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Shelby Foote's "Civil War" - General Civil War Talk - Civil War Talk - Civil War Interactive Discussion Board
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 Posted: Sat Feb 4th, 2012 12:33 am
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Wordsmith
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Fellow Civil War Buffs:

I am a lifelong enthusiast of the Civil War.  I've read many books on this subject but Shelby Foote's epoch three volume history of this world changing event is the most comprehensive set of volumes I've ever read.  This master historian covers everything from the smallest detail to the last climactic moments of Appomattox.  I have so much to say about this period of US history, but for now I wanted to share this work, which I am reading this very moment, with the forum.  I highly recommend it to anyone who loves to read about this period of our history!

---- Wordsmith



 Posted: Sat Feb 4th, 2012 03:07 am
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Mark
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Foote is indeed a brilliant storyteller! I'm glad you are enjoying his work. If you like Foote, you might try reading some of Bruce Catton as well. He wrote around the same time period and is a very good narrative historian.

Mark



 Posted: Sat Feb 4th, 2012 11:16 am
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pender
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Wordsmith, I agree fully. Shelby Foote's books are great. Also they are a very enjoyable read.

 



 Posted: Sat Feb 4th, 2012 02:51 pm
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Wordsmith
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Yes, I also read all of Bruce Catton's historical works.  Have you read Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson?  He won the Pulitzer Price.  I have many history books, especially WWII and Civil war, but Foote is my favorite.  There are so many dimensions to this epoch period of time, militarily, sociologically, and philosophically.  Though I'm a Texan, I have always been a Unionist at heart.  Nevertheless, I try to read Civil War history objectively.  Foote appeared at times to criticize the scorched earth policy of Sherman and other Federal generals, and yet when when asked who, after the final analysis, was the greatest general of this war, he quickly replied Grant....He won.  I admire Grant's grit and fortitude that matched Lee's genius.  Sherman, for that matter, was the first modern thinking general because of his notion of total war.  One of my favorite generals is also Longstreet, the most adaptable of the generals during Reconstruction.  He became a Republican and fit quickly back into the Union.  Poor Picket, however, unfairly blamed by Lee for the Gettysburg defeat, retired from the Confederacy a broken man.  What an incredible saga in American history.  It showcased our greatest president and, in many ways, the greatest generals (on both sides), our country ever had!

---- Wordsmith



 Posted: Sat Feb 4th, 2012 02:58 pm
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Wordsmith
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Read James McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom."  Also included in my library are all of Bruce Catton's works.  I just finished watching my Gettysburg DVD again.  Though tragic epochs in many ways, both the Civil War and World War II made us the great nation that we are today.  The Civil war united us and World War II reminded us who we were.  

---- Wordsmith
 



 Posted: Sat Feb 4th, 2012 08:46 pm
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Hellcat
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Catton is what I grew up on. I used a little bit of Foote in High school, have to add his works to my library. Less in the documentary narative types and more in the short, quick read's I've taken a liking to Webb Garrison. His books aren't nessicarily short, but they are broken down into more of an article system of a few pages so you can read a specific article really quickly. The Encylopedia of the American Civil War edited by David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler is something I go to a lot. But Catton I still turn to when I really want to try going more in-depth on something.



 Posted: Sun Feb 5th, 2012 11:30 am
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fedreb
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I too am a great fan of both Foote and Catton, superb writers. Catton the historian, Foote the story teller. If you need facts then Catton is the go to guy as all his work is footnoted with documented sources whereas Foote wrote his narrative without giving any sources, but I do love his easy reading style of writing.Other authors who I really like are Stephen Sears, Russel Bonds and Wiley Sword. I agree with Hellcat the Encyclopedia is a great book and another I find invaluable is Stewart Sifakis's "Who Was Who in the Civil War",over 2,500 biographies of all the main protaganists, military, political and civilian together in one book.

Last edited on Sun Feb 5th, 2012 11:31 am by fedreb



 Posted: Sun Feb 5th, 2012 12:17 pm
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Gettysburger
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I have to agree with all of you regarding Foote, Catton and Sears authority regarding everything about the history of the war and the tactics of specific battles.

I think the book that goes with Ken Burns DVD series is
a pretty complete History of events before and during the war.

But you really can't leave out Douglas Southall Freemans 3 volume narrative about Lee's Lieutetants from Sumter to Appomattox. Of course Freeman's biography of Lee is reportedly the most comprehensive ever written if not a
bit biased.

If you want a indulge in a different experience of education and history,
you might enjoy downloading the free podcasts from Itunes
from Yale University Open Courses.

In this series, Yale historian, Dr. David Blight, will teach about American history from 1800 through the Reconstruction Era.

He is a terrific lecturer and can bring the antebellum experience to life whether he's talking about the Missouri Compromise, the Dred Scott decison or black reconstruction
after the war.

Amazing stuff if you want to listen while driving, working out or at home from your computer.

I think the best part of this Yale series is if you are not familiar with the period of American history before the war you will learn why the war became necessary.

Possibly the most important thing I leaned is everything that happened in America before the war was leading up to the war itself. Then everything that happened post war was a result of the War between the States.

dr. thom



 Posted: Sun Feb 5th, 2012 12:33 pm
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Gettysburger
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ps...have to agree too that James McPherson's accounts
and narratives are the best.

His concise walking tour through Gettysburg, 'Hallowed Ground, a Walk at Gettysburg' is gut wrenching and a
must read for anyone interested in that battle.

Also, Jeffrey Werts 3 book volume about each day of that
battle is a must read if you want to get up close to regiments, their commanders and tactics of position minute to minute.



 Posted: Mon Feb 6th, 2012 09:16 pm
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ole
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I'm pleased to see Foote designated as a story-teller. He told the story of the civil war in three-volumes, and each volume was more enjoyable than the previous, but when someone asks where you got that from, you'd better not say Shelby Foote.



 Posted: Tue Feb 7th, 2012 02:08 am
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Doc Ce
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I've posted this before but will repeat it again. I met Foote on a flight from DFW to NYC in the late 80's. At the baggage claim area I walked up to him and mentioned how much I admired his books. Later on a c-span interview he said how he disdained individuals coming up to him and congratulating him on his works. Go figure.

Doc C



 Posted: Tue Feb 7th, 2012 03:12 am
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Hellcat
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You know at first I'm thinking how that fits in with other celebrities who'd just like a little peace and quite and not have a lot of folks coming up to them asking for their autograph or something. But thinking on it I think it's maybe a little different with authors. Like maybe some authors begin to feel like people kinda look down on them so they get all surprised when the author turns out something they like. It's not that people actually feel that way but that the author hears it so often they feel like that's how people are viewing them.

Or maybe Foote was just highly critical of his own work and couldn't as easily accept praise for it from most folks.



 Posted: Wed Feb 8th, 2012 11:31 pm
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jojotater
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I think Shelby Foote was a great writer. Some people don't think him a great historian, but if his books fan the flames to get one interested in the Civil War, so much the better. I also enjoyed his audiobooks.

http://civilwarnovel.com



 Posted: Mon Feb 13th, 2012 06:46 pm
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HankC
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Foote did an excellent job with 'history as literature'.

still, he was a man of his age writing his magnum opus during the centennial and the heyday of the civil rights movement.

his words about andersonville and his weaving of african-americans into the narrative are clues to his time and audience...



 Posted: Sat May 12th, 2012 04:22 am
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Joel Smith
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What I admire most perhaps about Foote is insight toward the microeconomic perspective of the war. History being what it is we, as in United States citizens, tend to think of the war monolithically in terms of a block of good versus a block of evil. But Foote's popularization changed that, at least for me.

He taught me that each side had men with their own fears, their own families and their own culture, whether Georgian, Irish or Pennsylvanian. That there was great valor on both sides, something never mentioned in public school, and that both North and South had instances of brilliant tactics. That for every Sherman there was a Forrest, for every Grant there was a Lee, and for every Hooker there was a Jackson.

To be frank, as a "Northerner" he opened my eyes to this, and for that I will forever be in his debt. He let me see this great war as the beautiful and dreadful thing that it was, that I should never grow too fond of it...



 Posted: Mon May 14th, 2012 05:51 pm
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JG6789
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Don't know how much interest there will be in a three month old thread, but...

ole wrote:
I'm pleased to see Foote designated as a story-teller. He told the story of the civil war in three-volumes, and each volume was more enjoyable than the previous, but when someone asks where you got that from, you'd better not say Shelby Foote.

Indeed. His books contain too many demonstrable errors, omissions, cherry-picking of (sometimes dubious) evidence, and presentation of evidence without proper context. He then covers his tracks by not properly citing evidence…you can either take his word for it or not.

jojotater wrote:
I think Shelby Foote was a great writer. Some people don't think him a great historian.

The bottom line is Foote had a novelist’s ability to see a great story, but not the historian’s ability to resist that story when the evidence didn’t support it. He too often molded the evidence to fit the story he wanted to tell.



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 Posted: Tue May 15th, 2012 03:13 pm
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JG6789
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Savez wrote:
I would put more stock in Foote's "narratives" than I would James McPherson's "scholarly works".

Why?



 Posted: Tue May 15th, 2012 04:40 pm
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JG6789
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Wordsmith wrote:
Have you read Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson?  He won the Pulitzer Price.

The thing about “The Battle Cry of Freedom” is that it’s one volume in the Oxford History of the United States series and is thus a comprehensive history, not strictly a military history. McPherson places the military aspects of the war in their broader context, so it might seem to military history buffs that they sometimes receive short shrift (consider that Gettysburg receives about 20 pages in McPherson compared to, what, 150 pages in Foote?). But I think that given the wider context they probably receive just about the proportion of space they should.

So, how is the book? The first half of the book--dealing with the politics and social developments of the 1850--is first rate. Similarly the chapters dealing with politics, economics, and social developments after the war starts. The sections on the military history of the war are definitely the weaker portions. After all, McPherson is not really a military historian (ironically, he cites Foote fairly often when dealing with the military aspects. I’m not quite sure how one justifies citing a writer who doesn’t use citations himself, but that’s a discussion topic for another day…). These sections are solid, but not stellar.

If someone wants a military history of the war that’s primarily a rollicking adventure story, “The Battle Cry of Freedom” is probably not the book for them. If someone wants a serious, scholarly work that places the military developments in their broader context then they really can’t go wrong with it.



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