses. Or they go the other way and deal with the politics of era in such detail that even the most hardcore policy wonks get tears in their eyes. This book is different. I would consider it almost a social history of this one particular year before and after the war broke out. It tries and tells the story of the start of the Civil War from how the people saw it.
We live in a time when our country is divided. (When has it not been?) We see events happen in our country through the prism of the news and entertainment that we consume. We talk with others to figure out what we think. People are either right or wrong, with us or against us. It was the same then and that is why this book was so fascinating. Our last presidential election was controversial and left half the country unhappy. In 1860 the election was so controversial that the States actually rebelled and left the Union. Imagine that happening today.
The author, Goodheart, does a fantastic job of capturing the uncertainty of the time. Would war actually come? Should we just let the South go? Are we willing to fight and die over slavery? Would Lincoln be able to step up? Many questions that left the country reeling are looked at through the eyes of the people.
Secession and Contraband
On top of that, the author looks at other, less covered aspects of the time. California could have seceded if not for literally a handful of people. Missouri was kept in the Union when it could have easily changed hands. Maryland also was kept in when it could have easily slipped away. Then the issue of what to do with slaves that made their way to Union lines. The “contraband” issue was one of the thorniest issues in 1861 and drives a large portion of this narrative.
It is all covered well and naturally by the author. I recommend it for people that want to step away from the blood and battlefields fo the war and dig into other issues.
As always you can find the book on Amazon by clicking on the cover above.