Historian and novelist Shelby Foote has passed.
I came late to my Civil War obsession, waiting until college to develop an enthusiasm. Although by that point I had already spent a number of years fascinated by military history, it wasn't until 1993 that two events shifted my focus to that most American of wars-- my reading of James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom, and the movie Gettysburg.
Suddenly, an era I had previously condemned as musty and irrelevant took on new life, and I was hooked. Becoming a Civil War buff while living in Virginia was as easy as getting out of bed in the morning. I became a voracious reader of Civil War history, and I took advantage of every opportunity to visit the many battlefields preserved here on the East Coast. Unlike anything else in American history, the Civil War was still tangible, could still be touched, as real as any German castle or Britannic henge.
Shelby Foote's three-volume history of the Civil War weren't the first books I read about the war, nor were they my favorite. Yet, like millions of Americans, Foote's narrative occupies a fond place in my memory. His eloquence and perspective was warmly welcomed onto my bookshelf.
There are many "essential" Civil War histories worthy of your time, and quite a few significantly more historically rigorous, but Foote's is by far the most poetic. Whether he captured all the facts of the Civil War remains in dispute, but he certainly captured the feel of that most terrible of wars.
He will be sadly missed.