Sunday, June 17, 2012

Review: Shiloh 1862

By Winston Groom

Shiloh was the first cataclysmic battle of the American Civil War.  There were numerous battles during the twelve months since Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, but none compared to the horror and human carnage that occurred on the western bank of the Tennessee River on April 6th & 7th, 1862.  More men fell as casualties during those two days of fighting at Shiloh than in all American wars combined up until that point.

Battles in the western theater are often over shadowed by those in its eastern theater, and Shiloh is no exception.  When compared, the number of books written about Shiloh would equal but a small fraction to those written about Gettysburg.  In the last four decades there have been a handful of scholarly books published about the Battle of Shiloh, by authors such as James Lee McDonough, Wiley Sword, Larry J. Daniel and O. Edward Cunningham (posthumously).  Novelist and historian, Winston Groom, is the latest author to place his book upon that shelf.

Groom’s book, “Shiloh 1862,” is more a work of popular history than a detail oriented work of military history.  It is not a minute by minute, blow by blow, military history.  Rather Groom picked a few people to follow and their stories, combined, create a cohesive narrative which covers all parts of the battlefield from both the Union and Confederate sides.  Into the mix Groom added diarists Elsie Duncan Hurt and Josie Underwood whose story arcs give a civilian impression of the battle from within and without.

Roughly, a little under the first half of Mr. Groom’s narrative is prologue to the battle, covering the careers of Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, Albert S. Johnston and P. G. T. Beauregard up to the start of the battle.  The battles of Mill Springs, Belmont, Fort Henry and Donelson are all briefly covered, as well as Grant’s one-sidedly stormy relationship with his commanding officer, Henry W. Halleck.  All provide an ample backdrop before which to the two day drama, that began in the early morning hours of April 6th, 1862, to play out.

Up until the breaking out of the battle Mr. Groom’s narrative was weighted more towards the Union viewpoint, though the exposition of Grant’s rise in stature from his defeat at Belmont, to the victories of Forts Henry and Donelson necessitates such a pre-battle focus on the Union army.  However once the battle starts the author devotes nearly equal time to both the Union and Confederate points of view.

As the author of “Forrest Gump,” among other novels, Mr. Groom’s experience as a novelist serves him well.  His narrative easily flows and reads much like a novel.

“Shiloh 1862,” is basically a work of synthesis, and does not cover any new ground for students of the battle, but it is a perfect place to start for those who wish to know more about the battle before delving into the more weightier works by those authors sited above, or an enjoyable refresher for those who just may want to brush up on the battle.

ISBN 978-1426208744, National Geographic, © 2012, Hardcover, 448 pages, Maps, Photographs & Illustrations, Bibliography & Index. $30.00


I have a copy of this book to give away to the first person who sends me a transcription of a 1861-1865 newspaper article, a Civil War Soldier's letter, a picture of a Civil War soldier, or a biographical sketch of a Civil War Soldier, etc.  Contact me HERE.

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