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The Civil War: A Narrative, Volume 1 (The Civil War #1)

4.44 of 5 stars 4.44  ·  rating details  ·  6,316 ratings  ·  253 reviews
Shelby Foote begins a tremendous, sweeping narrative of the most fascinating conflict in our history---a war which lasted four long, bitter years, an experience more profound and meaningful than any other the American people have ever lived through. And perhaps never before have these conflicts been so clearly, so dramatically---and so excitingly---presented. The word 'nar ...more
Paperback, 1000 pages
Published May 1992 by Random House (first published 1958)
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When reading this, it's hard not to recall the words of a colleague of mine who, while acknowledging the undoubted quality of this series, referred to Shelby Foote as a Southern sympathizer. It may be a reflection of the times in which this book was written (mid-1950s), or perhaps a byproduct of humanity's identification with the underdog, but I think my colleague had the right of it, to an extent. Foote, by turns from Mississippi and North Carolina, owns up to a certain need to suppress those s ...more
I wanted a book that would take a year of my life to read, so 3,000 pages in three volumes, I thought this should fill the bill. Well into the second volume, I’ll be lucky if it lasts me the summer. Can’t put it down.
It is amazing to me that this book was written more than half a century ago, when its author Shelby Foote was still a young man. Most histories of the Civil War that I know pretty much concentrate on the four-year duel between the Army of the Potomac under McClellan (et al. ad infinitum) and the Army of Northern Virginia under Lee. Admittedly, the Old Dominion State had more than its share of bloody battles; but it wasn't the whole shooting match, so to speak. Even while Lee and his opponent du ...more
Shelby Foote would be considered by many Civil War readers to be the greatest writer on the subject. He considered himself to be a historian but not an academic, and his extremely detailed knowledge of the Civil War coupled with his straight-forward writing style have produced works which have fascinated readers for decades.

This book is part of a trilogy of books that Foote wrote over a period of about 20 years. He came about the project originally after publication of his novel "Shiloh" in the
William Ramsay
One of the advantages of growing old (or older) is that you develop a very long memory. 1961 marked the centennial year of the start of the Civil War and the bookstores were filled with works about the war and the people who fought it. I really got into the period and read many of the major works on the war (Carl Sandburg’s great bio of Lincoln, Allan Nevins’ six volume study of the war, and many of the more popular works such as those by Bruce Catton, etc.) The very best set of books I read in ...more
I'd forgotten that I'd read this massive trilogy until I came across someone reading it yesterday. My grandfather had them and liked them, so I figured I'd try them out, and read them during my freshman and sophomore years in high school, I think. They were really interesting and very detailed portraits of all of the different personalities involved, especially the different generals involved on the Union side, and had some actually very funny anecdotes (my favorite one, though I can't remember ...more
I guess some guy called this the "American Iliad"...I have no idea what that means but it certainly sounds cool, and this book deserves to sound cool. I am by no means a scholar on the American Civil War (the Confederates hilariously liked to call it the 2nd American Revolution) but if I enjoy the other two volumes as much as I did this one then I don't see how it wouldn't render all of the other volumes written covering the extent of the war by so many different authors superfluous. I realize t ...more
Extremely detailed narrative of the Civil War. Listening to the audio version of it and I really should be following more closely checking each battle out on the map as well, but I confess I'm not. I'm content with a rough visualization which may or may not be exact and probably isn't, even if this is my second or third time for reading up on some of these. Hope to return to again sometime.

Well worth it. On to Volume 2!
This is classic writing by a powerful. balanced well researched author. I had read this book and the other three many years ago while in college. The three book volume is a Christmas gift from my wife Shari and I have just begun to re-read this great piece of work. Each volume is over 800 pages long, so I will be reading a volume - then taking a break with other reading - then returning to the series.

Originally started in 1954, it took over 20 years to complete was the research so exhaustive. To
Avis Black
I have an allergy to Shelby Foote. I care for neither his prose style nor his biased viewpoint.

Many years ago, Douglas Southall Freeman, the author of Lee's Lieutenants, told his friend Clifford Dowdey (another Civil War author), that he often suppressed his real opinions about the generals in his histories. Freeman explained this was because his sources were the children and grandchildren (many of them personal friends) of the men he wrote about in his books, and the real story of the Civil War
Been reading this book in parts for last year, as the "baseline" to my series of Civil War books. Reading this series will be the progress I'll keep coming back to after branching out to other books, topics and sub-topics. Foote's writing as a narrative is exactly what I prefer to history. And though you can tell his writing is based in research, it isn't overly academic and thrown in your face with notes and conclusions, etc. His note on bibliography at end of book is sufficient for what I'm lo ...more
Colleen Browne
I would like to have given this book 4 and a half stars although obviously that is not possible. I do not understand the misspellings in the book- was there no editor or some hidden reason for it? Still, I was drawn to Foote's writing. His appreciation and dedication to the history he was writing was obvious and his evenhandedness apparent. This book is very easy reading so I would recommend it even to those not normally drawn to history. I was a bit annoyed by the lack of footnotes which make a ...more
Ben Vogel
I first read this definitive 3 volume series when Ruth was a newborn in 2001. I fondly recall these books in my lap alongside my sleeping baby girl, woodstove heating our den cozily, while a heavy February snow quilted the word outside. Those were magical times, and I wondered if my impressions of these works were skewed favorably as a result.

Well, I just finished re-reading volume 1, and I enjoyed Mr Foote's eloquent prose every bit as much, though my house is now filled with three rambunctious
This is a very well written history of the war that makes very sad reading for any American. First because 600,000 Americans had to die over ending the despicable immorality of slavery. Second, for Northerners because the efforts of the Union Army were so ineffectual despite the huge advantage of more than twice the population, and much more importantly, 5-6 times the manufacturing capability. The reason for the poor showing was the South had a much more warlike culture with most of the regular ...more
Jun 02, 2010 Robby marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Judging by the size of this book, the civil war is longer than I thought.
Shawn Slattery
Shelby Foote is by no doubt the master of Civil War history. Upon picking up this book, you realize how much your teachers and other authors have let you down when they breeze by the topics of the war that tore this country asunder.

However, that epic scope can also be seen as the weakness in this book, as except for true military buffs, there is going to be a lot of slow reading for the average reader as Foote accounts in excruciating detail every battle in thr Civil War, because with a 3 volume
I began volume one in July, it took approximately 40 listening hours to complete. Wonderfully written, filled with diary entries of mothers and sisters, journal posting of generals and letters home from foot soldiers. I listened while walking my dog in the deep woods near our home, imagining what the soldiers might have felt. The book made me feel the heat, mosquitos, hunger, fear and endless marching. I imagined a Southern soldier behind every tree, waiting to jump out and scream the "rebel yel ...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Jan 28, 2013 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: <i>Serious</i> Civil War Buffs
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Ultimate Reading List
I've been reading a lot of popular histories lately and more and more have become disenchanted with the kind of history book that tells a reader that a man's "heart beat faster" or "pupils flared" when to say the least, the chances the historian pulled that detail out of a diary or letter are low. And if you are going to get away with such embellishments, your style better have the panache of a Truman Capote, a Tom Wolfe or Erik Larson. Shelby Foote does have style--he's a novelist rather than a ...more
Jimmie Kepler
I just completed volume one, The Civil War: A Narrative, Fort Sumter to Perryville". It was 810 pages in the version I have. I started reading the volume on June 6 and completed it on August 15. I expect to complete the other two volumes in the next 6 months.

Here is my review of volume one. The book covers the beginning of the war through December 1862. The late Shelby Foote writes with a down home, comfortable style that is like he is sitting beside you telling a story. Make no mistake, he is a
Volume 1 of 3- I enjoyed this immensely, in particular the larger focus on the western theater of the war, and the southern aspects, which sometimes seem to get short shrift. Was pretty amazed at all the battles (naval) in particular that took place in the less well known western theater. This book is far more oriented toward the military battles and personalities and doesn’t touch a whole lot on the cultures of the time like abolition, slavery

The individual battles are pretty fascinating and al
Volume 1 of Shelby Foote's epic narrative delivered as only he could have. I became interested in Shelby Foote from the PBS Ken Burns Civil War documentary that aired years ago. Foote's commentary throughout the series I found most entertaining and insightful. Years later I decided to purchase his boxed set of 3 volumes but like many things in ones life they sat there collecting dust before I decided maybe I should crack them.

I was not disappointed in the completion on this first volume only in
The American Iliad. This book does not exhibit a particularly nuanced reading of the times and culture surrounding the Civil War. I focuses on characters and events. And those characters and events are larger than life. These historical figures are fully imagined and characterized with a novelist's imagination. It is hard not to read Agamemnon and Achilles into the tensions between Lincoln and McClellan. His portraits of lesser known figures are no less enjoyable. And every event portrayed is gi ...more
Christopher Saunders
One of the definitive popular histories of the Civil War. Long and exhaustive, but beautifully written, it's best appreciated by military buffs. Foote provides engaging accounts of every battle, from Shiloh and Antietam to Glorieta Pass and Pea Ridge. A novelist by trade, Foote is best sketching personalities (from Presidents Lincoln and Davis through generals, foot soldiers and diarists) and relating colorful anecdotes. On the other hand, Foote proves superficial discussing the causes, politica ...more
Paco Paco
I have read Shelby Footes' Civil War series multiple times in my life. In honor of the 150th anniversary of the war I decided to download the kindle version of the books I have on the shelf. Once again Mr. Foote did not disappoint me, there is such a narrative quality to the 1st volume that it is hard to put down. The struggles of Lincoln to find success on the Eastern front are well represented and do an excellent job of portraying this great man as a human prone to errors and poor judgment as ...more
Eric Stone
A great overview of the first years of the Civil War and how the U.S. got to the point of going to war against itself in the first place. I learned a lot about the generals, some of the politicians and the general sweep of battle. It is filled with incredible detail about all of that. Where it falls down on the job is giving the reader a real sense of what the war was like for the common soldier or civilian, which is what most interests me in stories of war. History is usually written not only b ...more
Like nothing else, really. Shelby Foote's massive undertaking reads very well, at times like a novel, and covers nearly every facet of the first two years of the war. Every theater of action is considered, including the far-off action in New Mexico and political events both domestic and abroad as well as the repercussions of these. The information is presented fairly and mostly even-handed- first covering one side and then coming back to give the other point of view. There are some flaws, but fe ...more
Maku Sato
Shelby Foote clearly borrows from William Faulkner, if William Faulkner wrote non-fiction. The opening pages describing Congress before the racist-genocide South declared war is some of the best writing I have ever read. Although designed and executed to be a novel first, it evokes the savagery and visceral war against genocide racists cowering behind their so-called "State's rights," a cultural war that continues to this day.

I cannot say whether this book is factually accurate as this is the f
This is one of the finest works of history I've read. Foote's style of writing makes each page a pleasure, as he seamlessly integrates primary sources with his own synthesis. He fully fleshes out the integral personalities of the era and provides detailed rundowns of each campaign and battle. Most battles/campaigns are accompanied with detailed maps which have now raised my standards for every other work of military history I read.

Foote intermittently breaks from the political and military narra
Comprehensive and mind blowing. There is so much information contained in this book that it takes some time to sort it all out. It is an interesting read, but it takes time to comprehend and process. You have to remember who is who, what side they are for, where they are at, what they are doing, and why it is significant. Fortunately, the book reads more like a novel than a history book, and at times, the action moves quickly. The battle scenes, for me, were quicker reading than the political sc ...more
Mark Henshaw
Shelby Foote's The Civil War trilogy is the best non-fiction account of the Civil War ever put down in print, bar none. He splits the narrative nicely between the War in the East and the War in the West, with appropriate digressions to talk about how the politics surrounding the War affected it in critical aspects. If you want to know just how respected this body of work is, note that Ken Burns used it as one of his primary references when he was shooting his landmark PBS "The Civil War" documen ...more
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The split in the country is still around 5 36 Nov 21, 2014 12:53PM  
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Shelby Dade Foote, Jr. was an American novelist and a noted historian of the American Civil War, writing a massive, three-volume history of the war entitled The Civil War: A Narrative. With geographic and cultural roots in the Mississippi Delta, Foote's life and writing paralleled the radical shift from the agrarian planter system of the Old South to the Civil Rights era of the New South. Foote wa ...more
More about Shelby Foote...

Other Books in the Series

The Civil War (3 books)
  • The Civil War, Vol. 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian
  • The Civil War, Vol. 3: Red River to Appomattox
The Civil War: A Narrative The Civil War, Vol. 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian The Civil War, Vol. 3: Red River to Appomattox Shiloh Stars in Their Courses: The Gettysburg Campaign, June-July 1863

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“The point I would make is that the novelist and the historian are seeking the same thing: the truth – not a different truth: the same truth – only they reach it, or try to reach it, by different routes. Whether the event took place in a world now gone to dust, preserved by documents and evaluated by scholarship, or in the imagination, preserved by memory and distilled by the creative process, they both want to tell us how it was: to re-create it, by their separate methods, and make it live again in the world around them.” 26 likes
“They took it for more than it was, or anyhow for more than it said; the container was greater than the thing contained, and Lincoln became at once what he would remain for them, “the man who freed the slaves.” He would go down to posterity, not primarily as the Preserver of the Republic-which he was-but as the Great Emancipator, which he was not.” 7 likes
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