One of my hobbies is walking battlefields and that will probably be the major source of posts. Plus I will post about other things that spark my interest, from oddities found while researching to observations on the war.
Monday, November 30, 2009
The Shiloh Campaign Edited by Steven E. Woodworth
Eastern theater battles have long been the beneficiaries of essay filled books. Gary Gallagher has edited roughly a dozen of these books. Now the Western theater is getting the same treatment as Steven Woodworth has embarked on a series of books through Southern Illinois University. Each book will be a collection of essays from some of the leading Western theater historians. The first book in “Civil War Campaigns in the Heartland” is The Shiloh Campaign. It is a pretty balanced collection of essays. There are three which focus on the Union, three on the Confederates and two are on battle events that clearly affected both sides.
In the first chapter John R. Lundberg intends to give a recap of Albert Sidney Johnston’s actions in the Shiloh campaign, beginning roughly with the fall of Fort Donelson. Lundberg believes that Johnston has been unfairly criticized for his actions during this time period. Although the essay is good at recapping Johnston’s activities I do not fully agree with his assessment that Johnston had shown a vast improvement in his abilities as a commander. Of course his performance in the Shiloh campaign was better than his performance during the Forts Henry-Donelson campaign, his performance there was below par. So while he was making an improvement he was still not living up to Jefferson Davis’ earlier assessment of his abilities. Lundberg says that Johnston “might conceivably have become as great a field commander as Lee or Jackson.” This seems doubtful given his performance so far. Lundberg is most likely right though when he says “His death at Shiloh lengthened the odds against Confederate success in the West and thus ultimately in the war as a whole.” Of course that is only right because the commanders who replaced Johnston over the next three years did not achieve great results. We’ll never know if Johnston would have done much better.
Stuart’s defense of the Union left is one of the lesser known actions of the battle but it gets covered here by Alexander Mendoza. He does a good job explaining the flow of battle but his times do not coincide with the times listed on the markers and monuments on the field. He credits Stuart with holding his main position til 3 pm, but all the markers say the position was held until 2 pm. If his times are to be believed then Johnston was killed in the rear of Stuart’s position.
Timothy B. Smith provides an excellent essay on the Hornets’ Nest in memory, basically how several key figures have shaped our understanding of the Hornets’ Nest in the context of the battle. The main figure at work here is David W. Reed, first historian of the park , who fought in the Hornets’ Nest with the 12th Iowa. Smith argues, convincingly, that the main fighting occurred on either side of the Hornets’ Nest. While it seemed to those Union defenders that they were holding off repeated charges, they were actually facing a small part of the Confederate army while the rest of the army fought elsewhere. Once the rest of the Union army had retreated to the final line at Pittsburg Landing the Confederates focused more attention on this last pocket of resistance. Smith points out that the final line was essentially finished by 4:30, so there was no need for Prentiss and WHL Wallace to stay in the Hornets’ Nest as long as they did. In other words, since the main fighting was elsewhere and the final defensive line was ready at 4:30 the defense of the Hornets’ Nest cannot be the most important action of the day; and yet due to the efforts of Reed it is considered one of the most important parts of the battle.
Lew Wallace’s march is one of the mysteries of the battle. Wallace was a competent general, who had shown some talent earlier in the war and would later turn in respectable performances. Steven Woodworth tackles Lew Wallace’s march well, as he works through the troubled time line created by non-standardized times between commanders. Woodworth is of the opinion that Wallace’s removal from the army had less to do with the speed of the march and more to do with the lack of urgency displayed when it was made clear to Wallace the dire predicament that the army was in.
Gary D. Joiner does a good of explaining the activities of the two Union gunboats. He also briefly talks about how the gunboats used the slope of Dill Branch to deflect their shots towards the Confederate lines. A greater explanation of this would have been helpful as it seems to me that deflecting shells would not have been any more effective than using a higher gun elevation.
The only old essay used is one by Grady McWhiney in which he attacks Beauregard’s “Complete Victory.” McWhiney argues that the Confederates had a chance to break the final line and that the attack was worth trying. Beauregard however decided against making a final attack, even though he had not seen the position and had no way of knowing if the battle was truly won. That did not stop Beauregard from sending off a telegram to Richmond proclaiming a complete victory, which would come back to haunt him.
Charles D. Grear provided an essay on Confederate soldiers’ reactions to the battle but this covered mostly the same topics that Joseph Allan Frank and George A. Reaves dealt with in Seeing the Elephant: Raw Recruits at the Battle of Shiloh.
The final essay concerns the relationship between Grant and Sherman. Brooks D. Simpson blows a few holes in popular Grant stories from the post-Shiloh time frame. The first being a Lincoln story that he had arranged for Halleck to come to Pittsburg Landing after Shiloh to shield Grant from criticisms, when the facts show that Halleck intended to come to Pittsburg Landing once Buell’s army arrived. The other part of this Lincoln story is that he supposedly said “I can’t spare this man, he fights,” but Simpson points out that immediately after the battle Lincoln did ask Halleck if Grant was negligent. We can infer that Lincoln might not have spared Grant if Halleck had answered yes. The second story to get a more critical look is about Sherman convincing Grant to stay with the army. While Sherman might have given that pep talk Halleck also asked Grant to delay leaving the army, a week later Grant would again command an army. Simpson also reminds us that had Sherman turned against Grant in the aftermath of Shiloh it might have meant the end of Grant’s career as Sherman was very well connected politically. Instead Sherman leaped to defend Grant and might have saved his career.
I have one complaint about the book, there are only three maps in the entire book. There is a general overview map in the introduction and two detailed maps in the Hornets’ Nest chapter. I constantly was referring back to the overview map as I read sections. Not every chapter needed maps but some, such as the essays on Stuart’s fight and Wallace’s march, would have been much better with maps. Then there are minor issues with the book, such as there is no essay on Buell’s forces or coverage of the second day of battle.
This review also appears in the December issue of Civil War News.
I am a Civil War nut. I graduated from the University of Colorado-Denver in 2001 with a BA in History. I'm always searching for more knowledge. I buy a ton of books, though space constraints have limited me of late, and I also download a ton of books. I'm always planning battlefield treks as I think these are important to really understanding a battle. Reading only does so much, walking the fields fills in the rest. And when I'm on a battlefield I really walk it. I like to go someplace and take a week to walk everything, get a feel for everything, and take a ton of pictures.