What began as a Random House proposal for a short account of the Civil War as its centennial approached turned into an opus. Writing in an ornate script with an old-style dip pen in his rambling magnolia-shaded house in Memphis, where the Footes had moved in 1953, he produced the 2,934-page, three-volume, 1.5 million-word military history, "The Civil War: A Narrative." At 500 to 600 words a day, with times out to visit battlefields on the anniversaries of the battles, it took him 20 years. The volumes appeared between 1958 and 1974.
Clay Risen comments on Foote and the Southern culture in which he lived and worked, in The New Republic.
Indeed, for Foote--and Faulkner and Welty and Percy and Morris--the culture was not restrictive at all; it only appeared that way to their Northern friends. What seemed like a narrow adherence to tradition was to them a fascination with a rich history, and if that history wasn't always positive then all the better for the writer or poet or historian plumbing the depths of human nature. To be sure, there was--and is--racism and fundamentalism, but horrid as these things are, they provided Mississippi intellectuals with moral and aesthetic stimulation. One wonders if Percy's lifelong struggle to understand the nature of God within a meaningless universe would have had quite the same meaning had he settled among like-minded aesthetes in the West Village.