Today’s Monday Western Review is a little different than my normal offering, on two counts.
First, it’s nonfiction, and second, it’s about the Civil War, which for reasons that escape me, is generally not considered to be “Western.”
I host a monthly book club, where each month we explore a different chapter from Shelby Foote’s amazing trilogy, “The Civil War: A Narrative.” As brilliant as Foote’s work is, its focus on strategy and officers left me wondering about the grunts, the privates, the men who actually fought the war. McPherson’s book provides many of the answers, primarily by sharing with us excerpts from hundreds of letters written by the soldiers, Union and Confederate.
The book is insightful, well-written and haunting. And, if we needed any reminder of how brutal this war was, so many, too many, of the excerpts are followed by, “He was later killed at…”
As for it being considered a Western, allow me to make two points. First, much of the war, though less well-known than the battles fought on the East Coast, was fought in the west.
Second, many of the “traditional” Western movies we watch and books we read have characters who spent time fighting in the Civil War, on both sides. Those characters were informed by what happened during the war, and a better understanding of what those battles, that life, must have been like will enrich our watching and reading experiences.
And last, the Civil War is one of the pivotal times not only in American history, but also in the history of the world, and having a better understanding of what the men who fought it went through, and — what I found the most fascinating — why they chose to go through it, is powerful and sobering.