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Featured: St. Travel American South. Travel With Us. At the Smithsonian Visit. New Research. Curators' Corner. Ask Smithsonian. Photos Submit to Our Contest. Photo of the Day. Video Ingenuity Awards. Smithsonian Channel. Video Contest. Games Daily Sudoku. Universal Crossword. Daily Word Search. Mah Jong Quest. 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. Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri. Politics prevented him from acting on his abolitionist sympathies. 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. Maybe Bruce Catton comes close, but my memory dims of my long-ago reading from his systematic series of books.

Which was extracted from volume two of the trilogy. View all 11 comments. Jan 02, David rated it really liked it. 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 mids , 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.

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. 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 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. View all 4 comments. I wanted a book that would take a year of my life to read, so 3, pages in three volumes, I thought this should fill the bill. View 1 comment. 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. 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. No, not that I can see. But even so, who cares?

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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. 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. 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. View all 8 comments. 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. 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. 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, pages. Sep 03, William Ramsay rated it it was amazing. One of the advantages of growing old or older is that you develop a very long memory. 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.

The very best set of books I read in this period was the one by Shelby Foote. 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. 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.

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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. This is a great book by a brilliant writer.


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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. 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 pages. Dec 23, Nate rated it it was amazing Shelves: american-civil-war. 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.


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  5. I realize t I guess some guy called this the "American Iliad " I realize that's kind of a dumb thing to say, but seriously 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. 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.

    The top 12 Civil War books ever written

    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.


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    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 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. Speaking of engagements 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 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 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 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.

    Feb 08, Richard rated it it was amazing. 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 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 and , 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 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. 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.

    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 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 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.

    Jun 18, Hannah rated it liked it. 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.

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

    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.

    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. I have an allergy to Shelby Foote.