Winston Groom is a johnny-come-lately to the world of Civil War history. Best known as the author of Forrest Gump, he’s a novelist who has apparently decided that it is his responsibility to pick up Shelby Foote’s cudgel. I wish he hadn’t.

Vicksburg, 1863His first effort on the Civil War addressed John Bell Hood’s 1864 invasion of Tennessee. The book is titled Shrouds of Glory: From Atlanta to Nashville: The Last Great Campaign of the Civil War. It contains few maps, little detail and no footnotes. While a pleasant enough read, the lack of footnoting allows him to be lazy about his research, since there is no way to hold him accountable.

Not content to let well enough alone, he’s now tackled the Vicksburg Campaign. Titled Vicksburg, 1863, this book dumbs down the history of the most important campaign of the war. There are few maps, and once again, no significant detail, and not a single footnote. I suppose that it would be an acceptable introduction to the campaign, but it’s certainly not as good as Michael Ballard’s fine Vicksburg: The Campaign That Opened the Mississippi or Terry Winschel’s excellent Triumph and Defeat: The Vicksburg Campaign, both of which are outstanding single-volume treatments of the campaign. Once again, Groom cannot be held responsible for his lack of scholarship, since he again fails to include any footnotes to tell where he got his material.

I guess this sort of book has a place for those who are casual readers and not serious students of the Civil War. However, I, for one, choose not to spend money on them because I refuse to buy any book that does not provide references for its historical interpretations. I just won’t do it. So, I won’t be buying Mr. Groom’s book.

Please go back to doing what you do best, Mr. Groom. Give us wonderful, whimsical fiction that has history as a backdrop like Forrest Gump and, unless you’re willing to act like a real historian, please stop trying to write stuff that tries to pass itself off as legitimate history.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Art Bergeron
    Thu 04th Jun 2009 at 9:03 am

    I have heard that Mr. Groom misplaces some sites, such as placing Port Hudson, Louisiana, in Mississippi.

  2. Thu 04th Jun 2009 at 12:18 pm

    Eric – I tend to agree. and won’t be buying Groom’s “Vicksburg” either. I think Groom’s first forways into this type of historical writing were his “Storm in Flanders” (EEI) and “1942” (WWII). Personally, I think we can expect an Indian Wars or American Revolution title from him in the coming years.

    Jim

  3. Jimmy Price
    Thu 04th Jun 2009 at 1:27 pm

    Amen and Amen!

  4. Thu 04th Jun 2009 at 2:36 pm

    I bought his first book, found 3 historical errors in the first 20 or so pages, and put it on the shelf. I can live without footnotes, but get the facts straight, Winston!

  5. dan
    Thu 04th Jun 2009 at 3:45 pm

    I think this brings us back full circle to the post several weeks ago about footnotes in CW magazines. If Groom’s efforts aren’t “history” on account of the fact that nothing is sourced, and no footnotes are included, then CWT isn’t history either by the same definition. This was my contention from the get go, and I concur with Eric on this post entirely. After all, when the world gives you Jihad, just give them appeasement or was that when the world gives you lemons make lemonade, or life is a bag of melted chocolates.

  6. Ian
    Thu 04th Jun 2009 at 10:38 pm

    May I suggest if you can find a copy, Ninety-Eight Days – A geographer’s View of the Vickburg Campaign by Warren E. Grabau. You want maps, this baby has almost 70 of them!! This is a concise and smoothly written book.

  7. Chris Van Blargan
    Fri 05th Jun 2009 at 8:16 am

    Eric,

    Having read Groom’s “Shrouds of Glory,” I suspect the book is a synthesis of secondary sources retold in Groom’s words — hence no footnotes. Like you, this book is not on my reading list. But then again, I don’t think readers who already have Ballard, Winschel and Bearss on their shelves are Groom’s target audience. Rather, he is targeting the reader who loved Gump, saw the PBS Civil War series, has stopped at a Civil War battle or two out of curiosity, and/or is familiar with Groom’s popular history series. So long as the book is not an outright plagiarism (which I doubt it is), and a reasonably accurate account of the campaign (of which I am not so sure), I have no problem with it. Indeed, if the book reaches an audience that would not otherwise have any interest in learning about the campaign, and if even a fraction of those readers go on to join and contribute to organizations like the CWPT, I think we should be supporting it and similar works (although not necessarily buying them).

    Chris

  8. Chris Evans
    Fri 05th Jun 2009 at 10:11 am

    Having read Groom’s two books on the Civil War I find them decent. His book on the Tennessee Campaign of 1864 really sparked my interest in reading more on that very tragic campaign. His Vicksburg book is also good but not great and he really should have endnotes to know where he is getting his sources from. And he makes some strange errors that should have been caught by an editor. The Port Hudson one was mentioned above but in writing about Jefferson Davis’ last home he locates it in Pass Christian, MS instead of Biloxi, MS which is some miles apart from each other. These type of errors might be small but are annoying and how can you trust other subjects that are written about. Still one of my favorite books on the Vicksburg Campaign that has not been mentioned is ‘Champion Hill’ by Timothy Smith. It really is all a battle history should be with great maps and photos.
    Chris

  9. Philip Potts
    Wed 26th Jan 2011 at 3:34 am

    It’s interesting to think about, I suppose, this particular thought. I grew up in school hating history for it’s boring, methodical, anal retentive attention to detail the text books always seemed to give it.

    In my 30’s I discovered Mr. Groom’s books and realized history is interesting when the focus is shifted on the thoughts of the people that lived it instead of the memories of the people that are forced to relive it.

    With that being said, Winston Groom, for the first time in my life, made me interested in history, and this review of yours killed it.

  10. Wed 26th Jan 2011 at 10:12 am

    Mr. Potts,

    I regret that you feel this way. However, I am a serious historian, and so, too, are many of my readers. The vast majority of them are serious students of the Civil War, and that’s the audience that I write to and for. I’m not about to sugar coat a serious review of a work that is sorely lacking in scholarly merit simply on the off-chance that someone’s newly-ignited passion for history might be killed by it. That would be an egregious breach of my responsibility as a historian and it would also not be doing my regular readers a service.

    I said quite clearly that the book is probably okay for someone like you, who is only a casual student of history. If you like his work, then by all means, please read it and enjoy it.

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