Review of "The Civil War: A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (Vol. I)" by Shelby Foote

This is history – it's also very good writing.  One of the hardest things to do, when writing history, is to give the reader of what it actually would have been like to live in distant times.  Foote does this immediately.  The characters seem to jump off the page.

Foote is a Southerner, but his history seems completely unbiased (he seems very impressed by Lincoln, for example).  Anyone who complains about he lack of footnotes should be locked in a room and forced to read boring, less accurate, more biased, but "scholarly" books.  I suppose they feel the need to say something and can't think of anything else.

The battle descriptions are amazing and could easily be excerpted and published on their own.  They're also impossible to break out and quote in small passages.  The same applies to the descriptions of the characters.

What comes across is a war that is, perhaps most fundamentally, a war between two separate civilizations and ways of life.  Many in the North believed that the Southerners had to be completely destroyed, as Foote quotes:

“Do we fight them to avenge . . . insult?  No!  The thing we seek is permanent dominion.  And what instance is there of permanent dominion without changing, revolutionizing, absorbing, the institutions, life, and manners of the conquered peoples?  . . . They think we mean to take their Slaves.  Bah!  We must take their ports, their mines, their water power, the very soil they plough, and develop them by the hands of our artisan armies . . . We are to be a regenerating, colonizing power, or we are to be whipped.  Schoolmasters, with howitzers, must instruct our Southern brethren that are a set of d—d fools in everything that relates to . . . modern civilization . . . This army must not come back.  Settlement, migration must put the seal on battle, or we gain nothing."

Lincoln tried valiantly to walk a finer line, but in the end (with Reconstruction) he lost, and the destruction of the South had to be complete.  Prophets, like Sherman, saw this coming.

I'll have more to say on this book randomly, as things occur, as well as when I finish reading the next two volumes.

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