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by Shelby Foote
Suffering has no flag. Pain has no territory. Death visits
us all. These are human experiences which transcend any
qualities we may attribute to ourselves. Most people have
heard and read of the politics, the power, and the epic
battles of the Civil War era. In "Chicamauga", compiled and
partially written by Shelby Foote, we see our own eyes in
the eyes of the nameless and formless soldiers and victims
of a country divided. Through fiction, Foote succeeds in
showing the striking imperfection and cold reality of the
Civil War's events as opposed to our usual objectification
and romanticism of a very real and sobering event. To a
"modern man" it is somewhat like a tear falling from the
television screen while a bullet rips through your dream.
Where did the drama go?
The drama of our nation splitting apart and fighting itself
, which is usually spell bounding and intriguing at least,
loses its fascination to "small" men's' reality. Jefferson
Davis and Abraham Lincoln are very powerful, principled
men. Even in the written word alone, their charisma can
seem to draw you in to the power politics of the time. The
economic dual between the North and South can, as well,
draw one into the process of taking sides and becoming
passionate about a particular course of action. The events
leading to the civil war and the fighting itself are no
doubt extremely enigmatic and almost magnetic in a way. Yet
in "Chicamauga", it is the plight of small players in
battle who sober your outlook from intrigue to true
understanding. It is the individual suffering and confusion
which color this great event. Events which you formerly saw
as two sided, or perhaps even one-sided, now become
ambiguous and gray. Right and wrong become confused with
courage and fear. Reality and illusion intermingle to help
men deal with whatever trauma may arise in the next moment.
These are the legacy's told in "Chicamauga".
In the very first fictional short story "A Young Soldier's
First Battle" by Stephen Crane, one sees the vast
difference between the thoughts of one very fragile human
being versus the power and glory of a battle for ideals in
the landscape of an entire country's civil war. While
Abraham Lincoln and other's in places of power may be
contemplating morality and economics, one young man is
contemplating death and obedience, his life versus the
regiment's life, and this struggle is multiplied by the
thousands every second. Where does the true drama lie, if
there is to be any at all. The real legacy of the civil war
is in this young man's mind. "(The War) enclosed him. And
these were iron walls of tradition and law on four
sides"(P.11). The glory and drama disappear from the war
here. This young man is just a pawn of "tradition and law".
He was trapped in this war by force and it was only his
duty now to try and survive it. He could not defeat the Confederacy in his eyes nor did he desire to do so. What he
could do was lose his life in a meaningless battle. Yet
when the battle came and the mystery was solved, "he became
not a man but a member"(p. 24). He lost himself to his
regiment, his army, his government. This is the tragedy of
thousands of men just like this one. Men who lost
themselves, whether through death or through the horrors of
battle, to a cause that was not wholly their own.
 In the story of "Chicamauga" by Thomas Wolfe, men lose
themselves again to the events which modern readers often
see through merely historically significant filters. I've
never read a speech by Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln
about the gentleman at the battle at Chicamauga who lost
his chance to get an education. Nor have I heard anyone
mention that this man died many deaths during this war,
although his heart still beat. He lost the man he would
have been had the war not taken his chance for a good
education away. The man who was not a gambler before the
war, died in surrender to the man who was "ready for
anything"(P.51) during the war. Where are all the stories,
the millions of stories, of men's many deaths before even
their physical deaths. Again, the drama of the historical
war fades in the context of the individual suffering and
death which history is built upon.
Even civilians like Peyton Farquhar suffered the uniformity
of suffering and death which did not discriminate among men
during this tragic war. A mere planter in the south, who
happened to have taken a side which was no longer the
authority. In this planter we see the meaninglessness of
his death. Hung, alone from a bridge, left to live out his
only escape in his mind while death grips his neck. Reality
and illusion come together here as often seemed the case in
every aspect of the civil war. Farquhar lived his escape
out through his thoughts even as he was about to be hanged.
How many generals lived their victory only to be flanked in
defeat in reality. This man's death show's us the
hopelessness that so many men dealt with through the
illusions of grandeur that ran through their minds and that
often predominate our thinking today in relation to the
Civil war's events. If ever the reader of Shelby Foote's
compilation lapsed into the former drunken romanticism with
the past, this one man's pitiful dream of escape with a
rope around his neck surely brought them to a sober reality.
 In the short story "Fish-Hook Gettysburg" by Stephen
Vincent Benet, the reader is once again brought back to a
more romantic view of the events of the war through a
narrative style description. Events in this selection roll
past the reader with a more movie like feeling to them as
if there are no real consequences to the events. Yet,
ironically, Benet is able to use an almost sarcastic,
nonchalant awareness of this objective recount of this
history to draw attention to the very fact that the actual
events were far more significant than his narrative can
draw attention to:
"The pale faced women, huddled behind draw blind
 Back in town, or in apple-cellars, hiding,
 Thought it the end of the world, no doubt.
 And yet,
 As the books remark, it was only a minor battle."(P.131) 
We see here that although the narrative is calm and
objective, the description paints a far more intense
picture of the individual reaction which in turn contrasts
the historical accounts of such battles as this one in
particular. So, even through selection of a comparatively
calm piece of fiction, Foote succeeds in shocking the
reader in new ways to acknowledge the plight of the
individuals who become blurred through the historical lens.
In "Pillar of Fire" by Shelby Foote, we see the marriage of
the many forms which the civil war existed. Geographically,
the differences in ideology and physical geography are
touched upon. The politics of the country are discussed and
the sides are drawn to some extent. The southern planters
have their opinions, and the northerners have their
opinions and there are many permutations of personalities
depending on politics and place of residence. There were
civilians and vengeful soldiers who burned down their
houses. But what is all this but yet another story similar
to all the previous ones which we have just read yet headed
under one title. Couldn't we have gotten a more than
realistic break through to the personal, human tragedies of
the civil war and her actors without Shelby Foote's own
contribution? Yes, however, Foote adds a note to this
compilation which is powerfully moving and symbolic of what
the lesson of this book is in relation to the civil war and
to life in general. This lesson comes in the form of a
civilian, and in relative peace. There is no hanging
involved. There are no roaring canons or sheets of muskets
hurling through the air. One man's wife died in a few short
seconds. She had been working in the house one moment and
the next she was dead. This man's reaction is the Truth of
this book: "He was bewildered at last by mortality, by a
world in which a person could sneeze and say, 'God bless
me: I feel dizzy,' and then be dead"(P.191-192). It is the
impermanence of life and its living that is the great
lesson of all the individuals and struggles which this book
brings to light through the civil war. What is truly
important is not so much the great speeches and battle
strategies, but the head on struggle of every human being
with their own mortality in the context of daily living,
even in a great civil war. A man fighting at Antietam still
has to have a meal whether death looms overhead or not. The
fear of death and need to live exist together.
 This book was truly about individuals struggling to exist
when existence is constantly threatened and insecure. There
are more large scale political, economic, and military
issues which exist, yet these other issues exist on the
backs of individual struggle. The characters in these
stories are the paper on which some man's great speech and
declaration lie. It is the stories of these civilians,
soldiers, and reincarnate survivors who teach about the
civil war, both of a country and of single hearts in agony.
Shelby Foote succeeds in shattering the malaise of history
that covers the many realities of the Civil war era.


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