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1861

Cover of 1861

1861

The Civil War Awakening
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  • Chapter One


    It was a day unlike any the city had known before. Half a million people, or so the newspapers would report, crowded the streets between Battery Park and Fourteenth Street. If you were there among them that day, the thing that you would never forget-- not even if you lived to see the next century-- was the flags. The Stars and Stripes flew above the doors of department stores and town houses, from Bowery taverns and from the spire of Trinity Church, while Broadway, the New York Herald reported, "was almost hidden in a cloud of flaggery." P. T. Barnum, not to be outdone, especially when he sensed an opportunity for attention, had strung an entire panoply of oversize banners across the thoroughfare. The national ensign even fl uttered, in miniature, on the heads of the horses straining to pull overloaded omnibuses through the throngs on Fifth Avenue. The one flag that everyone wanted to see-- needed to see-- was in Union Square itself, the unattainable point toward which all the shoving and sweating and jostling bodies strove. No fewer than five separate speakers' platforms had been hastily erected there, and every so often, above the ceaseless din, you could catch a phrase or two: "that handful of loyal men . . . their gallant commander . . . the honor of their country . . ."

    If you managed somehow to clamber up onto the base of a beleaguered lamppost and emerge for a moment above the hats and bonnets of the multitude, you might glimpse what was propped up on the monument in the center of the square: cradled in General Washington's bronze arms, a torn and soot- stained flag on a splintered staff. (One hundred forty years later, in an eerie echo of that long- forgotten day, a later generation would gather around the same statue with candles and flowers in the aftermath of another attack on the nation.) Nearby, waving a bit stiffly to acknowledge the cheers, was a lean, gray-haired officer.1 But then you lost your tenuous foothold, the gray- haired officer and his flag vanished from sight, and you were down off the lamppost again, buffeted this way and that by the odorous masses of New Yorkers, ripened by exertion and by the sunny spring day: Wall Street bankers in black broadcloth; pale, flushed shopgirls; grimy men from the Fulton docks, more pungent than anyone else, smelling of fish. It was hard to imagine anybody swaggering through such a crowd, but here came someone doing just that-- and not just one man but three abreast, nonchalant young toughs all dressed in identical, baggy red shirts. One had a fat plug of tobacco in his cheek and looked ready to spit where he pleased; another fellow none too surreptitiously pinched the prettiest of the shopgirls as he passed. Somehow, by common consent, the pressing throngs parted to let them through. They all knew exactly who these superior beings were: the fire b'hoys. And as of today, no longer simply that, either-- for these b'hoys had signed their enlistment papers yesterday, and were very shortly to be sworn in as soldiers of the First New York Fire Zouaves.

    On the way home after the great Union rally, you might have seen many more of them, over a thousand red- shirted recruits, crowding a park just off Fourteenth Street, arrayed in rough military formation. Uncharacteristically quiet, even subdued, they raised their brawny right arms as their colonel, the man they had just unanimously elected to lead them into war--for such was the custom still, in those early months of 1861--administered the oath.

    The young colonel--he seemed, from a distance, barely more than a boy--was, unlike all his thousand-odd comrades, not a New...

Reviews-
  • Debby Applegate, New York Times Book Review (cover) "Exhilarating.... At once more panoramic and more intimate than most standard accounts, and more inspiring.... Goodheart turns the lens away from the usual stars of the story [and] explores the more obscure corners of antebellum America, introducing fascinating figures who loomed large at the time but have now been mostly forgotten.... [With] a journalist's eye for telling detail with the rigorous research of a good historian...Goodheart gives his far-flung journey narrative tension and suspense.... 1861 creates the uncanny illusion that the reader has stepped into a time machine.... Irresistible."
  • David M. Shribman, Boston Globe (cover of the book review) "It's as if Picasso and Braque put together an account of the War Between the States. Goodheart is, for want of a better term, a cubist; he takes what is known, breaks it down to its elemental parts and rearranges it, giving us a different view entirely of something we thought we understood entirely.... Hardly a page of this book lacks an insight of importance or a fact that beguiles the reader.... Goodheart shows us that even at 150 years' distance there are new voices, and new stories, to be heard about the Civil War, and that together they can have real meaning.... Goodheart's new history makes a huge contribution to changing how that past looked and, by doing so, explaining it."
  • Tony Horwitz, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author of Confederates in the Attic "1861 is the best book I have ever read on the start of the Civil War. Sumter, secession, and Lincoln appear in a wonderfully fresh and illuminating light, supported by a cast of extraordinary players that few Americans know about. Penetrating, eloquent, and deeply moving, this is a classic introduction to the nation's greatest conflict."
  • Harold Holzer, chairman of The Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation and author of Lincoln President-Elect "Combining a master historian's sure command of original sources and a novelist's deft touch with character and narrative, Adam Goodheart has produced the young century's liveliest book about how a generation of remarkable and ordinary Americans alike variously provoked, resisted, and endured the dissolution of their country and the tragic march toward civil war. Major and minor characters, political movements, and whole towns and villages come alive under Goodheart's expert scrutiny. The result is that rarest of history books: a work of remarkable original scholarship crafted into an irresistible read."
  • Richard Ben Cramer, winner of the Pulitzer Prize "Adam Goodheart brings to this book a rare combination of talent: passion and precision as a historian, grace and generosity as a writer. 1861 puts us in the young nation that was about to shed its skin and begin life as something new."
  • Anne Fadiman, author of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award "No one could capture Whitman's 'hurrying, crashing, sad, distracted year' more vividly than Adam Goodheart has done in this magnificent book. 1861 isn't merely a work of history; it's a time-travel device that makes a century and a half fall away and sets us down, eyes and ears wide open, right in the midst of the chaos and the glory."
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    Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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