‘1861: The Civil War Awakening’: The Author Behind the Bestseller

By Page Kube
Elm Staff Writer

The name Adam Goodheart is reverberating beyond the Washington College campus. His newly published nonfiction book “1861: The Civil War Awakening” is praised as a New York Times bestseller and is already being read by students in college classrooms around the country.

The book, published in April 2011, was inspired by a discovery made while on a class expedition of a 1600s plantation called Poplar Grove in the Chestertown area a few years ago.

“We found 30,000 pages of papers in the attic. One student in particular and I went through the papers to discover it was a bundle of letters from the Civil War,” he said.

And there began the writing expedition. Although inspired, it was not always an easy journey.

“It was challenging to write about the Civil War since, on average, there has been one book on the subject written each day for the number of days since the surrender at Appomattox. It’s difficult to say something original, but I hope I did that,” he said.

Kirkus Reviews would believe so, claiming it, “beautifully written and thoroughly original—quite unlike any other Civil War book out there.”

Although a difficult subject, the passion for the endeavor has always been present.

“I’ve been interested in American history since I was a kid. Anyone who is interested in American history has to come around to Civil War. It’s the greatest national story with terrific character. I was naturally drawn to it,” he said.

With a long-term love of writing, the combination of history and writing was anticipated.

“I’ve been writing history through a career as a journalist. I became a historian to be a storyteller,” he said.

And a talented storyteller he is. James M. McPherson, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of “Battle Cry of Freedom” says, “Adam Goodheart is a Monet with a pen instead of a paintbrush. Like an impressionist painting, ‘1861’ reveals layers of meaning and beauty as one studies it closely.”

His storytelling will leap from the page and into the classroom next semester. Goodheart will be teaching a class in the spring inspired by his book. It is an American Studies seminar called

“Four American Lives,” focusing on how four extraordinary people’s lives intersected with the experience of the Civil War.

However heavy his focus has been on his book, it never deterred him from his efforts as director of the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience on the Washington College campus. The Center encourages innovative approaches to the study of American history and culture. Each year, the Center sponsors a number of lectures, research fellowships, internships, and other special opportunities for students interested in American history.

“I’ve been the director of the Starr Center for five years now. I love the Washington College community and value every conversation with students and faculty. As director, I’ve tried to make more opportunities available for students while reaching out beyond campus. I want to bring the world to Washington College and Washington College to world,” he said.

Goodheart’s love of history is the drive for many of his successes, yet he praises his involvement at WC for his written achievement.

“Without teaching, I would have never had this adventure of this book,” he said.

Not only a lover of history, Goodheart enjoys reading fiction as well. Off campus, he loves traveling, far and close, sailing his Boston Whaler along the coast, and renovating an old home he purchased.

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