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The Civil War: A Narrative

(The Civil War #1-3)

4.53  ·  Rating details ·  6,569 Ratings  ·  316 Reviews
Foote's comprehensive history of the Civil War includes three compelling volumes: Fort Sumter to Perryville, Fredericksburg to Meridian, and Red River to Appomattox. Collected together in a handsome boxed set, this is the perfect gift for any Civil War buff.

Fort Sumter to Perryville
"Here, for a certainty, is one of the great historical narratives of our century, a unique a
Hardcover, 2934 pages
Published May 2006 by Random House (first published October 12th 1963)
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Nov 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“In time, even death itself might be abolished; who knows but it may be given to us after this life to meet again in the old quarters, to play chess and draughts, to get up soon to answer the morning roll call, to fall in at the tap of the drum for drill and dress parade, and again to hastily don our war gear while the monotonous patter of the long roll summons to battle. Who knows but again the old flags, ragged and torn, snapping in the wind, may face each other and flutter, pursuing and pursu ...more
Nov 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
May 3, 2011
3 volumes, 1000 pages each; this is going to take a while. But I've just finished Volume 1 - Fort Sumpter to Perryville and -- since at this rate I won't finish the whole thing for another year -- I thought I'd make some initial notes. Basically -- this is glorious. I'm not a Civil War buff, and I'm certainly not interested in getting down into the weeds of whether Foote gets this or that detail exactly right, or is fair or unfair to this or that general. The things that impress here
Mar 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-history
Shelby Foote was commissioned to write a concise narrative of the American Civil War in 1958, following his great success with the book, Shiloh. The project grew beyond the bounds of the original plan from Random House, and blossomed into one of the greatest works ever written about the war. Foote was born in Mississippi, but was later transplanted to Memphis. His was the first Southern voice to describe the Civil War in more than a generation. In spite of his background, he is no disciple of th ...more
Ryan Holiday
Jun 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Having read and enjoyed Shelby Foote's novel Shiloh (which I highly recommend), I was motivated to attempt his magnum opus, the one million-plus word trilogy The Civil War. The books are surprisingly readable, come in a bright box set and are great for flipping through. if you have any background with the Civil War, I suggest reading the introduction and then skipping around and reading about the battles or figures you're interested in. For me, that included William T. Sherman, Nathan Bedford Fo ...more
Morgan Blackledge
Mar 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
OMG. It took me like 4 fuckin months to read this colossus, but I finally finished it (all 3, 1000+ page volumes). And yes it totally lives up to the hype. It’s a wonderful, masterful piece of narrative history. A treasure.

It’s also the most homoerotic thing I’ve read in a long time. Real talk. Every other sentence was like; ‘Lee penetrated deep into Johnson’s rear and exploded’.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that......

As a nearly irrelevant aside, the cover lists the Civil War as ‘one of
Apr 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I couldn't find a listing for just Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox which I finished this year. Last year I read the first two volumes.

This is the last volume which covered Grant arriving in Washington to take up duties as commander—and looking like a scruffy nonentity who was offered a room in the attic of Willard’s Hotel until the clerk saw his name—to the death of Jefferson Davis (Foote is a southerner after all). Really great work—it’s taken me a couple of years to read it.

There I think Fo
Jul 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, war
I have read this set half a dozen times -- for a while there I re-read them every summer. Foote was a novelist before he was a historian, and it shows in his style. The books give a fairly even-handed treatment of the military history of the American civil war, using actual quotes to flesh out the interactions among the characters to a surprising extent. One of the best histories I've ever read.
Donna Davis
I purchased Foote's trilogy because it was a well-known trilogy about the American Civil War. All told, it was a waste of time and money.

I had read Battle Cry of Freedom, and become much more interested in this field than when I began teaching it to 8th graders. I read one of Sears' books, a couple more by McPherson, and some that dealt with African-Americans, both in slavery, in the resistance to slavery, and their participation, which is considered pivotal, in the Civil War.

Here are some of th
Bill Rogers
Jul 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelby Foote was the silver-haired gentleman with the Robert E. Lee beard who had such interesting anecdotes to tell during Ken Burns's documentary series The Civil War. How do you think he got that job? By writing this trilogy, that's how. Umpty-ump thousand pages, and he did it on paper. With a dip pen no less. He said, in an interview I saw, that he got a better rhythm that way.

I believe it. Often I find myself turning to pen and paper too, although I've never gone so far as dip pens.

Mowena Glunch
Dec 18, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is probably the leading complete history of the Civil War, which for me means there is a great opportunity for someone to write something better.

Good things:
1. Good turn of phrase.
2. Good ability to paint a full personality.

1. Too strong a bias in favor of South.
2. Too strong a bias in favor of covering less important western action.
3. Too much filler. Could have trimmed 25%-33% of total words.
4. For me, needed more and better maps, with dates and times on them.
5. Would have benef
Mar 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Over many years I have read about many Civil War battles, and the problems that Lincoln faced, but this is the first time I have learned in any detail about what the South thought was going on. Without claiming sympathy with the motives of the Lost Cause, Shelby Foote presented a number of speeches and other denunciations of Yankee tyranny, barbarism, cruelty, and alleged racial inferiority from Jefferson Davis and various political and military figures of the Confederacy, and their claim to be ...more
Aug 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Still have a couple hundred pages in the last volume because I got waylaid with other books to review for actual money -- but Foote's Civil War is a true masterpiece. His friend Walker Percy famously called it "an American Iliad," which description I cannot dispute.
Carl R.
May 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
It’s finally over. I turned the last page of Shelby Foote’s (You may remember Foote as the gentlemanly, professorial presence in Ken Burns PBS series.)
monster “narration” of the civil war. Close to 3000 pages detailing every military and political battle in those horrendous four-plus years of slaughter that stand as a monument to human obstinacy and idiocy. Why I needed to do this, when I’ve already read so much about all this over the years, I can’t possibly explain. Probably a 12-step program
Jan 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This magisterial work is the best book that I've read on the Civil War. Incredibly well researched, but if you're looking for something with a lot of footnotes for your own work or research, this isn't it; however, if you're an American history buff or simply a fan of good writing, you should read these books.

Don't be deterred by the length. It's well worth it. The book is written (obviously) as a narrative, not in the sense of historical fiction, but in a prose style most people don't typically
Nick Black
Dec 03, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Confederate troops wore not just grey, but also "butternut".
Ben Hallman
Feb 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I wander back into Shelby Foote's Civil War trilogy every few years, partly out of an enduring love for the work, partly from five years or so having to pass for the entirety of its contents to have dribbled out of my sieve-like mind.

Out of all the books I've read, I can't think of another series that leaves me in such a state of awe, both at the history told and the historian who tells it. No amount of hyperbole conveys my love for Foote's masterpiece. These books are history at its best, not
Nov 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Later on in this shitty year, well into our terrible future, I'll get to a point where I can sit down and record my brain vibrations regarding the 3,000 or so pages of Shelby Foote I lobbed into their heavily bombarded homeland over the course of the last year. Hell, I think at this point I genuinely owe it to the world at large, given the amount of curiosity I've garnered by bringing any of the three volumes into various bars, restaurants and coffee houses...believe it, Goodreads comrades- it i ...more
Jun 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The first book I purchased in this trilogy was the middle book. I was so caught up in the writing I read on the pages I'd skimmed in that Walden Books (or some other long-gone purveyors of mass printed books) that I had not noticed that fact.

This was the almost late 1980s. I'd somehow become dawn to read Civil War history (this was before Ken Burns' PBS series made its initial run).

When I realized it was a trilogy, I decided to go on to volume three. From there, I went to the first volume and re
Nov 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, canon, bestreads
Foote's 3 volume narrative history of the Civil War is considered the definitive history for a very good reason: it is almost unbelievably complete and, at the same time, wonderfully charactered. Foote finds aspects of personality and upbringing that cast every major figure of the civil war in almost an entirely unique light. Plus his recounting of politics, warfare and national character as all three evolved throughout the course of the war really helps you understand why understanding the civi ...more
Jul 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is the first of many volumes on the Civil War, this one covering the time from Lincoln's election through secession to Fort Henry. I like the author's style, relating the events from the viewpoint of both the Southern and Northern states. It is not a fast read, but definitely fascinating. I knew very little about the Civil War other than a few things I remembered from American History many years ago. I was amazed at the problems, mistakes, rivalries, and misjudgements that occurred on both ...more
Gerry Huntman
Jan 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Forgot about this trio - so I will add a few words...

I am fascinated by the US Civil War and it doesn't take much to get my interest flowing, if the topic is covered. Then there is Shelby Foote's masterpiece.

I don't want to quibble over detail, not that there is much to quibble over, and it can be left to the hard core historians, but Shelby's work is huge, and easy to read - it is a narrative history, after all. It is immense in size and had to be so, as it covers material - not only the handfu
Nov 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
The best book I've read recently is "The Civil War: A Narrative" by Shelby Foote. It is kind of a commitment--three fairly hefty volumes. But it is far more entertaining than one expects. I bought it at a used book store after seeing him (Foote) on a dvd of the PBS series, "The Civil War". The series was outstanding in large part because of Foote's contributions, so I thought to myself, "I really liked listening to this guy talk, so maybe I'll like reading his book".

I did, and very much so. He m
Oct 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
What a superb piece of writing!
The very best historical works, for me, have always been those which have a strong narrative voice. I think the origins of this taste lie in my early reading of Herodotus' epic recounting of the Persian Wars. I'm a big fan of objectivity as well, but I don't really mind when the author's "voice" comes through. I think it re-enforces the fact that history is a human endeavour. This is why history forms the foundation for the humanities. It's the story of human activ
Jan 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I don't buy books much anymore; blame the library right around the corner for that. This million-page history is good enough to read every couple years. So I put Vol. 1 on my Christmas list, and by next Christmas, I will probably have read Vol. 2 and will ask for the final bloody volume.

Shelby Foote is clear, cogent, and even-handed. And pretty smart. The action in the West is well-documented. The progression of the war is easy to follow and Foote used primary sources extensively from what I co
Aug 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Just read this series of books for the second time. If anything, the first time was five stars, and this time was better. All History should be this well researched, and this well written. As a bookend for Grant's memoirs it can not be beat.

This has been called a Masterwork, and it is. Shelby foot may not have written too many books, but it is clear he understood the art and craft of writing, and brought that approachability to over 20 years of research. Its a history book that I was sorry ended
Aug 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
When we moved to DC in 1990 (and then Arlington in 1992), I went on a civil war kick, since we were in the heart of so many battlefields, and as an homage to my Dad, who was fascinated with the Civil War (his grandfather was a boy when Sherman marched through his town of McDonough, GA). I read a ton of books on the subject - this 3 volume series is, I think, my favorite series on the War. Lots of great detail, plus interesting asides, personal stories, and all well written. I was sorry when I wa ...more
Richard Anderson
Sep 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
You really can't talk about these volumes without going overboard. Foote's account is stately and Homeric- it glorifies and romanticizes the War in a way that would be inconceivable after Vietnam- he wrote it in the fifties and early sixties. It's probably the most detailed popular account that we'll have for quite some time. When I was young the part of the South I lived in was still fighting the conflict, so I come by my fascination with it honestly, and I must say reading (and listening on Au ...more
Jun 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Read over the course of a summer several years ago; purchased for a song from the B&N bargain shelves.

"Comprehensive" doesn't cover it. You'll never hold all the names, notables and nuance in your head; don't bother trying.

One of the few histories of the Civil War that lends the appropriate weight to the Western campaigns; the only one I've read that got the story of Little Round Top right.
Paula Hebert
Sep 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I first discovered shelby foote while watching ken burns' civil war. I am fascinated by this period of history, anthese three volumes are the ultimate detailed record. they describe the battles, politics, biographies, and much of the human reaction to war, soldiers and people warred upon. great stuff if that's your interest.
Paul O'Leary
Nov 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
An amazing read that took me over a year to get through(all three volumes), but completely worth the investment. This is historical narrative, so no footnotes litter each page; just Shelby doing what Shelby does so well: telling the complete story of the American Civil War. Absolutely delightful. History for the mainstream at its best.
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2018-2019 Reading...: Matthew's Trilogy for 2016 6 53 Jan 12, 2016 05:24PM  
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  • Memoirs and Selected Letters
  • Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam
  • Gettysburg--Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill
  • The Civil War: An Illustrated History
  • The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command
  • Battle Cry of Freedom
  • Co. Aytch: A Confederate Memoir of the Civil War
  • Lee's Lieutenants: A Study in Command
  • Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War
  • Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander
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

Other books in the series

The Civil War (3 books)
  • The Civil War, Vol. 1: Fort Sumter to Perryville
  • The Civil War, Vol. 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian
  • The Civil War, Vol. 3: Red River to Appomattox
“The Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things... It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads.” 18 likes
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