The Late Shelby Foote

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thomas aagaard

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 19, 2013
Location
Denmark
His work might not be actual fiction, but it is unfortunately not "historical work".

The reason for this is the lack of footnotes and sources. Something that is pretty much the core requirement for a text to be of any use for historical work.
But I do think the man was a great writer.

(and just to be clear, I don't care if a writer is a university educated historian or not. My best historical books about the 100 year war, was written by a lawyer...
And Eric J. Wittenberg who is our expert on civil war cavalry and have written a lot of books is an attorney)
---

Now to your question.
I really don't agree with him giving a unionist view.
He argues that the CSA soldiers only fought because the federal soldiers was there.- Completely ignoring why the federal soldiers was there and who caused that to be the case.

And he claim that the cause of the war was a noble fight for states rights.

And he fail to factor in that about 1/3 of all families in the CSA owned slaves and that many of the rest in one way or another still benefited from slavery.


So he has for good reasons been accused of being a Lost Cause proponent.

But on the other hand there are a few areas where he do sound pro Union. Like his clear respect for Lincoln.
And he clearly thought that the end of slavery was a very good ting.


In the end I think he was a product of his time. He was a white male southerner who was born in 1916. His main works about the civil war was published during the late 50ties and into the early 70ties. During a time where we got the whole civil rights struggle and similar. I actually think his interpretation of events was more balanced than what would have been normal with men of his age, "regionality" and skin color.

And the same can be said about some of the clear errors in his books. Like his claim that Bufords men was armed with repeaters... Can be found in plenty of older books... but it was simply not the case.
 
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redbob

Captain
Joined
Feb 18, 2013
Location
Hoover, Alabama
He was a novelist and not an historian, but I'll agree that the is easier to listen to than to read. Also, as far as I remember; the only footnote/endnote that I've ever seen in one of his books was in the book pertaining to Vicksburg, it was about his family's homeplace/cemetery and it's position on the river.
 
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Rusk County Avengers

Sergeant Major
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Apr 8, 2018
Location
Coffeeville, TX
I won't lie, I'm not the most knowledgeable on Foote.

I've never sat down and watched the famous, (infamous?) Ken Burns documentary, and never read his books. The closest I came to reading his books was in high school at a lady friend's house and her dad being a big fan of him and doing some little reading of one of his books. He'd offered to loan them to me adamant they were the BEST books on the war, an offer I never came to take him up on. (On a side note of that he was a real stocky football coach and my first introduction to him was me at his house doing school work with his youngest daughter, it just didn't seem like I should take risks.)

But what very little I read from one of his books, and reading old Civil War Times and Confederate Veteran magazine (come to think of it they were the exact same interview) interviews with him I'd say he was more an avid reader of CW history, and a novelist who tried his hand at writing CW history. I would say his works are good for an introduction to the war before moving on to more serious, better researched books as he was a good writer. I wouldn't call him a pro-Union individual. I remember reading him saying "The war produced two geniuses, Abe Lincoln, and Bedford Forrest" him describing Lincoln in that way is more paying respect to him, doesn't make him Unionist, he was just being respectful. But I would say he was pro-South all the way at the end of the day.

I'll never understand the complete hatred some have of the man, I know I've witnessed his work working miracles with getting people interested in the CW.
 
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jackt62

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
I enjoyed reading his CW trilogy, which is generally factual, although the work is not historically cited but does not claim to be. Although he has a southern tilt to his narrative (no surprise there!) it doesn't get in the way of producing a fair minded and expansive overview of the entire conflict.
 

ucvrelics

Major
Forum Host
Joined
May 7, 2016
Location
Alabama
James N. is spot on and if you will go up to the search block at the top right hand corner and type in Shelby Foote you will stay busy for awhile.
Ive had the Honor of meeting him on 3 occasions and I can assure you that he had NO sympathy for yankees. Below is one of my favorite stories he always told and its not even Civil War.

“I remember in the 1930s there was a family from Ohio in town, God knows why,” Foote recalled, “and on July Fourth they drove their car up on the levee and spread a blanket and had a picnic. They didn’t set the brakes on the car and it ran down into the Mississippi River and everyone said, ‘It served them right for celebrating the Fourth of July.’” Foote chuckled again, adding, “We despised Yankees, just on the face of it.”
 

Nathanb1

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Retired Moderator
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Dec 31, 2009
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Smack dab in the heart of Texas
I find his extensive praise for Lincoln and Grant to be quite noteworthy.
See? Editing. Out of hours of interviews, you saw snippets--stories Ken Burns thought were interesting (and they were!), so they were included...

A lot of us find Lincoln and Grant to be worth extensive praise...so I'm not quite getting the drift...
 
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Rusk County Avengers

Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Joined
Apr 8, 2018
Location
Coffeeville, TX
@ucvrelics I don't know why but that reminds me of one occurrence in my life. A friend of mine, and a older man who was once married into my family, wanted to take me to meet a distant cousin of mine. The visit wasn't just social, but also on my part the end of a long search for my Confederate GG-Grandfather's possessions. Well sitting in this cousins home bar and pool room, discussing Yanks, he had a weird look on his face, and finally said "Boy your different from any other Pepper I've ever known, even your daddy." how so says I and he replied "Your the first Pepper I've seen to refer to D***yankees as just yankees."

I imagine it was ten times worse at least in Mississippi and elsewhere, especially back in the day, and while its died down a lot, that general dislike for Yankees in the South still lives on to some extent among normal people, especially older folks.
 
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Belfoured

Sergeant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
As several others have pointed out, he was a novelist
His work might not be actual fiction, but it is unfortunately not "historical work".

The reason for this is the lack of footnotes and sources. Something that is pretty much the core requirement for a text to be of any use for historical work.
But I do think the man was a great writer.

(and just to be clear, I don't care if a writer is a university educated historian or not. My best historical books about the 100 year war, was written by a lawyer...
And Eric J. Wittenberg who is our expert on civil war cavalry and have written a lot of books is an attorney)
---

Now to your question.
I really don't agree with him giving a unionist view.
He argues that the CSA soldiers only fought because the federal soldiers was there.- Completely ignoring why the federal soldiers was there and who caused that to be the case.

And he claim that the cause of the war was a noble fight for states rights.

And he fail to factor in that about 1/3 of all families in the CSA owned slaves and that many of the rest in one way or another still benefited from slavery.


So he has for good reasons been accused of being a Lost Cause proponent.

But on the other hand there are a few areas where he do sound pro Union. Like his clear respect for Lincoln.
And he clearly thought that the end of slavery was a very good ting.


In the end I think he was a product of his time. He was a white male southerner who was born in 1916. His main works about the civil war was published during the late 50ties and into the early 70ties. During a time where we got the whole civil rights struggle and similar. I actually think his interpretation of events was more balanced than what would have been normal with men of his age, "regionality" and skin color.

And the same can be said about some of the clear errors in his books. Like his claim that Bufords men was armed with repeaters... Can be found in plenty of older books... but it was simply not the case.
This seems like a pretty good summary. An equally good writer who was not a historian was Catton, who was a journalist - but he at least knew how to use and cite sources such as the OR and journals, memoirs, etc. Sixty or so years later many of those are subject to (some) question but Catton had the concept down. The Burns series turned Foote into something of a stereotype - here's the guy with a quick three-sentence anecdote, all stated in a mint-julep-laden accent. So, as long as anybody reading his series as an intro to the War knows the limitations, it's not bad.
 
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