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Civil War

The Civil War by Shelby Foote – V1.Chapter 2: First Blood; New Conceptions


As I’m reading Shelby Foote’s incredible The Civil War: A Narrative, these are my notes on the points I may have forgotten from before or new pieces I’ve learned. Any and all comments appreciated.

Previous post: Chapter 1          Next post: Chapter 3

Volume One: Chapter 2

  1. Manassas – Southern Triumph
  2. Anderson. Fremont. McClellan
  3. Scott’s Anaconda; the Navy
  4. Diplomacy: the Buildup

Many early victories for the South, first taste of battle always difficult

From page 93: “Few of the romantic preconceptions as to brilliant maneuver and individual gallantry were realized. Fighting at close quarters because of the short-ranged Confederate flintlocks and muzzle-loading fowling pieces, a regiment would walk up to the firing line, deliver a volley, then reload and deliver another, continuing this until it dissolved and was replaced by another regiment, which repeated the process, melting away in the heat of that furnace and being in turn replaced. No fighting anywhere ever required greater courage, yet individual gallantry seemed strangely out of place. A plume in a man’s hat, for example, accomplished nothing except to make him a more conspicuous target. Nor did the rebel yell ring out on the banks of Wilson’s Creek. There was little cheering on either side; for a cheer seemed as oddly out of place as a plume. The men went about their deadly business of firing and reloading and melting away in a grim silence broken only by the rattling crash of musketry and the deep roar of guns, with the screams of the injured sometimes piercing the din. Far from resembling panoplied war, it was more like reciprocal murder.”

Confederate States had no Navy

  • Early on, three ports taken using mostly naval power
  • From page 120: “Some standard theories were going to have to be revised: the belief that one gun on land was equal to fou on water, for example. Steam had changed all that, removing the restrictions of wind and current and making possible such maneuvers as Du Pont’s expanding ellipse…Naval power was going to be a dominant factor in this war.”

Creation of the “loyal state of West Virginia”

Jeff Davis maintaining a policy of defense vs. aggression would pull in Europe on the side of the Confederacy

  • From page 134: “His critics would have had him strip the troops from threatened points and send the marching forthwith against the North, staking everything on one assault. To Davis, this not only seemed inconsistent with his repeated claim that the South was merely defending herself against aggression, it seemed unnecessarily risk. That was the war might be quickly won, as Beauregard had pointed out; but it also might be quickly lost that way. Davis preferred to watch and wait. He believed that time was with him and he planned accordingly, not yet by any means aware that what he was waiting for would require a miracle. At this state, in Davis’ mind at any rate, nothing seemed more likely, more inevitable, than foreign intervention; as had been shown by his first action in attempting to secure it.”
  • The capture of two Confederate enjoys from an English ship by a Union Naval officer almost succeeded in providing the necessary push, but cooler heads on both sides of the Atlantic prevailed.

Shelby Foote’s narrative is quite enjoyable

  • From the Bibliography of this first volume (yes, some of us do read such things), he cites himself a novelist who combines the job of a historian.
  • From page 815: “Accepting the historian’s standards without his paraphernalia, I have employed the novelist’s methods without his license. Instead of inventing characters and incidents, I searched the out – and having found them, I took them as they were. Nothing is included here, either within or outside quotation marks, without the authority of documentary evidence which I consider sound.”

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