The first of three volumes- and this one five years in the writing- this bids fair to be a definitive history within the limitations. Shelby Foote has apparently set himself. A novelist, he has viewed the facts exhaustively, through primary sources, contemporary writing and the recreation of the most gifted of the historians and biographers. Quite evidently, it is war as it was manipulated by the men in key positions, for almost consistently one sees action as he sees it through the generals and their lieutenants. There is little here of cause and effect. The telling starts with the two political and ideological leaders:-Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln; and with the contretemps which precipitated the firing on Fort Sumter. Nothing is here of the years of tension and the factors that went into the making of war. Nor- throughout the crowded first two years- is there anything more than passing mention of the repercussions on the citizens above and below the line. He has taken the men; he has followed the tortuous pattern of war, throughout its sprawling lines, war on land and war on water; he has recounted the battles, distilling the essence by the novelist's creative processes, seeking, he says, as a novelist the same truth sought by the historian. Because of these limitations of substance and handling, this cannot be a definitive history without statement of the boundaries. Furthermore, while one concedes an extraordinary objectivity in view of his background as a Mississippian, his gift for respecting the opponent worthy of his steel, he is unfortunately all too ready, it seems, to accept and lay stress on such rumors and canards as, for instance, Grant's alcoholism and anti-Semitism, and some of the less palatable aspects of Lincoln's personality and shortcomings. But he cuts some of the glamour away from some of the Southern heroes, too. This first volume, ending as it does shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation, leaves the reader aware that while history writes the South's defeat, the first two years wrote a balance of victory -- with the writing on the wall only faintly decipherable.