Monday, June 25, 2012

New and Noteworthy---Shiloh 1862: First Great Battle of the War

Shiloh1862: The First Great and Terrible Battle of the Civil WarWinston Groom, National Geographic Books. 512p. order of battle, 44 black and white illustrations, 10 maps, bibliography, index., March 2012 . $30.00
In  Shiloh1862: The First Great and Terrible Battle of the Civil War,  novelist and historian Winston Groom offers a narrative that is historically and graphically compelling. Best known for his novel Forrest Gump, which was adapted into a film in 1994, Groom's 1982 novel Conversations with the Enemy was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1983. Fought April 6 and 7, 1862 in southwestern Tennessee, The Battle of Shiloh, was one of the several turning points of the Civil War. A Federal loss would have jeopardized recent victories at Forts Donelson and Henry and the capture of Nashville. 
Groom's account takes several paths to the April 6 and 7 battle. The first three chapters gather the major commander together from their early careers until the battle. Chapter Four through Seven places the battle into its political and social context. The stories of those living in the national capitals and those living on what will soon become a battlefield gives both an expansive and particular tone to Groom's story. His reliance on the words of the soldiers personalize the movements of hundreds and thousands of men.  The weather was wet, the roads were muddy, and the foliage was thick; at times confusion reigned along the battle's front and rear. Groom deftly weaves together the failure of commanders with their battle plans with the heroism and courage of the rank and file soldiers with their lack of battle experience. Both sides were shocked by the carnage.  
Among the dead are the Confederate western theater commander Albert Sidney Johnston who was at the battlefront encouraging a brigade when a bullet clipped an artery behind his knee; he bled to death. Within two days over 13,000 Federals were killed, wounded, captured or missing; Confederate loses were nearly 11,000 were killed, wounded, captured, and missing.  Current estimates are that 15% of those wounded later died of their wounds within 90 days.
Though not a definitive rendering of the Shiloh story, Groom's well paced, highly descriptive effort is well founded on the recognized primary sources of the battle.  Unfortunately Groom offers no bibliographic notes for direct quotations. Also, the retelling of Nathan Bedford Forrest's wounding and his taking of a hostage at the Battle of Fallen Timbers soon after April 7 is apart of the Forrest biography lore but appears to have no eyewitnesses. Groom offers no alert to the reader on this point. As one would expect from National  Geographic, the maps clear and precise with neither too much nor too little information on them. Shiloh 1862: The First Great Battle of the Civil War is a grand and compelling narrative of the battle. Those readers who have their first encounter with the battle of Shiloh with Groom's work are well served. 

No comments: