Many books by many men, predominantly military experts or professional historians, went into the making of this one book by one man who is neither, and of these the most useful, as well as the largest, were the 128-volume War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies and the 30-volume Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, issued by the government in 1880-1901 and 1897-1927 respectively. There you hear the live men speak—there and in their diaries and letters, their newspapers and periodicals—although not always as they spoke in later life, when they got around to writing their memoirs, regimental histories, and a host of articles such as the ones collected in four large volumes and published in 1887 under the title Battles and Leaders of the Civil War. Early or late, taken in conjunction with the diplomatic correspondence and the congressional transcripts, these complete the first-hand testimony by soldiers and civilians, some of high rank, some of low rank, some of no rank at all. The evidence is in. All else is speculation or sifting, an attempt to reconcile differences and bring order out of multiplicity by sorting the fruits that have poured from this horn of plenty.
Biographies of the participants and studies of the war itself, in part or as a whole, make up the secondary sources. These are not only interesting and rewarding in their own right, filling in and deepening the over-all impression, but they also serve as a guide through the labyrinth. I found them invaluable on both counts: so much so, indeed, that while this narrative is based throughout on the original material referred to above, my obligations are equally heavy on this side of the line where it leaves off. The present is the first of three intended volumes—Fort Sumter to Perryville, Fredericksburg to Meridian, Red River to Appomattox—and though the last will include a complete bibliography, I want to state here at the outset my chief debts, particularly to those works still available in bookstores. These include the following biographies, of and by the following men: of Lee by Douglas Southall Freeman, Scribner’s, 1934-35: of McClellan by Warren W. Hassler, LSU Press, 1957: of Beauregard by T. Harry Williams, LSU Press, 1954: of Sherman by Lloyd Lewis, Harcourt, Brace, 1932: of Joe Johnston by G. E. Govan and J. W. Livingood, Bobbs-Merrill, 1956: of Sheridan by Richard O’Connor, Bobbs-Merrill, 1953: of Jackson by Burke Davis, Rinehart, 1954: of Kirby Smith by Joseph H. Parks, LSU Press, 1954: of Davis by William E. Dodd, Jacobs, 1907, and Hudson Strode, Harcourt, Brace, 1955: of Lincoln by Carl Sandburg, Harcourt, Brace, 1939; J. G. Randall, Dodd, Meade, 1945-55; and Benjamin P. Thomas, Knopf, 1952.
Among the more general works, my chief debts are to the following: Lincoln Finds a General by Kenneth P. Williams, Macmillan, 1949-56: Lee’s Lieutenants by Douglas Southall Freeman, Scribner’s, 1942-44: The Army of Tennessee by Stanley F. Horn, Bobbs-Merrill, 1941: Civil War on the Western Border by Jay Monaghan, Little, Brown, 1955: Mr. Lincoln’s Army and This Hallowed Ground by Bruce Catton, Doubleday, 1951 and 1956: Guns on the Western Waters by H. Allen Gosnell, LSU Press, 1949:Lincoln and His Generals by T. Harry Williams, Knopf, 1952: Statesmen of the Lost Cause and Lincoln’s War Cabinet by Burton J. Hendrick, Little, Brown, 1939 and 1946: The North Reports the Civil War by J. Cutler Andrews, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1955: The Railroads of the Confederacy by Robert C. Black, UNC Press, 1952: The Life of Johnny Reb and The Life of Billy Yank by Bell Irvin Wiley, Bobbs-Merrill, 1943 and 1952: Reveille in Washington by Margaret Leech, Harper, 1941: The Beleaguered City by Alfred Hoyt Bill, Knopf, 1946: Experiment in Rebellion by Clifford Dowdey, Doubleday, 1946: The Civil War and Reconstruction by J. G. Randall, Heath, 1937: The Story of the Confederacy by Robert S. Henry, Bobbs-Merrill, 1931: The American Civil War by Carl Russell Fish, Longmans, Green, 1937: The Confederate States of America by E. Merton Coulter, LSU Press, 1950. There were others but these were the main ones, and to each I owe much.
Other obligations, of a more personal nature, I also incurred during the five years that went into the writing of this first volume: to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, for an extended fellowship which made possible the buying of books and bread: to the superintendents, historians, and guides of the National Park Service, for unfailing industry and courtesy in helping me to get the look and feel of the various battlefields: to Robert N. Linscott and Robert D. Loomis of Random House, for combining enthusiasm and patience: to Mrs. O. B. Crittenden of the William Alexander Percy Memorial Library, Greenville, Mississippi, for the continuing loan of that institution’s set of the Official Records. To all these I am grateful, as well as to friends in Memphis who had the out-of-hours grace to refrain from mentioning the Civil War.
A word I suppose is in order as to the use I made of these materials, original and secondary, not only because it is customary but also because it appears to be necessary, at least in certain eyes. One of the best of the latter-day authorities, in the course of his carefully documented exegesis, cautions against accepting the testimony of Lew Wallace as to what took place at a council of war preceding the march on Donelson. “Recollections of events long past are always to be suspected,” he explains, “and especially when set down by a writer of fiction.” Wallace then was doubly suspect. He had waited, and he had written The Fair God and Ben-Hur. He was a novelist.
Well, I am a novelist, and what is more I agree with D. H. Lawrence’s estimate of the novel as “the one bright book of life.” I might also agree with the professor quoted above, but only by considering each witness on his merit, his devotion as a writer to what should be his main concern. The point I would make is that the novelist and the historian are seeking the same thing: the truth—not a different truth: the same truth—only they reach it, or try to reach it, by different routes. Whether the event took place in a world now gone to dust, preserved by documents and evaluated by scholarship, or in the imagination, preserved by memory and distilled by the creative process, they both want to tell us how it was: to re-create it, by their separate methods, and make it live again in the world around them.
This has been my aim, as well, only I have combined the two. Accepting the historian’s standards without his paraphernalia, I have employed the novelist’s methods without his license. Instead of inventing characters and incidents, I searched them out—and having found them, I took them as they were. Nothing is included here, either within or outside quotation marks, without the authority of documentary evidence which I consider sound. Although I have left out footnotes, believing that they would detract from the book’s narrative quality by intermittently shattering the illusion that the observer is not so much reading a book as sharing an experience, I have thought it proper to employ the three dots of elision to signify the omission of interior matter from quotations. In all respects, the book is as accurate as care and hard work could make it. Partly I have done this for my own satisfaction; for in writing a history, I would no more be false to a fact dug out of a valid document than I would be false to a “fact” dug out of my head in writing a novel. Also, I have tried for accuracy because I have never known a modern historical instance where the truth was not superior to distortion, by any standard and in every way. Wherever the choice lay between soundness and “color,” soundness had it every time. Many problems were encountered in the course of all this study, but lack of color in the original materials was never one of them. In fact, there was the rub. Such heartbreak as was here involved came not from trying to decide what to include, but rather from trying to decide what to omit, and in the end the omissions far outnumbered the inclusions.
One word more perhaps will not be out of place. I am a Mississippian. Though the veterans I knew are all dead now, down to the final home guard drummer boy of my childhood, the remembrance of them is still with me. However, being nearly as far removed from them in time as most of them were removed from combat when they died, I hope I have recovered the respect they had for their opponents until Reconstruction lessened and finally killed it. Biased is the last thing I would be; I yield to no one in my admiration for heroism and ability, no matter which side of the line a man was born or fought on when the war broke out, fourscore and seventeen years ago. If pride in the resistance my forebears made against the odds has leaned me to any degree in their direction, I hope it will be seen to amount to no more, in the end, than the average American’s normal sympathy for the underdog in a fight.