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Shelby Foote Dies; Novelist And Historian Of Civil War

Mr. Foote served in the Army in Europe during World War II. While stationed in Belfast, he was court-martialed for an unauthorized visit to his Irish girlfriend -- later his first wife -- who lived two miles beyond the official military limits.

His postwar career was varied but inauspicious, including a brief stint as a reporter for a newspaper in Greenville. Later, Mr. Foote said that journalism offered a great grounding in fast writing, "but I don't think one should stay in it too long if what he wants to be is a serious writer."

His first novel, "Tournament" (1949), was followed by two more books set in Mississippi and colored by fatalism, "Follow Me Down (1950) and "Love in a Dry Season" (1951).

"Shiloh" (1952), set during the 1862 Civil War battle in Tennessee in which about 24,000 were killed or wounded, blended fiction with fact and used multiple characters to describe the action.

Random House founder Bennett Cerf, who had admired "Shiloh," asked Mr. Foote to write a short history of the war, but Mr. Foote insisted that nothing less than three volumes would do -- and he warned that his work might take four years to complete.

To Mr. Foote, the project became akin to "swallowing a cannonball" as he researched and wrote and struggled through his Civil War books for exciting details. During this period, he held author-in-residence positions at the Arena Stage in Washington, the University of Virginia and Hollins College in Roanoke.

Mr. Foote said he had an avowed preference for the South during the Civil War, and his perspectives on the South proved controversial. He was a man of conscience who was repulsed by racial segregation but also admired those who fought for the Confederacy under the banner of "states' rights" -- a slogan often usurped by racists during the civil rights era.

Entering the debate over the Confederate battle flag, he denounced the "knotheads down home -- the Ku Kluxers and the rest of them" who "misused" its significance. He added: "I know that flag really pains black people. It was used against them in a dastardly way, and they hate it. And I understand their hating it. But they are wrong."

His final book was "September, September" (1977), the story of a racially motivated kidnapping set in Memphis during the 1957 integration of Little Rock's Central High School.

Over the years, he liked to tell people he was working on a sprawling novel that he called "Two Gates to the City." The book was nonexistent, but it served as a good red herring. He later said, "People ought not write when they are old."

In private, Mr. Foote enjoyed cooking and was a friend of New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne. He told Claiborne he preferred recipes, such as boiled beef with veal knuckle, that "required more time than kitchen talent, long-drawn-out dishes that cook for hours and are easy to do." Some of his recipes provided him one of his lesser-known publishing credits: the Memphis Junior League cookbook.

His marriages to Tess Lavery and Peggy DeSommes ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife, Gwyn Ranier, whom he married in 1956, a daughter from his second marriage, Margaret Foote, and a son from his third marriage, Huger Foote, all of Memphis.


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