Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Two Minute Review - The Civil War: A Narrative by Shelby Foote

The Civil War: A Narrative - Part One Fort Sumter to Perryville

Two minutes hardly seems like enough time to get started on this one.  For a change, I picked this up as an audiobook.  Very slowly, I'm becoming accustomed to the format, remembering to make an effort to listen along to the recording and to avoid letting my attention wandering.  It's taken a lot of getting used to, particularly with this book; it clocks in at just over thirty seven hours.

Shelby Foote, apart from his literary works, is probably best known for his appearances on Ken Burn's Civil War documentary series.  He had a wonderful voice and a unique way of thinking about the Civil War, particularly his habit of speaking as if it was still ongoing.  This first volume of three, covers the build up to and the first two years of the war.

I'm at a bit of a loss as to describe the work.  Foote certainly gives you an account, mainly chronological, of the conflict, but it's a meandering, seamless narrative where events flow into one another.  Although a chapter might start on the western front, about whatever problems Bragg is facing, the chapter could wander off to talk about the Southern press or Lincoln's personal life or the naval blockade.  Yet the narrative always, in hindsight, has a logic and structure that keeps you hooked in.  Throughout, I was never metaphorically lost wherever the author went.

The way the battles, particularly Antietam, unfold are inspired; there are no big announcements that one of the war's set pieces is coming up.  Instead, we follow the two armies as they march along, choose their positions and skirmish.  Soon you're being told about the fierce fighting and you can't quite exactly recall when battle started.  Somehow, this seems very fitting for the subject matter.

What struck me was how well characterised the main personalities are. Partly this comes from the author's own opinion on certain figures, but also from the frequent quotations from letters and diaries etc.  A case in point is McClellan, whose letters are quoted extensively. Reading (or listening) along, you feel frustrated at his inability to do anything, then feel his excitement as battle draws near and, ultimately, you feel sorry for him as he is quietly removed from command.  Perhaps it is due to the fact I was being read to, but I haven't had that reaction to any other book on the American Civil War.

At this point in any review, you're supposed to point out any criticisms you have of a work. After racking my brain for a while, I can honestly say I have none.  Pushed hard, I'd say that TCW wouldn't be suitable as an introduction to the conflict.  Due to the authors sojourns and detours, without at least an existing idea of the structure of the war, a new reader could get a little lost along the way.  Access to a selection of suitable maps is a huge help.

Sadly, the recording I listened to was not narrated by the author himself.  The style of writing and the turn of phrase used (particularly the quotations from dispatches and letters) would have been wonderful to hear in the author's particular southern accent.  The narrator used does a satisfactory enough job, but he's a touch too fifties newsreader in tone for my tastes.

Quite frankly I can't recommend this book highly enough.  From Grant's preferred expletives to the Beauregard's choice of dress uniform, if you like your history with plenty of character you won't be disappointed.  A bit of a pause will be required before listening to volume two, looking ahead, it clocks in at over forty seven hours!

Monday, 18 November 2013


Along with another forty nine, slightly barmy bloggers, I've signed up for The Fourth Annual Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge  Curt very kindly offered previous entrants the chance to sign up for the challenge last week and I'm stoked that I had managed to get a place on board.

Curt has introduced two big changes this year; by allowing non-historical figures in the challenge for the first time and by introducing themed bonus rounds.  The diversity and quality of last years challenge was immense, widening the field can only be a good thing!  I've already picked out some figures for the first bonus round; non-combatants.

The entrance fee this year is to provide Curt with "a single 28mm figure that is inspired by a Sam Peckinpah film."  I use the term "fee" loosely as Curt actually donates cash to a local charity for each figure he receives. For the third painting challenge, we were asked to paint up a 28mm Samurai figure for him, my entry was this guy:

There are definitely no cowboy or similar figures in my lead pile, so looks like I'll have to hit the 'Bay to find something appropriate.  Of course, that sounds like the perfect excuse opportunity to pick up the Dead Man's Hand rulebook while I'm there, maybe some extra figures too...

The challenge is points based, awarded for each painted figure based mainly on scale and how generous Curt is feeling!  Although he puts up a league table, the only competition is with yourself.  In fact, the most enjoyable aspect from last year was how supportive the participants were.  I'm going to aim for the same points tally I set for last year, 1000 points. It's ambitious, very ambitious, but it's probably what I need to kick my painting mojo into action again.

Although the challenge last year started well enough for me, my progress never recovered from a string of bad news that began last new year (enough about that though, I've adopted a no-whining policy from now on!)  This year, I think I'll be able to plan a lot more and learn some lessons from last year.

The first big task for the next few weeks is to prep everything that might possibly be entered. Last year, I totally misjudged this and was still sanding, filing and basing long after I should have picked up the paintbrush.

Next up is some sort of schedule of what to paint and by when.  Having a list and some deadlines written down should help me stay on track and keep the motivation levels up.

Lastly, I need to find an easy(ish) and effective way of taking pictures of figures.  At the moment, the pics I take are either washed out from too much light or are tinged from the coloured lightbulbs in the house.  Add into the fact I hate taking pictures, something set up, ready to use will save a lot of headaches in the coming months.

Best of luck to everyone entering.  Best get preppin'