GDG- Shelby's Foote in His Mouth

joadx1 at joadx1 at
Sat Jan 21 23:12:11 CST 2012

You see, I knew there was a lot more to it. :>)

Very nice piece of documentation.  Particularly nice catch on Garry Wills.  I didn't know this.

I can add one little bitsy piece that is directly relevant to Gettysburg.  Foote gave an invited speech at Gettysburg in which he insisted that the confederate soldiers buried there should be honored exactly as the Union soldiers were.  As Mr. Mackey documents, this represents a severe misunderstanding of what the Gettysburg address was all about.  Maybe Foote needs to read the confederate constitution.




-----Original Message-----
From: atmackeyjr <atmackeyjr at>
To: gettysburg <gettysburg at>
Sent: Sat, Jan 21, 2012 8:57 pm
Subject: Re: GDG- Shelby's Foote in His Mouth

Esteemed GDG Member Contributes:

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 d
 idn'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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