Civil War Book Review: Shadow of Shiloh: Major General Lew Wallace in the Civil War

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

A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee's Triumph 1862-1863 by Jeffry D. Wert

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 301 pages
  • Publisher: Indiana Historical Society (October 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871952874
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871952875

Lew Wallace spent most of his life on the American stage.  While never a major player, he is important as a politician, military figure, diplomat and author.  His reach extends from Indiana to New Mexico to Constantinople.  He is the type of person who excels through preparation and hard work.  Determination coupled with a strong sense of right and personal honor could make him difficult to deal with.  Ambition, good political connections and a willingness to use them caused him some serious problems.  Lew Wallace is famous as an author but the Civil War is why we most remember him.  This biography looks at Wallace during the war.  There is enough information leading up to the war, to give us a sense of the man.  The years after the war are more detail.  This is when Wallace defends his actions at Shiloh and how that battle affects him personally and politically.  In a sense, this is a military biography covering in detail the years from 1860 to about 1868.

Lew Wallace fights at Fort Donelson, Shiloh and Monocracy.  He serves on the Buell Commission, the trial of the Lincoln Conspirators and the Wirz trail.  These events along with the vicissitudes of being a political general in a West Point dominated military make up the body of the book.  The heart of the book is Wallace at Shiloh and his march on the first day.  The author is very knowledgeable and communicates well.  The explanation of what happened and why is excellent and needs to be read by every student of the battle.

Another well-developed area is the relationship between Wallace and Grant.  The author offers a number of plausible explanations for the problems they had.  Halleck is the villain of the story.  The author documents his animosity toward political generals and how his efforts to keep Wallace from command.  The author shows how Wallace managed to help Halleck from time to time too.  This is a very balanced account; Wallace manages a number of missteps with Grant, Grant’s staff and with Halleck.

Some readers may skip the time from Shiloh to Monocracy and they will be the poorer for doing so.  This is a very personal look at what happens to a high-ranking political general without a command.  It is a picture of political string pulling, miscellaneous assignments, dashed hopes and attacks by the newspapers.  Political connections rescue Wallace when Lincoln needs to make Indiana happy in 1864.  Given command of Maryland, Wallace does well and manages to fight a critical battle.  This restores him to favor while producing some interesting observations from Wallace.

This is fully footnoted book with useful if basic maps in the right places, good illustrations, a full index and bibliography.  This is an oversized book printed in two columns.  While somewhat unwieldy, it is a lot of well-presented information!


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