In the course of this second of three intended five-year stints, the third of which will bring me to defeat and victory at Appomattox, my debt has grown heavier on both sides of the line where the original material leaves off, but most particularly on the near side of the line. Although the Official Records, supplemented by various other utterances by the participants, remain the primary source on which this narrative is based, the hundredth anniversary has enriched the store of comment on that contemporary evidence with biographies, studies of the conflict as a whole, examinations of individual campaigns, and general broodings on the minutiae—all of them, or anyhow nearly all of them, useful to the now dwindling number of writers and readers who, surviving exposure to the glut, continue to make that war their main historical concern. So that, while I agree in essence with Edmund Wilson’s observation that “a day of mourning would be more appropriate,” the celebration of the Centennial has at least been of considerable use to those engaged, as I am, in the process Robert Penn Warren has referred to as “picking the scab of our fate.”

Not that my previous obligations have not continued. They have indeed, and they have been enlarged in the process. Kenneth P. Williams, Douglas Southall Freeman, J. G. Randall, Lloyd Lewis, Stanley F. Horn, Carl Sandburg, Bell I. Wiley, Bruce Catton, T. Harry Williams, Allan Nevins, Robert S. Henry, Jay Monaghan, E. Merton Coulter, Clifford Dowdey, Burton J. Hendrick, Margaret Leech are but a handful among the many to whom I am indebted as guides through the labyrinth. Without them I not only would have missed a great many wonders along the way, I would surely have been lost amid the intricate turnings and the uproar. Moreover, the debt continued to mount as the exploration proceeded: to Hudson Strode, for instance, for the extension of his Jefferson Davisat a time when the need was sore, and to Mark Mayo Boatner for his labor-saving Civil War Dictionary. Specific accounts of individual campaigns, lately published to expand or replace the more or less classical versions by Bigelow and others, have been of particular help through this relentless stretch of fighting. Edward J. Stackpole’s Chancellorsville, for example, was used in conjunction with two recent biographies of the hero of that battle, Frank E. Vandiver’s Mighty Stonewall and Lenoir Chambers’Stonewall Jackson. Similarly, for the Vicksburg campaign, there were Earl Schenck Miers’s The Web of Victory and Peter F. Walker’s Vicksburg, a People at War, plus biographies of the two commanders, Pemberton, Defender of Vicksburg and Grant Moves South, by John C. Pemberton and Bruce Catton. For Gettysburg, there were Clifford Dowdey’s Death of a Nation, Glenn Tucker’s High Tide at Gettysburg, and George R. Stewart’s Pickett’s Charge. For the battles around Chattanooga, there were Glenn Tucker’sChickamauga and Fairfax Downey’s Storming of the Gateway. James M. Merrill’s The Rebel Shore, Fletcher Pratt’s Civil War on Western Waters, and Clarence E. Macartney’s Mr. Lincoln’s Admirals contributed to the naval actions, as Benjamin P. Thomas’ and Harold M. Hyman’sStanton did to events in Washington. These too were only a few of the most recent among the many, old and new, which I hope to acknowledge in a complete bibliography at the end of the third volume, Red River to Appomattox. Other obligations, of a more personal nature, were carried over from the outset: to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, which extended my fellowship beyond the norm: to the National Park Service, whose guides helped me (as they will you) to get to know so many confusing fields: to the William Alexander Percy Memorial Library, in my home town Greenville, Mississippi, which continued its loan of the Official Records and other reference works: to Robert D. Loomis of Random House, who managed to keep both his temper and his enthusiasm beyond unmet deadlines: to Memphis friends, who gave me food and whiskey without demanding payment in the form of talk about the war. To all these I am grateful: and to my wife Gwyn Rainer Foote, who bore with me.

Other, less specific obligations were as heavy. The photographs of Mathew Brady, affording as they do a gritty sense of participation—of being in the presence of the uniformed and frock-coated men who fought the battles and did the thinking, such as it was—gave me as much to go on, for example, as anything mentioned above. Further afield, but no less applicable, Richmond Lattimore’s translation of the Iliad put a Greekless author in close touch with his model. Indeed, to be complete, the list of my debts would have to be practically endless. Proust I believe has taught me more about the organization of material than even Gibbon has done, and Gibbon taught me much; Mark Twain and Faulkner would also have to be included, for they left their sign on all they touched, and in the course of this exploration of the American scene I often found that they had been there before me. In a quite different sense, I am obligated also to the governors of my native state and the adjoining states of Arkansas and Alabama for helping to lessen my sectional bias by reproducing, in their actions during several of the years that went into the writing of this volume, much that was least admirable in the position my forebears occupied when they stood up to Lincoln. I suppose, or in any case fervently hope, it is true that history never repeats itself, but I know from watching these three gentlemen that it can be terrifying in its approximations, even when the reproduction—deriving, as it does, its scale from the performers—is in miniature.

As for method, it may explain much for me to state that my favorite historian is Tacitus, who dealt mainly with high-placed scoundrels, but that the finest compliment I ever heard paid a historian was tendered by Thomas Hobbes in the foreword to his translation of The Peloponnesian War, in which he referred to Thucydides as “one who, though he never digress to read a Lecture, Moral or Political, upon his own Text, nor enter into men’s hearts, further than the Actions themselves evidently guide him … filleth his Narrations with that choice of matter, and ordereth them with that Judgement, and with such perspicuity and efficacy expresseth himself that (as Plutarch saith) he maketh his Auditor a Spectator. For he setteth his Reader in the Assemblies of the People, and in their Senates, at their debating; in the Streets, at their Seditions; and in the Field, at their Battels.” There indeed is something worth aiming at, however far short of attainment we fall.

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