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The Civil War: A Narrative, Vol. 1 begins one of the most remarkable works of history ever fashioned. All the great battles are here, of course, from Bull Run through Shiloh, the Seven Days Battles, and Antietam, but so are the smaller ones: Ball's Bluff, Fort Donelson, Pea Ridge, Island Ten, New Orleans, and Monitor versus Merrimac. The word "narrative" is the key to this The Civil War: A Narrative, Vol. 1 begins one of the most remarkable works of history ever fashioned. All the great battles are here, of course, from Bull Run through Shiloh, the Seven Days Battles, and Antietam, but so are the smaller ones: Ball's Bluff, Fort Donelson, Pea Ridge, Island Ten, New Orleans, and Monitor versus Merrimac. The word "narrative" is the key to this extraordinary book's incandescence and its truth. The story is told entirely from the point of view of the people involved in it. One learns not only what was happening on all fronts but also how the author discovered it during his years of exhaustive research. This first volume in Shelby Foote's comprehensive history is a must-listen for anyone interested in one of the bloodiest wars in America's history.


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The Civil War: A Narrative, Vol. 1 begins one of the most remarkable works of history ever fashioned. All the great battles are here, of course, from Bull Run through Shiloh, the Seven Days Battles, and Antietam, but so are the smaller ones: Ball's Bluff, Fort Donelson, Pea Ridge, Island Ten, New Orleans, and Monitor versus Merrimac. The word "narrative" is the key to this The Civil War: A Narrative, Vol. 1 begins one of the most remarkable works of history ever fashioned. All the great battles are here, of course, from Bull Run through Shiloh, the Seven Days Battles, and Antietam, but so are the smaller ones: Ball's Bluff, Fort Donelson, Pea Ridge, Island Ten, New Orleans, and Monitor versus Merrimac. The word "narrative" is the key to this extraordinary book's incandescence and its truth. The story is told entirely from the point of view of the people involved in it. One learns not only what was happening on all fronts but also how the author discovered it during his years of exhaustive research. This first volume in Shelby Foote's comprehensive history is a must-listen for anyone interested in one of the bloodiest wars in America's history.

30 review for The Civil War, Vol. 1: Fort Sumter to Perryville

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lizzy

    I am transforming myself into such a history enthusiast, wonderful! I never imagined some years back that I would read a 900-pages Civil War history (and it's just the first volume of its trilogy); to understand my amazement you have to remember that I am not American. Shelby Foote’s excellent The Civil War, Vol. 1: Fort Sumter to Perryville had me enthralled all the way through the end. Reading this beautifully-written and absolutely epic history, you get a sweeping story that is comprehensivel I am transforming myself into such a history enthusiast, wonderful! I never imagined some years back that I would read a 900-pages Civil War history (and it's just the first volume of its trilogy); to understand my amazement you have to remember that I am not American. Shelby Foote’s excellent The Civil War, Vol. 1: Fort Sumter to Perryville had me enthralled all the way through the end. Reading this beautifully-written and absolutely epic history, you get a sweeping story that is comprehensively real. If you want to read about bloody battles and understand how they were won or lost, this is the book for you. But what I most enjoyed about Foote’s writing is how he captures the tenor of the times and the characters of the many figures who played a part in the war. We read about the politicians, mainly Lincoln and Davis, that play here a background role but try to command it all. "...panic spread quickly to Richmond. Davis met it as had met the East Tennessee crisis early that winter. Five days after the inaugural in which he had excoriated Lincoln for doing the same thing, and scorned the northern population for putting up with it, he suspended the privilege of habeas corpus in the Norfolk area, placing the city under martial law. Two days later Richmond itself was gripped by the iron hand." The civil-war involved at least two or three great armies marching around and fighting concomitantly, but during the first two years of war mostly in the east. Here you will get full detail of the most famous and deadly battles. I had heard before the names, but never conceived what they encompassed. You get detailed description day by day, even hour by hour of 1st and 2nd Bull Run, Shiloh, the Seven Days and Antietam, as well as the majority of the other major and minor engagements of the war. This book is a story of the grueling, bloody fight to the death between two countries that previously were one. The final account of the Battle of Shiloh illustrates well what I am talking about: "...the column grinding its way toward Corinth was the last of many to draw blood in the Battle of Shiloh. Union losses were 1754 killed, 8408 wounded, 2885 captured: total, 13047. Confederate losses were 1723 killed, 8012 wounded, 959 missing: total, 10694. Casualties were 24 percent, the same as Waterloo’s. Yet Waterloo had settled something, while this one apparently had settled nothing, with other Waterloos ahead." There are certainly all the necessary discussion on strategy and tactics, so crucial to further understanding. We learn how reality invariably intervened with the plans of the generals: "Somewhere out beyond the screening pines and oaks, east of where Lee stood waiting for his lost columns to converge, the Federals were hurrying southward past the point where he had intended to stage his Cannae. He might still stage it—seven hours of daylight remained—if he could find the answer to the questions: What had delayed Huger? What had happened to Holmes? And again, as so often before: Where was Jackson?" Foote does a brilliant work in telling us about the main actors of the war, both blue and gray. He makes them very real, and you are able to see their humanity, but also of those under their command and of the regular soldiers who often suffered most privations. Through their letters and diaries we have a real feel for Grant, Lee, Jackson, and McClellan. It is their stories, and the anecdotes that bring these people to live and serve as Foote's chief focus. Reading this book I learned about Lee's capacity to command and fatalistic determination to defend Richmond at all and any costs: "[Lee] weighed the odds and made his decision, confirming the opinion one of his officers had given lately in answer to doubts expressed by another as to the new commander’s capacity for boldness: 'His name might be Audacity. He will take more desperate chances, and take them quicker, than any other general in this country, North or South. And you will live to see it, too.'” I also witnessed the rise of Grant's star after the twin victories at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, despite his role at Shiloh; Lincoln liked that he fought, it seemed this was almost a rarity, and 'Grant was something rare in that or any war. He could learn from experience.'; I moved along with Stonewall Jackson throughout the brilliant Shenandoah campaign, and, McClellan’s failure to capture the Confederate capital during the doomed Peninsula Campaign of 1862. I was surprised by the popular McClellan’s cautious behavior despite the pressures exerted by Lincoln, which ended causing his future doom. "Lincoln was not amazed at all. In fact, he found the telegram very much in character. If by some magic he could reinforce McClellan with 100,000 troops today, he said, Little Mac would be delighted and would promise to capture Richmond tomorrow; but when tomorrow came he would report the enemy strength at 400,000 and announce that he could not advance until he got another 100,000 reinforcements." I fully enjoyed this great book with its eloquent prose. Foote ends preparing the reader for the second volume: "[T]he issue was one which could only be settled by arms, and that the war was therefore a war for survival — survival of the South, as Davis saw it: survival of the Union, as Lincoln saw it — with the added paradox that, while neither of the two leaders believed victory for his side meant extinction for the other, each insisted that the reverse was true." Despite the commitment due to its length, I enjoyed every moment. Highly recommended. ------- Other quotes: * "Kearny rode up bristling with anger at the sudden reverse suffered. 'I suppose you appreciate the condition of affairs here, sir,' he cried. 'It’s another Bull Run, sir. It’s another Bull Run!' When Gibbon said he hoped it was not as bad as that, Kearny snapped: 'Perhaps not. Reno is keeping up the fight. He is not stampeded; I am not stampeded; you are not stampeded. That is about all. My God, that is about all!'" * "Despite McClellan’s repeated orders not a man out of the 14,000 in Burnside’s four divisions had reached the west bank of the Antietam by the time the sun swung past the overhead. He sat his horse on a hilltop, looking down at the narrow stone span below. He watched it with a fascination amounting to downright prescience, as if he knew already that it was to bear his name and be in fact his chief monument..." * "The armies lay face to face all day, like sated lions, and between them, there on the slopes of Sharpsburg ridge and in the valley of the Antietam, the dead began to fester in the heat and the cries of the wounded faded to a mewling. There were a great many of both, the effluvium of this bloodiest day of the war. Nearly 11,000 Confederates and more than 12,000 Federals had fallen along that ridge and that valley." * "And thus was achieved a curious balance of error: Buell thought he was facing Bragg’s whole army, whereas it was only a part, and Bragg thought he was facing only a part of Buell’s army, whereas it was (or soon would be) the whole. This compound misconception not only accounted for much of the confusion that ensued, but it was also the result of much confusion in the immediate past." * "Buell and Davis had been brought down. And now as October wore toward a close, Lincoln was after larger game. In fact he was after the top-ranking man in the whole U.S. Army: George B. McClellan. The other two had been wing shots but this one he was stalking with care, intending to catch him on the sit. According to some observers this should not be difficult, since that was the Young Napoleon’s accustomed attitude." * "After a hundred thousand casualties and a year and a half of successes, near-successes, and sickening failures — the last, as Lincoln saw them, being mainly due to the vacillation and nonaggressiveness of generals like Buell and McClellan, who, desiring combat less than they feared defeat, believed in preparation more than they believed in movement — a victory pattern had emerged." * "Lincoln had assigned three main objectives [Richmond, Chattanooga, and Vicksburg; the brain, heart, and bowels of the rebellion] to the commanders of the three main armies of the Union: Burnside, Rosecrans, and Grant. He himself had chosen the first and second, and he had sustained the third against strident demands for his dismissal, saying of him: 'I can’t spare this man. He fights.'"

  2. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    This first volume of a trilogy from the 50’s brings complex history and the personalities that play on its stage alive with a wonderful narrative approach rich in human stories. When he writes what a key figure is thinking or speaking, you have to take it with a grain of salt. But for me all historical accounts, even autobiography, also need salt given how much the human factors behind events comes down to individual interpretation. And seeing as how this was part of a labor of love (or obsessio This first volume of a trilogy from the 50’s brings complex history and the personalities that play on its stage alive with a wonderful narrative approach rich in human stories. When he writes what a key figure is thinking or speaking, you have to take it with a grain of salt. But for me all historical accounts, even autobiography, also need salt given how much the human factors behind events comes down to individual interpretation. And seeing as how this was part of a labor of love (or obsession) involving 20 years of effort, I don’t doubt he read everything he could get his hands of letters and eye-witness accounts. Once I heard his commentary on Ken Burns’ PBS documentary from the early 90’s, I, like many others, came to love his voice, his compassionate sensibilities, and his sense of story about the battles in the war. I was glad to experience this read by audiobook but struggled to find the maps I needed among my collection. It’s hard to account for my (or anyone else’s) attraction to reading detailed accounts of the conduct of this war. There is a general draw to the flame and crucible of war in general and its affront to humans’ belief in civilization and species self-pride. How it tests and destroys ideals and brings out the best in courage and self-sacrifice in some and the worst in cruelty and crumbling morality in others. Enquiring minds also want lessons from how each war might have been prevented or curtailed sooner, and, barring that, to at least bear witness to the devastation of lives for which our species holds collective guilt. There was plenty of devastation in this war to attend to, with its butcher’s bill at 700K plus casualties compared to roughly 50K for the American Revolution, but its heroes and villains and its lessons are obscure to me. The American Civil War is especially painful and even embarrassing to behold. Most other civil wars are about clear disputes or competing goals for peoples of different cultures and religions or revolts of a subjected political group against another. This one on the surface doesn’t look worthy of an all-out war. On a basic level, the war was over slavery, but the issue was translated into the North fighting to preserve the Union and the South fighting to preserve state rights, including the right to secede over differences in policy. Couldn’t the North just have let the first set of seven rebelling states secede and maintain trade for their agriculture and markets for manufactured good from the Union? Lincoln couldn’t imagine that could work, particularly with most boundaries between the two sides just lines on a map not conforming to natural ones like rivers. The issue of many more states, including the new ones being formed in the western territories, adopting slavery and joining the Confederacy would not be resolved. Conflict over abolitionists inciting slave rebellion or providing refuge for runaway slaves would persist. In his Republican campaign debates with Douglas, Lincoln set the stage for war by declaring that “A house divided against itself cannot stand” and that in terms of slavery “it will become all one thing or all the other”. But in his Inaugural Address, after the first wave of secessions, he pledged "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists”. War began over the occupation of federal forts in the Confederate states, and the significant bloodshed galvanizes the two governments and peoples to escalate forces. The Confederacy could recruit soldiers relatively easily for a fight framed as for independence by analogy with the Revolutionary War. The Union couldn’t sell war so easily to the populace, but a sense of superiority of might and revenge for shameful losses in the early battles was motivation enough not to require conscription. Both sides had plenty of officers ready to play war, many from a common training experience in the Mexican War and others from service in state militias. Much of the book is devoted to the unfolding of the war battle by battle from the perspective of generals. Foote’s analysis of their strengths and weaknesses feels pretty even handed to me, and his novelist skill in conveying their appearance, personality, and leadership style was masterful. It’s hard to grow some meaningful understanding of them as individuals because there are so many. It helps if you can build on some prior knowledge of them from other books or from movies. My admiration of Lee and Stonewall Jackson was tempered from a prior state of high respect . The religious nuttiness of Jackson got to me, always with God on his side, as well as bloodthirstiness that led him in one fight ordering his men to kill all of the enemy and take no prisoners. I learned more to like about the brilliant actions cavalry general Jeb Stuart. Nathan Bedford Forest I couldn’t help being biased against after learning that he was a slave trader. Sherman, whom I despise for later excesses in his destructive march through the South and in the Indian wars, comes off as quite neurotic and low in self-confidence in Foote’s account from early in the war. Grant also to get beyond some personality barriers along the way I gained a more complex understanding of McClelland, the on and off chief of the Union forces. He was often tagged by Foote as the “Little Napoleon” over his egotistical posturing. I learned more than I knew before about his excessive caution and frequent false complaints about being terribly outnumbered. I gained more disrespect as well for Beauregard with the Confederacy and Buell with the Union and gained in admiration for the Confederate van Dorn and the Union Admiral Farragut. The battles too can become a blur. The wave of early Confederate successes hangs together (Fort Sumter, Bull Run, Wilson’s Creek, Ball’s Bluff). The securing of Kentucky by the Union and of rivers feeding into the Mississippi by taking Fort Henry, Fort Donalsen, and later Corinth was also easy to hang onto. I am still reeling from so many moves and countermoves made by the two sides toward Washington, DC, and Richmond, capitals oddly separated only by about 100 miles. So often each side could claim a victory on way or another, but in the end the war of attrition always favored the Union. I learned about the importance of the Shenandoah Valley and the key role of Union sympathies in eastern Tennessee and North Carolina. The Union dreamed of one big definitive battle, while the Confederacy, with less men and industrial capacity looked for just enough success to discourage the Union and encourage recognition and support from European nations. I loved learning more about how the Union success at the Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas helped assure Missouri stayed in Union hands (this was the first battlefield I got to visit as a child). The biggest battles, Shiloh and Antietam, were covered well, but I had already read whole books on them. I especially appreciated the depth and mode of Foote’s coverage of the role of ironclads at the Battle of Hampton Roads in Virginia and on the Mississippi River. In particular, the ingenuity of Confederate engineers in development of an effective and cheap ram ship to defeat some of the ironclads was new to me. It took a year and a half of war before Lincoln put forth his Emancipation Proclamation, and then it was for military reasons, to be applied to slaves from rebel states who escaped or in occupied regions of those states. It did not apply to border slave states still in the Union (e.g. Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri). Politics prevented him from acting on his abolitionist sympathies. From a letter to Horace Greely six months before then, in August 1862, Foote quotes Lincoln’s stance: My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. There obviously has been much scholarship in the 60 years since this was written, so I am ignorant of what errors Foote’s work might contain. Other books I’ve read are better at covering Lincoln’s political genius and challenges as Commander in Chief and at elucidating the economics and civilian experience of the war. But nothing I’ve read before renders so well both the broad sweep of the war and characterization of so many of its key leaders in action and quoted words. Maybe Bruce Catton comes close, but my memory dims of my long-ago reading from his systematic series of books. If you are tempted at all to tackle Foote’s monumental rendering you could do like I did and try first his outstanding 100-page account of the Battle of Gettysburg, “The Stars in their Courses”. Which was extracted from volume two of the trilogy.

  3. 5 out of 5

    David

    When reading this, it's hard not to recall the words of a colleague of mine who, while acknowledging the undoubted quality of this series, referred to Shelby Foote as a Southern sympathizer. It may be a reflection of the times in which this book was written (mid-1950s), or perhaps a byproduct of humanity's identification with the underdog, but I think my colleague had the right of it, to an extent. Foote, by turns from Mississippi and North Carolina, owns up to a certain need to suppress those s When reading this, it's hard not to recall the words of a colleague of mine who, while acknowledging the undoubted quality of this series, referred to Shelby Foote as a Southern sympathizer. It may be a reflection of the times in which this book was written (mid-1950s), or perhaps a byproduct of humanity's identification with the underdog, but I think my colleague had the right of it, to an extent. Foote, by turns from Mississippi and North Carolina, owns up to a certain need to suppress those sympathies in order to deliver an unbiased and useful narrative account. Indeed, Foote once famously noted that there were two geniuses involved in this conflict--one was Nathan Bedford Forrest; the other, Abraham Lincoln. One can see the effort he puts into telling a two-sided story, and I think it largely pays off. There is an undeniable irony in noting that the Confederate generals who put such thoughts to paper chafed under the yoke of Northern oppressors without acknowledging the yokes they themselves imposed on the slaves who worked their farms and plantations. Indeed, the slave economy and the role it played in touching off the War is, I believe, under-addressed. I hesitate to speculate as to Foote's motives for doing so. However, this is the only real drawback of what is otherwise a superlative volume. Although politicians play a background role throughout the narrative--especially the towering figure of our sixteenth President--the real actors on this stage are the generals, both blue and gray. In this first volume, we learn a great deal about Grant, Lee, Jackson, and McClellan. This is really a book about their personalities, and the experiences of the men under their command. We see Lee's fatalistic determination to defend Richmond at all costs. We are there for the rise of Grant's star after the twin victories at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, and one of the few major Union victories of the early war at Shiloh, which opened up Mississippi and its prize--Vicksburg. We ride with Stonewall Jackson throughout the brilliant Shenandoah campaign, and experience the pressures exerted against the popular-but-cautious McClellan to capture the Confederate capital during the doomed Peninsula Campaign of 1862. It is their stories, and the anecdotes of their front-line soldiers, that serve as Foote's chief focus. Whatever one's feelings as to the way in which the story is presented, there is no disputing its importance in the field of scholarship on the American Civil War, or its value as military history--albeit with the limitation of scope this implies. If not essential reading, it is still very worthwhile.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Dimitri

    Shelby Foote has earned his sobriquet, "American Homer", for the is the Bard of the American Civil War. Reading him is like watching Gettysburg. All you want to do is to join the sparkling mass of bayonets, marching off into those sunny fields of valor.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Evan

    I suppose I'm officially anointed into the Old Man's Club now, what with my enjoyment of strong cigars, a newfound appreciation of the pleasures of my own hard-won solitude, and, the coup de grace -- a love for the history of the American Civil War. Shelby Foote's massive, much-touted behemoth on the war is now something I have the patience to tackle, savor, ruminate over, and, perhaps, return to. Indisputably a great achievement, Vol. 1 of Foote's huge, three-part, almost 3,000-page trilogy on Am I suppose I'm officially anointed into the Old Man's Club now, what with my enjoyment of strong cigars, a newfound appreciation of the pleasures of my own hard-won solitude, and, the coup de grace -- a love for the history of the American Civil War. Shelby Foote's massive, much-touted behemoth on the war is now something I have the patience to tackle, savor, ruminate over, and, perhaps, return to. Indisputably a great achievement, Vol. 1 of Foote's huge, three-part, almost 3,000-page trilogy on America's wrenching internal catastrophe is the classic everyone says it is, even with its flaws -- of which there are a few, but not many, and they are dwarfed by its ample strengths. It's an old book at this point -- published 60 years ago -- which begs two questions: 1.) Is it still an essential text for both the novice and the seasoned expert? Yes, absolutely. And: 2.) Does Foote's regional provenance and alleged biases and/or implied blind spots turn this into a Southern "Lost Cause" take on the Civil War narrative? No, not that I can see. But even so, who cares? Every conflict has two sides, and even if we don't agree with the premises of either combatant, understanding their motives is part of the aim, unless we just want to live in a safe space. The book is pretty balanced and even though Foote does let some romantic prose slip in he's dead serious and a servant of the truth. I think anyone who says otherwise hasn't really read the book and is relying on Wikipedia, or simply brings his/her own irrational biases to the table. That said, I do admit to feeling lost at times in the flurry of battles and movements and large cast of characters, and often at sea a bit in trying to figure out the overall strategic context of the events. Foote is best at the individual moments, and for that it's prudent for one's progress not to think overmuch, letting it sweep you along without worrying about whether you "get it all" in one go. I'm still a novice about this historical event; and am in the process of building a knowledge base about it. For now, I'm content to just absorb "some" of it with the goal of reading more to fill in the gaps and build retention. I definitely do not buy the line of argument that histories have to be written by "approved" or credentialed historians, if the craftsman clearly knows his shit and states it well; which Foote does. I don't need my histories to be written by ivory tower historians any more than I require my science fiction to be written by professors of quantum physics. In a head-to-head comparison between this book and Bruce Catton's A Stillness at Appomattox -- to date the only significant Civil War classic I've read -- I still prefer Catton, whose blend of poetry, hard-edged presentation, clear context and mastery of juggling multiple centers of interest wins just by a hair. Foote, though, does not suffer greatly by the comparison, and to his credit, he gives due props to Catton in his credits at the end of the book. One of the weaknesses of Foote's presentation is a tendency often to introduce numerous people and then in subsequent sentences use the pronoun "he" without clearly elaborating which "he" he is talking about. Foote clearly knows which "he" he is talking about, but I didn't always, and this left me confused at times, but not debilitatingly so. It did cause me to have to do some "rewinding" quite frequently, though. I did question some word choices: ineptness when I would have preferred "ineptitude," "less than" instead of fewer, "resolution" when I think he meant "resoluteness." Even at those moments when I was confused about some context or about the identity of the players, I was always thrilled by the immediacy of it all, and Foote's evident passion for the subject. The closing pages -- a loving portrait of Lincoln and an appreciation of him as a man of words -- are meltingly gorgeous. Even as long as it is, the book cannot be definitive -- no Civil War book really can be -- and at the end of the day this is still just a toe-warmer, a context-setter for further study. I will proceed to the other two volumes ASAP, or when time permits. I'm looking forward to it. EG/KR 2019

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    I wanted a book that would take a year of my life to read, so 3,000 pages in three volumes, I thought this should fill the bill. Well into the second volume, I’ll be lucky if it lasts me the summer. Can’t put it down.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    It is amazing to me that this book was written more than half a century ago, when its author Shelby Foote was still a young man. Most histories of the Civil War that I know pretty much concentrate on the four-year duel between the Army of the Potomac under McClellan (et al. ad infinitum) and the Army of Northern Virginia under Lee. Admittedly, the Old Dominion State had more than its share of bloody battles; but it wasn't the whole shooting match, so to speak. Even while Lee and his opponent du It is amazing to me that this book was written more than half a century ago, when its author Shelby Foote was still a young man. Most histories of the Civil War that I know pretty much concentrate on the four-year duel between the Army of the Potomac under McClellan (et al. ad infinitum) and the Army of Northern Virginia under Lee. Admittedly, the Old Dominion State had more than its share of bloody battles; but it wasn't the whole shooting match, so to speak. Even while Lee and his opponent du jour tangled there in an endless pas de deux, it was in the West that the Confederacy was cut to pieces by Union generals who were farther removed from the watchful eye of Washington. Looking back, there is no way that the South could have won -- unless it somehow won the support of England, France, and other European trading partners. That it held on for as long as it did, with a string of incredible victories against seemingly insuperable odds, is a tribute to the military spirit of the men in butternut and their, for the most part, capable generals. Reading about the war from a Southern perspective is particularly interesting: We know about the dilatory fighting of the Army of the Potomac, but Foote also appraises us of the weaknesses of generals like Stonewall Jackson, P T Beauregard and Braxton Bragg. The Civil War: A Narrative Fort Sumter to Perryville covers the first two years of the war so well that I know I will have to find time somehow to tackle the other two volumes, totalling over 1,600 pages.

  8. 4 out of 5

    William Ramsay

    One of the advantages of growing old (or older) is that you develop a very long memory. 1961 marked the centennial year of the start of the Civil War and the bookstores were filled with works about the war and the people who fought it. I really got into the period and read many of the major works on the war (Carl Sandburg’s great bio of Lincoln, Allan Nevins’ six volume study of the war, and many of the more popular works such as those by Bruce Catton, etc.) The very best set of books I read in One of the advantages of growing old (or older) is that you develop a very long memory. 1961 marked the centennial year of the start of the Civil War and the bookstores were filled with works about the war and the people who fought it. I really got into the period and read many of the major works on the war (Carl Sandburg’s great bio of Lincoln, Allan Nevins’ six volume study of the war, and many of the more popular works such as those by Bruce Catton, etc.) The very best set of books I read in this period was the one by Shelby Foote. Nearly fifty years later I’ve decided to re-read this great work. Volume One carries the story from the election of Lincoln to the battle of Perryville in Kentucky. War histories turn a lot of people off because they focus on battles, which generally only serve to show the utter stupidity of mankind. This book covers the battles and proves the stupidity, but it does much more. The brilliance of Foote’s work is that it captures the tenor of the times and characters of the many figures who played a part in the war. His use of anecdote brings these people to life – strange things, like the fact that Stonewall Jackson would not eat black pepper because he claimed it made his left leg hurt. Reading the book today adds another dimension to the work because I can see the same sort of divide on our country now that existed then. And, in fact, I believe that in ways we are still fighting the Civil War. The idea of how large the Federal government should be and how much power it should have was really at the heart of the war as much as the issue of slavery – maybe more so in the beginning. And of course, we have still not solved the issue of race no matter how hard we’ve tried in the last hundred and fifty years. This is a great book by a brilliant writer. The fact that it is still in print (and even on the Kindle) fifty-four years after it was published says much about what a great work it is.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    Fascinating and very readable and informative - think I shall leave writing a full review until I have read volumes 2 and 3 though (which may be later this year as they are even longer than this one which is over 800 pages).

  10. 5 out of 5

    Nate

    I guess some guy called this the "American Iliad"...I have no idea what that means but it certainly sounds cool, and this book deserves to sound cool. I am by no means a scholar on the American Civil War (the Confederates hilariously liked to call it the 2nd American Revolution) but if I enjoy the other two volumes as much as I did this one then I don't see how it wouldn't render all of the other volumes written covering the extent of the war by so many different authors superfluous. I realize t I guess some guy called this the "American Iliad"...I have no idea what that means but it certainly sounds cool, and this book deserves to sound cool. I am by no means a scholar on the American Civil War (the Confederates hilariously liked to call it the 2nd American Revolution) but if I enjoy the other two volumes as much as I did this one then I don't see how it wouldn't render all of the other volumes written covering the extent of the war by so many different authors superfluous. I realize that's kind of a dumb thing to say, but seriously...this is truly epic stuff that Foote seemed to have such a casually gifted way with. The first thing you have to confront is Foote's style and the way he tells the story. Goodreads apparently didn't include this in the title but it declares itself The Civil War Vol. 1: A Narrative. To boil it down it's basically like reading a nonfiction novel. Foote himself describes his style as thus: I am what is called a narrative historian. Narrative history is getting more popular all the time but it's not a question of twisting the facts into a narrative. It's not a question of anything like that. What it is, is discovering the plot that's there just as the painter discovered the colors in shadows or Renoir discovered these children. I maintain that anything you can possibly learn about putting words together in a narrative form by writing novels is especially valuable to you when you write history. There is no great difference between writing novels and writing histories other than this: If you have a character named Lincoln in a novel that's not Abraham Lincoln, you can give him any color eyes you want to. But if you want to describe the color of Abraham Lincoln's, President Lincoln's eyes, you have to know what color they were. They were gray. So you're working with facts that came out of documents, just like in a novel you are working with facts that came out of your head or most likely out of your memory. Once you have control of those facts, once you possess them, you can handle them exactly as a novelist handles his facts. No good novelist would be false to his facts, and certainly no historian is allowed to be false to his facts under any circumstances. I've never known, at least a modern historical instance, where the truth wasn't superior to distortion in every way. Does that sound like a good way to learn to you? It certainly does to me, and Foote is constantly faithful to the principles stated above. You get a beautifully-written and absolutely epic, sweeping story that is completely real. All of the dialogue spoken by the huge cast is sourced from conversations or letters so you know you're getting the real thing. You get detailed descriptions of what everyone looked like, what their background was and their general eccentricities. All of this detail applied to Foote's wonderful, easy way with storytelling and you get what I consider to be the perfect experience with nonfiction; a completely engrossing dramatic experience that also thoroughly educates you on its subject. As with any novel, you will have characters you love and ones you loathe. And what a cast! It teems with generals, politicians and even two presidents. That said...there is a bit of a noticeable bias for the South in this book. Now, I'm hardly a Southern sympathizer--I hold what I consider to be relatively progressive ideals and a general mindset that seems to be very at odds with the 19th-century CSA mores; so even an ounce too much of Southern bias and I would not be into this book. Thankfully, Foote keeps it utterly minimal to the point of it arguably not even existing and when I did notice it seemed to be only in a traditional sentimentality for "the underdog." This man was obviously not a moron so don't let the discussion of South bias turn you off, proud Yankees...and members of other countries that knew at the time pretty basic stuff like "slavery is bad." The light shines brilliantly on both sides and even traditionally revered Southern figures like "Stonewall" Jackson are shown to be occasionally totally useless and mystifying, as well as a total detriment to the engagement at hand. Speaking of engagements...if you are not into military history, don't even bother with this book. This book is what the title advertises; a story of the grueling, often cruelly bloody fight to the death between two countries. (I, like Foote, contend that if you have a standing army successfully defending your territory you are a legitimate nation...even if you're a bunch of Confederate douchebags.) The war at this point involved at least two or three giant armies doing a lot of marching around mostly the eastern part of the country and then meeting each other in appallingly scary and deadly battles before breaking off and repeating the dance. To many people, this will be fatally boring. I, however, couldn't get enough of it. You get a good deal of the famous battles Americans learn about in school; 1st and 2nd Bull Run, Shiloh, the Seven Days and Antietam as well as the majority of the other major and minor engagements of the era. Very horrifying stuff...there's a lot of fascinating strategy and tactics but oftentimes it just came down to which mass of men could mow the other down first. The numerous men in command on both sides were constantly quarreling, gossiping and outright ignoring each other in favor of some moronic quest for personal glory rather than working as a team and watching it is simultaneously gripping and horribly frustrating. I particularly loved Lincoln's epic struggle trying to get the "Young Napoleon" George McClellan to stop sitting on his ass and breaking into hysterics about the potential size of the Confederate armies, but everyone will enjoy different threads of the giant tapestry Foote has woven. Hey, maybe I'm not that bad at hyperbole! This was certainly somewhat of a commitment as each volume is around 900 pages but I enjoyed every moment. I'll carry on to the next one soon and it's also gotten me interested in Foote's novel on the war entitled Shiloh.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    Shelby Foote would be considered by many Civil War readers to be the greatest writer on the subject. He considered himself to be a historian but not an academic, and his extremely detailed knowledge of the Civil War coupled with his straight-forward writing style have produced works which have fascinated readers for decades. This book is part of a trilogy of books that Foote wrote over a period of about 20 years. He came about the project originally after publication of his novel "Shiloh" in the Shelby Foote would be considered by many Civil War readers to be the greatest writer on the subject. He considered himself to be a historian but not an academic, and his extremely detailed knowledge of the Civil War coupled with his straight-forward writing style have produced works which have fascinated readers for decades. This book is part of a trilogy of books that Foote wrote over a period of about 20 years. He came about the project originally after publication of his novel "Shiloh" in the fifties. It was a work of historical fiction which caught the attention of Bennett Cerf of Random House, who was looking for an author who could write a concise history of the Civil War in anticipation of its centennial. The agreed-on project did not happen as planned, after Foote began writing and determined that the amount of subject material would be better suited to a multi-volume set. Accordingly, the first two volumes were completed before the centennial celebration was over, in 1958 and 1963, while the third volume took ten additional years to complete. These volumes were no doubt favorably reviewed at time of issue but they did not make Shelby Foote rich until he became famous as a raconteur of Civil War stories on the landmark Ken Burns series "The Civil War" in 1990. Foote was one of several knowledgeable talkers enlisted to add color to Burns' story; however, his agreeable Mississippi drawl and ability to fascinate with his erudition of facts led to much more on-air time than originally planned for Foote. He became America's most popular Civil War authority and his books started selling in the millions. "Fort Sumter to Perryville" covers the first year-and-a-half of the Civil War, ending in November 1862. Foote starts with a Prologue, to explain the immediate events leading up to the firing of first shots at Fort Sumpter. A native Southener, Foote does not take sides in his historical recounting. He does not describe the war as a gallant effort to preserve quaint Southern social institutions. Despite decades of attempts at political compromise in Washington, the political rift between the states depending on a slave-holding economy and those that did not, was deepening. I enjoyed the way that Foote described the similar situations facing the newly-elected United States President, Abraham Lincoln, and his eventual counterpart in the united Confederate States of America Jefferson Davis. In some respects, they were forced to react to the same problems from opposite positions. Lincoln, in his Inaugural Address in Washington D.C., specifically stated that he had no intention to use his presidency to interfere with the institution of slavery, in places where it then existed. Davis, speaking in his Inauguration in Montgomery, Alabama (the original capitol of the Confederacy) two weeks earlier, made no mention of slavery. They were both parsing their words so that residents of the Border States (Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri)(later West Virginia) would not feel threatened, and join the other cause. The bulk of the book is, of course, devoted to the military actions that took place in 1861-1862. After the Southern fire-breathers and the Northern militant abolitionists finally had their way, the war started. Foote, naturally, describes the various battles from Sumter to Bull Run, Shiloh, Seven Days, Second Bull Run, Antietam and numerous others with characteristic detail and clarity, but he delivers much more. He uses his considerable novelist's skills and powers of character understanding to give the reader detailed verbal pictures of all of the many military participants on each side of the conflict. The chess-set battle scenarios of some histories are rejected in favor of the knowledge that the outcome of battles is dependent on the efforts of leaders who must apply their talents, good or bad, to the situations they face. That explains, in part, why the ground war in the main theater of operation covered in this first volume (mostly in Virginia and Maryland) resulted in the Southern forces gaining and retaining the initiative. Foote's character insights are used to good effect to show how the audacity and nerve of Robert E. Lee trumped the plans of the Federal war effort, led by the over-cautious George McClellan. The most interesting character in this volume, if not one of the most interesting in all United States military history, was Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson. My favorite part of the book describes the story of how Jackson, already approaching legendary status for previous service in the Confederate Army, answered the call of a desperate Lee who was trying to save Richmond from falling in 1862. Jackson's "Valley Campaign," where he out-marched and out-generaled superior-numbered Federal forces under Generals Banks and McDowell and kept them from reinforcing the Federal forces threatening to roll over Lee's army, was truly the stuff of legend. This book is somewhat long, but it covers a lot of ground from the Eastern theater of operations, to the Tennessee, the Coastal, and the Trans-Mississippi conflicts. Foote's organization of facts and narrative style make this an enjoyable read. If you have any interest in American Civil War history, you owe it to yourself to read this book.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Malum

    If you are looking for a deep-dive into the politics that led to the American Civil War, you will probably find this work lacking (it begins at the cusp of the first battle of the war). If you are looking for a very readable and engaging play-by-play of the events of the war, however, you aren't likely to find many better sources than Shelby Foote's magnum opus.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Avis Black

    I have an allergy to Shelby Foote. I care for neither his prose style nor his biased viewpoint. Many years ago, Douglas Southall Freeman, the author of Lee's Lieutenants, told his friend Clifford Dowdey (another Civil War author), that he often suppressed his real opinions about the generals in his histories. Freeman explained this was because his sources were the children and grandchildren (many of them Freeman's personal friends) of the men he wrote about in his books, and the real story of the I have an allergy to Shelby Foote. I care for neither his prose style nor his biased viewpoint. Many years ago, Douglas Southall Freeman, the author of Lee's Lieutenants, told his friend Clifford Dowdey (another Civil War author), that he often suppressed his real opinions about the generals in his histories. Freeman explained this was because his sources were the children and grandchildren (many of them Freeman's personal friends) of the men he wrote about in his books, and the real story of the Civil War would have to be told by later generations of historians who could afford to be more objective. Combine this type of historical writing with wounded Southern sentiment, and you have the school of Lost Cause writing, which has evolved into a very complex Southern mythos. The problem with Shelby Foote is that he's the epitome of Lost Cause writing. But starting in the 1980s or so, a new generation of battlefield historians began to dig deeper--historians who were not so hampered by bias or the feeling that they were committing heresy by deflating reputations. This new generation has produced an amazing body of work, and it's very interesting when you discover that General A's decisions were actually General B's, especially when B turns the tide of battle and A has always been given the credit. Or that a certain battle, thought to be a glorious victory, is very overblown and wasn't that much of a victory at all. Having read much work produced by the new generation of historians, I'm no longer willing to tolerate much of the claptrap produced by Foote and the older historians. It's not truthful, it's not historical, and I don't care about how much it makes their wounded egos smart. I want to find out what actually happened.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

    I'd forgotten that I'd read this massive trilogy until I came across someone reading it yesterday. My grandfather had them and liked them, so I figured I'd try them out, and read them during my freshman and sophomore years in high school, I think. They were really interesting and very detailed portraits of all of the different personalities involved, especially the different generals involved on the Union side, and had some actually very funny anecdotes (my favorite one, though I can't remember I'd forgotten that I'd read this massive trilogy until I came across someone reading it yesterday. My grandfather had them and liked them, so I figured I'd try them out, and read them during my freshman and sophomore years in high school, I think. They were really interesting and very detailed portraits of all of the different personalities involved, especially the different generals involved on the Union side, and had some actually very funny anecdotes (my favorite one, though I can't remember which series it came from, was when Confederate soldiers accidentally stumbled upon resting Union animals in the woods at night, and a minor stampede of the Union mules had the Confederates retreating in confusion for not being able to see what was going on. The Union soldiers subsequently composed a song "The Charge of the Mule Brigade." XD). I wish I remember more about what I read, but I think it was hard for me to stick with a whole panoramic view of things because of all the details. What's been most memorable for me was the description of Lincoln, who was many times depressed, jeered at because of his appearance, and had several premonitions of his own death, which were creepy, yet fascinating.

  15. 5 out of 5

    District Fire Chief

    There are books that you read that sometimes just pull you in, even if you know how it is going to end. This is one of those books. Shelby Foote took a period in our nation and laid it open as a true storyteller. I enjoyed the book immensely. The stories told in these pages have sparked my interest in research of the subject and more importantly; other books to read. This book is a novel, but in the pages you will find some of the best storytelling that is factually sound. Thank you Shelby Foote There are books that you read that sometimes just pull you in, even if you know how it is going to end. This is one of those books. Shelby Foote took a period in our nation and laid it open as a true storyteller. I enjoyed the book immensely. The stories told in these pages have sparked my interest in research of the subject and more importantly; other books to read. This book is a novel, but in the pages you will find some of the best storytelling that is factually sound. Thank you Shelby Foote for bring to life the names of people from our past. My only wish is that I would have had the opportunity to thank you in person for such a wonderful book. I consider it a true work of art.

  16. 5 out of 5

    booklady

    Extremely detailed narrative of the Civil War. Listening to the audio version of it and I really should be following more closely checking each battle out on the map as well, but I confess I'm not. I'm content with a rough visualization which may or may not be exact and probably isn't, even if this is my second or third time for reading up on some of these. Hope to return to again sometime. Well worth it. On to Volume 2!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Brad

    Anyone with interest in the state of US politics today (and the "today" I speak of can really be any today) must study (or refresh themselves about) the US Civil War. And Shelby Foote's distinctly Southern perspective is, to my mind, the most important Civil War history for revealing truths about whichever today we may be talking about. The only complaint I have about this first glorious volume of Foote's masterwork is that he didn't read it himself. His voice, a voice many of us are familiar wi Anyone with interest in the state of US politics today (and the "today" I speak of can really be any today) must study (or refresh themselves about) the US Civil War. And Shelby Foote's distinctly Southern perspective is, to my mind, the most important Civil War history for revealing truths about whichever today we may be talking about. The only complaint I have about this first glorious volume of Foote's masterwork is that he didn't read it himself. His voice, a voice many of us are familiar with from Ken Burns' Civil War documentary, is the perfect voice to match the words he wrote. Alas, we have Grover Gardner's voice instead. After 48 hours of listening, however, I can say that Gardner is almost as good as I imagine Foote himself would have been. So my complaint is barely a complaint.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Carr

    Magnificent. Awe inspiring historical writing. As gripping a narrative as any I've found in literature. As insightful a work of strategy as any I've found in the academy. Foote shows the friction and confusion of war as well as any piece I've encountered. All that extra space enables him to take the character's stories to their full conclusion, rather than just passing off stage as their relation to the main story ends. Learning about some of the smaller, less vital campaigns was just as enjoyab Magnificent. Awe inspiring historical writing. As gripping a narrative as any I've found in literature. As insightful a work of strategy as any I've found in the academy. Foote shows the friction and confusion of war as well as any piece I've encountered. All that extra space enables him to take the character's stories to their full conclusion, rather than just passing off stage as their relation to the main story ends. Learning about some of the smaller, less vital campaigns was just as enjoyable as his detailed accounts of the more famous of the bloodlettings of this early stage of the war. If you have any interest in the US Civil War, it is a must read. Vast though it is (836 pages for volume 1, 2930 pages for the entire 3 volumes), this is a series to be savoured. I can't wait to devour the next one.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Colleen Browne

    I would like to have given this book 4 and a half stars although obviously that is not possible. I do not understand the misspellings in the book- was there no editor or some hidden reason for it? Still, I was drawn to Foote's writing. His appreciation and dedication to the history he was writing was obvious and his evenhandedness apparent. This book is very easy reading so I would recommend it even to those not normally drawn to history. I was a bit annoyed by the lack of footnotes which make a I would like to have given this book 4 and a half stars although obviously that is not possible. I do not understand the misspellings in the book- was there no editor or some hidden reason for it? Still, I was drawn to Foote's writing. His appreciation and dedication to the history he was writing was obvious and his evenhandedness apparent. This book is very easy reading so I would recommend it even to those not normally drawn to history. I was a bit annoyed by the lack of footnotes which make a few of his claims a bit questionable. I understand it is a narrative but it is also meant to be history so I believe they should have been included. Overall, I highly recommend it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Matt Brady

    On the one hand Foote is pretty openly a confederate sympathizer, opening the book by talking about what a good and kind slavemaster Jefferson Davis was, portraying abolitionists as ruthless rabble rousing demagogues etc, but on the other hand I doubt you're going to find a better detailed description of the events of the civil war itself. I don't at all think this is an unenjoyable or non-informative read, just that it should probably be heavily supplemented with other works that maybe aren't s On the one hand Foote is pretty openly a confederate sympathizer, opening the book by talking about what a good and kind slavemaster Jefferson Davis was, portraying abolitionists as ruthless rabble rousing demagogues etc, but on the other hand I doubt you're going to find a better detailed description of the events of the civil war itself. I don't at all think this is an unenjoyable or non-informative read, just that it should probably be heavily supplemented with other works that maybe aren't so taken in by the "honorable gallantry" of a bunch of scumbag slave owners.

  21. 4 out of 5

    John

    Well, that took a long, long time. Foote's book is beautifully written, interesting and informative. It's well worth the read, but damn is it long. Two more to go.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ralph Wark

    I have heard a great deal of the fortuitous and highly effulgient writing of Mr. shelby Foote, esq., an author held in high esteem on both sides of the Mason Dixon line. Why, I was just saying to my lovely wife, Phyllis Belle........ OK, the prosaic prose and somewhat formal verbiage does affect you after 810 pages, I had a constant craving for hardback and hominy grits. Oh, the story? The tales told of the first third of the war between the state's. Bloody magnificent. Not only are there 810 pag I have heard a great deal of the fortuitous and highly effulgient writing of Mr. shelby Foote, esq., an author held in high esteem on both sides of the Mason Dixon line. Why, I was just saying to my lovely wife, Phyllis Belle........ OK, the prosaic prose and somewhat formal verbiage does affect you after 810 pages, I had a constant craving for hardback and hominy grits. Oh, the story? The tales told of the first third of the war between the state's. Bloody magnificent. Not only are there 810 pages, they are densely packed with at least two pages worth of info, four if we're talking standard paperback. And what details, Mr. Foote has a knack for explaining the rather large cast and keeping it straight. I mean, how many men named Johnson, Johnston, Hill and Mc-something made the rank of general, was it a prize in a happy meal? I have read some dreadful tomes where the author drones on about the troop movements, making them sound as interesting as bowel movements. Mr. Foote makes them real, you see the humanity in both the regular soldiers, often called on to great privations, and the personalities and pressures of the generals. He also juggles the three theaters of operation, Washington - Richmond, the Western theater, and the Gulf Coast, with real mastery, often tying them together, such as relating a storm that affects all three, giving you a nice comparative point. One thing I really liked was the maps, I've been frustrated before by constantly having to refer to a map 40 pages back. I often would be reading and think, well, it's time for a map, turn the page, and there it was. Delightful were the many small tales intertwined as well as the relationships were, remember the generals had recently been allies , and many border states sent as many men to the Southern Armies as they did to the North. I loved that A.P Hill had courted George McLellan's wife, and now met him in combat (talk about love scorned), or the deaf general who entered a house just prior to a Union bombardment which went on for a bit before he returned , cupping his hand to his ear and saying, "I believe I hear guns" when shells had been falling all around him. So this is highly recommended, I often would have read it for hours had i not had other commitments, like work and meals. But it is no summer read, be prepared for a ride. Now on to book 2......

  23. 5 out of 5

    Dick

    This is classic writing by a powerful. balanced well researched author. I had read this book and the other three many years ago while in college. The three book volume is a Christmas gift from my wife Shari and I have just begun to re-read this great piece of work. Each volume is over 800 pages long, so I will be reading a volume - then taking a break with other reading - then returning to the series. Originally started in 1954, it took over 20 years to complete was the research so exhaustive. To This is classic writing by a powerful. balanced well researched author. I had read this book and the other three many years ago while in college. The three book volume is a Christmas gift from my wife Shari and I have just begun to re-read this great piece of work. Each volume is over 800 pages long, so I will be reading a volume - then taking a break with other reading - then returning to the series. Originally started in 1954, it took over 20 years to complete was the research so exhaustive. To call it a basic trilogy of the war understates the importance of this series. While he is a southern sympathizer in the final analysis, the truth is written as it happened. Jefferson Davis was an effete social snob and a racist. But he was not alone in the regard in the country at the time. The thing that separates him from many other Americans at the time is his white supremacy and rock solid belief that this country was founded for the white man and that owning another man or woman like a piece of chattel was perfectly within the founding father's designs. Grand writing and the research is an close to impeccable as you can get.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Brian Eshleman

    Breath-taking scenes and jaw-dropping insights of character lost to all but the tenacious in hundreds of pages of, this army hit here and this army hit here. Foote does try valiantly to recapture in order to make sure the reader doesn't get ENTIRELY bored or lost, and these summations help

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lisa (Harmonybites)

    I've been reading a lot of popular histories lately and more and more have become disenchanted with the kind of history book that tells a reader that a man's "heart beat faster" or "pupils flared" when to say the least, the chances the historian pulled that detail out of a diary or letter are low. And if you are going to get away with such embellishments, your style better have the panache of a Truman Capote, a Tom Wolfe or Erik Larson. Shelby Foote does have style--he's a novelist rather than a I've been reading a lot of popular histories lately and more and more have become disenchanted with the kind of history book that tells a reader that a man's "heart beat faster" or "pupils flared" when to say the least, the chances the historian pulled that detail out of a diary or letter are low. And if you are going to get away with such embellishments, your style better have the panache of a Truman Capote, a Tom Wolfe or Erik Larson. Shelby Foote does have style--he's a novelist rather than a historian and he wrote he eschewed footnotes because he didn't want to interrupt the flow with them. His The Civil War then isn't really a work you could use as a scholarly reference, he doesn't note his sources--he calls it a "narrative." But it's often (even if not always) an absorbing narrative, with the strong prose of a gifted novelist, but often what I appreciated most was its restraint. Foote writes in the Bibliographical Note in the back that he "employed the novelist's methods without his license... Nothing is included here, either within or outside quotation marks without the authority of documentary evidence which I consider sound." Foote also said in that note that the historical record is so rich, he didn't feel any temptation to imagine details--what was difficult was what to omit. He never went over the line into details it would be hard to credit didn't come from the record. I also thought his chronicle, at least in this first volume, pretty fair. Yes, from time to time I thought I could detect a Southern bias, particularly in the choices of words and certain emphases. Foote admits he's a son of Mississippi who knew some of the aged surviving Confederate veterans in his youth. But this isn't Gone With the Wind: it doesn't read as a crude apologia for the South. You do get the Southern point of view, yes, but at least in the first volume Lincoln, Grant and Sherman are treated not simply fairly but sympathetically and such Southern shibboleths as General Stonewall Jackson, General Robert E. Lee and President Jefferson Davis come in for a great deal of criticism. And if you read the book closely, you certainly can't brush away that slavery was the cause of the war or accept Davis' claim that "all we ask is to be left alone." The South seceded precisely because a president--Lincoln--was elected who was opposed to the expansion of slavery to new territories. Slavery--never explicitly mentioned in the United States Constitution (three-fifths clause notwithstanding)--was written right into the Confederate constitution. And Davis tried to expand the war--and his new nation--right into the new territories in the South West. Foote details the battles in New Mexico and Davis' ambitions to expand the Confederacy down to all of South America and across to Cuba. What struck me were my own biases. I am a "Yankee," I suppose, having been born and raised and residing in New York. But I would have said I didn't have a dog in this fight. I know little of my father's background--but my mother's ancestors were still in Spain when the American Civil War was being fought. There are no Confederates--or boys in Blue--in my attic. But even with over 150 years having passed, I still gnashed my teeth over every victory of the Confederacy Foote detailed. I couldn't pass over a name like Nathan Bedford Forrest (presented not just sympathetically but by and large admiringly as a military genius) without wanting to hiss. Foote mentions in passing Forrest wasn't simply a slave owner but a slave trader. And though not mentioned in this volume covering only 1861 and 1862, I knew Forrest would help found and lead the Ku Klux Klan after the war. Foote could call the conflict "the Second Revolutionary War" a gazillion times--I could never forget it was a war waged by the Confederacy to keep and expand slavery and its leaders unapologetic slave owners. (As opposed to slave-owning Southern Founding Fathers who did have their regrets and doubts about the institution.) I could rarely feel sympathy for those who fought in gray. Yet I had no problem feeling sympathy for the British when I recently read books about the American Revolutionary War. It probably didn't help that this is above all a battlefield history. Foote does give some of the political context, dealing with both presidents and their cabinets, but mostly the focus is on the armies and navies of the two belligerents, especially focusing on the generals. Not so much Grant and Lee in this first volume. Generals McClellan of the North and Beauregard of the South get much more space in this first volume since they were much more prominent in the opening years of the war. If I had more of the perspective of the rank and file soldier, such as the one Foote related who told the Union soldiers who captured him "I'm fighting because you're down here," maybe I could have felt more sympathy for the other side, fighting for their home and hearth against the invading forces. As it was, the Southern cause seemed such a criminal waste, all the more for the terrible damage the two armies inflicted upon each other. Foote noted that there were more casualties in the single battle of Shiloh than in all previous American wars combined--and later Antietam would overtake its place to become the bloodiest day of the war. Maybe the next two volumes, which would deal with the turning point of the war and the defeat of the South, would better engage my sympathy for both sides. But my biggest problem was that I felt buried by the sheer length, and I'm not sure I'll ever continue on to the next two volumes. I admit I'm curious about Foote's take on Gettysburg and want to read the last chapter he wrote on Reconstruction to see his complaints. But even though I was riveted by Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels, a novel about the Battle of Gettysburg, I admit something this detailed going into battle after battle, even minor skirmishes, was numbing--and I've enjoyed books on military history. The first 300 pages I read with enthusiasm, but by page 500 (of 810) of the first volume I admit I was judiciously skimming. Some of this book was a page turner that educated me about aspects of the war I had never known--or at least knew little about. Such as the role of the Navy and the story of how Admiral David Farragut captured New Orleans, or the Battle of Hampton Roads where the ironclads Merrimack and Monitor squared off changing the nature of naval warfare forever. Or the battle for New Mexico and the attempt to expand the Confederacy westward. But so much was a slog. Especially given this wasn't told in strict chronological order and dates weren't always pinned down, all the names thrown at the reader were confusing--especially given Foote's fondness for calling them by epithets such as "the Creole." (There were two important Confederate Generals named Johnston. Since Foote would meander in and out of time, it was very hard to remember which was which. Was this the one who died in the battle of Shiloh some chapters back or another?) Moreover, Foote is fond of such words as defilade, gasconade, eupeptic, dyspepsia, and such classical allusions as the Battle of Cannae. Reading this certainly caused me to give my dictionary and google engine hard usage. So reading this book was definitely like running a marathon, and left me rather exhausted at the finish and unsure I can make myself undergo the ordeal again--let alone twice more to finish off this massive three-volume work. Perhaps next time I tackle it I'll take it in slower steps--a slow trek with stops for rest along the way rather than a race, and that might make all the difference.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Eric Lynch

    It is certainly reads more like a narrative than a textbook and Mr. Foote’s humor, insight, and superior level prose helps to give a more vivid snapshot of this key part of history. You truly do feel that you are in the battle with them (both sides) and as Mr. Foote articulates in the Biographical Note section: “biased is the last thing I would be; I yield to no one in the admiration for heroism and ability, no matter which side of the line a man was born or fight on when the war broke out on... It is certainly reads more like a narrative than a textbook and Mr. Foote’s humor, insight, and superior level prose helps to give a more vivid snapshot of this key part of history. You truly do feel that you are in the battle with them (both sides) and as Mr. Foote articulates in the Biographical Note section: “biased is the last thing I would be; I yield to no one in the admiration for heroism and ability, no matter which side of the line a man was born or fight on when the war broke out on...” His purpose is abundantly clear: to tell a broader story of the Civil War that includes nuances and stories of personal sacrifice outside of the conventional chronicle.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    This volume is an account of the first year and a half of the Civil War, primarily focusing on the military engagements. It is in the narrative style, and rarely provides analysis. I found it enjoyable and informative, but also dry at times. Even though this is a thorough book that explains the events from a fairly high level, it can be difficult to follow. You definitely need to have a good understanding of the Civil War and be familiar with the names of commanders; otherwise it is easy to get This volume is an account of the first year and a half of the Civil War, primarily focusing on the military engagements. It is in the narrative style, and rarely provides analysis. I found it enjoyable and informative, but also dry at times. Even though this is a thorough book that explains the events from a fairly high level, it can be difficult to follow. You definitely need to have a good understanding of the Civil War and be familiar with the names of commanders; otherwise it is easy to get lost. Foote has a tendency to refer to various commanders by their nicknames, so that can add to the confusion if you aren't paying attention. For example, he calls Beauregard "the Creole", Leonidas Polk "the Bishop", and James Longstreet "Old Pete" or "Peter", etc. Also, I would recommend referring to maps as the story moves from battle to battle if you are not familiar with the area being discussed. I am working my way through this series (This book is the first large volume of a trilogy.) and then embarking on Bruce Catton's trilogy to see how they compare.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    Been reading this book in parts for last year, as the "baseline" to my series of Civil War books. Reading this series will be the progress I'll keep coming back to after branching out to other books, topics and sub-topics. Foote's writing as a narrative is exactly what I prefer to history. And though you can tell his writing is based in research, it isn't overly academic and thrown in your face with notes and conclusions, etc. His note on bibliography at end of book is sufficient for what I'm lo Been reading this book in parts for last year, as the "baseline" to my series of Civil War books. Reading this series will be the progress I'll keep coming back to after branching out to other books, topics and sub-topics. Foote's writing as a narrative is exactly what I prefer to history. And though you can tell his writing is based in research, it isn't overly academic and thrown in your face with notes and conclusions, etc. His note on bibliography at end of book is sufficient for what I'm looking for (tips to other books). Foote unmasks his opinions very obviously about certain commanders, especially their absurdities and failings. Equally, his praise for other leaders and figures is obvious, and I like this about it as well. The battles are covered in correct summary level, and the politics and culture tying together the events nicely. After first volume, I'm anticipating completing this series will be something I'll remember all my life.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Saunders

    One of the definitive popular histories of the Civil War. Long and exhaustive, but beautifully written, it's best appreciated by military buffs. Foote provides engaging accounts of every battle, from Shiloh and Antietam to Glorieta Pass and Pea Ridge. A novelist by trade, Foote is best sketching personalities (from Presidents Lincoln and Davis through generals, foot soldiers and diarists) and relating colorful anecdotes. On the other hand, Foote proves superficial discussing the causes, politica One of the definitive popular histories of the Civil War. Long and exhaustive, but beautifully written, it's best appreciated by military buffs. Foote provides engaging accounts of every battle, from Shiloh and Antietam to Glorieta Pass and Pea Ridge. A novelist by trade, Foote is best sketching personalities (from Presidents Lincoln and Davis through generals, foot soldiers and diarists) and relating colorful anecdotes. On the other hand, Foote proves superficial discussing the causes, political dimensions and social upheaval of the war. Though he tries to be impartial, Foote's Southern sympathies shine through, as when he refers to abolitionists as "Jacobins." The lack of formal sourcing qualifies Foote's accuracy. Despite these failings, it's highly entertaining and informative, though I'd peg McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom as a better introduction to the war.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ben Vogel

    I first read this definitive 3 volume series when Ruth was a newborn in 2001. I fondly recall these books in my lap alongside my sleeping baby girl, woodstove heating our den cozily, while a heavy February snow quilted the word outside. Those were magical times, and I wondered if my impressions of these works were skewed favorably as a result. Well, I just finished re-reading volume 1, and I enjoyed Mr Foote's eloquent prose every bit as much, though my house is now filled with three rambunctious I first read this definitive 3 volume series when Ruth was a newborn in 2001. I fondly recall these books in my lap alongside my sleeping baby girl, woodstove heating our den cozily, while a heavy February snow quilted the word outside. Those were magical times, and I wondered if my impressions of these works were skewed favorably as a result. Well, I just finished re-reading volume 1, and I enjoyed Mr Foote's eloquent prose every bit as much, though my house is now filled with three rambunctious children, the aforementioned Ruth now a voracious (nearly teenage) reader herself.

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