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Shelby Foote buried at historic cemetery

MEMPHIS -- Historian Shelby Foote was buried yesterday under a huge magnolia tree near the graves of Civil War combatants whose exploits he chronicled in one of the best-known books about the conflict.

Following a graveside service kept brief according to his wishes, Foote was buried on a tree-covered hill in Elmwood Cemetery, one of the South's most historic graveyards and the burial ground for more than 1,000 Civil War soldiers, including 22 generals.

''His wife told me he didn't want anything that even came close to a eulogy," said the Rev. John Sewell, pastor of St. John's Episcopal Church of Memphis. ''He didn't want a lot of people standing around praying and talking about what a wonderful man he was."

Foote, 88, died at a Memphis hospital Monday night.

His three-volume history, ''The Civil War: A Narrative," provided the main research for Ken Burns's 11-hour PBS documentary on the war, which first aired in 1990. Foote's appearance in the series made him a national figure.

Foote, a native of Mississippi and longtime Memphis resident, also wrote six novels, all set in the South. But it was the Civil War history for which he likely will be most remembered.

His soft Southern drawl, passion for storytelling and gentlemanly manner made Foote an instant hit after Burns picked him to be the leading historian on ''The Civil War."

Foote's grave is beside the family plot of former Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, one of the war's most celebrated, and sometimes reviled, commanders. Forrest was buried at Elmwood in 1877, but his remains were moved in 1904 to a city park that bears his name.

Though a native Southerner, Foote was no apologist for the South or champion for the Southern cause in his novels or history.

''We're all glad secession didn't work," he once said in an interview.

The service for Foote drew several rangers from Shiloh National Military Park near the Tennessee River.

Foote often visited Shiloh, the scene of some of the Civil War's most vicious fighting and one of his favorite battlefields. He wrote ''Shiloh" in 1952

Stacy Allen, Shiloh's chief historian, said park flags were lowered to half-staff in Foote's honor.

''He had a deep place in his heart for Shiloh, and he wrote one of the most readable and emotional histories of the Civil War," Allen said.

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