The Contradictions of Shelby Foote

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Bryan_C

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In the PBS documentary The Civil War, I really like it when Shelby Foote states that "any understanding of this nation has to be based, I mean really based, on an understanding of the Civil War." But, later in the program, he makes another statement that, I believe, contradicts his own claim:

“The South never had a chance to win that war.”

I always thought he made this comment just to **** off some of his Southern neighbors. As I recall, this statement was prefaced by him saying that the North fought with one hand tied behind its back and , if things got really difficult, all the North would have done is bring the other hand out to crush the South. But I think the South had several chances to win the war. It had chances to gain foreign recognition and it had chances to win the war on the battlefield. And I don’t just mean winning at Gettysburg. The South had to convince the Northern civilian population that the war wasn’t worth fighting anymore. As far as the North fighting “one-handed,” I think there is some truth to that but the North eventually had to draft soldiers. I think the North also had to use Black soldiers: if not for the need of military manpower, I think certainly for the need to keep them out of the hands of the Confederacy.

The Confederacy had to hold on to what it had- the territory it claimed and its slave population. In the end, it lost both. But the South had a serious chance to win the war.
 

diane

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I always take into consideration Shelby Foote's generation when reading his wonderful work. His grandparents remembered the war in their old age - not his parents or himself. He related talking to old men on their porches in Mississippi about riding with Forrest - and it was clear these stories had the double magic of aged distance and childhood fantasy. Then there's the real world that wasn't so great. Faulkner was a good friend who talked much about the decay of the South after the Civil War, and the impact that event had on the region. The South was almost dormant, still stunned, when Foote was a child.

The South had a fine chance to win by combat if she had decided to really get in there immediately, not just crack a few kneecaps and send them home chastised. Jackson was a prophet when he advocated black flag warfare - he knew what Sherman knew, that once the industrial North got bit hard enough they would gear up and steamroll the cotton farmers like putting a crease in a pair of trousers. But, that does not mean the North was an inexhaustible juggernaut. They had geared up to go all out, with all they had, to win - that kind of a burst usually exhausts a lot of resources and men very quickly. This is what was beginning to happen when Grant came east and changed things dramatically.

As much as I admire Shelby Foote and enjoy his series, I have to say such comments are in the 'victim' camp. The South never had a chance - the North beat somebody who couldn't fight back, the bullies! The North had one hand behind their back - the South was doomed, the North had overwhelming men and resources. Foote was not a Lost Causer, but that ideology was taught heavily throughout the South for generations, especially Foote's.
 

ole

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I always take into consideration Shelby Foote's generation when reading his wonderful work. His grandparents remembered the war in their old age - not his parents or himself. He related talking to old men on their porches in Mississippi about riding with Forrest - and it was clear these stories had the double magic of aged distance and childhood fantasy. Then there's the real world that wasn't so great. Faulkner was a good friend who talked much about the decay of the South after the Civil War, and the impact that event had on the region. The South was almost dormant, still stunned, when Foote was a child.

The South had a fine chance to win by combat if she had decided to really get in there immediately, not just crack a few kneecaps and send them home chastised. Jackson was a prophet when he advocated black flag warfare - he knew what Sherman knew, that once the industrial North got bit hard enough they would gear up and steamroll the cotton farmers like putting a crease in a pair of trousers. But, that does not mean the North was an inexhaustible juggernaut. They had geared up to go all out, with all they had, to win - that kind of a burst usually exhausts a lot of resources and men very quickly. This is what was beginning to happen when Grant came east and changed things dramatically.

As much as I admire Shelby Foote and enjoy his series, I have to say such comments are in the 'victim' camp. The South never had a chance - the North beat somebody who couldn't fight back, the bullies! The North had one hand behind their back - the South was doomed, the North had overwhelming men and resources. Foote was not a Lost Causer, but that ideology was taught heavily throughout the South for generations, especially Foote's.

The Confederacy had a chance, however slim, to win that war. Unfortunately, they didn't have a Lincoln to lead them, in unity, in that direction. "Died of State's Rights" is an appropriate epitaph.
 
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diane

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The Confederacy had a chance, however slim, to win that war. Unfortunately, they didn't have a Lincoln to lead them, in unity, in that direction. "Died of State's Rights" is an appropriate epitaph.
Lincoln was absolutely unique. Had he decided he was a Kentuckian and needed to go South, I have the strange feeling we would have heard next to nothing about him. He could have reversed himself on just about everything and still been just another politician - it was the class system would have kept him low on the totem pole.
 

O. A. Williams

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I think Foote was using that quote to drive home the point that the North just had so many more men of fighting age that it's miraculous the war lasted as long as it did. I'm not sure it is meant to be taken 100% literally, even though I have to agree that overall the south didn't have a chance, but certain things gave the illusion of a chance.
Had they not been so skilled and had the North been a little more competent early in the war, for instance, I don't believe it would have lasted as long as it did. Lee sending Jackson after Banks in the Valley campaign to distract the North from Richmond comes to mind.

Not trying to insult the south, but that's one man's opinion.
 
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Allie

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I always take into consideration Shelby Foote's generation when reading his wonderful work. His grandparents remembered the war in their old age - not his parents or himself. He related talking to old men on their porches in Mississippi about riding with Forrest - and it was clear these stories had the double magic of aged distance and childhood fantasy. Then there's the real world that wasn't so great. Faulkner was a good friend who talked much about the decay of the South after the Civil War, and the impact that event had on the region. The South was almost dormant, still stunned, when Foote was a child.

The South had a fine chance to win by combat if she had decided to really get in there immediately, not just crack a few kneecaps and send them home chastised. Jackson was a prophet when he advocated black flag warfare - he knew what Sherman knew, that once the industrial North got bit hard enough they would gear up and steamroll the cotton farmers like putting a crease in a pair of trousers. But, that does not mean the North was an inexhaustible juggernaut. They had geared up to go all out, with all they had, to win - that kind of a burst usually exhausts a lot of resources and men very quickly. This is what was beginning to happen when Grant came east and changed things dramatically.

As much as I admire Shelby Foote and enjoy his series, I have to say such comments are in the 'victim' camp. The South never had a chance - the North beat somebody who couldn't fight back, the bullies! The North had one hand behind their back - the South was doomed, the North had overwhelming men and resources. Foote was not a Lost Causer, but that ideology was taught heavily throughout the South for generations, especially Foote's.
I don't really agree that pointing out that the contest was not evenly-matched makes the North into bullies. The contest wasn't even, that's obvious by simple numbers. But whose fault was that? The Confederacy failed to make itself attractive enough to gain the border states, and those who seceded knew there would be war, knew roughly what the situation would look like, and seceded anyway. I'm one of those who feel they had the right to secede, but that doesn't absolve those who advocated secession of near-criminal levels of stupidity.

Shelby is right if the question is framed in terms of winning the war. But he fails to mention that the Confederacy didn't need to win, it only needed to make the war unpopular in the North. They failed on that front too - Alexander Stephens running his mouth about how the Founding Fathers had it all wrong, men are not created equal, was not a good way to persuade the people that the Confederates were right and should be left alone. At every opportunity the Confederate government did things to make the North despise and wish to defeat them. They were better for Northern morale than Lincoln was!
 

diane

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I don't really agree that pointing out that the contest was not evenly-matched makes the North into bullies. The contest wasn't even, that's obvious by simple numbers. But whose fault was that? The Confederacy failed to make itself attractive enough to gain the border states, and those who seceded knew there would be war, knew roughly what the situation would look like, and seceded anyway. I'm one of those who feel they had the right to secede, but that doesn't absolve those who advocated secession of near-criminal levels of stupidity.

Shelby is right if the question is framed in terms of winning the war. But he fails to mention that the Confederacy didn't need to win, it only needed to make the war unpopular in the North. They failed on that front too - Alexander Stephens running his mouth about how the Founding Fathers had it all wrong, men are not created equal, was not a good way to persuade the people that the Confederates were right and should be left alone. At every opportunity the Confederate government did things to make the North despise and wish to defeat them. They were better for Northern morale than Lincoln was!
No, the North wasn't being a bully but has been interpreted that way - emoticon failure! :laugh: That's why I often defend Joe Johnston - he knew he didn't have to win to win. The fire-eaters and other secessionist diehards pulled the South into the war - it's really surprising how many gung-ho Confederate commanders were against secession until their states went out. Even Davis and Stevens had been Unionists until then. I always like A P Hill's practical statement: "Well, the politicians have gotten us into a dam-d scrape, now it is up to the soldiers to get us out!"
 

Mark F. Jenkins

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It's a statement that can be read a few different ways, that's for certain.

Foote's right --and he's wrong. He's right in the sense that the Confederacy was outmatched in nearly every material category that mattered in the winning of wars, and, provided the Union stayed committed to reunion, their chances of success were not great.

He's wrong in the sense that the Union's commitment to reunion was in no way a guaranteed, inevitable thing; it only looks inevitable after the fact.
 
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O. A. Williams

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No, the North wasn't being a bully but has been interpreted that way - emoticon failure! :laugh: That's why I often defend Joe Johnston - he knew he didn't have to win to win. The fire-eaters and other secessionist diehards pulled the South into the war - it's really surprising how many gung-ho Confederate commanders were against secession until their states went out. Even Davis and Stevens had been Unionists until then. I always like A P Hill's practical statement: "Well, the politicians have gotten us into a dam-d scrape, now it is up to the soldiers to get us out!"
Excellent point about how many important figures in the Confederacy, both political and military, were against secession but served the Confederacy anyway because of state loyalty.
It's amazing the whole thing even happened, really, and it's all an excellent and interesting study in human motivation and persuasion.
 
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Georgia Coast

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Lincoln was absolutely unique. Had he decided he was a Kentuckian and needed to go South, I have the strange feeling we would have heard next to nothing about him. He could have reversed himself on just about everything and still been just another politician - it was the class system would have kept him low on the totem pole.
OK, Diane! As a Kentuckian myself, I have to insist that he WAS a Kentuckian! But I know that's not what you meant! :smug:
 

O. A. Williams

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I think Gary Gallagher sums it up best and I have heard him make this point repeatedly. The only people that don't think the South had a chance to win are people that start at the end of the war and work backwards, because that makes you work from the assumption that the north won.
And I would reply that the only people who think this are trying to insult the intelligence of those who disagree with them in an attempt to silence them. I don't think it's crazy to think the south had a chance, but I certainly don't think it's crazy to look at it from the beginning and say they didn't have a chance.
Of course, like I said above, Foote probably did not mean to be taken 100% literally in every sense, but was used to drive home a point. In celebration of March Madness, I will use the following example: A #16 seed has no chance of beating a #1 seed in the first round. Of course they have a very small chance, but so far it has never happened.
 
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cash

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No, the North wasn't being a bully but has been interpreted that way - emoticon failure! :laugh: That's why I often defend Joe Johnston - he knew he didn't have to win to win.
Unfortunately for Retreatin' Joe he only understood a part of the equation. They didn't have to win, but they also had to avoid losing.

By retreating he gave up land, he gave up the opportunity to lower Union morale, he allowed Union morale to rise, and worst of all he gave up enslaved people on the plantations and farms that he left in his wake. That represented lost labor to the confederacy and, after January 1, 1863, more recruits for the Federals.
 

DRW

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Unfortunately for Retreatin' Joe he only understood a part of the equation. They didn't have to win, but they also had to avoid losing.

By retreating he gave up land, he gave up the opportunity to lower Union morale, he allowed Union morale to rise, and worst of all he gave up enslaved people on the plantations and farms that he left in his wake. That represented lost labor to the confederacy and, after January 1, 1863, more recruits for the Federals.
Maybe Retreain' Joe was following General Kutuzov's "retreat and let the weather beat 'em plan," but forgot about the snow part of the formula.
 

redbob

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If you ever had met Shelby Foote, you have seen a man who lived live by his own code, didn't broker fools easily and if you disagreed with him you could find yourself reduced to a quaking mass by his stare. That said, he was also a man of honor-during WWII as an Army officer he was discharged for being out of bounds (too far outside his assigned area of operations),he then enlisted as an enlisted man in the Marine Corps so that as he stated "he could go home again when the war was over". Love him or hate him he was one of a kind.
 
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hanna260

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And I would reply that the only people who think this are trying to insult the intelligence of those who disagree with them in an attempt to silence them. I don't think it's crazy to think the south had a chance, but I certainly don't think it's crazy to look at it from the beginning and say they didn't have a chance.
With all due respect to you and your opinions, I do think it's a little crazy to look at it from the beginning and say they didn't have a chance. That's operating by hindsight- as much as we try, we don't know what could have happened, we don't know the kinds of dominoes that could have occurred because of the smallest of actions, we don't know what kind of weird things could have come up. We can look at the odds and say that the South was unlikely to win but that the South never had a chance is kind of an absolute statement. Absolutes are tricky because we can look at history with our eyes sideways and a stack of books at our sides, and we all know what happened- but ultimately we have no clue about the possibilities.

Dang. Rereading that paragraph, does that make any sense?
 

jgoodguy

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And I would reply that the only people who think this are trying to insult the intelligence of those who disagree with them in an attempt to silence them. I don't think it's crazy to think the south had a chance, but I certainly don't think it's crazy to look at it from the beginning and say they didn't have a chance.
Of course, like I said above, Foote probably did not mean to be taken 100% literally in every sense, but was used to drive home a point. In celebration of March Madness, I will use the following example: A #16 seed has no chance of beating a #1 seed in the first round. Of course they have a very small chance, but so far it has never happened.

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Posts are open to attack, members are not.
 
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