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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"The Civil War: A Narrative; Fredericksburg to Meridian", by Shelby Dade Foote, Jr.

845 pages, Random House, Inc., ISBN-13: 978-0307290434

Having read many of Bruce Catton's very excellent narratives, I find this trilogy more even handed in its review of North and South. The author makes it clear that, even though he was born in the Deep South, any bias he shows is for the underdog, and not because of his heritage. The descriptions of battles, strategies, tactics, of the common soldiers and of course generalship gives one the clear feeling that the CSA's fighting spirit, shrewdness, determination and abilities were superior in every way to those of the Union, especially during the early years. There is much about the human side of the war - senior officers who knew each other, even brothers, fathers, sons on both sides; rivals or friends from military schools or previous wars; common soldiers gossiping and trading tobacco, newspapers, food and even taunts across the lines during battle lulls. There seemed to be very little hatred in this war. The real hatred came later, during Reconstruction.

Volume II begins with Jefferson Davis' 1863 trip around the Confederacy to rally his constituents, and takes us through the battles of Fredericksburg, Stones River, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Chickamauga, and Chattanooga. We lose Stonewall Jackson, see the rise of Nathan Bedford Forrest and Ulysses Grant, and witness the fall of Rosecrans and Bragg. It does not just focus on the well-known activities of the Army of the Potomac vs. the Army of N.VA, but interposes scenes from all theaters of the war as well, as the other branch of service (Navy). It's not just a military history, as we learn of such items as the infighting in both White Houses, international ramifications of the War, and the dysfunctional inflationary economies and riots in Southern cities like Richmond and Northern cities like New York.

Foote is a master storyteller and his riveting and personal accounts may make the reader forget they are reading non-fiction history. It's the kind of book one can open at any page and start reading (or listening). It is long and detailed, but not so much by mentioning every regiment and commander as other books do, but rather by just telling the whole story from various angles.  This series of books is fantastic reading. Excellent writing with local interest stories included. The only thing I found lacking was better and more maps showing what the two sides were doing.

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