Experts Pick the Best Civil War Books on Shiloh (Pittsburg Landing)

Editor’s Note: Today seemed to be an especially appropriate time to revisit and update the Top 7 Shiloh Books post I compiled back in 2009.  In that post, Shiloh students at the Shiloh Discussion Group ranked their top 7 Shiloh books, with a first place vote garnering 7 points and a 7th place vote briging in just one point.  The combined list is what I believe to be an excellent resource for those looking to further their knowledge of this famous and bloody battle.  Similar lists of the Top Gettysburg Books and Best Antietam Books are also available.

Following the highly successful experiment of having a group of Civil War bloggers choose their Top 10 Gettysburg Books, I wanted to try this method again with a slight twist.  Rather than asking my fellow Civil War bloggers for their opinions, I went instead to the Shiloh Discussion Group.  SDG founder and admin Percy “Wrap10” Cuskey posted the event’s details, and I followed up as this event pertains to TOCWOC in the same thread.  Shiloh Discussion Group members had several weeks in July 2009 to post their own Top 7 Shiloh Books list in the specified thread.  The deadline was August 1, 2009.


The rankings below take the combined Top 7 Shiloh books lists of  Shiloh Discussion Group members who participated in ranking their favorite books on the Battle of Shiloh.  A first place vote is worth seven points, while a seventh place vote is worth one point.  Some members listed less than seven books.  In those cases a first place vote is still worth seven points, with each successive vote being worth one less point.  In other cases voters did not have a specific order.  Each book on those lists will be worth 4 points (7+6+5+4+3+2+1=28 total points awarded per list divided by 7 books in the list = 4 points per book).

Best Civil War Books on the Battle of Shiloh (Pittsburg Landing)

April 6-7, 1862

1. Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862

ShilohAndTheWesternCampaignOf1862Cunninghamby O. Edward Cunningham

50 points (2 1st place votes)


  • “With their sparkling introductory essay, editors Gary Joiner and Timothy Smith give readers ample reason to want to read O. Edward Cunningham’s 1966 dissertation Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862. Among the four modern Shiloh campaign and battle histories written since David Reed’s The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged (1902), Joiner and Smith (and a host of other park historians) declare Cunningham’s work to be the best overall study.” (via Drew Wagenhoffer’s Civil War Books and Authors)
  • “Probably the best way to describe his approach to the battle is “even-handed.” You don’t really come away from his book (or at least I didn’t), thinking that one aspect of the battle was somehow more important than any other. And truth be told, this is one of the major “selling points” of Cunningham’s book. His treatment of the battle is a radical departure from the decades-long version that emphasizes the Hornets Nest above all else. Cunningham does not do this, and that is noteworthy in and of itself. (via Shiloh Discussion Group founder Perry Cuskey)

2. Shiloh, Bloody April

ShilohBloodyAprilSwordby Wiley Sword

48 points (2 1st place votes)


  • “The strength of the book, and the reason it is regarded as a classic treatment of the Battle of Shiloh, is Sword’s ability to put the reader right in the midst of the battle amidst the noise, chaos, and violence. We vividly see how the troops were by-in-large inexperienced, the terrain was by turns rocky, swampy, flat, forest, shrub-covered, all the while split by ravines, the weather was marked by torrential rain, and the fighting was up close, personal, and particularly savage. ” (via The Tipsy Historian)
  • “Sword rises to the desperately poetic seldom, except to draw his lesson: Shiloh was a morass of mistakes, misery, disillusion, disorder and, ultimately, despair. Johnston-Beauregard-Bragg-Polk planning, missing opportunities to devastate the North on one side — and Sherman-Grant-Wallace-Halleck wrangling, competing intramurally on the other. No towering heroes; no scapegoats, as in so much Civil War special pleading. This is a painstakingly researched book, drawing extensively upon letters, diaries, journals; and never jumping to hasty conclusions and second guesses about who could have been right or wrong or better or worse than whoever was the commander of the moment.” (via Kirkus Book Reviews)
  • “This is my favorite book on Shiloh. Sword is the one who truly opened my eyes to the fact that there was more to the battle than the Hornets Nest. If you’re looking for a detailed account of the entire battle, you’ll be hard-pressed to do better than Wiley Sword. In fact, as Ron said earlier, I think Sword’s book can be looked on as the first truly modern treatment of the battle, and in that respect I’m not sure he’s received the credit I think he deserves for showing us Shiloh’s broader scope beyond the Hornet’s Nest. Cunningham and Daniel are both lauded for doing this, and rightly so. Sword should be as well.” (via Shiloh Discussion Group founder Perry Cuskey)

3. Shiloh, The Battle That Changed the Civil War

ShilohTheBattleThatChangedTheCivilWarDanielby Larry J. Daniel

39 points (2 1st place votes)


  • “While I prefer Sword’s account of the April 6 fighting, I would consider Daniel’s book the best overall treatment of the campaign and battle.” (via Civil War Books and Authors)
  • “In my opinion this is the best single Shiloh book out there. It has more detail than McDonough, but not too much like Sword and Cunningham. This book also does a wonderful job of putting Shiloh in context with the other events of the war in the spring of 1862.” (via The Battle of Shiloh)
  • “All in all, Larry Daniel’s book still has to rank as one of the best books available on Shiloh, and quite possibly the best at blending the details of the battle with the larger picture.” (via Shiloh Discussion Group founder Perry Cuskey)

4. The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged

TheBattleOfShilohAndTheOrganizationsEngagedReedby D.W. Reed

27 points (0 1st place votes)


  • “David Wilson Reed’s book just might be the most interesting title on this or any other list about Shiloh. It is strictly a tactical treatment of the battle, along with a brief overview of the preceding campaign. And within that context, it is not only an excellent book, it’s a book that any serious student of Shiloh simply has to read at some point.” (via Shiloh Discussion Group founder Perry Cuskey)
  • “Deeply influential in the battle’s historical presentation, both in print and battlefield park interpretation, Reed cannot be overlooked. His book is a still-useful classic, and the large color maps [existing as pull outs in the earlier editions, but on CD in the latest] are an added resource.” (via Civil War Books and Authors)
  • “Reed was the first historian at Shiloh and this book is really the first history of the battle. Once again UT Press has made Shiloh easier to research as they recently reprinted this book. Copies of this book were included in most of the state monument commission books so it isn’t too hard to find the text. But it is now much nicer to not worry about potentially damaging a 100 year old book. The text is a little dry as Reed was more concerned with laying out facts about troop movements than weaving an interesting anecdote filled story. Reed is also responsible for the cast iron tablets on the battlefield today.” (via Battlefield Wanderings)

5. Shiloh:  In Hell before Night

by James Lee McDonough

20 points (0 1st place votes)

6. This Great Battlefield of Shiloh:  History, Memory, and the Establishment of a Civil War National Military Park

by Timothy B. Smith

19 points (0 1st place votes)

7. Shiloh: A Novel

by Shelby Foote

17 points (1 1st place vote)

8. Shiloh National Military Park, Tennessee.  National Park Service Historical Handbook Series No. 10

by Albert Dillahunty

14 points (2 1st place votes)

9. The Untold Story of Shiloh: The Battle and the Battlefield

by Timothy B. Smith

13 points (Y 1st place votes)

10. (tie) War of the Rebellion, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies,  Series I, Volume 10, Serial 10 and 11

by U.S. Government

10 points (1 1st place vote)

10. (tie) From Fort Henry to Corinth


by Manning Force

10 points (0 1st place votes)

12. Seeing the Elephant: Raw Recruits and the Battle of Shiloh

by Joseph Allan Frank and George A. Reaves

9 points (0 1st place votes)

13. (tie) Battle of Shiloh (Incidents of the Civil War Series)

edited by J.F. Wakefield

7 points (1 1st place vote)

13. (tie) Soldier Life – Many Must Fall

by B.F. Thomas and Peter Wilson

7 points (1 1st place vote)

Note: Since a first placw vote is worth 7 points, no book past this point in the list earned a first place vote.

15. (tie) The Battle of Shiloh (1911 Reprint ed.)

by J.W. Rich

6 points

15. (tie) Shiloh 1862: The Death of Innocence

by James Arnold

6 points

15. (tie) Shiloh: Portrait of a Battle.  Orientation film, Shiloh National Military Park, 1955

directed by Ira B. Likes

6 points

15. (tie) One Year’s Soldiering

by F.F. Kiner

6 points

19. (tie) The U. S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Shiloh

edited by Jay Luvaas, Stephen Bowman, and Leonard Fullenkamp

5 points

19. (tie) Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant

by Ulysses S. Grant

5 points

19. (tie) Nothing but Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865

by Steven E. Woodworth

5 points

22. (tie) Shiloh and Corinth: Sentinels of Stone

by Timothy T. Isbell

4 points

22. (tie) Eyewitnesses at the Battle of Shiloh

edited by David R. Logsdon

4 points

22. (tie) Shiloh House of Peace: The Church That Named the Battle

by Dr. Ronnie Fullwood

4 points

25. The Shiloh Campaign (Civil War Campaigns in the Heartland)

edited by Steven E. Woodworth

3 points

26. (tie) The Life of Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston: Embracing His Services in the Armies of the United States, the Republic of Texas, and the Confederate States

by William Preston Johnston

2 points

26. (tie) The Timberclads in the Civil War

by Myron J. Smith

2 points

26. (tie) Shiloh National Military Park

Note: The battlefield itself was cited as a resource.

2 points

26. (tie) Assorted Regimental Histories for Regiments Which Were at Shiloh

Note: Obviously I cannot link to all of the regimental histories for regiments which fought at Shiloh.

2 points

26. (tie) Shiloh, Shells and Artillery Units

by George Witham

2 points

31. (tie) Blue & Gray Magazine Shiloh Special Issue

by Stacy Allen

1 point

31. (tie) Shiloh: A Battlefield Guide

by Mark Grimsley and Steven Woodworth

1 point

31. (tie) Campaigns and Battles of the Twelfth Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry

by David W. Reed

1 point


31. (tie) Confederate Artillery at the Battle of Shiloh, April 6th and 7th, 1862 (unpublished manuscript)

by Ron Black

Note: Unpublished manuscript of an SDG member

1 point

Group members who took part in this event are listed below along with links to each Top 7 list as it appeared on TOCWOC in early August 2009.  As lists go live, SDG member names listed below will contain the link to each list.

July 30, 2009

bschulte (posted at TOCWOC – A Civil War Blog)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Ron 8/4/09 8 am

Bjorn 8/4/09 1 pm

drew@cwba (Drew Wagenhoffer of Civil War Books and Authors)  8/4/09 4 pm

tcb816 8/4/09 7 pm

Thursday, August 6, 2009

vtclark 8/6/09 8 am

Nick Kurtz of Battlefield Wanderings 8/6/09 1 pm

54th OVI 8/6/09 3 pm

Manassas1 8/6/09 6 pm

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Wrap10 (SDG founder Perry Cuskey) 8/11/09 8 am

Thursday, August 13, 2009

rrrwright 8/13/09 8 am

idaho native 8/13/09 2 pm

mona 127 words 8/13/09 5 pm

Monday, August 17, 2009

Combined list 8/17/09 8 am


2 responses to “Experts Pick the Best Civil War Books on Shiloh (Pittsburg Landing)”

  1. Josh Avatar

    Kind of surprising (and a little sad) that Reed’s 110 year old book is in 4th place on this list.

    I’ll be curious to see in a few years where Winston Groom’s new book on the battle ranks.

  2. LetUsHavePeace Avatar

    It saddens but does not surprise me that Grant’s memoir would be ranked so far down the list. It should be at the top because Grant was the one person who understood why “the battle” was important only because it consolidated the gains already made – i.e. pushing the Confederates out of western and central Tennessee. His memoir is still the only account that explains why Halleck’s determination to “recover” (sic) from the presumed disaster at Shiloh by advancing less than a mile a day drove Sherman nearly mad and pushed Grant himself to the point of almost quitting. The books don’t say it, but the truth is that there was no avoiding the bloody awfulness that comes from having inexperienced soldiers and unit commanders engage in a pitched battle at the same distances at which skirmishers usually met. Whether it is the Revolutionary Army at Brooklyn or both armies at Shiloh or Pershing’s men in France or Kasserine, the first large scale battle by American non-professional soldiers has always been a royal screw-up. Grant knew this would happen from his direct experience of watching the fate of the Volunteers in the Mexican War. He also knew that there was no way to avoid such a mess. That is why Grant, even as he pushed forward as hard as possible, always stayed within support of the gunboats. They were his one completely reliable reserve. After Shiloh, when the Army of the Tennessee was anything but green, he was able to cut loose from the support of the gunboats. What Grant and Sherman found intolerable is that the opportunity to push forward into Mississippi and Alabama after Shiloh was lost because of Halleck’s caution and the foolish notion that Americans could somehow have a civil war without killing each other in mass numbers. It was not an argument about personalities, as Sword suggests; it was the fury of professional soldiers at seeing an opportunity lost that had been paid for in unprecedented, if unavoidable, carnage.

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