Friday, March 18, 2011

Shadow of Shiloh

Shadow of Shiloh: Major General Lew Wallace in the Civil War by Gail Stephens

This is a great book covering perhaps the most controversial general at Shiloh. I've always felt Wallace got a bad rap for Shiloh, that his march was not the mistake we've mostly always been lead to believe. It seems that the scholarship of the last decade or so has also lifted much of the blame from him and has given him a much fairer verdict. This book continues rehabbing his Shiloh reputation and offers a pretty fair assessment of his entire service.

My favorite aspect of the Shiloh section is when the author recounts an excursion when a group of Shiloh scholars actually hiked Wallace's route. They had the benefit of maps and hard roads (made their hike in the fall rather than in a very wet spring) and they ended up being 15 minutes slower than Wallace. The verdict now has to be that Wallace was not lost, he was just not where Grant thought he might be. Or rather where Grant later said he thought Wallace would be as the author has enough evidence that Grant expected Wallace to show up on Sherman's right that there has to be some reasonable doubt as to what road Grant thought Wallace would take that day. Afterwards Grant and his staff do a good job of making it seem like the River Road was always the only option but Grant might have other motives for making this come out as the historical record.

I have one complaint of the book though, the pages are oversize. So much so that there are two columns of text per page. [At my local library it is actually filed with the oversize books that I normally associate with picture books.] I found that a bit difficult to read and wish the size was a tad smaller. One benefit of the larger size though was that the full page maps were wonderful. I liked the large maps so much that the double columns almost were not too terrible to deal with. But after thinking about it I'd rather have slightly smaller pages that had just one column of text.

The copy I read was from the local library but I will certainly add this book to my personal collection as soon as I can. A must read for any Shiloh scholar.


Loree Huebner said...

Thanks for this post. I'm really looking forward to reading this book.

Wallace was taking what he believed was the direct route to the right wing of the Union army.

No one told him that Union forces had fallen back or that there was any urgency. Also, the claim that he was ordered to take the road nearest the river cannot be verified. I'm always shocked to read so-called history that states that he was lost. The people of the North were appalled by the high casualties and were looking for scapegoats.

Nick said...

The very first time I studied Wallace I thought he had gotten a bum rap. Things just didn't make sense. In more recent years more info has come to light and I don't think anyone just satring out on Wallace should ever come to the conclusion that he was lost. Hopefully that part of the Shiloh story is gone