Foote’s Civil War: Spotsylvania and the Death of Jeb Stuart


J.L. Wall

J.L. Wall is a native Kentuckian in self-imposed exile to the Midwest, where he teaches writing to college students and over-analyzes Leonard Cohen lyrics.

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14 Responses

  1. Avatar Sam M says:

    “Foote, as is his wont, achieves this shift through the novelist’s, rather than the historians, use of detail.”

    Would you consider this a feature or a bug?Report

    • Avatar J.L. Wall says:

      My lack of apostrophe use in “historians” — definitely a bug. Foote’s “novelist’s … use of detail” — a feature. Perhaps the defining feature of the Narrative. Foote is writing a “Narrative” of the Civil War rather than a “History” of the Civil War — while that doesn’t imply non-fidelity to historical fact, it does mean that his primary purpose is to tell a story; and Foote thought of himself as a novelist first and foremost. More to the point, he was a novelist whose great literary role models were Faulkner and Proust: two novelists who viewed the storyteller’s role as, in an important way, that of an investigator of the past and its meaning.

      I wrote a little more about this here:

    • Avatar J.L. Wall says:

      I feel like I should also add that in my posts on Foote’s “Civil War” I’m not trying to review them as works of history, or use them as a way to provide an overview for League readers of the war itself. Rather, I’m trying to investigate what Foote/his narrator is saying about the Civil War, war in general, the United States, mankind, history, memory, etc. I’m treating it as a work of literature and trying to see what qualities and meaning it brings in this regard — if for no other reason than because I’m a student of literature.Report

  2. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Spotsylvania, a battle the very name of which should still cause shivers in any American who knows his or her history.

    If only it didn’t instantly bring to mind Boris and Natasha.Report

  3. Avatar Chris says:

    Spotsylvania has never been the symbol of that wars horror for me in the same way that some later battles have, or even the Wilderness that preceded it, largely because unlike those bloody battles, it served a real and important strategic purpose. If Grant gets behind Lee, the war is all but over for Lee’s army, and therefore for the South.

    I think of the pointless slaughter at Franklin because of Hood’s wounded ego — a thousand casualties an hour for five hellish hours. No strategic purpose, no purpose whatsoever. Just charge after charge at Union breastworks, destroying an army, because a general was angry.Report

  4. Avatar Francis says:


    The word for a horse-human interface is REINS!


    • Avatar J.L. Wall says:

      It is not a good day when both of my responses thus far to comments involve apologizing for typos… This one is even worse, because my reaction to “reins” as “reigns” is typically something along the lines of what you just said…

      Count me embarrassed. But it’s fixed.Report

  5. I appreciate these reviews of Foote’s work. A couple of months ago I started to re-watch Ken Burns’ documentary on the civil war. I of course got to see Foote many times and remembered that I had read the first volume in his classic work but not the other two. I requested and received nice hard bound editions of all three volumes for my birthday and I’m looking forward to reading through it. Thanks for the reviews and the reminder that I need to read through them again/for the first time.Report

    • Avatar J.L. Wall says:

      I’m glad I’m doing more than just indulging myself with them.

      I had the (slightly?) strange experience of hearing the narrator’s voice from Burns’ documentary as the voice of the narrator of the first twenty or so pages of the first volume of Foote. I still can’t decide whether that was more amusing or distracting, but it wore off eventually.Report

      • I think the narrator in Burn’s Civil War documentary, and in several of his other documentaries, is David McCullough. In my opinion another great writer with a flair for the narrative way of telling history.Report

  6. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    Wall, you realize that you’re tempting me towards sin here right? The sin being that of straying from my dissertation now that I have three free months to work on (hell, maybe even finish) the fisher. So, dammit, stop writing so compellingly about these books!Report

    • Avatar J.L. Wall says:

      Glad to be of service… I hear that living in rural cabins without electricity, let alone internet, works wonders for literary output. Or learning how to build fire/whittle/lose touch with one’s sanity. (I can never remember which!)Report