GDG- Shelby's Foote in His Mouth

atmackeyjr at atmackeyjr at
Sat Jan 21 22:57:09 CST 2012

All from the Burns series:

1. "When he had to choose between the nation and Virginia there was never any doubt about what his choice would be. He went with his state. He said 'I can't draw my sword against my native state' or as he often said, 'my country.'"
I have not found a single instance of Lee referring to Virginia as his "country." Not only did he NOT often say Viginia was "my country," but he never said it, as far as I can determine.

2. "Southerners would have told you they were fighting for self-government. They believed the gathering of power in Washington was against them. When they entered into that Federation they certainly would never have entered into it if they hadn't believed it would be possible to get out. And when the time came that thy wanted to get out they thought they had every right."
This is baloney. If you read the ratification debates, it's clear they knew they were going into a nation they couldn't leave at a whim. Look at Patrick Henry's speeches. He said very clearly that once they ratified the Constitution there was no way out, and not a single person contradicted him. I have not seen a single instance of someone during the secession conventions making the claim that their state wouldn't have ratified the Constitution if they couldn't secede whenever they wanted. Disunion was a hated concept in the south through most of the antebellum era. See Elizabeth Varon's book, Disunion.

3. The story of Forrest, having been shot by a musket (.58 caliber, remember), riding along and then picking up a Union soldier (with one hand) and holding that soldier behind him as a shield is unbelievable. That soldier couldn't get away even though he was being held with one hand? He couldn't punch, claw, or scratch? And a wounded Forrest picking up a 140-150 lb. soldier with one hand and maneuvering him to the back of his saddle? I want to see the primary source evidence for that one. Until I do, I will maintain it didn't happen.

4. His claiming that when you saw a dead soldier with their clothes in disarray it was from the soldiers themselves searching for where they were wounded. Yeah, right. They pulled out their pockets because the bullet might have fallen into their pockets, right? They were robbed.

5. "The answer a southerner would give you as to why are you fighting, if you were a northerner, he would say, 'I'm fighting because you're down here.' He was being invaded and he fought as he thought to defend his home."
Slavery was a driving factor, even for many nonslaveholding white southerners in the confederate states. This is borne out by James McPherson's For Cause & Comrades, Chandra Manning's What This Cruel War Was Over, and Aaron Sheehan-Dean's Why Confederates Fought. That doesn't preclude additional motives, such as protecting a home against invaders. But his de-emphasis of slavery as a motivating factor is pure lost cause.  "Some of the boys [Union soldiers] asked them [confederate soldiers] what they were fighting for, and they answered, 'You Yanks want us to marry our daughters to the n----rs.' " [Chauncey Cook to parents, May 10, 1864, quoted in James M. McPherson, _For Cause & Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War, p. 109]  Joe Glathaar's book on the Army of Northern Virginia tells us that 40% of the ANV was made up of soldiers from slaveowning families.

6. His claim that it was the Civil War that caused Americans to no longer refer to the United States as "the United States are" and rather refer to the United States as "the United States is" ("It made us an 'is'.") is more poppycock. That was part of the normal evolution of American English away from British English. British English, even today, refers to collective nouns in the plural. For example, a Brit would say, "The team are getting ready to play." American English evolved away from that by referring to collective nouns in the singular. For example, "The team is getting ready to play." "United States" is another collective noun, referred to in the plural in British English and in the singular in American English.

"A similar search comparing the frequency of the phrases 'United States are' and 'United States is' reveals that, contrary to Foote's assertion that the former was the preferred usage in the decades before the war, the two phrases were actually used about equally through the first few decades of the Republic. That began to change in the 1840s, when 'United States is' (shown in red) began gradually to pull away from 'United States are' (in blue) in printed usage. By the beginning of the war (shown here as a green bar), 'United States is' was solidly more common in usage--though not greatly so--than 'United States are' "

7. "Lincoln needed to unite the North and he did it in two ways. The Republic must be preserved, not split into two. The other he gave them as a cause the freedom of the slaves."
More lost cause nonsense. Lincoln knew the EP would be a very controversial measure. "If anything, Northern public opinion remained loudly and frantically hostile to the prospect of emancipation, much less emancipation by presidential decree." [Allen C. Guelzo, Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America, p. 6] Does that sound like something that would unite "the North" to support the war? Not to me.

8. "Gettysburg was the price the South paid for having R. E. Lee. That was the mistake he made, the mistake of all mistakes."
Again, more lost cause nonsense.

"I always thought the Yankees had something to do with it." George Pickett on why the confederates lost at Gettysburg.
Not a Lee mistake, not the fault of his subordinates. The confederates were outfought and Lee was outgeneraled. 

9. "He felt that he had failed." [Lincoln at the Gettysburg Address]
Lincoln knew he hadn't failed. "Lincoln's text was polished, his delivery emphatic, he was interrupted by applause five times. Read in a slow, clear way to the farthest listeners, the speech would take about three minutes. It is quite true that the audience did not take in all that happened in that short time--we are still trying to weigh the consequences of that amazing performance. But the myth that Lincoln was disappointed in the result--that he told the unreliable Lamon that his speech, like a bad plow, 'won't scour'--has no basis. He had done what he wanted to do, and Hay shared the pride his superior took in an important occasion put to good use." [Garry Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America, p. 36]

10. His claim that "the North fought that war with one arm tied behind its back" and that "the South didn't have a chance" is, once again, you guessed it, lost cause poppycock. The confederacy encompassed a huge area that had to be conquered. They had the advantage of the defensive and interior lines. Their armies, being smaller, were more maneuverable. They could win the war by not losing. They didn't have to defeat the Union, they just had to keep from losing. The confederacy had a very good shot at winning. 

11.  Nor is Shelby Foote persuasive when he suggests (perfectly consistent with the film's spirit) that the war came 'because we failed to do the thing we really have a genius for, which is compromise.' He says nothing about what might have been compromised, but those who lived at the time, especially blacks, knew very well what would have been the basis for any new sectional compromise. Shelby Foote is an engaging battlefield guide, a master of the anecdote, and a gifted and charming story teller, but he is not a good historian. He seems to have little idea as to what gave meaning to this 'enormous catastrophe' other than the valor of the combatants."  [Leon F. Litwack, "Telling the Story: The Historian, the Filmmaker, and the Civil War," in Robert Brent Toplin, ed., Ken Burns's The Civil War: Historians Respond, p. 137] 

12.  Here's Shelby in another forum:
"The flag is a symbol my great grandfather fought under and in defense of. I am for flying it anywhere anybody wants to fly it. I do know perfectly well what pain it causes my black friends, but I think that pain is not necessary if they would read the confederate constitution and knew what the confederacy really stood for. This country has two grievous sins on its hands. One of them is slavery - whether we'll ever be cured of it, I don't know. The other one is emancipation - they told 4 million people, you're free, hit the road, and they drifted back into a form of peonage that in some ways is worse than slavery. These things have got to be understood before they're condemned. They're condemned on the face of it because they take that flag to represent what those yahoos represent as - in their protest against civil rights things. But the people who knew what that flag really stood for should have stopped those yahoos from using it as a symbol of what they stood for. But we didn't - and now you had this problem of the confederate flag being identified as sort of a roughneck thing, which it is not."

So he thinks if African Americans read the confederate constitution they wouldn't oppose display of the confederate battle flag.  And emancipation of the slaves was a sin.  The slaves drifted into peonage with no agency among southern whites whatsoever.  Really, Shelby?

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