"Chickamauga" and Other Civil War Stories Paperback – 1 Nov 1993
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From the Inside Flap
Shelby Foote's monumental historical trilogy, ""The Civil War: A Narrative," is our window into the day-by-day unfolding of our nation's defining event. Now Foote reveals the deeper human truth behind the battles and speeches through the fiction he has chosen for this vivid, moving collection.
These ten stories of the Civil War give us the experience of joining a coachload of whores left on a siding during a battle in Virginia . . .marching into an old man's house to tell him it's about to be burned down . . .or seeing a childhood friend shot down at Chickamauga.
The result is history that lives again in our imagination, as the creative vision of these great writers touches our emotions and makes us witness to the human tragedy of this war, fought so bravely by those in blue and gray.
About the Author
Shelby Foote (1916 2005) was an American historian and novelist who came from a long line of Mississippians. After attending the University of North Carolina, he served in World War II as a captain of field artillery in the European theater. He wrote six novels and was awarded three Guggenheim Fellowships in the twenty-year course of writing his monumental three-volume history, "The Civil War: A Narrative."
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Except for the first and last chapters, which I'll get to in a moment, these stories of the Civil War come from the point of view of the common man and woman, whether he or she be either a soldier in battle or a civilian caught up in the collateral damage.
The first chapter is the inaugural address of Jefferson Davis at Montgomery, AL on February 18, 1861. The last chapter is Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address of March 4, 1865. The two serve as bookends to what comes in between, but it's hard to care (despite whatever eloquence the two have to offer.)
As with most collections of short stories, these run the gamut from better to worse than average, and the two extremes cancel each other to result in my overall lassitude concerning the whole.
Perhaps the best chapter is by, no surprise, Mark Twain: "The Private History of A Campaign That Failed" - an account of his time as a civilian irregular in Missouri at the outbreak of the war playing at soldier with a bunch of his buds, and who did more retreating in the face of real and imagined enemies than advancing to the sounds of battle. It incorporates Twain's characteristically wry, self-effacing humor, which, to me, made it the most readable of the lot.
Perhaps the least deserving chapter is one by Stephen Vincent Benet: "Fish-Hook Gettysburg", a 25-page free verse summary of the event. There are so many excellent prose accounts of this decisive encounter that my reaction was "why bother?". The battle deserves better treatment.
Another good one was the chapter entitled "The Night of Chancellorsville", in which a young prostitute, Nora, and a bevy of co-workers, while aboard a train on its way to Fightin' Joe Hooker's HQ at Chancellorsville, where they'll show the general and his staff a good time, are almost captured by the Confederates during the subsequent Federal rout. The story has an aspect of cleverness, at least. The prospect of capture by the Rebs causes Nora to think:
"... the Rebs would capture us and send us down to one of those prisons you hear about where they starve you to death unless you sing Dixie all the time and kiss (un-PC word for Blacks)."
One that I found particularly annoying was "The Burning" by Eudora Welty. Here, Southern belles, sisters Theo and Myra, are alone with their slaves on their plantation near Jackson, MS. After a band of Northern soldiers comes through raping and burning, the survivors straggle to tragic ends. At least I think so. Reading the story was like looking at something through a fine gauze mesh; all was slightly out of focus.
I consider the late Shelby Foote one of the greatest U.S. Civil War historians; his monumental trilogy on the subject is a must read. Perhaps I was seduced into buying CHICKAMAUGA when I noticed his name listed as the editor. Had I to do it all over again, I wouldn't.
I think the stories are worth reading if you skip the poor ones. But poor depends on each reader's personal assessment. As a consummate reader and fledging novelist, I can discern quality in writing. I would suggest the book for those interested in the literature of the Civil War. The stories I would recommend in addition to Mark Twain's is "Chickamauga" by Thomas Wolfe, "My Grandmother Millard and General Bedford Forrest and the Battle of Harrykin Creek" by William Faulkner, "Fish-Hook Gettysburg" by Stephen St. Vincent Benet (an epic poem) and "Pillar of Fire" by Shelby Foote.
I also agree with Shelby Foote in his Introduction when he says that "In this country, historical fiction has in general been left to second-raters and hired brains, and this is particularly true of those who have chosen the Civil War as a major subject".
As historical fiction is my writing genre, I hope that will be remedied over the next few decades as some are now trying.
"There is a general belief that war books promote a love of war. That is true of bad war books, but every serious book about a battle or about a war, if it's serious; it's bound to be anti-war. All good literature about war is anti-war. If you're celebrating the glory of war you're writing trash--if that's what you're doing. Because the truth is it's more bloody than it is glorious. The pain and the suffering are a far bigger part of it than the patriotism and the glory. That will come across with an honest writer. Cheap literature hurts everybody. Decent, honest literature will always carry this anti-war message; it's bound to be there."
While best known for this three volume non-fiction narrative of the Civil War, Foote also wrote a novel about the Civil War battle of Shiloh in 1952 and he edited a collection of Civil War short stories which was first published in 1957 and re-released in 1993. It is my thesis, based on the quote above, that Shelby Foote's Civil War novel and collection of short stories have clear anti-war themes; sharing the pain, suffering and human tragedy of war rather than the themes of the glory and patriotism which might be seen as promoting a love of war.
That is very evident in the stories within written by five southern writers and five northern writers. While not made for enjoyable reading, the stories were clearly selected by Foote to display the human cost of war. I highly recommend the collection as a true and varied picture of the toll war takes on soldiers and citizens alike from both northern and southern perspectives. Bravo to Foote for taking the time to read through all of the Civil War short stories available and selecting these for our reading.
"The short story of Chickamauga was told as though you were sitting actually listening to the 92 year old man retell the stories of the various battles he and his best friend were in. If you aren't used to listening to a heavy Southern accent you will have a hard time reading it but to me it was as if I was sitting beside who could be a great great grandpa. Very moving story once I got into it."
"The short story of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce I would give 5 stars for! WOW! It starts out sort of like your reading the end of the story then changes and tells you the story and then the end will throw you for a loop! Very well written am gonna try and see if I can find more stuff written by this author."
"My Grandmother Millard and General Bedford Forrest and the Battle of Harrykin Creek by William Faulkner Divided into 4 chapters within this small story. I TRIED to like it, I really did. I read the 3 of 4 chapters but never could understand what was going on. The characters were there, but I never could figure out what was going on. I would like a translator for this as I feel it probably is good."
"Fish Hook Gettysburg by Stephen Vincent Benet I would rate 2 stars...it was okay... nice read but hard for me to follow part poetry part short story. Half the time didn't know what was going on the other half I did."