Through various vignettes Adam Goodheart has very successfully put together a new way of looking at the Civil War’s first year. It is not so much a revisionist take on the war, but rather an exploration of some fascinating stories that are not part of the usual narrative of the war. The events at Fort Sumter in 1861 are recorded, but so are the not-so-well known events of the late Fall of 1860 that transpired there. The author also takes us to locales, such as St. Louis and San Francisco, that do not usually figure as prominently in a typical Civil War history.
The book thus worked well for table reading. The title, 1861, is somewhat misleading as the author begins in late 1860 and ends in the summer of ’61, but this is no material flaw.
There are not a lot of illustrations or photographs, but I append one of the most fascinating ones. It is the photo of an old man, Ralph Farnham, a soldier at the Battle of Bunker Hill, who visited Boston from his home in Maine in the Fall of 1860, when he was 104 years old. In Boston he was hailed as a hero. And as he had been photographed, when he was 102, we have a photo of a man who was a participant in the Revolutionary War.