Gods, Generals, and Shelby Foote

It’s the birthday of American novelist and historian Shelby Foote

(books by this author), born in Greenville, Mississippi (1916). He had already published several novels, including Tournament (1949), Follow Me Down (1950), and Love in a Dry Season (1951), when in 1952, an editor asked Foote if he would try writing a narrative history of the Civil War. Foote said he thought it would take about four years, but it wound up taking two decades, and the result was three volumes, more than 1.6 million words and almost 3,000 pages long when published. Foote later compared the project to swallowing a cannonball.

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betweenthecovers.com

Near the end of the third volume, Foote wrote a letter to his best friend, the novelist Walker Percy: “Dear Walker, I killed Lincoln last week. Saturday, at noon. While I was doing it — he had his chest arched up holding his last breath to let it out — some […] doctor came to the door with volumes 1 and 2 under his arm, wanting me to autograph them for his son for Christmas. I was in such a state of shock, I not only let him in, I even signed the […] books, a thing I seldom do. Then I turned back and killed [Lincoln] and had Stanton say, ‘Now he belongs to the ages.’ A strange feeling though. I have another seventy-odd pages to go, and I have a feeling it’ll be like Hamlet with Hamlet left out.”

Shelby Foote was one of the only writers so old-fashioned that he wrote all his books with an antique pen that had to be dipped in ink after every three or four words.

https://gardenandgun.com/articles/shelby-footes-war-story/

The last novel he published was September, September (1978). Foote spent the final 25 years of his life working on an epic novel about Mississippi, called Two Gates to the City. It remained unfinished when he died in 2006. Shelby Foote said, “A writer’s like anybody else except when he’s writing.”
https://www.garrisonkeillor.com/radio/twa-the-writers-almanac-for-november-17-2021/

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https://thefederalist.com/2017/11/02/shelby-footes-civil-war-history-defends-america-insatiable-haters-like-ta-nehisi-coates/

John Daniel Davidson wrote: “Foote is, of course, the author of his own celebrated Civil War masterpiece, a three-volume narrative history of the war, each about a thousand pages long, that stands as a triumph of American history and literature.” (https://thefederalist.com/2017/11/02/shelby-footes-civil-war-history-defends-america-insatiable-haters-like-ta-nehisi-coates/)

Over the decades I have recommended, and will continue to recommend anyone interested in what I have come to think of as the “War of Northern Aggression” begin their journey toward understanding by reading the the Civil War trilogy by Mr. Foote. For some readers, maybe most, the three books will be all you need to know about the conflict. For others the books will set the stage for all the other books to come, because they are magnificently written by one of the best writer’s produced by America.

When it comes to Shelby Foote historians have had a field day. An example would be: Shelby Foote Was Wrong! By Dick Crews of the The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable, Copyright © 2014. (https://www.clevelandcivilwarroundtable.com/shelby-foote-was-wrong/)

This elicited the response: A Rebuttal to “Shelby Foote Was Wrong!” By Greg Biggs, President, Clarksville TN CWRT of The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable, Copyright © 2014. (https://www.clevelandcivilwarroundtable.com/a-rebuttal-to-shelby-foote-was-wrong/)

It has been my experience that one cannot discuss the Civil War (about which Shelby Foote famously said, “There was nothing civil about that war.”) objectively because after over a century and a half passions still run deep. Then there is the fact that most Americans know very little about the War of Northern Aggression. If one becomes interested enough to read further than what is taught in school then you will usually read a hagiography. For instance, during a Civil War Roundtable discussion in Louisville, Kentucky, at a Barnes & Noble Bookstore after this book had been published, and read:

https://booklife-resized.s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/e4114aed9739662641bca1f535e72cab-w204@1x.jpg
Happy Birthday Abraham Lincoln! America’s Second Gay …
queerreader.com

I discussed some of what was included and one older, unfortunate Lincoln apologist stood up with a red face and fire in his eyes, said, “HOW DARE YOU!” before falling onto the floor. He was taken to the hospital as soon as an ambulance arrived. We later learned he survived…

Kentucky was a conflicted state before, during, and after the War of Northern Aggression. During the WONA Lincoln famously said, probably to anyone who listened

https://xpertchesslessons.files.wordpress.com/2021/11/0b653-ihopetohavegodonmyside2cbutimusthavekentucky-abrahamlincoln.png

My knowledge of Kentucky stems from time spent in Louisville. I recall having lunch at a Greek restaurant on Bardstown Road when there was some kind of uproar. An older couple took exception to the “CSA” belt buckle worn by the waitress. They left without leaving a tip. We talked briefly and I learned her name while leaving a generous tip, for which she thanked me profusely. A few days later I was at Highland Coffee, where Chess players met weekly, sitting outside talking with others, and I mentioned the scene at the Greek place. As we talked about the Civil War and how conflicted was Louisville (and Kentucky in general) a young man at the next table stood up, looked down at me, and said, “That ‘attractive young lady,’ as you put it, is my sister. Here’s the deal, mister, we won; you lost; GET…OV..VER…IT!” Then he walked away into the sunset, just like a movie…

‘Cross the Green Mountain
Written by: Bob Dylan

I crossed the green mountain, I slept by the stream

Heaven blazin’ in my head, I dreamt a monstrous dream

Something came up out of the sea

Swept through the land of the rich and the free

I look into the eyes of my merciful friend

And then I ask myself, is this the end?

Memories linger, sad yet sweet

And I think of the souls in heaven who will meet

Altars are burning with flames falling wide

The foe has crossed over from the other side

They tip their caps from the top of the hill

You can feel them come, more brave blood to spill

Along the dim Atlantic line

The ravaged land lies for miles behind

The light’s comin’ forward and the streets are broad

All must yield to the avenging God

The world is old, the world is gray

Lessons of life can’t be learned in a day

I watch and I wait and I listen while I stand

To the music that comes from a far better land

Close the eyes of our Captain, peace may he know

His long night is done, the great leader is laid low

He was ready to fall, he was quick to defend

Killed outright he was by his own men

It’s the last day’s last hour of the last happy year

I feel that the unknown world is so near

Pride will vanish and glory will rot

But virtue lives and cannot be forgot

The bells of evening have rung

There’s blasphemy on every tongue

Let them say that I walked in fair nature’s light

And that I was loyal to truth and to right

Serve God and be cheerful, look upward beyond

Beyond the darkness that masks the surprises of dawn

In the deep green grasses of the blood stained wood

They never dreamed of surrendering. They fell where they stood

Stars fell over Alabama, I saw each star

You’re walkin’ in dreams whoever you are

Chilled are the skies, keen is the frost

The ground’s froze hard and the morning is lost

A letter to mother came today

Gunshot wound to the breast is what it did say

But he’ll be better soon he’s in a hospital bed

But he’ll never be better, he’s already dead

I’m ten miles outside the city and I’m lifted away

In an ancient light that is not of day

They were calm, they were blunt, we knew ’em all too well

We loved each other more than we ever dared to tell

Copyright

© 2002 by Special Rider Music