Home » NEWS » Arts & Entertainment » JACK WEATHERLY: Coming to the end of the campaign in Mr. Foote’s army

JACK WEATHERLY: Coming to the end of the campaign in Mr. Foote’s army

JACK WEATHERLY

I was a Shelby Foote soldier in the four-year campaign that covered the distance in more than 1.5 million words in The Civil War: A Narrative.

The great Mississippi writer counseled those about to take the first step with him on the journey: “Take your time. God knows, I took mine.”

And I did.

After a couple of years – with breaks to read some “short books” — I left the house of glory and blood.

Lee said it best at Fredericksburg, a smashing Southern victory: “It is well that war is so terrible. Otherwise we should grow too fond of it.”

Experiencing war vicariously is different. Some cannot get enough of it. I was saddened when I closed the last volume of this masterpiece in the comfort of my bed.

Not because of the outcome, though nothing so mind-numbingly and brutally romantic can be reduced to simple right and wrong. Otherwise, we have a morality play and boredom.

I felt I was saying good night and farewell to an old, trusted friend, Shelby Dade Foote Jr., native of Greenville and longtime resident of Memphis, who slipped his mortal coil on June 21, 2005.

Time-Life repackaged the original three-volume tome for the 40th anniversary of its publication, putting it between 14 bronze-colored dust covers, and including color maps, photos and illustrations. In doing so, it increased the chances of putting this grand work in the hands of more readers.

The first cover is a photo of Confederates looking like college boys at a Kappa Alpha fraternity Old South Ball. The cover on the last volume shows the Old South in ruins – burned-out buildings in Richmond.

The original cumbersome masterwork, which is still on the market, has kept many a reader from attempting the gargantuan work. Life is short.

Bennett Cerf, the famed editor and a founder of Random House, recruited the youngish Mississippian, whose novels he had published, to write a 200,000-word book for the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War.

Books, like wars, can get out of hand.

Another “repackaging,” Ken Burns’ “Civil War” series on public television in 1990, made Foote a media star and a millionaire.

A just reward for a man who had relied on grants and personal loans for more than 40 years.

One of the aims of the narrative was to shine light on the “western theater” of the war, Foote said in the epilogue. That meant anything west of Virginia.

To a large degree that means Foote’s home state.

Foote said that a misleading impression has been made, unconsciously or consciously, in the research and books that preceded his that virtually all of the war happened in Virginia.

And while it did end for all practical purposes in Lee’s “country,” Virginia, at Appomattox Court House, Mississippi provided Vicksburg and battles leading up to it.

That facet of the book has particular interest in the Magnolia State as Mississippi is celebrating the 200th anniversary of statehood, including four of those years spent in rebellion against the federal government.

So does my indulgence merit writing about?

Let’s say it does since history is in the air. Let’s say so because this is the start of the third century of Mississippi statehood. Let’s remember that the country only two years ago completed its revisitation of the 150th anniversary of the great conflict.

Let me say that I am a fifth-generation Mississippi native on both sides of my family, one of whom was shot in the face at Vicksburg and survived, another of whom lost two-thirds of a leg at Fredericksburg, fathered 13 children and fully understood what Lee called the terrible nature of war.

Let’s say that the aftermath of the war is still with us to some degree, socially, personally and economically. Faulkner’s famous statement might even make a bumper sticker for us: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Allow me to echo U.S. Grant in saying: “I finished the thing.”

» Contact Mississippi Business Journal staff writer Jack Weatherly at jack.weatherly@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1016.

About Jack Weatherly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*