Review: The Shiloh Campaign (Civil War Campaigns in the Heartland) edited by Steven E. Woodworth

The Shiloh Campaign (Civil War Campaigns in the Heartland) Editor Steven E. Woodworth

theshilohcampaignwoodworthProduct Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press; 1st Edition (April 20, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809328925
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809328925

Shiloh, the first big battle of the Civil War, no longer evokes the intense feelings of 1862.  The larger bloodier battles that follow command more of our attention.  The Shiloh battle park remains unspoiled by tourists and development but is a difficult place to visit.  A combination of larger battles and ease of access combine to make Shiloh one of the less studied battles.  “Shiloh: Bloody April by Wiley Sword” and “Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862 by Edward Cunningham and Gary D. Joiner and Timothy B. Smith are the two best-detailed treatments of this complicated battle.  Larry J. Daniel’s “Shiloh: The Battle That Changed the Civil War” is the best introduction.  With so little available, the possibility of a quality book on Shiloh is always an event for the Civil War community.  I am very happy to report that this is a quality book on Shiloh, one that students of the battle will want in their library.

Eight historians, all with excellent knowledge of the battle and fine writing skills, produced a series of essays that are informative and enjoyable.  Each essay is about 20 pages and covers a specific topic.  The focus and length allows the author to be detailed without overwhelming the reader.  Reading the book is like attending a series of excellent lectures for about $2 or $3 each.

John R. Lundberg starts the series with a look at the Confederate commander Albert Sidney Johnston.  This gives us both the South and Johnston’s stake in the battle.

Alexander Mendoza contributes an essay on the Union defense of the Left flank, an area of the field that got a lot of coverage but is gaining importance.  In addition, this allows us to see how inexperienced the two armies were.

Timothy B. Smith’s essay on the Hornets’ Nest looks at the development of an icon and the current thinking on this action.  It is both history and a look at making “history”.

Steven E. Woodworth contributes a detailed look at Lew Wallace’s march to the battlefield.  This balanced look is free of rancor and blame, allowing the reader to make very reasoned decisions on this question.

Gary D. Joiner looks at the forgotten subject of the Union gunboats.  This is a welcome addition to our history of the battle.  The gunboats often overlooked are seen as nothing more than floating artillery batteries.  Joiner shows us how they functioned as weapons and as a psychological instrument of terror.

Grady McWhiney examines Beauregard’s “complete victory” and the chances of breaking the final Union line.  This is an intelligent, well-balanced piece providing ample food for thought.

Charles D. Grear and Brooks D. Simpson provide strong pieces on how the Confederate soldiers reacted to the battle and how Grant viewed Shiloh.  Each essay is less a battle story than a history of how Shiloh is seen.  The authors show how time altered their subject’s view of what happened on the field and how this influenced what they wrote.  They provide an excellent ending to the book by placing the development of the story within the battle.

This is not an introduction to Shiloh!  This is an intermediate series of lectures on specific aspects of the battle.  The intended reader is someone who has a working knowledge of the battle and wants to develop a more in-depth understanding of things.  Each essay has excellent footnotes, most of which are to primary sources.  This excellent book is informative, thought provoking, fun to read and a valuable addition to your Shiloh library.

Editor’s Note: Jim is a Top 500 reviewer.

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