As a lover of history from my school days and the true love of the American west even before those school days, I have always been fascinated with war. Dad and I would watch
every western that came on TV. Then in the seventies and eighties came the mini series’ of North and South, Roots and the Blue & the Gray, telling briefly of the American Civil War. I managed to pick up a book on the Civil War, but it told very little
of the contest. It was not until I moved to Tasmania that I managed to pick up a copy of Shelby Foote’s Civil War Narrative and even though over three thousand pages long, I could not put it down. I managed to watch Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary
also and got a broader look at the war and people I never heard of. My attitude changed about the Confederacy as I realized they were fighting for freedom as Australia was during the Second World War when we too were threatened with invasion by Japan.
Whilst researching my book recently, I came upon the Civil War Officer Hezekiah William Foote (1813–99), was an American Confederate veteran, attorney, planter and state
politician from Mississippi and learnt he was Shelby’s Great Grandfather.
Shelby became one of my federate historians. Shelby Dade Foote Jr. (November 17, 1916
– June 27, 2005) was an American historian and novelist who wrote The Civil War: A Narrative, a three-volume history of the American Civil War.
Foote did all
his writing by hand with a nib pen, later transcribing the result into a typewritten copy.
In a 1997 interview with Donald Faulkner and William Kennedy, Foote stated
that he would have fought for the Confederacy, and "what's more, I would fight for the Confederacy today if the circumstances were similar. There is a great deal of misunderstanding about the Confederacy, the Confederate flag, slavery, the whole thing. The
political correctness of today is no way to look at the middle of the nineteenth century. The Confederates fought for some substantially good things. States rights are not just a theoretical excuse for oppressing people. You have to understand that the raggedy
Confederate soldier who owned no slaves and probably could not even read the Constitution, let alone understand it, when he was captured by Union soldiers and asked, “What are you fighting for?” replied; I am fighting because you are down here.
So I certainly would have fought to keep people from invading my native state."
Foote moved to Memphis in 1952. He had trouble making progress and felt he was plunging
toward crisis. Unexpectedly, he received a letter from Bennett Cerf of Random House asking him to write a short history of the Civil War to appear for the conflict's centennial. According to Foote, Cerf contacted him based on the factual accuracy and rich
detail he found in Shiloh, but Walker Percy's wife Bunt recalled that Walker had contacted Random House to approach Foote. Regardless, though Foote had no formal training as a historian, Cerf offered him a contract for a work of approximately 200,000 words.
Foote consciously rejected the traditional scholarly standards of academic historical work, using only the 128-volume Official Records of the War of the Rebellion. Foote described
himself as a “novelist historian” who accepted “the historian’s standards without his paraphernalia” and “employed the novelist’s methods without his license.” Foote deliberately avoided the use of footnotes,
arguing, "They would detract from the book's narrative quality by intermittently shattering the illusion that the observer is not so much reading a book as sharing an experience".
Foote worked for several weeks on an outline and decided that his plan could not be done to Cerf's specifications. He requested that the project be expanded to three volumes of 500,000 to 600,000 words each and he estimated that the entire project would
be done in nine years. On the strength of his novel Shiloh, Random House asked Foote for a short Civil War history. Foote soon realized that the project would require much more time and energy, and therefore offered to write a comprehensive narrative history
of the war. Random House agreed, Upon approval for the new plan, Foote commenced writing the comprehensive three volume, 3000-page history, together entitled The Civil War: A Narrative.
The Civil War: A Narrative (1958–1974) is a three volumes, 2,968-page, and 1.2 million-word history of the American Civil War by Shelby Foote. Although previously known as a novelist, Foote is most famous for this non-fictional narrative
history. While it touches on political and social themes, the main thrust of the work is military history.
The individual volumes:
- Fort Sumter to Perryville (1958)
- Fredericksburg to Meridian (1963)
- Red River to Appomattox (1974).
Foote supported himself during the twenty years he worked on the
narrative with Guggenheim Fellowships (1955–1957), Ford Foundation grants, and loans from Walker Percy.
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 was little known to the general public until his appearance in Ken Burns’ PBS documentary The
Civil War in 1990, where he introduced a generation of Americans to a war that he believed was "central to all our lives."
Kenneth Lauren Burns is an American filmmaker,
known for his style of using archival footage and photographs in documentary films. His widely known documentary series include The Civil War (1990).
have earned two Academy Award nominations (each for 1981's Brooklyn Bridge and 1985's Statue Of Liberty) and have won several Emmy Awards, among other honours.
frequently collaborates with author and historian Geoffrey Ward, notably on documentaries such as The Civil War, (the 11-hour The Civil War, 1990) Burns has gone on to a long, successful career directing and producing well-received television documentaries
and documentary miniseries on subjects as diverse as arts and letters.
The Civil War is a 1990 American television documentary miniseries created by Ken Burns about
the American Civil War. It was first broadcast on PBS on five consecutive nights from September 23 to 28, 1990. Over 39 million viewers tuned in to at least one episode, and viewership averaged more than 14 million viewers each evening, making it the most-watched
program ever to air on PBS. It was awarded more than 40 major television and film honours. A companion book to the documentary was released shortly after the series aired.
Mathew Brady's photographs inspired Burns to make The Civil War, which explores the war's military, social, and political facets through some 16,000 contemporary photographs and paintings, and excerpts from the letters and journals of persons famous
Burns often gives life to still photographs
by slowly zooming in on subjects of interest and panning from one subject to another. The series' slow zooming and panning across still images was later termed the "Ken Burns effect". Burns combined these images with modern cinematography, music, narration
by David McCullough, anecdotes and insights from authors such as Shelby Foote, historians Barbara J. Fields, Ed Bearss, and Stephen B. Oates; and actors reading contemporary quotes from historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S.
Grant, Walt Whitman, Stonewall Jackson, and Frederick Douglass, as well as diaries by Mary Chesnut, Sam Watkins, Elisha Hunt Rhodes and George Templeton Strong. A large cast of actors voiced correspondence, memoirs, news articles, and stood in for historical
figures from the Civil War.
Burns also interviewed Daisy Turner, then a 104-year-old daughter of an ex-slave, whose poetry features prominently in the series. Turner
died in February 1988, a full two and a half years before the series aired.
Production ran five years. The film was co-produced by Ken's brother Ric Burns, written
by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ric Burns, edited by Paul Barnes with cinematography by Buddy Squires.
The theme song of the documentary is the instrumental "Ashokan Farewell", which is heard twenty-five times during the film. Jay Ungar composed the song in 1982 and he describes it as "the song coming out of "a sense of
loss and longing" after the annual Ashokan Music & Dance Camps ended."
Burns frequently incorporates simple musical leitmotifs or melodies. The Civil War features
a distinctive violin melody throughout, "Ashokan Farewell", which was performed for the film by its composer, fiddler Jay Ungar. One critic noted, "One of the most memorable things about The Civil War was its haunting, repeated violin melody, whose thin, yearning
notes seemed somehow to sum up all the pathos of that great struggle."
What had been originally rousing and at times bellicose songs such as the southern "Bonnie Blue
Flag" or the northern "Battle Cry of Freedom" now suddenly sounded like heart-warming, lyrical melodies due to Schwab's interpretations. The pianist not only changed the songs' original mood but also allowed herself some harmonic liberties so as to make these
century-old marching tunes into piano lamentations that contemporary audiences could fully identify with".
A major piece of vocal music in the series is a version
of the old spiritual "We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder", performed a cappella by the African American singer, scholar and activist Bernice Johnson Reagon and several other female voices.
Shelby Foote supplied various voices of characters to the series