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:
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.