GDG- FW: CW Discrencies - Shelby Foote

keith mackenzie bluzdad at
Sat Jan 21 18:23:15 CST 2012

I  am a fan of Shelby Foote. He's on my life time "People to Meet" list. (Before anyone gleefully educates me, I know he's dead). Anyway, I seem to recall an interview where he specifically denied the charge of being a historian. With foot notes.
Man, could he tell a story.

 From: Tom <bunco973 at>
To: GDG <gettysburg at> 
Sent: Saturday, January 21, 2012 7:11 PM
Subject: Re: GDG- FW:  CW Discrencies - Shelby Foote
Esteemed GDG Member Contributes:
   There is a great interview video of Shelby Foote (3 hours plus) In the C Span Video Library (and he is one of the few folks I could listen to for 3 hours ;_D). Link below if interested:

Tom B.

-----Original Message----- 
From: joadx1 at 
Sent: Saturday, January 21, 2012 3:42 PM 
To: gettysburg at 
Subject: Re: GDG- FW: CW Discrencies 

Esteemed GDG Member Contributes:
I'm not Al Mackey and I don't play him on the Gettysburg Discussion Group.  I don't think I've ever stayed at a Holiday Inn either. :>)

But I'll hazard a response of my own.

First, I am an avid reader and re-reader of Foote's epic three volume history of the Civil War.  He has a marvelous voice and a wonderful narrative technique.  His writing is always crystal clear, and while he certainly has his favorite side, he is fair to the Union, and is actually a fan of Lincoln, Sherman, and Grant.  He is also particularly keen on giving full attention to the Western theater of the war (which is probably why he likes Lincoln, Sherman, and Grant: all, like J. Davis, whom Foote likes very much, being Westerners).  In short, I like the man and his work.

But I do see problems, in his books and in his Burns commentary (which is very largely not only based on his books but is actually often quotational).


Foote repeats the now outdated mortality figures that make it look like the north had at least twice the battle dead as the south.  Not true.  Battle mortality was pretty close (especially considering the numbers on the field); the big discrepancy comes in deaths by sickness.

He also insists that the outcome of the war was inevitable.  As I have argued before here, I do not think that it was inevitable at all, but I won't reiterate my argument.

He insists that Forrest was a great man as well as an effective soldier.  No, there is a difference between human greatness and ferocity.  Forrest was a masterful leader in battle, with a personal ferocity and killer instinct second to none, but for Foote (and Burns) to make him one of the featured heroes of the documentary (the man did, after all, found the Ku Klux Klan: this is not an urban myth) and play down the Fort Pillow atrocity, was simply wrong in a moral sense.

In his books, Foote acts as if Chamberlain did not exist at Gettysburg or anywhere else.

Foote's constant apologia for Davis's many mistakes (mistakes that Davis's own contemporaries hated him for) are also highly problematic.

One could go on, but this is a start.

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