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  • Writer's pictureOld Bone

Dissin' Shelby Foote

Updated: May 21, 2020

Legendary Southern historian Shelby Foote's critics recoil at what they consider to be a "Lost Cause" romance story. Foote is so passé, don't you know? They don't like the fact Foote was a college dropout and that he didn't use footnotes. They don't like the fact his ancestors fought for the Confederacy and, what's worse, he wasn't ashamed of his heritage. They further don't like the fact his heritage colored his writing and his perspective. God forbid. And, of course, they don't like the fact Foote focused on the story of the Civil War, and not the politics. As piece in Garden & Gun magazine notes:

Like Homer, Foote focused on two things: the clash of arms and the lives of the warriors. The grand issues of politics and diplomacy, of economics and culture, mattered less to Foote than re-creating the reality of battle. “The idea is to strike fire,” he wrote, “prodding the reader much as combat quickened the pulses of the people at the time.” Critics took Foote to task for this single-minded focus, but he believed in his approach, and stuck to it. “I think the superiority of Southern writers lies in our driving interest in just…two things, the story and the people.”

But what really galls many modern historians about Foote's work is its overwhelming success and appeal to the masses - an accomplishment that seems always out of the grasp of so many "better educated" academic historians. Envy. Perhaps, instead of jealous criticism, his less successful critics should learn from Foote's approach. But that would require humility. Carry on.

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