Shelby Foote

“I am a Mississippian. Though the veterans I knew are all dead now, down to the final home guard drummer boy of my childhood, the remembrance of them is still with me. However, being nearly as far removed from them in time as most of them were removed from combat when they died. I hope I have recovered the respect they had for their opponents until Reconstruction lessened and finally killed it. Biased is the last thing I would be; I yield to no one in my admiration for heroism and ability, no matter which side of the line a man was born or fought on when the war broke out, fourscore and seventeen years ago. If pride in the resistance of my forebears made against the odds has leaned me to any degree in their direction, I hope it will be seen to amount to no more, in the end, than the average American’s normal sympathy for the underdog in a fight.”


It is very rare for a great historian to also be a great novelist.  Shelby Foote was a national treasure and the country was poorer when he passed from the scene in 2005.  To truly understand America I think it is very important to have a firm grasp of our Civil War.  Foote, with his magisterial three volume epic,  did all Americans a service by giving us a readable and comprehensive study of that vast conflict.  He spent 20 years of his life doing it, and the care with which he crafted each page shines through.

The Civil War, there’s a great compromise, as it’s called. It consists of Southerners admitting freely that it’s probably best that the Union wasn’t divided, and the North admits rather freely that the South fought bravely for a cause in which it believed. That is a great compromise and we live with that and that works for us. We are now able to look at the war with some coolness, which we couldn’t do before now, and, incidentally, I very much doubt whether a history such as mine could have been written much before 100 years had elapsed. It took all that time for things to cool down.


Published in: on December 2, 2009 at 6:32 am  Comments (4)  
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  1. I was first acquainted with Foote during the Burns’ min-series, where he seemed to be such a central figure. His Civil War trilogy, as you said, is one of the most thorough and readable accounts of the war that I have ever read, and is really a must read for anyone that is a Civil War buff.

  2. [i]I hope I have recovered the respect they had for their opponents until Reconstruction lessened and finally killed it. [/i]

    I really tire of Southerners complaints about Reconstruction since there was shamefully little reconstruction done.

    As for Foote’s “compromise” he way it worked out on the ground was the white folks, North and South grudgingly made up and the Southerners were left free to solve their “Negro question” however they saw fit.
    Note that the South gained politically since their representation in Congress now included 5/5 rather than 3/5 of their Black population even though they weren’t being allowed to vote.

  3. “I hope I have recovered the respect they had for their opponents until Reconstruction lessened and finally killed it.”

    Actually in his first volume on the Civil War written in the Fifties Foote condemned the segregationist Southern politicians of his day. As his volumes indicate Foote realized that the wrongs done to blacks were at the core of the Civil War.

  4. It was a huge disappointment to me when I learned that he had died. It wasnt quite like my sister who burst into tears when she found out CS Lewis was dead, but it was a blow.

    As far as reconstruction goes, I haven’t read Foote’s work (which makes me a bad Civil War buff), but when I do, I’ll have to totally rework my senior thesis on the history of reconstruction and modern civil rights.

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