Monday, May 16, 2011

Book Club - Civil War

Since they have set on my book shelf for several years unread, I finally decided to tackle Shelby Foote's three part historical narrative on the Civil War. Seemed only right since the sesquicentennial anniversary of the war's beginning was just about a month ago.

This is a historical period that has always fascinated me, and one with a wealth of writing on the subject. In high school my American History teacher said there has been more ink spilled covering the Civil War than any other topic. It's hard to disbelieve that statement if you browse your local bookstore or library.

Foote was a novelist by trade but, he tackled the biggest topic in our history with a historian's aplomb for facts and his novelist's eye for details and readability. Mind you I am only a third or so through the first of the three books, but I already know I will bore my poor wife to death describing passages from them.

As I said the Civil War period is likely my favorite period of American History. The men who inhabit those stories all seem larger than life. Lincoln, the depressive US president, Davis the temperamental Confederate leader. Lee, a man torn between his nation and his state. Grant, the hard drinker who finally turned Union forces toward victory. Stonewall Jackson, accidentally killed by his own troops, devastating the South's tactical edge. Winfield Scott, the old man in charge of Union forces at the outset of war, whose time had passed him by. Sherman, the vicious take no prisoners leader of the scorched Earth march to the sea.

Besides the people, the reasons we ended up in war, the military strategies, the rebuilding of a nation and how it might have changed had Boothe not ended Lincoln's life.

As an aside, the lefties of recent times abhorred President Bush's leadership methods. Linc would have caused them all to have aneurysms. Suspending Habeas Corpus, calling for troops, running a war without Congress even in session. 

If all you know about the Civil War is that it ended slavery and killed more Americans than any other war, do yourself a favor and pick up Foote's books, they are captivating. As a bonus if you are a military history buff or just interested in how certain battles played out, he is great at explaining them, so you almost see them in your mind.

Another book on my wish list is Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, about Lincoln's cabinet and how he picked people he had defeated for the Presidency and others to man his cabinet. How he kept those factions happy and ultimately won the war, freed the slaves (not really, but it's so much a part of the mythos), and saved the nation.

Someday I will pick that one up and tear through it. Just like I say someday I will get hold of President Grant's memoirs and read them as well. They are said to be the cream of the crop of Presidential memoirs, besides I am sure he has great details in them about his leadership during the Civil War.

You don't have to be a history buff to want to explore some of the things that shaped this nation and the Civil War definitely did that.

Give some of these books a try you just might like them.

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