REVIEW: 1865 – Season 1 (2019)

An audio drama by Wondery

After quite enjoying a podcast by Lindsay A. Graham called American History Tellers, I decided to look into something he mentioned on an interview podcast – a show called 1865. What I didn’t realize was that rather than a historical podcast, it was an audio drama! Now, as you may know from previous reviews – I LOVE audio dramas, and am excited that I was able to find such a well-produced one featuring a point in American history that I actually care about quite a bit. Season one features sixteen full episodes, some bonus stuff, and a “behind the scenes” podcast after every episode to contextualize everything and discuss where artistic license may have come into play.

“1865 the podcast starts at the moment President Lincoln is assassinated and follows Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, as he begins the hunt for Lincoln’s assassin—but that isn’t all that grips Stanton. Lincoln’s successor, Vice President Andrew Johnson, is likely to bend to southern interests and undo the very progress for which Lincoln died. Edwin Stanton must employ every bit of political wile he can muster to secure the future of the freed slaves, and the nation.

Consumed by his conviction, Stanton will betray his friends, his honor, and the very constitution he is sworn to protect, all to steer the country towards justice–his justice. This new Airship audio drama tells the true history of how one man tried to save the nation in its most perilous days.”

I didn’t realize how compelling this relatively short period of time was at all. After Lincoln’s death, Vice President Johnson stumbles drunkenly into power and the only thing keeping him from basically undoing the entire point of The Civil War and letting rebels “get away with it” was Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton. Stanton plows through the events of the story playing 5-D chess when everyone else is playing checkers. He’s a master manipulator this side of In the Thick of it or The West Wing, just in 1865. At his core, he has good in his heart and knows what needs to happen: Freedmen need land that was previously owned by plantation owners, and eventually suffrage, and that goal has to be achieved by any means necessary. If his real life was anything remotely close to what happened in this drama, he’s a man overlooked by history in many ways, and pretty much held the country together when arguably one of the world’s worst presidents ever was hellbent to hand power back to Jefferson Davis as if nothing happened.

I don’t normally get invested in political dramas in any way whatsoever. Do you remember those shows I mentioned up there? Truthfully, I’m not a fan at all. Things like political thrillers and procedural police dramas have never really been my thing and I don’t normally like them, but there’s something different about 1865. I’ve been listening to it during my commutes to work and I have found myself sitting in my driveway for an additional 5 to 10 minutes in order to finish an episode when I got home multiple times now. There’s just something about the way the characters are conveyed, the strength of the acting, and the fact that it’s a true story that makes it that much more compelling for me. The way it is paced, and the cliffhangers put one at the edge of their seat thirsting for more content. I’m glad there is a season two that I have yet to listen to, because I want this to keep going for a while.

Edwin Stanton

I listened to this on Spotify for free, I understand that it was originally some sort of premium program and that the version I’ve listened to has been rewritten and retooled in some capacity. I can’t comment on how the original version was but this new version is amazing. Granted, the free version has ads that one has to contend with, but to be honest they aren’t too bad and do not waste that much time in any way.

If you are like many Americans, you may not even know what happened during Reconstruction because just going on a high school understanding of history, many things are left out. The curriculum was probably written by people with an agenda, and the entire time period is just skipped entirely with a footnote saying “this was tough guys”. What happened during that time was clouded by mismanagement, racism, and hardship that was largely not alleviated until much much later. Having something like this that tries its best to explain some of the problems during that time is very beneficial for everyone, especially those that “don’t like history”, meaning people that don’t like the stuffy “memorize all these dates” way its usually presented.

If you are even a passive fan of history, or perhaps do not know that much about what happened after The Civil War, this is definitely something I would recommend listening to. I’ve been looking around on Amazon for books on Edwin Stanton simply because I want to know more about him and this time period, and it’s chiefly due to this podcast 100%. If you are a history buff, you’ll have a huge appreciation of the content in this show – even though a few things are changed for the sake of drama and artistic liberty, it’s nothing egregious and is mostly designed to help with clarity, fill in some blanks, or make things more dramatic. I’m thankful for the additional “making of” episodes in between that explain some of this stuff, and some of the choices they made. so far this has been one of the biggest surprises of the year for me, and podcast producer Lindsay A Graham is starting to be somebody that I definitely want to follow more of.

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