This is the second in the outstanding and comprehensive series by Shelby Foote about the American Civil War. It narrates the change in fortunes that occurred in q863–turning the tide of victory from South to North. The beginning of the narrative finds a northern army beleaguered by such disasters as Fredricksburg and Chancellorsville–while the South rides the wave of victory created by the genius of Lee and Jackson.
By the end of the book, Jackson is dead, and the North has tasted victory at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Missionary Ridge. The narrative finishes with Grant and Sherman meeting in Ohio to plan the final destruction of the rebellion.
One aspect of the late Shelby’s writing that I greatly appreciate is his neutrality. Though Southern (Mississippian) by birth, he is complimentary and critical of northern and southern figures alike, based on their merits or lack thereof.
Given that this series was written at the time of the centennial of the Civil War (the 1960s), the following text from the bibliographical note is instructive. In thanking those who contributed to the work Shelby states,
In a quite different sense , I am obligated also to the governors of my native state and the adjoining states of Arkansas and Alabama for helping to lessen my sectional bias by reproducing, in their actions during several of the years that went into the writing of this volume,
much that was least admirable in the postition my ofrebears occupied when they stood up to Lincoln. I suppose, or in any case hope, it is true that history never repeats itself, but I know from watching these three gentlemen that it can be terrifying in its approximations, even when the reproduction–deriving, as it does, its scale from the performers–is in miniature.
In this polarized time of American history, may the only repeat of history be the courage and fortitude shown by the descendants of those on both sides who shed their blood during that great and terrible war.