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Looking At The Civil War 150 Years Later
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
The Civil War began 150 years ago today, when the provisional forces of the
Confederate States opened fire on Fort Sumter in South Carolina. That year,
1861, is the subject of the new book by my guest, Adam Goodheart.
He says he wanted to write about how ordinary citizens and national leaders
experienced and responded to sudden crisis and change as it unfolded. The book
is called "1861: The Civil War Awakening."
Goodheart also contributes to the New York Times Civil War Web series,
"Disunion," which describes events 150 years ago using contemporary accounts,
diaries, images and historical assessments. Goodheart also directs Washington
College's C.V. Starr Center of the American Experience. Adam Goodheart, welcome
to FRESH AIR.
Mr. ADAM GOODHEART (Author, "1861: The Civil War Awakening"): Thank you, Terry.
GROSS: So this is the 150th anniversary of the first shot in the Civil War.
What happened on that day that that...?
Mr. GOODHEART: Well, there had been this little garrison of Union soldiers, 60
soldiers and a brass band, sitting on a two-acre island in the middle of
Charleston Harbor, the very hotbed of secession for the past four months.
And at this moment, the South decided that they couldn't tolerate this little
garrison there any longer, and they opened fire on the fort. It was a great
symbolic statement of Southern sovereignty, Southern nationhood.
GROSS: So it was meant to be symbolic. Was it meant to launch a civil war?
Mr. GOODHEART: Well, this little island, it was this sort of useless, two-acre
piece of federal real estate. It had no military importance, really, at all.
But to the South, it was freighted with symbolism, and their great
miscalculation was that it turned out to be freighted with symbolism for the
North, as well.
I don't think that they intended to certainly launch a Civil War on the scale
that the war became. In fact, the Southerners sort of thought that they would
be able to drive the Yankees off of Confederate territory and then that the
North would feel that it wasn't worthwhile to fight to bring the South back
into the Union. And suffice to say, they miscalculated hugely.
GROSS: And there was controversy within - disagreement within the Lincoln
administration over what to do about Fort Sumter. You paraphrase Secretary of
State William Seward, who said that, you know, keeping the garrison at Fort
Sumter would be like the bellicose act of a hard-line abolitionist regime. It
would make it seem like the conflict was one, quote, "upon slavery or about
slavery," unquote, whereas the crisis must be framed as a question simply of
union or disunion.
Mr. GOODHEART: Yeah, Lincoln was in a very difficult position as April 1861
began because here was this little garrison in Charleston Harbor, and they were
literally being starved out. This war began, really, due to that ancient law of
siege warfare, that you can't survive forever without food. And the
Confederates had cut off food supplies.
So Lincoln had to decide either to simply withdraw the garrison and yield this
fort to Confederate control, as in fact forts all across the South had been
surrendered to the Confederates over the past several months, or he had to
attempt to resupply them with food. And that, many Americans in both North and
South, believed would be seen as an act of aggression, a statement that the
federal government was not going to let the South leave in peace.
And in fact, Lincoln ended up doing something very clever, and it was his first
sort of great political master stroke as president. Rather than sending a
military expedition to Fort Sumter, he sent some tugboats carrying food.
And he actually did something that I think a more seasoned military commander
never would have done. He telegraphed to the Southern commanders, and he said
that this expedition was on its way to Charleston Harbor.
And he said that this was a routine, humanitarian, resupply mission. So he
ended up putting them in a very difficult situation, turning things around so
that the South had to either allow this garrison to stand, or they had to open
fire upon a purely humanitarian mission. And so, that was when they decided to
start firing at Fort Sumter before the humanitarian mission could arrive.
GROSS: And was that seen officially as an act of war? Did President Lincoln
decide, after the South fired on Fort Sumter, we are now at war, this is a
civil war, and...
Mr. GOODHEART: I think Lincoln knew at the point that he sent that expedition
that the war was going to begin sooner or later. And we have records of
discussions within his Cabinet where it becomes clear that gradually, this
realization was dawning.
And so Lincoln recognized that it would be in the North's best interest to have
the South fire the first shot, to have the South be the aggressors. He was not
going to have the North open fire on the South, which would have been very
divisive, which would have risked alienating foreign powers that might have
stepped in on the side of the South.
And there's a very telling remark that Lincoln made to a close confidante of
his a couple of months after the beginning of the war. He said: They attacked
Sumter. It fell and thus did more service than it otherwise would.
Mr. GOODHEART: Meaning that sort of the best thing that the South did for the
Union cause was to launch that attack on Fort Sumter, to become the aggressors
in the eyes of the world and united a previously very divided North behind the
cause of the Union.
GROSS: Now, your book focuses on one year, 1861. It's the year the Civil War
starts. Why did you want to focus the book on just one year?
Mr. GOODHEART: Well, I think that when we think about the Civil War today, we
tend to think of a sort of a fatal inevitability in the process. We see the
entire arch of the struggle, sort of a great epic struggle ending, of course,
with the martyrdom of Abraham Lincoln.
And by taking that one particular moment when everything was uncertain, when
everything seemed to change overnight, I wanted to try to do what I think is
one of the most difficult things for a historian to attempt, which is to
recover that sense that I think we all have as we experience history happening
to us of not knowing what's going to come next. And people didn't know that in
1861. There was a great national insecurity that I think is very important to
understanding that time.
GROSS: Do you think that a lot of people in the North and the South thought
that there'd be some kind of negotiated settlement, that it wouldn't really
come down to war?
Mr. GOODHEART: Yes, I think they did. I think that a lot of people had faith in
the American ideal of compromise, which of course is something that we all
believe in as a foundation of our democratic system, although as we've seen in
our own times, we don't always succeed at reaching that, certainly as easily as
But yes, people had faith in that. Several past generations, ever since the
framers of the Constitution, had managed to paper over the slavery question
through compromise. And so, many Americans hoped that a similar compromise
could be reached in 1860 and 1861.
But it was one of those moments - and again perhaps familiar from other times
in American history - when the radicals on both sides ended up controlling the
GROSS: And what did the radicals on each side stand for?
Mr. GOODHEART: Well, the radicals on the Southern side stood for a free,
independent, Southern republic. A republic that would be founded on slavery,
with slavery as its cornerstone, as Alexander Stephens, the vice president of
the Confederacy, famously said in a speech known as "The Cornerstone Speech."
He explicitly repudiated Thomas Jefferson's doctrine that all men are created
equal, and he said: We in our new republic have a new dogma, that we are a
republic whose cornerstone is slavery.
In the North, there were a lot of people who, in the 1850s, were increasingly
unwilling to tolerate the expansion of slavery. And in some cases, of course,
they were abolitionists. But in many cases, they were not abolitionists but
simply felt that slavery was an evil system that should not be allowed to gain
any more ground.
And a lot of people were tired of compromising. They were tired of a generation
of what were seen as weak politicians, known as the dough faces, and they were
simply ready to draw a line and say no more.
GROSS: So both sides, for the extremes of both sides, it was about slavery. And
yet, there are still arguments about what was the Civil War really about. And
some people say: Oh, it wasn't really about slavery. Why are we still arguing
about what the Civil War was about?
Mr. GOODHEART: Well, you know, when you go back, and you look at the actual
documents and debates from the time, of course, many people have said since
then that it was about states' rights. But really the only significant state
right that people were arguing about in 1860 was the right to own what was
known as slave property - property and slaves - unimpeded and to be able to
travel with that property anywhere that you wanted to, to be able to spread
slavery across the United States.
So it's clear that this was really about slavery in almost every significant
way. But, you know, we've sort of pushed that to the side because, of course,
we want to believe that our country is a country that's always stood for
freedom. And I think it can be difficult for Americans to accept.
Certainly it's difficult for Southern Americans to accept that their ancestors
fought a war on behalf of slavery. And I think that Northerners really, for the
cause of national reconciliation, decided to push that aside, decided to accept
Southerners' denials or demurrals.
GROSS: You know, it's - in terms of how we're still talking about what was the
war really about, in 2010, the governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, made a
statement about Confederate History Month. And he didn't mention slavery in it.
He praised those who fought for their homes and communities and commonwealth,
but there was no mention of slavery. And he got a lot of criticism for that.
And more recently, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour said that the Civil War
was about slavery, and that remark was considered, like, very important, a very
Mr. GOODHEART: Yes, I think the South is changing a lot today even from where
it was just a few years ago. I actually - really some of the deep genesis of my
interest in this subject came about 10 years ago when I traveled through the
Deep South, visiting plantations and plantations that had become historic
And I found there was this great sort of collective amnesia going on. I visited
one plantation in Natchez, Mississippi, where the slave cabins had been turned
into guest rooms at a B&B, and they were sort of Jacuzzi bathtubs in these
places and all sort of decorated in chintz. And it was the sort of incredible
example of sort of literally redecorating the past away.
But I think today, even just 10 years later, when you travel through the South
and you visit these historic sites, there's an increasing willingness to engage
with the slave past. And I think that's something that sort of parallels in
many other ways, the ways that our country has grown on the issue of race
including in some fairly improbable places, among some fairly improbable
And I think actually that overall, I find a strong note of hope at this 150th
anniversary of the Civil War. You know, certainly, it's very difficult from the
50th anniversary of the Civil War.
In 1913, there was an anniversary celebration at Gettysburg, the anniversary of
the 1863 battle. And they brought these Northern and Southern veterans
together, and the Confederate and Union vets embraced one another, these old
men. There are some wonderful photographs, and they were holding Union flags
and Confederate flags, and Woodrow Wilson went and gave a speech and said that
the old quarrel is forgotten.
Well it's very symbolically significant that excluded from that reunion were
the black veterans. They were not even invited to participate. So, that part of
the Civil War history was, for a long time in this country, simply pushed
aside, erased almost completely. And I think we're in a very different place
GROSS: My guest is historian Adam Goodheart. His new book is called "1861: The
Civil War Awakening." Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is historian Adam Goodheart. We're
talking about his new book "1861: The Civil War Awakening." And the Civil War
started 150 years ago today.
In your book, "1861," you tell the story of a lot of individuals and a lot of
groups of people in the North and in the South who took surprising positions or
who had a hard time deciding what their position would be.
One of the groups that you write about is the German immigrants in St. Louis at
the start of the Civil War. St. Louis was officially slave territory, but these
German immigrants opposed slavery and opposed the Confederacy. Tell us why.
Mr. GOODHEART: St. Louis was a very strange place because here was a slave
state, the state of Missouri, but within Missouri, you had the city of St.
Louis, which was a great industrial city, had a lot of people who had come,
actually, from the North, a lot of Yankees who had settled there because of the
industry, a whole lot of immigrants, especially German immigrants.
And these people had their own very particular set of allegiances. And in fact
these Germans were, in many ways, much stronger abolitionists, much more
committed Lincoln partisans than most non-immigrant Americans were.
Many of them had come fleeing the aftermath of the liberal nationalist
revolutions in Europe in 1848. And so, they came with a sense of battling for
freedom in their native countries. They came with a sense of having arrived in
a land where they didn't have to fear a sort of a small, aristocratic
oligarchy. And they were not ready to live within the kind of society that the
And in fact, these Germans began arming themselves very, very early in the war.
Almost from the moment that Lincoln was elected, and it became clear that the
South was going to secede. They start drilling with rifles, secretly at night.
They form these paramilitary groups. And this sort of minority of Germans
within the state actually kind of stages what they tried to do in Germany. They
staged a sort of a push or an uprising against this tyrannical, against this
sort of right-wing state government. And they managed to overthrow it.
They sent the pro-slavery governor of Missouri fleeing for his life across the
state. And Missouri did not fall into Confederate hands. So it was a moment of
great heroism that I think has been really forgotten in the story of the war.
It was also a moment of great tragedy because this was a struggle. The struggle
in Missouri was fought not on a battlefield somewhere between blue and gray
troops, but literally a war in the streets. This was a civil war like the kind
that we see today in a place like Benghazi, for that matter.
It was a civil war of people opening fire on crowds of civilians, capturing one
another and killings in execution-style at point-blank range. There was a kind
of savagery, a kind of squalor to this civil war that I think also has been
GROSS: And this is the state divided against itself?
Mr. GOODHEART: It was. It was the state divided against itself. And there were
also many Americans who were divided against themselves at this moment.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is historian Adam Goodheart, and his
new book is called "1861: The Civil War Awakening." He also writes the New York
Times Civil War blog. He's a major contributor to it. That blog is called
And, Adam, in your "Disunion" blog, you wrote about the difficulty that many
Native Americans had choosing their side, choosing what side to take during the
Civil War, and you wrote about the Choctaw and their divided loyalties at the
start of the Civil War. Would you tell us about those divided loyalties?
Mr. GOODHEART: Yeah, that's right. And, you know, there were all of these
different groups within America that really had to decide where they wanted to
put their loyalties at that moment. And it was anything but a fait accompli.
The Choctaws were interesting. Well, really, a lot of these Native American
tribes were interesting because they actually had a long history of having to
throw their loyalties with one group of whites against another one. This was
something that went all the back to early colonial times, and some of the
struggles between the French and the English or the French and the Spanish over
control of the American continent.
And so here they were, and on the one hand, they had this new Confederate
government that was based on slavery, based on white supremacy, which certainly
wasn't something that seemed promising to the Indians in certain respects. The
Southerners had done much to push the Indians, including the Choctaws, out of
their ancestral lands, farther west. And yet they also had the North, which
represented the federal government, that had been no friend to the Native
Americans, and that had newly been taken over by the Republican Party.
And Lincoln and Seward both made it clear that westward expansion was a very
central part of the Republican political agenda. And so, the Indians really
were caught between a rock and a hard place.
And groups like the Choctaws ended up going and fighting for the Confederacy,
while other groups ended up going and fighting for the Union. And it really
ended up - there ended up being a sort of a tragedy for both groups because, in
the long run, both the pro-Union and the pro-Confederate Indians ended up
suffering a lot and not gaining very much.
GROSS: Now, you say that among the Choctaw, though, were many tribal elders who
actually owned black slaves.
Mr. GOODHEART: That's right, and that's something that we tend to forget,
again, today, that there were Choctaw leaders who owned black slaves. There
were many Cherokee leaders who owned black slaves.
And many of these Indian groups also had become really intermarried with whites
at this point. So the divisions between groups in America were much fuzzier
than the sort of Union and Confederate, blue and gray categories that we try to
fit people into.
GROSS: Adam Goodheart will be back in the second half of the show. His new book
is called "1861: The Civil War Awakening." He also contributes to the New York
Times Civil War blog, "Disunion."
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Adam Goodheart, author of
the new book "1861: The Civil War Awakening." His ambition is to describe how
ordinary citizens and national leaders experienced and responded to sudden
crisis and change as it unfolded. Today is the 150th anniversary of the opening
shot of the Civil War when Confederate troops opened fire on Fort Sumter in
South Carolina. Adam Goodheart directs the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of
the American Experience at Washington College and contributes to The New York
Times blog "Disunion."
Let's talk about the economic importance of slavery to the South. We know how
slaves were used on cotton plantations and within the homes of plantation
owners. Were there other ways that slave labor was being used or other ways
that the South intended to use slave labor?
Mr. GOODHEART: Well, I think it's important in general to remember that slaves
were the largest single investment of these Southern planters. So we have to
think about the slaves not simply in the way that they were being used or
employed but also in the way that they represented, as terrible as it is to
say, a sort of a liquid asset, actually a highly liquid asset for these
Southerners who owned them.
We tend to think of slavery also as just sort of simply a moral issue. But I
think we think of it differently when we realize that the value of slave
property, some $4 billion, enormous amount of money in 1861, represented
actually more money than the value of all of the industry and all of the
railroads in the entire United States combined. So for Southern planters to
simply one day liberate all of that property would have been like asking people
today to simply overnight give up their stock portfolios, give up their IRAs.
And again, it's terrible that people thought of their slave property this way.
They thought of the amount that their slaves would be able to fetch on the
market if they happen to fall on hard times. They thought of what those slaves
would be worth as inheritance to their children, and how that slave property
would have to be divided or liquidated with their estate.
And they also, again, as terrible as it is, thought about the value of that
slave property increasing over time. And even so great an idealist as Thomas
Jefferson also did some calculations and realized, as he put it, that the rate
of return he could get on his, as he called it, breeding women, was as much as
five percent a year, where his return on the value of their labor would be much
So the economics of slavery were very important driving the South into war.
They weren't simply protecting their ideals, they were protecting their
GROSS: And the South wanted the new territories to have slaves, for slaves to
be legal there. So were there new kinds of work the South envisioned slaves
doing as new territories opened up?
Mr. GOODHEART: Well, I think the South really envisioned that it would have a
slave empire that would stretch all the way around the Caribbean, all the way
around the Gulf of Mexico, and that they would control not just cotton but all
of the other sort of great staple crops of the 19th century - things like sugar
and coffee. And there were Southerners in 1861 saying that once we control this
wealth we will also control the political destinies of the world and we will
have an empire greater than any that was known by Greece or Rome.
So they were dreaming not only of a sort of an independence from the North but
actually of a sort of a grand imperial future.
GROSS: You reprint an ad from a Virginia newspaper from the day that Lincoln
was inaugurated, March 4th, 1861, and this is a sheriff's sale of free Negroes.
And the ad reads: On the 4th day of March, 1861, I will proceed to sell at
public auction, in front of the courthouse door, for cash, all free Negroes who
have failed to pay their tax for the years 1858 through 1860.
What was that about, selling free Negroes' labor?
Mr. GOODHEART: Well, you know, in very real ways African-Americans in the pre-
Civil War era and even in the post-Civil War era were not really truly free.
Even though they technically had been emancipated, their lives were still
constrained in many ways. And one of them was that in many Southern states if
you were a free black person and fell behind on your taxes, which, of course,
was not uncommon for very poor people, which most of the free blacks were, you
could actually be auctioned off in order to pay that debt. You wouldn't be sold
permanently back into slavery, but your labor could be auctioned off for a
period of time that it would take to repay that.
Now, actually, in many places free blacks could be re-enslaved, not usually for
debt, but if they committed certain crimes. Free blacks were also not
infrequently kidnapped back into slavery. So this really was a white
supremacist culture throughout America.
Thinking about just how interwoven slavery was into Southern society, into
American society actually, because there were large sectors of the Northern
economy that depended on slavery, the entire textile industry, which was huge
in many parts of the North. And Northerners were very aware of what the
destruction of slavery would mean for their economy.
But thinking of how interwoven it was, you know, one example I use with my
college students at Washington College when I'm teaching this history is to
talk about today when many of us recognize that in burning fossil fuels we're
doing something terrible for the planet, we're doing something terrible for
future generations. And yet in order to give this up would mean sort of
unraveling so much of the fabric of our daily lives, sacrificing so much,
becoming these sort of radical eccentrics riding bicycles everywhere, that we
continue somewhat guiltily to participate in the system.
And that's something that I use as a comparison to slavery, that many Americans
in the North, and even I believe sort of secretly in the South, felt a sense of
guilt, felt a sense of shame, that knew that the slave system was wrong but
were simply addicted to slavery and couldn't give it up.
GROSS: When you mention the textile industry you mean cheap cotton?
Mr. GOODHEART: That's right; the cheap cotton that was being sent to New
England to be processed in the Northern textile mills and then shipped all over
the world. It was one of the great American industries at the time.
GROSS: My guest is historian Adam Goodheart, author of the new book "1861: The
Civil War Awakening." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is historian Adam Goodheart. His new
book is called "1861: The Civil War Awakening."
What was the state of the Union military when the war started?
Mr. GOODHEART: When the war started the Union military consisted of really just
15-17,000 men who were all scattered, strung out in forts along the western
frontier. They certainly were not concentrated in any way anywhere where they
could counter the threat of secession. And, in fact, throughout the South, when
the Confederacy began to flex its military muscle, Union forts tumbled one by
one sort of like chess pawns into the hands of the Confederacy, simply because
in many cases they would only have a couple of dozen men guarding them.
And again, the North was in a very difficult situation because if they called
up thousands or hundreds of thousands of Union volunteers they would be seen as
the aggressors and yet the South was calling up thousands and thousands of
volunteers and arming itself for war. So in many ways the North ended up sort
of caught unprepared for the war, and I think if they had started preparing
themselves much sooner they really could have shifted the momentum of the war
militarily much more quickly.
And, in fact, I think that part of it also has to be blamed on Abraham Lincoln.
You know, in retrospect, of course, Lincoln seems like a sort of a great wise
figure who stepped into his role as a national leader very easily. But, in
fact, he had some strokes of genius in early 1861, but he also made some great
missteps and blunders.
And one of these was at this moment that Fort Sumter gets attacked, it's sort
of a 9/11 moment or a Pearl Harbor moment for America and literally probably
over a million Union men of military age are ready to volunteer and go off to
fight the rebels. And they're literally - they're mobbing recruiting stations
throughout the North, pushing and shoving to get there to sign the enlistment
forms, and Lincoln decides only to take 75,000 men. He doesn't want to make
this seem like a crusade against the rebels.
And that was an enormous blunder because again, the Union goes in sort of with
one hand tied behind its back and does not sort of attack the Confederacy with
everything it has at the beginning of the war.
And very quickly, when it becomes clear that this war is not going to be as
easy a war as everyone thought, all of that sort of war fever, the rage
militaire, as the French call it, evaporated very fast and it became difficult
to get troops to the point where, of course, a draft became necessary.
GROSS: There were slaves who had been conscripted by the Confederacy to fight
or at least to help in like building forts and stuff like that and some of
these slaves escaped and joined the Northern Army. But when they defected they
were given the status of contraband. Would you explain why?
Mr. GOODHEART: Yeah. You know, very early in the war this problem of slavery
presented itself, sort of thrust itself into the faces of the North. Many
people wanted to simply restore the Union as it was in the Constitution, as it
was as many people said in the North. And it quickly became apparent that this
could not be the case because almost from the moment that these Union armies
start penetrating the South, slaves are resisting their masters. They're rising
up and escaping and flocking to the Union lines. And the Northern generals and
the Northern politicians had to decide what was to be done with them and it was
a real dilemma.
They sort of managed to get around this issue for a while with a very clever
sort of tricky legal construction, which was the concept of contrabands.
There was one Union general in particular, General Benjamin Butler in Virginia,
who, when three of these escaped slaves at the very beginning of the war made
their way into his fort, he thought about it - and Butler was a lawyer in
civilian life - and he thought, well, you know, what I'll do is if these
Southerners claim that these slaves are property, I'll claim that they're
property as well. And if they're property that's being used to support the
military cause of the Confederacy, I can confiscate them as contraband of war.
And so he declares these slaves contraband of war much as he might with an
intercepted shipment of sabers or muskets.
And what happens is almost overnight more and more escaped African-Americans
are just flocking to that fort until within a few weeks there are over a
thousand of them. And they're flocking to Union fortifications and Union camps,
anywhere that the Union forces are within range. And soon it's just literally
an outpouring of enslaved African-Americans who are coming into these camps.
And this is, you know, well over a year before the Emancipation Proclamation.
There's a Union Army officer who said that the onrush was like the oncoming of
cities pouring into our camps.
So really, I believe that the slaves began to liberate themselves long before
Lincoln signed that document emancipating the slaves.
GROSS: Part of your research involved reading letters that you and your
students found - 300 years worth of letters and documents from one family, the
Emory family. And even within this family there was difficulty deciding which
side to take.
Mr. GOODHEART: Yeah. The moment that really brought this book into being for me
was two years ago when the students of mine at Washington College and I were
exploring a crumbling old plantation house on the Eastern Shore Shore of
Maryland, a place where there were very strong divisions within communities,
within families between North and South at the beginning of the war. And we
came across an attic full of family papers. And as we started going through
these, there was one bundle of documents that we found that was all tied up
with a silk ribbon that clearly hadn't been undone in more than a hundred
years, and written on the outside was the date 1861.
And we opened up this bundle and inside was an incredible series of letters
between a United States Army officer who was stationed all the way out in the
West, in the Indian Territory at what's now Oklahoma, writing to his family
back in the East. He's very far removed from the scene of the action, as it
were, and he's trying to figure out which side to take.
And on the one hand he's grown up in a slaveholding family. He comes from a
slave state. He considers himself culturally and politically a Southerner. And
yet, here he is out West under the Stars and Stripes, this flag that he's
served ever since literally he was a teenage cadet at West Point almost 40
years earlier. He'd fought in the Mexican War for this flag, for this nation.
He's pulled by personal loyalties because he has many friends who are Union
officers. He has the other close friends. He's a very close friend of Jefferson
Davis. And he's trying to figure out which way to go and he's writing to his
brother and writing to his sister. And so that was fascinating to me.
But what was equally fascinating was that he's not just thinking about
politics. He's not just thinking about morality. He's not even just thinking
about North and South, but he's also thinking about, well, what's this going to
mean to me personally in a kind of a selfish way. What will this mean to my
career? If I go with the South, will I become a sort of a founding father of a
new nation, much as our grandparents founded the new United States and were
remembered as heroes? Or, he says, will I literally be strung up as a traitor?
And his wife writes back to him and she says it is like a great game of chance.
And, you know, when I read that phrase I said I really want write a book that
recaptures that moment when for millions of Americans it was like a great game
of chance when everything was on the line and no one knew which way their
gamble would turn out.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is historian Adam Goodheart. His new
book is called "1861: The Civil War Awakening."
Some states today want the right to basically be able to nullify federal
legislation in their state and not obey it; for example, to not follow the new
health care policy that Congress passed. Do you see that as like a contemporary
expression of similar divisions dating back to the Civil War?
Mr. GOODHEART: Yeah. Definitely nullification was sort of a version of
secession-light, and that was a great controversy going back to Andrew
Jackson's administration. And, you know, I think a lot of people in America
were ready to let the South, ready to let this Southern minority sort of
dictate the terms by which it would stay within the Union. A lot of people in
the North were even ready to let the South peacefully leave the Union if they
felt that strongly about it, including a number of abolitionists, amazingly
enough, who wanted the stain of slavery removed from the land of liberty.
But, you know, part of the sort of the genius of Abraham Lincoln is that he
articulated from the very beginning the reason that secession must not be
allowed to stand. Lincoln understood that secession was in a very real sense
anarchy or even in a way terrorism against the foundations of democratic
government. Because the basic principle of democratic politics in America was,
and still is, majority rule and minority acquiescence to the will of that
majority. And without that honored you could simply have groups and factions
and regions withdrawing their allegiance as soon as they felt like it.
And Lincoln was right; the Union would not have been able to stand for long.
Democracy, as he famously said in the Gettysburg Address, would have perished
from the Earth in a way because the American example of democratic government
would have failed in the eyes of the world, and Lincoln was very much conscious
of these nations in Europe and even beyond turning their eyes to the American
example at this moment.
And even the South would have been undermined from within. There were very real
divisions between different states in the South and what was to keep Virginia
from seceding from the Confederacy, or Louisiana, as soon as a political debate
turned against it? So Lincoln realized this and he realized that in fighting
against secession he was fighting for the existence of the Union and he was
fighting for the existence of democracy itself. That was not an exaggeration.
GROSS: Well, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. GOODHEART: Thanks, Terry. I enjoyed it.
GROSS: Adam Goodheart's new book is called "1861: The Civil War Awakening." You
can read an excerpt on our website, freshair.npr.org. Goodheart directs the
C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington
College and contributes to The New York Times Civil War blog "Disunion."
This is FRESH AIR.
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
Edwyn Collins: 'Losing Sleep' And Continuing Life
TERRY GROSS, host:
Edwyn Collins was the leader of the 1980s post-punk band Orange Juice. In 2005,
at age 45, the Scottish singer, guitarist and songwriter suffered two cerebral
hemorrhages and he doubted he'd make music again. But now he's back with
"Losing Sleep," his seventh solo album.
Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.
(Soundbite of song, "Losing Sleep")
Mr. EDWYN COLLINS (Musician): (Singing) I'm losing sleep, I'm losing dignity.
Everything I own is right in front of me. And it's getting me down, I'm losing
sleep. And it's getting me down, I'm losing sleep.
I'm holding on...
KEN TUCKER: I'm losing sleep, I'm losing dignity, Edwyn Collins sings on the
title song of his new album. Powered by soul-music rhythms and sung in a tough,
terse tone, Collins sounds impatient, eager to get on with his life. The music
on this album is the work of a man on a mission.
(Soundbite of song, "Come Tomorrow, Come Today")
Mr. COLLINS: (Singing) I ain't lying, no more tears. It's good to be here, the
best of my years. Through the good times and the bad, never faltered, I've
faced all my fears.
That awkward sense of being alive. That awkward feeling deep inside.
Come tomorrow, come today. I ain't lying, no more tears. Come tomorrow, come
today. I ain't lying, no more tears. No more tears.
TUCKER: If the PR angle for this album "Losing Sleep" is Collins' near-
miraculous recovery from two strokes that ought to have left him unable to make
music, Collins hasn't approached it as a comeback. No more tears, he admonishes
on the song I just played, "Come Tomorrow, Come Today." It features a strong
yet delicate guitar line by Johnny Marr from The Smiths and The Cribs. But
Collins and Marr don't use the occasion for nostalgia for the '80s. Another
member of The Cribs, Ryan Jarman, helps Collins achieve an almost angry urgency
on the song "I Still Believe in You."
(Soundbite of song, "I Still Believe in You")
Mr. COLLINS: (Singing) I'm running through the backwoods. I'm running through
the fields. When I'm alone I miss you. Back at my house, I don't, yet.
I still believe in you. I still believe in you. I still believe in you. Maybe
you want me too. My love.
TUCKER: Occasionally on this album, Collins will mock his own youthful
arrogance as an obstreperous would-be hit-maker leading the band Orange Juice.
On the song called "Over the Hill," Collins begins with a pun in the phrase, at
21, I had a grand conceit, and then he divulges what that conceit was -
clarity, simplicity, he insists. These qualities are more in evidence here than
they ever were in Orange Juice's more pulpy music, and Collins' sound is the
better for his middle-aged clarity and simplicity.
(Soundbite of song, "Over the Hill")
Mr. COLLINS: (Singing) Looking back where I used to be, reckless youth, that's
the truth. At 21 I had a grand conceit, clarity, simplicity. In my world of
darkness nothing's changed. In all my confusion it's still the same.
Some day, out there, when I'm older. When I'm wiser, when I'm over the hill...
TUCKER: Even when he lets his rasp become soft and low, Edwyn Collins doesn't
let it lapse into sentimentality. There's certainly a strong theme of
gratefulness running through this album, but his vocals and his melodies deny
any plea for sympathy. It's an occasion for questioning. What is my role, he
asks on a song of the same name. The implied word that's left out is now - what
is my role now, having lived to make this music?
He answers that question by bearing down as hard as he can on every syllable,
giving every phrase vehemence. His role is to make the best, most ferocious and
unsparing music of which he's still capable.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
"Losing Sleep" by Edwyn Collins.
I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.