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Monday, January 30, 2012

"The Civil War: A Narrative; Red River to Appomattox", by Shelby Dade Foote, Jr.


1106 pages, Random House, Inc., ISBN-13: 978-0307290441

 Concluding Foote's narrative history of the American Civil War, the final volume opens with Grant and Sherman's plans for the defeat of the Confederacy and the failure of the Red River campaign. It includes the capture of Atlanta, Sherman's march to the sea, Sheridan's reduction of the Shenandoah Valley, and climaxes with Lee's surrender at Appomattox. It also includes the tragic anticlimaxes of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the capture and imprisonment of Jefferson Davis. As a finale it touches briefly on the Reconstruction and the post-war years of the veterans of the conflict, Jefferson Davis, and other notable figures in the nation's bloodiest conflict. As before, Foote's prose is objective yet compelling, bringing the personalities to vivid life. 

Shelby Foote spent his life researching and writing these books, and it shows. This is the most interesting mass of information compiled in a flowing fashion that I believe has been written. It has so much personally revealing biographical information about the persona of the Civil War that one cannot but gain insight as to the causes and results of the fighting. One that has interest in history or warfare cannot afford to miss this journey.  

All in all, the three volumes work best when approached like as a dramatic epic novel. It is fascinating to watch the main characters - Lincoln, Grant, Sherman, Lee, and Davis - progress as the war moves forward. From the end, it is amazing to look back past all of the death and destruction to the beginning, when things seemed so much simpler. This is especially true of on the Confederate side - there is an overwhelming sense of doom and gloom looming over the Southerners in the last volume. Southern independence - so possible, almost likely, in Vol. 1 - evolves into a hopeless struggle for very survival by Vol. 3. From a dramatic stand point of this story, I think that the Confederates are the more sympathetic side. History, of course, has judged it differently, but this 3-volume work is more dramatic epic than historical scholarship.

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