Back to Top

05.05.01 Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative, in 3 volumes, published in 1958, 1963 and 1974 by Random House

Notes Concerning Author

Shelby Dade Foote (1916-2005) was born in Greenville, Mississippi.  His father, also named Shelby Dade Foot, died when the boy was only 5 years old.   The boy’s mother, Lillian Rosenstock Foote, never remarried.  Young Shelby grew up in Greenville and graduated from Greenville High School.  Afterward, he attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but did not graduate.  He returned to Greenville in 1937, at the age of 21 years, where he worked in construction and for a local newspaper, and began writing his first novel.  In fact his ambition was to write fiction and he did produce several novels.  But he is known to the Society of Independent Southern Historians for his masterpiece, the three volume military history of the War Between the States.

Foote moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1952, the same year that his novel Shiloh: A Novel was published.  It was about this time that he received a letter from Random House asking for a him to write a short history of the War Between the States to coincide with the centennial of the conflict.  This letter changed his career forevermore. 

The Society has found that it is outside of the academic community that we find many of the most important contributions to the history and biography concerning the people of the southern States.  In Shelby Foote we again see the example of a man who wrote outstanding history but never taught it or made a living in a college environment.

Shelby Foote was one of the ablest writers of the twentieth century.  He spent thirty years writing this work, which has become a classic of literature as well as history.   Wide in scope, unforgettably portraying the major figures on both sides, and with dramatic narrative power, his military history of War Between the States will never be surpassed.


Random House published Volume 1, Fort Sumter to Perryville, in 1958, Volume 2, Fredericksburg to Meridian in 1963 and Volume 3, Red River to Appomattox in 1974.  In all, this vast military history covers 3,000 pages. 

Foote’s presentation is purely a military history, for he side-steps the political sectionalism that gave rise to the Republican Party and the secession of seven States.  With Foote, you will not understand the political passions that produced and sustained the military conflict about which you will be reading as you progress through 3,000 pages of narrative.  And it is appropriate to mention that The Society of Independent Southern Historians is not a group of men and women who dwell on military history.  Our greater priority is the understanding of the history and culture of the southern people from Jamestown to 1940.  Although The War Between the States resulted in the deaths of 360,000 Federals and 260,000 Confederates, it consumed only 4 years of that time span.

Therefore, we recommend that you spend considerable time gaining an understanding of the history and culture of the southern States people and their political views before undertaking Foote’s military history masterpiece.  That said, when you are well grounded in the aforementioned concerns, and perhaps have run through a brief military history, then, by all means take up Foote.  There you will find the masterpiece.  Foote is also a good reference, for his work is narrative in style and chronological in its presentation.  

Availability of Books

The Civil War, A Narrative, is widely available, especially as paperback reprints.  The three volumes can be found in book stores and at Amazon and similar outlets.  A Kindle e-book version is also available.