Grits and Tamales

Life in the Deep South, by Gabriel Aguilera

Category Archives: Shelby Foote

Confetti in the Sunlight: General Albert Sidney Johnston’s Final Charge

Witness here a piece of Foote’s fitting account of the end of General Albert Sidney Johnston, a fine general who was esteemed by his comrades.  At the outset of the war, before Lee emerged god-like to him, Jefferson Davis thought him to be the South’s finest General.

The scene depicted is the lead up to his deadly charge amid a peach orchard in full bloom. Here a fine fighting general went to his grave on a cool spring day, guns blazing through blossoms that produced grizzly slaughter and confetti. It is romance and realism.

From Foote’s Civil War V1, p. 339.

****************

At the end of the battle line, on the far flank of the Hornets Nest, there was a ten-acre peach orchard in full bloom. Hurlbut had a heavy line of infantry posted among the trees, supported by guns whose smoke lazed and swirled up through the branches sheathed in pink, and a bright rain of petals fell fluttering like confetti in the sunlight as bullets clipped the blossoms overhead. Arriving just after one of Breckinbridge’s brigades had recoiled from a charge against the orchard, Johnston saw that the officers were having trouble getting the troops in line to go forward again. “Men! They are stubborn; we must use the bayonet,” he told them. To emphasize the meaning he rode among them and touched the points of their bayonets with the tin cup. “These must do the work,” he said. When the line had formed, the soldiers were still hesitant to reenter the smoky uproar. So Johnston did what he had been doing all that morning, all along the line of battle. Riding front center, he stood up in his stirrups, removed his hat, and called back over his shoulder: “I will lead you!” As he touched his spurs to the flanks of his horse, the men surged forward, charging with him into the sheet of flame which blazed to meet them there among the blossoms letting fall their bright pink rain.

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Foote Unloads on General Braxton Bragg

If you read Foote closely you can begin to tell which generals he is especially fond off, his disappointment and elation with their characters and performance both at particular instances as well as across time. So it is with all of the major characters in his trilogy. Foote can recite and respect the virtues of Jefferson Davis, for example, but he never really warms to him even as the reader can feel his unfruitful efforts and frustrations. Perhaps in the end the President of the Confederacy is too sanctimonious, too dogmatic and too rigid; this notwithstanding his immense education and experience that should have peppered him with more wisdom and humility, virtues that would have dulled the pride that too often impaired his judgment. More interesting is that mythology and hero-worship does not cloud his judgment of Lincoln; Foote was all too familiar with his Machiavellian steel and ruthlessness for those clouds to form. Nevertheless, he loved Lincoln best. As I have argued before, the Mississippian’s portraits of Lincoln are the finest devoted to any single character, and this includes books that bring to life colorful soulful Southern characters like Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Peter Longstreet, and Nathan Bedford Forrest. Foote does warm too these, sometimes a little too well as in the case of the devil Forrest, the war’s peerless fighting general.

But I digress. I simply wanted to post today that Foote can be as merciless in dressing down characters he frowns upon as he is in praising the virtuous. Georges Clemenceau, in one of the best insults ever uttered, once said of one of France’s most renown Generals, Fernidad Foch: “He was an average specimen of humanity whose main weakness was to imagine himself greater than he was.” No doubt Foote could have drubbed General Braxton Bragg with such a mighty club if he had chosen to. It’s a good thing that he did not for his best instruments were sharper and just as lethal. Witness here the dissection of poor Braxton Bragg:

“So [Bragg] said. But it seemed to others in his army that there was more to it than this; that the trouble, in fact, was personal; that it lay not within the situation which involved a shortage of rations and a surplus of bluecoats, but somewhere down deep inside Bragg himself. For all the audacity of his conception, for all his boldness through the preliminaries, once the critical instant was at hand he simply could not screw his nerves up to the sticking point. It was strange, this sudden abandonment of Stonewall as his model. It was as if a lesser poet should set out to imitate Shakespeare or Milton. With luck and skill, he might ape the manner, the superficial arrangement of words and even sentences; but the Shakespearian or Miltonic essence would be missing. And so it was with Bragg. He lacked the essence. Earlier he had said that the enemy was to be broken up and beaten in detail, Jackson-style, “by rapid movements and vigorous blows.” Now this precept was revised. As he left Munfordville he told a colonel on his staff: “This campaign must be won by marching, not fighting.”

braxton-bragg

It’s a pity that this general got a fort named after him.

Meet General Philip H. Sheridan: “I intend to make the cavalry an arm of the services.”

Philip H. Sheridan is one of my favorite Union generals during the war. Perhaps only Sherman was more colorful. Perhaps only Forrest was tougher.

What follows is from Volume 3 of Foote’s The Civil War: A Narrative (pages 135-136):

general-sheridan

In conference with Lincoln and Halleck, soon after his return from Tennessee and before he established headquarters in the field, he [Grant] had expressed his dissatisfaction with cavalry operations in the eastern theater. What was needed, he said, was “a thorough leader.”… Halleck came up with the answer. “How would Sheridan do?” he asked. This was Major General Philip H. Sheridan, then in command of an infantry under Thomas near Chattanooga. His only experience with cavalry had been a five-week term as colonel of a Michigan regiment after Shiloh, nearly two years ago, and he had not only never served in Virginia, he had never even been over the ground in peacetime, so great was his dislike of all things southern. But Grant said that he would do just fine in command of the eastern army’s three divisions of 13,000 troopers. “The very man I want,” he said, and Sheridan was sent for. He arrived in early April, checked into Willard’s, and went at once to the White House, much as Grant had done the month before. The interview was marred, however, when [Lincoln] brought up the familiar jest: “Who ever saw a dead cavalryman?” Sheridan was not amused. If he had his way, there were going to be a great many dead cavalrymen lying around, Union as well as Confederate. Back at Willard’s with friends, he said as much and more. “I’m going to take the cavalry away from the bobtailed brigadier generals,” he vowed. “They must do without their escorts. I intend to make the cavalry an arm of the services.”

Sheridan was different, and he brought something different and hard into the army he now joined. “Smash ’em up, smash ’em up!” he would say as he toured the camps, smacking the palm with his fist for emphasis, and then ride off on his big galloping horse, a bullet-headed little man with close-cropped hair and a black mustache and imperial, bandy-legged, long in the arms, all Irish but with a Mongol look to his face and form, as if something had gone strangely wrong somewhere down the line in Ireland. Just turned thirty-three, he was five feet five inches tall and he weighed 115 pounds with his spurs on; “one of those long-armed fellows with short legs,” Lincoln remarked of him, “that can scratch his shins without having to stoop over.” Mounted, he looked about as tall and burly as the next man, so that when he got down from his horse his slightness came as a shock.” The officer you brought on from the West is a rather little fellow to handle your cavalry,” someone observed at headquarters, soon after Sheridan reported for duty. Grant took a pull from his cigar, perhaps remembering Missionary Ridge. “You’ll find him big enough for the purpose before we get through with him,” he said. And in point of fact, the under-sized, Ohio-raised West Pointer held much the same views on the war as his chief, who was Ohio born and had finished West Point ten years earlier, also standing about two thirds of the way down in his class. Those views, complementing Sheridan’s even more succinct “Smash ’em up, smash ’em up!” could be stated quite briefly, a staff physician found out about this time. They were sitting around idle after a hard day’s work and the doctor asked the general-in-chief for a definition of the art of war. Grant turned the matter over in his mind — no doubt preparing to quote Jomini or some other highly regarded authority, his listeners thought — and then replied, as if in confirmation of what his friend Longstreet was telling Lee’s staff about now, across the way: “Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can, and strike him as hard as you can. And keep moving on.”

That was to be the method…

 

 

 

Lincoln Selects John Pope

From Foote’s, The Civil War (V1), a passage on the selection of General John Pope for command of the Army of the Potomac. It shows Lincoln’s slyness, his willingness to task war-fighting to a class of men that Churchill tagged as “stinkers and cheats,” because these were sometimes necessary to win wars (see below).

“John Pope was the man. Halleck had praised him so highly he had lost him. Indeed, for months now the news from that direction had seemed to indicate that the formula for victory, so elusive here on the seaboard, had been discovered by the generals in the West — in which case, as Lincoln and Stanton saw it, the thing to do was bring one of them East and give him a chance to apply it. Grant’s record having been tarnished by Shiloh and the subsequent rumors of negligence and whiskey, Pope was the more or less obvious choice, not only because of Island Ten and Halleck’s praise of his agressiveness during the campaign against Corinth, but also because Lincoln, as a prairie lawyer pleading cases in Pope’s father district court, had known him back in Illinois. There were objections. Montgomery Blair, for instance, warned that old Judge Pope “was a flatterer, a deceiver, a liar and a trickster; all the Popes are so.” But the President could not see that these were necessarily drawback characteristics in a military man. While admitting that the general’s ‘infirmity’ when it came to walking the chalk-line of truth, he protested that “a liar might be brave and have skill as an officer.” Also, perhaps as a result of a belief in the Westerner’s ability to combine effectively the several family traits Blair had warned of, he credited him with ‘great cunning,’ a quality Lincoln had learned to prize highly as a result of his brush with Stonewall Jackson in the Valley. So Pope was sent for.”

Contrast Lincoln to Churchill, who remarked to Field Marshall Dill during WWII: “It isn’t only the good boys who help to win the wars; it is the sneaks and the stinkers as well.” Another officer later wrote of Churchill: “Churchill had a weakness for sneaks and stinkers of all kinds…”

 

Lincoln Says Goodbye to Springfield

No one paints Lincoln better than Shelby Foote. Here is an excerpt from The Civil War: A Narrative, Volume I (p.35). Lincoln is leaving Springfield for the White House:

The President-elect, and those who were going with him, boarded the single passenger car; those who were staying collected about the black platform, the rain making a steady murmur against the taut cotton or silk of their umbrellas. As he stood at the rail, chin down, Lincoln’s look of sadness deepened. Tomorrow he would be fifty-two, one of the youngest men ever to fill the office he had won three months ago. Then he raised his head, and the people were hushed as he looked into their faces.

“My friends,” he said quietly, above the murmur of the rain, “no one not in my situation can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place and the kindness of these people I owe everything. Here I have lived for a quarter century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested on Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me and remain with you and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.

The train pulled out and the people stood and watched it go, some with tears on their faces. Four years and two months later, still down in Coles County, Sally Bush Lincoln was to say: “I knowed when he went away he wasn’t ever coming back alive.”

A Portrait From Foote’s Civil War: Sherman

foote_shelbyGeneral Sherman

Foote paints glorious portraits in his trilogy. This one is of Sherman, mostly with Sherman’s words. One of Foote’s great talents is his ability to choose, compile, edit and synthesize quotes from his subjects into the flow of his narrative.

EXCERPT:  Volume 1, Fort Sumter to Perryville, pages 58-59.

Christmas Eve of the year before, William Tecumseh Sherman, Superintendent of the Louisiana State Military Academy, was having supper in his quarters with the school’s professor…a Virginian named Boyd, when a servant entered with an Alexandria newspaper that told of the secession of South Carolina. Sherman was an Ohioan, a West Pointer and a former army officer, forty years old, red-bearded, tall and thin, with sunken temples and a fidgety manner. He had come South because he liked it, as well as for reasons of health, being twenty pounds underweight and possibly consumptive…Rapidly he read the story beneath the black headline announcing the dissolution of the Union…Finally he stopped pacing and stood in the front of his friend’s chair, shaking a bony finger in the Virginian’s face as if he had the whole fire-eating South there in the room…

“You people of the South don’t know what you are doing,” [Sherman] declared. “The country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is folly, madness, a crime against civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don’t know what you’re talking about. War is a terrible thing…You mistake, too, the people of the North. They are a peaceable people but an earnest people, and they will fight, too. They are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it…Besides, where are your men and appliances of war to contend against them? The North can make a steam engine, locomotive or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or pair of shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical and determined people on earth — right at your doors.” Then he delivered a prophecy. “You are bound to fail. Only in your spirit and determination are you prepared for war. In all else you are totally unprepared, with a bad cause to start with. At first you will make headway, but as your limited resources begin to fail, shut out from the markets of Europe as you will be, your cause will begin to wane. If your people but stop and think, they must see that in the end you will surely fail.”

 

My Favorite Books and Why

Below are my favorite 10 books of all time, chosen on three criteria: gravitas, fun, and poetry. I first list them according to category and assign points for placement. Next I do a tally and list according to points earned in each (un-weighted) category.

Finally, I list my favorites in order. Interestingly, only Melville does not crack the top five on any of the lists. Perhaps I should only have a top nine? Only Shakespeare and Homer make the top five on every single category. Proust takes a big climb on subjective criteria. I have read the first volume recently and look forward to the rest. Dante takes a dive only because it’s not one I have studied with vigor.

All in all, these books are wondrous. They are to me indispensable and, in a few cases (The Bible, Shakespeare, and Cervantes) proved thoroughly life-altering. But I love them all, more than I am capable expressing in words {see my terrible poem below as proof of this}. Here is a random bullet on each that jumps in mind:

  • Hamlet tells Horatio that there is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow
  • Jesus chases the tax collectors from the temple…and a herd of swine into the sea.
  • Don Quixote in love.
  • Proust explains why he loves Bergotte.
  • Achilles comforts Priam.
  • Foote peerlessly portrays Lincoln’s kindliness — and his Machiavellian vigor.
  • Machiavelli instructs us to seek wisdom in literature, biography if one is an aspiring prince.
  • Virgil chides Dante for being slothy and prods him along with the memory of Beatriz.
  • Whitman reminds us that the powerful play goes on.
  • Ishmael realizes that he’d rather be in bed with sober pagan than a drunk Christian.

The Lists:

Gravitas: Moral instruction and philosophical insight

  1. The Bible (10)
  2. Shakespeare, Tragedies and Henriad (9)
  3. Cervantes, Don Quixote (8)
  4. Homer, The Odyssey & Iliad (7)
  5. Machievelli, The Prince and Discourses (6)
  6. Dante, the Divine Comedy (5)
  7. Foote, The Civil War (4)
  8. Proust, Remembrance of Things Past (3)
  9. Whitman, Leaves of Grass (2)
  10. Melville, Moby Dick (1)

Fun: The most joyous to read

  1. Cervantes, Don Quixote (10)
  2. Shakespeare, Tragedies and Henriad (9)
  3. Homer, The Odyssey & Iliad (8)
  4. Foote, The Civil War (7)
  5. Machievelli, The Prince and Discourses (6)
  6. The Bible (5)
  7. Dante, the Divine Comedy (4)
  8. Melville, Moby Dick (3)
  9. Whitman, Leaves of Grass (2)
  10. Proust, Remembrance of Things Past (1)

Poetry: Because in fifty years I think I would love to be able to recite it all by heart

  1. Shakespeare, Tragedies and Henriad (10)
  2. Homer, The Odyssey & Iliad (9)
  3. Dante, the Divine Comedy (8)
  4. Whitman, Leaves of Grass (7)
  5. Proust, Remembrance of Things Past (6)
  6. The Bible (5)
  7. Melville, Moby Dick (4)
  8. Foote, The Civil War (3)
  9. Cervantes, Don Quixote (2)
  10. Machievelli, The Prince and Discourses (1)

Overall according to the point system:

  1. Shakespeare, Tragedies and Henriad (28 points)
  2. Homer, The Odyssey & Iliad (24)
  3. The Bible (20)
  4. Cervantes, Don Quixote (20)
  5. Dante, the Divine Comedy (17)
  6. Foote, The Civil War (14)
  7. Machievelli, The Prince and Discourses (13)
  8. Whitman, Leaves of Grass (11)
  9. Proust, Remembrances of Things Past (10)
  10. Melville, Moby Dick (8)

Subjective: In order, what I today would pick to have with me in the dungeon

  1. Shakespeare, Tragedies and Henriad (27 points)
  2. The Bible (20)
  3. Proust, Remembrances of Things Past (10)
  4. Cervantes, Don Quixote (20)
  5. Foote, The Civil War (14)
  6. Homer, The Odyssey & Iliad (25)
  7. Machievelli, The Prince and Discourses (13)
  8. Dante, the Divine Comedy (17)
  9. Whitman, Leaves of Grass (11)
  10. Melville, Moby Dick (8)

An awful poem from the heart:

Abandoned down below for fifty years alone,

From these forced I to choose just one

I’d pick for gravitas, for rhyme, for fun.

The last shall not be under sold, by me or time;

For this explains why Russians fail to shine,

Why Proust and Foote and Melville are sublime.

For fifty years alone all huddled in my cell,

For each itself there is no deeper well.

General Sherman on Friendship

I found this to be a profound reflection on friendship.

“Grant is a great General. I know him well. He stood by me when I was crazy and I stood by him when he was drunk. And now, sir, we stand by each other always.” -General Sherman.

The quote above comes after Sherman, mole-like, surfaces up on the East Coast after his ostentatious razing of the Cotton Belt.  Lincoln had been reelected and  there was talk about promoting him to Grant’s level. Some wanted to make him president and Sherman, famously, would have none of this.

General Sherman was philosopher as well as excellent with words. He articulated a coherent argument for coercive diplomacy a la Schelling to justify his scorched earth tactics on his long march to the sea. Something, it should be noted, that Lincoln understood, agreed with, and immediately endorsed.

General Sherman

What to Read on Statecraft and Leadership

     A former student of mine and I talked recently about what books she should read to aid her on ambition’s ladder. She was recently admitted to the Kennedy and Harvard Business Schools.  I expect her to have a shot at becoming congresswoman or senator one day. If she eschews this path, I don’t doubt for an instant that she will go far in business, politics, or in the NGO world. Perhaps all three eventually.
     Machiavelli gives advice to would-be princes like her on what they should study.  She is a myriad-minded person who reads voraciously.  Still, she would benefit from the great philosopher’s wisdom. Here is what he says:
“But to exercise the intellect the prince should read histories, and study there the actions of illustrious men, to see how they have borne themselves in war, to examine the causes of their victories and defeat, so as to avoid the latter and imitate the former; and above all do as an illustrious man did, who took as an exemplar one who had been praised and famous before him, and whose achievements and deeds he always kept in his mind, as it is said Alexander the Great imitated Achilles, Caesar Alexander, Scipio Cyrus. And whoever reads the life of Cyrus, written by Xenophon, will recognize afterwards in the life of Scipio how that imitation was his glory, and how in chastity, affability, humanity, and liberality Scipio conformed to those things which have been written of Cyrus by Xenophon. A wise prince ought to observe some such rules, and never in peaceful times stand idle, but increase his resources with industry in such a way that they may be available to him in adversity, so that if fortune chances it may find him prepared to resist her blows.” The Prince, Chapter XIV (The entire chapter is pasted below).
     I think this is brilliant advice for those who study princes as well as those who seek to become better princes such as my former student.
     Below I list authors and books that  provide insight into the art of politics, statecraft, and leadership that have best aided me in my life-long effort to understand politics. I have no doubt that my former student has read some of these. I hope she will re-visit some and engage new ones. Each is a treasure trove of insight and erudition.  Each is immensely entertaining. A few are masterpieces of English prose and poetry, pleasing to the heart as well as the mind.
  • Plutarch, Lives
  • Shelby Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative, Volumes 1-3
  • Thucydides, Peloponnesian War 
  • Shakespeare, Richard II, Henry IV 1&2, and Henry V AND the major tragedies
  • Machiavelli, The Prince & Discourses (University of Chicago editions)
  • Robert Caro, Master of the Senate 
  • David McCullough, Harry Truman and John Adams
  • Robert V. Remeni, Andrew Jackson works.
  • Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and Theodore Rex
  • Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals
  • Homer, Iliad & Odyssey
  • Elliot Cohen, Supreme Command
_________________________________________________________________________________________

CHAPTER XIV — THAT WHICH CONCERNS A PRINCE ON THE SUBJECT OF THE ART OF WAR

A prince ought to have no other aim or thought, nor select anything else for his study, than war and its rules and discipline; for this is the sole art that belongs to him who rules, and it is of such force that it not only upholds those who are born princes, but it often enables men to rise from a private station to that rank. And, on the contrary, it is seen that when princes have thought more of ease than of arms they have lost their states. And the first cause of your losing it is to neglect this art; and what enables you to acquire a state is to be master of the art. Francesco Sforza, through being martial, from a private person became Duke of Milan; and the sons, through avoiding the hardships and troubles of arms, from dukes became private persons. For among other evils which being unarmed brings you, it causes you to be despised, and this is one of those ignominies against which a prince ought to guard himself, as is shown later on. Because there is nothing proportionate between the armed and the unarmed; and it is not reasonable that he who is armed should yield obedience willingly to him who is unarmed, or that the unarmed man should be secure among armed servants. Because, there being in the one disdain and in the other suspicion, it is not possible for them to work well together. And therefore a prince who does not understand the art of war, over and above the other misfortunes already mentioned, cannot be respected by his soldiers, nor can he rely on them. He ought never, therefore, to have out of his thoughts this subject of war, and in peace he should addict himself more to its exercise than in war; this he can do in two ways, the one by action, the other by study.

As regards action, he ought above all things to keep his men well organized and drilled, to follow incessantly the chase, by which he accustoms his body to hardships, and learns something of the nature of localities, and gets to find out how the mountains rise, how the valleys open out, how the plains lie, and to understand the nature of rivers and marshes, and in all this to take the greatest care. Which knowledge is useful in two ways. Firstly, he learns to know his country, and is better able to undertake its defence; afterwards, by means of the knowledge and observation of that locality, he understands with ease any other which it may be necessary for him to study hereafter; because the hills, valleys, and plains, and rivers and marshes that are, for instance, in Tuscany, have a certain resemblance to those of other countries, so that with a knowledge of the aspect of one country one can easily arrive at a knowledge of others. And the prince that lacks this skill lacks the essential which it is desirable that a captain should possess, for it teaches him to surprise his enemy, to select quarters, to lead armies, to array the battle, to besiege towns to advantage.

Philopoemen,(*) Prince of the Achaeans, among other praises which writers have bestowed on him, is commended because in time of peace he never had anything in his mind but the rules of war; and when he was in the country with friends, he often stopped and reasoned with them: “If the enemy should be upon that hill, and we should find ourselves here with our army, with whom would be the advantage? How should one best advance to meet him, keeping the ranks? If we should wish to retreat, how ought we to pursue?” And he would set forth to them, as he went, all the chances that could befall an army; he would listen to their opinion and state his, confirming it with reasons, so that by these continual discussions there could never arise, in time of war, any unexpected circumstances that he could not deal with.

     (*) Philopoemen, "the last of the Greeks," born 252 B.C.,
     died 183 B.C.

But to exercise the intellect the prince should read histories, and study there the actions of illustrious men, to see how they have borne themselves in war, to examine the causes of their victories and defeat, so as to avoid the latter and imitate the former; and above all do as an illustrious man did, who took as an exemplar one who had been praised and famous before him, and whose achievements and deeds he always kept in his mind, as it is said Alexander the Great imitated Achilles, Caesar Alexander, Scipio Cyrus. And whoever reads the life of Cyrus, written by Xenophon, will recognize afterwards in the life of Scipio how that imitation was his glory, and how in chastity, affability, humanity, and liberality Scipio conformed to those things which have been written of Cyrus by Xenophon. A wise prince ought to observe some such rules, and never in peaceful times stand idle, but increase his resources with industry in such a way that they may be available to him in adversity, so that if fortune chances it may find him prepared to resist her blows.

Finding Shelby Foote

I actually ran across Shelby Foote quite by accident several years ago when I was living in Los Angeles.  I spent a lot of time on the freeways so I was always in the market for something good to listen to in the car.  At the time I was reading presidential biographies and had read up quite a bit on Lincoln, TR, and several others.  I pretty much picked up The Civil War: A Narrative on a whim.

Foote’s Civil War, on audio, floored me for several reasons. I did not notice when I first listened to it — I have listened all the way through 3Xs and read it once  — that Foote is actually a novelist in addition to, as James M. McPherson notes, a fine historian. [Side note: McPherson pays Foote the highest compliment in his Battle Cry of Freedom by closely following several of his battle accounts].  Foote brought the Civil War’s politics, battle scenes, and, above all, the characters to life in my mind’s eye.   All is told from the perspective of soldiers, citizens, and statesmen.  Their views are moderated and edited by an a narrator who relates the story while giving the impression that he is taking it all in with the reader as he goes.  He too, it seems, is entertained, angered, bemused, awed and heartbroken as events unfold.  He, too, develops strong views on the characters and events.  For example, he manifests a deep sympathy to Jefferson Davis that I found difficult to share but readily understood.  He makes you appreciate why Lee was so beloved, but also forces you to appreciate how utterly human he was.  Later, Foote says that Gettysburg is the price that the South paid for Lee.  This is palpable in the narrative.  He also has abiding, albeit grudging, respect and admiration for Grant.  Lincoln’s star shines brightest in the Civil War even though the narrator’s sympathies lean slightly towards the South.

The Civil War, let it be said, is a literary masterpiece filled with one gorgeous sentence after another. It is clear that Foote is steeped in Homer and Shakespeare.  Others note that it is most like Proust – which I have never read. My  Shelby_Foote_Q  Twitter feed lets me pick out snippets of things in the book that I love. It gives me an excuse to keep perusing those gorgeous sentences and paragraphs that really do succeed in putting you right next to to Lincoln and Davis every bit as much as Grant and Lee.

About a month ago,  I finally caught a bit of the Burns documentary.  What I saw was wonderful, but what I watched paled in comparison to the imagery and beauty that Foote stamped on my brain.  Burns, too, pays Foote the highest compliment by outlining pieces of the documentary closely on Foote’s narrative.  The friend I was watching with was startled when I anticipated lines, quotes, and events throughout the show.

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