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If you like Shelby Foote's story, you might also like:
Stephen Ambrose,
Tom Clancy,
David Herbert Donald,
Ernest J. Gaines,
Doris Goodwin and
David McCullough

Shelby Foote's recommended reading: David Copperfield

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Shelby Foote
 
Shelby Foote
Profile of Shelby Foote Biography of Shelby Foote Interview with Shelby Foote Shelby Foote Photo Gallery

Shelby Foote Interview (page: 6 / 7)

Novelist and Historian

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  Shelby Foote

Now that we have 130 years of hindsight, did the Civil War have to be fought?

Shelby Foote: There's a lot of argument about that.


The fact that it was fought seems to me to prove it had to be fought, but even at the time, Seward, Lincoln's Secretary of State, called it "an irrepressible conflict." And indeed, the differences were so sharp, especially by the extremists on both sides: the Abolitionists in the North and the Fire-eaters in the South. The differences were so sharp that there was scarcely any way to settle it except fighting. Just as two men can get so angry at each other, the only way to settle a thing is to step out in the alley and have a fistfight. People don't do that much any more. They're more apt to take some blind-side swing at somebody instead of a real fight. But I think there probably wasn't any other way to settle it. Now if we were the superior creatures we claim to be as Americans, we would not have fought that war, but we're not that superior by a long shot.


What figures out of that conflict do you most admire?

Shelby Foote: I admire an awful lot of people on both sides, but the admiration in every case has to be modified somewhat.


I'm crazy about Grant: his character, his nature, his science in fighting and everything else. But I don't like the idea that he never accepted the blame for anything, always found someone else to blame for any mistake that was ever made, including blaming Prentiss for Shiloh. And Prentiss saved him! Things like that. Robert E. Lee, I admire him enormously, but I don't like a certain sort of stuffiness and non-humor about Lee. I don't like his sanctimoniousness, which comes out all the time.


Shelby Foote Interview Photo
If I said that in Virginia, I'd get lynched next week, so I'll stay away from Virginia. I would have a hard time now saying who I liked best. I sometimes think Bedford Forrest is my favorite because of his innovative nature and his enormous courage and intelligence. But then I get to thinking about others, some minor characters that I became very fond of. There's an Arkansas general named Pat Claiborne that I like as well as anyone in the Civil War. He was probably the best division commander on either side. So you get great favorites, and you feel enormous sadness when they die, as so many of them did, in combat.

Over the course of that 20-year project, did you ever feel that you weren't up to it?

Shelby Foote: Never at any time.


I drove myself the whole time. The war had always interested me. I'm a novelist, and what novelist is going to write a book that's got Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, Tecumseh Sherman, Bedford Forrest, Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis? Those are people, and I felt very happy writing about them. I don't mean it wasn't hard work. That goes without saying, but the basic happiness I had. No matter how many difficulties I ran into, the basic happiness was there, even with the difficulties.



A big sustaining thing was I believed firmly that I was doing important work, and I thought it was going good, so I felt good. There's nothing that makes a writer truly as happy. Nothing anywhere makes him as truly as happy as going to bed at night, putting his head on the pillow with the idea of getting up and getting at his desk the next morning. That's a happy man, and I had that for all that time.

[ Key to Success ] Passion


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This page last revised on Sep 21, 2010 22:39 EDT
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