Brief book review — 1861

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The Civil War Awakening

By Adam Goodheart

I’ve never been a Civil War buff.  My eyes just blur over when I see the lists of battles and dates and the numbers killed in each battle.

But last year I got hooked on the “Disunion” blog in the New York Times, which follows the Civil War as it unfolded 150 years ago.  Goodheart was one of the contributors and his piece on Major Anderson’s Christmas night move from Ft Moultrie to Ft Sumter in Charleston Harbor captured my imagination.  That piece is included in this book, along with further developments in Charleston Harbor, up to the firing on Ft Sumter.

This is a history told from the Northern perspective.  It’s a story about how the mood of the country swung from complacency and conciliation to a mood where recruiting offices were besieged with a million men ready to enlist.

Along the way we meet some interesting characters. Goodheart doesn’t write much about the usual characters but explores some of the more obscure figures, some of whom loomed large at the time but have since faded away.

This is a fascinating book.  It is a social history rather than a book about warfare, and it ends just as the war itself starts. I can attest to the fact that you will find it interesting even if you don’t ordinarily have any interest in the Civil War.

Read more about the book, including an excerpt, in this NPR story.