The recent Civil War Bloggers Top 10 Gettysburg Books list turned out well, so well that I immediately contacted the members of the Shiloh Discussion Group to see if they would join me in creating another combined list, this time of the Top 7 Shiloh books, which will appear this August at TOCWOC on a permanent page designed for this event. SDG members have been posting their lists of the Top 7 Shiloh books over the last month with a deadline of August 1. The following is SDG group member Manassas1’s list of the Top 7 Shiloh Books.
I want to approach this book thing from a slightly different direction. Let’s say someone knows nothing of Shiloh and you wanted to grab their interest… How would you best go about encouraging them to want to know more?
I am thinking of how people develop an interest in a specific sports team. Usually they don’t pick a favorite team out of the blue, unless something special happens that captures their attention, or maybe if it is a hometown team in a place they just relocated. I think mostly it happens that people choose a favorite team because they come to know a certain player or a few players on the team as people and then they take a personal interest in the careers of their favorites, learn more, and begin to know the whole team and follow them more closely.
That said, I think maybe the best way to cultivate an interest in Shiloh in someone who had not been especially interested before, is to first introduce them to a few players that they can identify with. From there they might develop a natural curiosity to explore further. With that in mind, here is my Shiloh book list for someone who knows very little about Shiloh:
1 – First I would suggest “Soldier Life – Many Must Fall” by BF Thomas and Peter Wilson. This is the diary and a collection of wartime letters that focuses on a squad of messmates of Iowa soldiers who fought at Donelson and Shiloh and beyond. Their personal observations of the Shiloh battle itself is only what they saw from the ground in front of them, so battle details are very very limited. However it also gives new details about the fates of the Hornets’ Nest POWs which cannot be found in any of the well known Shiloh books, so it is also completely fresh to more jaded readers well familiar already with the battle itself. To completely new readers it might open the door for them to take a personal interest in these ordinary soldiers and then to hopefully begin to seek out other books to help them learn more about the bigger picture and the battle these men fought in and where they willingly and bravely sacrificed so much. Once a reader takes personal interest in these real men who they can identify with and care about personally, I think they might seek out more information.
2 – I would then recommend the FF Kiner book “One Year’s Soldiering” mentioned by another forum member recently, for the same reasons the other forum member gave. Printed in 1863, this is possibly the very earliest first-hand published book account of a Shiloh POW. For that reason alone, it is uniquely important and well worth the read. It also builds upon the story of the book above. It is an emotional piece of wartime advocacy, not impartial journalism, clearly pushing his audience to recommit to the War effort but you truly get the flavor of the mindset of the soldiers who fought at Shiloh, within months of the battle, and I think it is very important for that reason alone. Other first hand accounts appear years, even decades, later but this was written while the War continued and its outcome still in doubt.
3 – My next choice would be “Nothing But Victory” by Stephen Woodworth. This will give someone new to Shiloh a wonderful overview of Shiloh in a larger context without having to read a full account of the entire War. His writing is just brilliant, each page with some little gem or surprise. I think it one of the finest books on the War. So many little details taken from first hand accounts make it more intimate, more readable, than most wider histories of the War or the western theater. If the first two books lured the reader into wanting more, this will set the hook.
4 – Next, on to a book about the battle itself. I think it has to begin with “Shiloh : Bloody April” by Wiley Sword. Others here have already written about this one and I think I need not add to their comments other than to say I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It definitely made me want to seek out more, and in fact led me to all the books on this list. It is a hard to find book but an absolute must.
5 – My next choice would be “In Hell Before Night” by James McDonough. It gives a different view point of the battle and intrigued my interest by making the case that the Hornets’ Nest wasn’t so much a matter of Northern bravery but Southern folly. He makes the case that Bragg and Beauregard made the Nest a thing of vital importance because they had become so focused on it’s reduction and wasted precious time and resources on it, thus changing the course of the battle. I liked the brilliant 180 degree switch of viewpoint. I found it very interesting. Larry Daniel’s excellent “Shiloh” also tells the battle from a mostly Southern viewpoint, gives different details, and draws some different conclusions, and puts everything in a overall political context of the War, and belongs on this list as an important companion to McDonough’s.
6 – Next I would choose “Shiloh and the Western Campaign” by Edward Cunningham, for the same reasons many others here have stated: it focuses more on other areas of the battlefield that have been more or less in the shadow (at least in the public perception) of the Hornets’ Nest. It is an important and timely book and it most certainly should be a “must have” on anyone’s list of Shiloh books. I love the alternative views, opinions and thinking, and especially love the needed informative attention given to other areas of the battle. However, I do have reservations about the book only because of the very real and serious flaws I find in other writings by one of Cunningham’s editors. This well informed editor, in other writings, in my opinion, in order to build a case for a certain pre-determined pet theory, is so committed to that theory that he frequently and deliberately leaves out many important facts that tend to not support his favorite theory, thus deliberately slanting history, while at the same time accusing previous historians of doing the same sort of thing. Be that as it may Cunningham’s book is excellent.
7 – Finally, I would go full circle and next recommend any student of Shiloh to read David Reed’s “Campaigns and Battles of the Twelfth Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry”. Reed also wrote a history of the battle of Shiloh, which could be considered as the companion volume to his history of the regiment. I like this lesser quoted work however because he shows how his views of the importance of the Hornets’ Nest came not from Northern sources like Prentiss but from the Southern officers of Shiloh themselves, and from the son of Confederate General Albert S Johnston, who died at Shiloh. Reed tells how he and his men had been labelled cowards by much of the Northern press and public and shows how differently they were viewed by the soldiers of the South. The “new theories” of Shiloh always spin around the idea that the Nest was only some invented Northern myth spun decades after the War. The truth is the Nest was a very serious issue raised immediately by the Southern troops who were needlessly sacrificed in piecemeal charges, many personally ordered by Bragg. These Southern men, angry at the waste of Southern lives, were the first to praise the Northern forces who had held them at bay, and the first to criticize those Confederate officers who urged them to make costly frontal assaults against the Nest. If the Nest was a “myth”, it was a Southern one first and foremost, and they themselves schooled their Northern counterparts. When studying the battle and it’s repercussions, going back again to original sources is always a good thing in my opinion.
I would encourage folks who read my list above to go back and read again Wrap 10’s deeper descriptions of the same books in his list. He has them pretty much nailed and his reasons line up with my own opinions in many many ways. The more viewpoints of the battle the better the understanding I think. I am not listing these as those whose viewpoints I agree or disagree with more, I am listing these as a step by step way for a novice to Shiloh to first become interested in the battle and then to become more and more immersed in it, to learn more and more about it until they are exposed to the different viewpoints and even to some of the controverial issues.
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