Thursday, August 16, 2007

On the Bookshelf: Shelby Foote

The beloved commentator on Ken Burn's PBS saga "The Civil War" and Walker Percy's best friend, Shelby Foote, is also an amazing writer. I'm reading his 3,000 + page "Civil War: A Narrative." I've never been one for war history, but this is an inside look at all of the bizarre personalities of generals and fighting men who made up the armies of both sides.

The thing that strikes me most, is how flawed and human each of the mythic men are from that era. Stonewall Jackson hides out with all of his men, cross and tired, during the entire week of the Seven Day battle to save Richmond. General Lee has these brilliant battle plans which require such complicated maneuvers by a green army that things get inevitably muddled by mud, by lost generals, by tired soldiers who want to stop and read the letters in the tents of Union soldiers to "discover what Northern girls are like" rather than press on to victory as in the battle of Shiloh. (That's something that I could identify with-stopping to read a stranger's mail while artillery shells burst around me!)

The most surprising thing was how many, many people hated Lincoln. Not just in the South, but almost all of the North was united by thinking that he was a bumbling idiot who was not directing the course of the war successfully. Unionists called him "a baboon", "a gaunt hick" and worse names. I'm a history major, but this fact continues to be surprising to me. I mean, this is LINCOLN. One of the best presidents of all times, so wise, so beloved at his passing. Yet contemporaries had such mean, mean things to say about him during the time at the helm of state.

Somehow learning that people took cheap potshots at President Lincoln makes me feel better. During the midst of battle the way is rarely clear and definitely not popular. One of the flaws in my personality is that I always want to be "liked". Disapproval makes me sick to my stomach. Learning more about Lincoln has inspired me to put on a thicker shell-- to look at how things will turn out in the end rather than focus on "the current unpleasantness" which was a timely euphemism for the Civil War.

PS- For a quicker Shelby read, pick up "Shiloh" --A fictional look at the civil war battle from multiple perspectives.

1 comment:

Margaret in Minnesota said...

I love Civil War history and folklore (and I loved Burns' documentary), so naturally I'm taking note of your recommendations!

And plus I just really enjoyed your insight throughout this post. I, too, am a people-pleaser, Abigail, and find it very hard to "stay the course" when I'm so worried about approval.

Have a beautiful weekend!