The Civil War – Fort Sumter to Perryville by Shelby Foote


The Civil War - Fort Sumter to Perryville by Shelby FooteNonfictionReview by Molly

The Civil War A Narrative: Vol 1

The three volume set created by War Between The States/Civil War historian Shelby Foote commences with his 840 page work regarding the interlude beginning 21 Jan 1861 and continuing until the battle of Perryville, KY during the fall of 1862. The Civil War A Narrative: Vo1 1 Fort Sumter to Perryville is the opening work of the trilogy.

In this first volume Writer Foote writes of the period packed with disorder and warfare which altered the course of life in the United States forever.

Vo1 1:  Fort Sumter to Perryville commences on an unhappy January 1861 Monday as the United States Senator from Mississippi, Jefferson Davis, rose from his Senate seat.

Back in December 1860, South Carolina had already left the Union.  That withdrawal was swiftly followed by Mississippi, Florida and Alabama during the second week of the New Year.  Eight days later Georgia seceded.  And now on 21 Jan, Louisiana and Texas were on the brink of leaving.

Notwithstanding the fact that each of the original thirteen colonies had written into their state constitutions a stipulation retaining a right to leave the new federation formed during the time of the Revolution from England; the lawfulness of secession had been hotly challenged for the past decade.  The major battle in the past had come when Massachusetts drew up articles of secession following President Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase.   The concern was now moot.

A convention for the purpose of creating a confederation of the seceded states had been called for the first week of February at Montgomery, Alabama.

The former Secretary of War under President Pierce, and present Senator from Mississippi stood gathering his thoughts; many had come to hear his farewell, Davis was going home.

The Civil War A Narrative: Vo1 1 Fort Sumter to Perryville dedicates approximately 100 pages of the book to the causal origins of the war before advancing on to brief dialogue of a number of men whose names would presently be recollected as serving on either side of the battle.

President Lincoln ordered all telegraph records detained, annulled the right to habeas corpus and threw hundreds of men into confinement.  He removed millions of dollars from the national treasury, gave it to privateers and told them to procure materiel for military use.  He delivered orders for almost 100,000 troops to be raised, and did all devoid of endorsement of congress.

Union Generall McClellan quickly demonstrated his ineffectiveness, Union General Irvin McDowell exhibited little predisposition to fight, nonetheless at the urging of the President he decided to move toward Manassas Junction.  Ten batteries of field artillery, fifty regiments of infantry, and one battalion of cavalry trundled down dusty Virginia roads.

Setting out from Arlington, the wedding gift of a president to his grand daughter, the end point was Fairfax Courthouse. Washington gifted the house and surrounding land to the young woman who married a young soldier named Lee who hailed from Virginia. The Federal troops were in high spirits and anxious to meet and rout the rebel rabble.

At length, as night fell, the army was nearing Centerville, after some two and a half days and twenty two miles distant the starting point.

It was then learned that the men did not have cooked provisions in their haversacks as McDowell had ordered. Friday and then Saturday passed, the attack was planned for first light Sunday morning.

The affluent privileged of nearby Washington, in conjunction with congressmen and their families, supposing an easy Union victory, had come to enjoy a day of picnicking as they surveyed the mêlée. When the Union army was forced back in confusion by the Confederates, the roads leading back to Washington were soon congested by frightened civilians trying to escape in their carriages. The departure was reasonably disciplined up to the Bull Run crossings, nevertheless it was poorly accomplished by the Union officers.

A Federal dray overturned by artillery fire on a bridge across Cub Run Creek triggered trepidation in McDowell’s troops. Soldiers rushing at a gallop, throwing away their arms and gear in the process, dashing excitedly toward Centreville; and were soon ensnared in the throng of civilians also fleeing the area.  It was impossible to reunite the troops before they reached Washington. In the fright that followed the stampede at Manassas Junction, hundreds of Union troops were taken prisoner.

All the most important battles conducted during the period, from Manassas/Bull Run through Shiloh, the Seven Days Battles, Second Manassas to Antietam, and Perryville occurring  during the fall of 1862 are detailed in Vol. 1.  Moreover, so too are numerous of the lesser, and less recognized, nonetheless ones often were equally momentous engagements conducted both on sea and land: Ball’s Bluff, Fort Donelson, Island No. Ten, Elk Horn Tavern/Pea Ridge, New Orleans, Monitor versus Merrimac, and General Jackson’s Valley Campaign to name a few.

On the pages of The Civil War A Narrative: Vo1 1 Fort Sumter to Perryville is exemplified the awfulness, overtiredness, dirt and stench of war. It was a time of fading hope, misinterpretation, fundamental disquiet vis-à-vis the future and an anxiety that the war which everyone had hoped would end rapidly, would not.

The last best hope for the Federal troops appeared to be in question by fall 1862.  Heads were rolling, Generals McDowell and Pope had previously found themselves under the ax, Farragut out in the Gulf of Mexico contemplated his position; Lincoln had his sights set upon George McClellan who was more than mindful that he was likely to not command the army much longer.   General Rosecrans was now a rising star.  At Perryville Philip Sheridan was becoming noticed for his doggedness.

In December President Lincoln offered, not in person, but rather a long speech read by a clerk to Congress, in which he finished his remarks, ‘Without slavery the rebellion could never have existed; without slavery it could not continue.’

Lincoln’s means for bringing the war to an end was his old recompensed emancipation strategy under which each state was, whether now, or at the end of the century, or at any intermediary time to have the choice of when to act on the matter.  The national administration was to have no voice in the achievement, but would bear the total expense by issue long term bonds as payment to loyal masters.  The aggregate sum compulsory for reimbursed emancipation of course was certain to be great.  Many owners dwelling in union states were loathe to free their slaves.

Lincoln advanced his conviction that measured emancipation would be good for the people he represented, and also for the sake of the Negro slaves, for whom the plan would alleviate the nomadic hardship which was likely to be a part of instantaneous emancipation in localities where slave numbers were very large.

Writer Foote, Greenville native, was descended from a long line of Mississippians.  Foote served in the European theater, WWII, as a captain of field artillery.  Foote studied and wrote extensively regarding The War Between The States, and received three Guggenheim fellowships.   Foote takes the period of 1860 – 1865, separates every nuance in a manner that leaves the reader with the feeling that they have been listening to a speaker telling of the actions.

Notwithstanding the nearly 900 page enormity of the work, The Civil War A Narrative: Vo1 1 Fort Sumter to Perryville is an edition to be studied by serious scholars of history. Weighing some three plus pounds, this individual tome can be expected to be a bit unwieldy.  The size is the one drawback I find with this book; my hands are small and arthritic.  While reading I lean the book against, pillow when sitting on a chair or against a book rest while sitting at my desk and turn the pages.  The edition might be better served if presented as a series of smaller, more easily handled works.

Chockfull with names, dates, places, and times; Vo1 1 Fort Sumter to Perryville is not essentially a manuscript for the marginally inquisitive or the non-serious reader who occasionally reads historical works.  The size alone will put off the borderline student.  Vo1 1 Fort Sumter to Perryville is a wide-ranging, heavily researched source work principally focused for use by those readers who do have a deeper interest in military history, the dedicated student of the United States war waged during the 1860s, and for any who enjoy reading United States history in general.

Throughout his life and writing career; author Foote was always keenly aware that to the victors go the writing and portrayal of history.  That awareness motivated Foote’s writing objective that his historical works be as focused in fact as possible.  Even in the face of variance of prevalent opinion from either side of the issue, concerning the incidents, grounds and occurrences Write historian Foote chose not to take sides or let personal bias color his thinking or writing.  Foote choose to carry out abundant investigative research prior to his setting down facts based on that research while allowing the chips to fall as they may regarding comments made by fellow historians with either northern or southern bias or similarly biased readers of his work.

In particular, readers can appreciate that all historical details have been heavily investigated for accuracy. Lending to the legitimacy of the work; the book offers perceptions, reminiscences and actual writings of individual soldiers/officers who actually were a part of episodes recounted.

Vo1 1 Fort Sumter to Perryville has a place on the personal reading list, in the reenactor’s repertoire of reading materials, and as a part of the home, school, and public library holdings. Happy to recommend for history buffs, re-enactors, Civil War buffs and those who just want something interesting to read.

This is a book in my personal library.  Happy to recommend.

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