- Hardcover: 539 pages
- Publisher: Morningside Bookshop; Newly Corrected Edition edition (November 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 8121504244
- ISBN-13: 978-0890290705
- ASIN: 0890290709
- Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,169,502 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Shiloh: Bloody April Newly Corrected Edition Edition
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One of the great untold stories of American history - the first comprehensive account of a pivotal battle of the Civil War.
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Shiloh is the first large battle of the war. This resulted in a learning experience for both sides, officers and enlisted men. These inexperience soldiers showed how brave they could be. At the sametime, they showed how important training and experience is. This horrific two-day battle shocked Americans, as they took the first step toward understanding the real price of war.
The battlefield is wooded broken land. The battle is a confused affaire fought over a three-mile front. The battle lines are never a stable as units move forward or fall back. Shiloh never has the long stable battle lines of Gettysburg. In the hands of a less skilled author, the battle can quickly become incomprehensible. Sword's skill couple with an intelligent design of chapters and excellent maps keeps this from happening.
While first published in 1974, a "Corrected Edition" was released in 2001. This edition contains information that was not available in 1974. This is only a consideration if you are buying on the secondary market. The "Corrected Edition" is clearly marked and contains a special preface by Wiley Sword.
Near the end of his book, Sword recalls Grant's premise that "Shiloh was the severest battle at the West during the war, and but few equaled it for hard, determined fighting" (p. 438). Still later Sword includes another statement from Grant's memoirs: "The Battle of Shiloh . . . has been perhaps less understood, or to state the case more accurately, more persistently misunderstood than any other engagement between National and Confederate troops during the entire rebellion" (p. 440). These two notions are key to understanding Sword's thesis. Sword's objective, he writes, is ". . . to present the story of Shiloh as accurately and objectively as possible without regard to personalities or partisanship" (p. xi). Herein, Sword is stating that it is his intention to impress upon the reader the severity of the fighting in that battle and to dispel the misunderstandings that have persisted about Shiloh.
Shiloh was not an insignificant battle fought in the backwaters of western Tennessee. Shiloh was not a draw; as such, it was more than a Southern victory on the first day and a Southern reverse on the second day. Accordingly, Wiley Sword's thesis is that Shiloh was a major, strategic defeat for the South. To underscore that purpose, and his thesis, Sword chose as his epigraph a passage from Bruce Catton's "This Hallowed Ground": "On paper, Shiloh was a draw, actually it was one of the decisive battles of the war, it was a battle the Confederacy simply had to win. For it had been a blow struck to restore a disastrously lost balance, a desperate attempt to reestablish the Confederate frontier in the Kentucky - Ohio Valley. It had failed, and the fact that it had come so close to being a dazzling victory did not offset the failure. . . ." (p. xxi).
Sword begins his narrative with a preliminary overview of the sequence of events that culminated in the battle of Shiloh. Sword introduces the major characters (their aims and objectives: personal, political, or military) who set the stage for this momentous battle. Sword also describes the physical features of the battlefield.
In the overview, Sword also describes the mission of the Federal army in Tennessee. The campaigns of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson are briefly related. Sword also touches on how Major General Halleck was jealous of his immediate subordinate Major General Ulysses S. Grant's successes at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. Sword relates how the Federals came to be located at Pittsburg Landing. Using Sherman's words, wherein Sherman recounts how the land at Pittsburg Landing was extremely well suited to be a campground and how it was the lowest landing still above water on the flooded Tennessee River, Sword reveals the happenstance choice was General William T. Sherman's.
Sword then begins to explain the direness of the Confederate's position. "From Columbus to Bowling Green, Kentucky, and beyond to the Cumberland Mountains, Johnston and his general's were compelled to order the Confederacy's armies withdrawn" (p. 49). Sword reveals that President Jefferson Davis had to defend General Albert S. Johnston from declaimers in Richmond who were demanding that Johnston be replaced. Sword details the circumstances leading to General P.G.T. Beauregard's arrival at Corinth, Mississippi. Sword recounts the March 23, 1862 meeting between Generals Johnston, Beauregard, Bragg, and Polk and the reorganization of the structure of Confederate forces in the West.
According to Sword, Johnston received his marching orders from President Davis and General Robert E. Lee on or about April 1. Sword says: "Davis wrote, `if you can meet the division of the enemy moving from the Tennessee before it can make a junction with that advancing from Nashville the future will be brighter'" (p. 91). Lee advised "`. . . when your army is united, to deal a blow at the enemy in your front, if possible, before his rear gets up from Nashville'" (p. 91). Sword shows that Johnston's mission was explicit: strike Grant before Buell was on the scene.
Sword proceeds to give a minutely detailed account of events from April 3 to April 7. He writes about the many obstacles and delays the Confederates encountered on their march to Pittsburg Landing. Sword also writes about the failure of the Federal command to note the approach of the Confederate army despite warnings from junior officers.
Quoting from personal letters and memoirs of Shiloh veterans, Sword recounts in vivid detail how Grant's army was almost overwhelmingly surprised by Johnston's attack on April 6. Sword also points out that Confederate battle plan requiring the "deployment of Hardee's, Bragg's, and Polk's corps in three tandem lines, was one of the battle's worst mistakes" (p. 96). The tandem arrangement of the corps made for constant confusion in the dense thickets. This order, plus the supplemental order(s) to attack towards the sound of the heaviest fighting, the loss of General Johnston at a critical point in the battle, the steadfastness of Brigadier General Benjamin Prentiss at a sunken road (henceforth known as the `Hornet's Nest'), and the Confederate's mistaking a Union brigade (Stuart's) as a division prevented the Confederates from completely routing the Federals on the first day of battle.
Sword continues to call forth the voices of Shiloh's veterans in order to recall the horror and misery those soldiers endured throughout the night of April 6. Troops on both sides were kept awake by the constant booming of Union naval guns. A persistent drizzle further antagonized the Union troops, who had abandoned their camps to the Rebels, and the wounded and dying lying between the lines.
Sword spends only two chapters recounting the fighting that occurred on April 7. Sword relates that Buell's army and General Lew Wallace's wandering division finally arrived during the night. At dawn, on April 7, the tables were turned, and Beauregard was surprised by Grant's counterattack. The Confederates were forced to grudgingly give up the ground they had fought so hard for the day before. Sword has Sherman recount that his career very nearly ended there as he described his close brush with death when General Nathan B. Forrest drove back pursuing Yankees with the cavalry charge that ended the battle.
In his final chapter, entitled "War is Horrible," Sword recounts how each army nursed its wounds and prepared for the next battle. Sword paraphrases Catton's valued opinion about the importance of the battle and quotes General Bragg's lament about how near the Confederates had come to winning. It is here also that Sword restates his thesis when he writes: "The fact that the Confederacy had come close to succeeding did not compensate for the utter failure to achieve these results. There after the South was further ensnarled in what one early student of the battle termed `the wasting war of defense.' For these reasons Shiloh must be regarded as one of the most decisive battles of the Civil War, and of history" (p. 438). Sword concludes his book by touching on the many personal and professional `what if issues' that emanated from the battle.
Sword's most significant accomplishment, and perhaps his most haunting, is his ability to convey the fear, fury, and confusion that must have been so prevalent during the battle of Shiloh. He accomplishes this by consistently using the eyewitness accounts of the participants themselves. This reflects Sword's heavy reliance on primary sources and documentation (both published and unpublished). Even General Marshall acknowledges that Sword successfully taps into the primal elements of battle that transcend time and place and are elemental on all fields of battle.
Sword's book is also well illustrated. It contains eighteen maps and thirty-eight photographs. The maps are serviceable but do not include terrain features, other than streams and roads, to illustrate the ruggedness of the terrain. Sword overcomes this deficiency with his verbal description of the contested ground. Less satisfactory are Sword's footnotes. These are somewhat cumbersome and confusing. It is difficult to cross-reference a particular citation and then understand the abbreviations used.
Despite his thesis, Wiley Sword fails to fully explain why this battle was so pivotal. On this point James L. McDonough's "Shiloh: In Hell Before Night" is much more successful. Wiley's account does not satisfactorily show where Shiloh figures into the greater scheme of subsequent Civil War campaigns that secured control of the Mississippi River Valley for the Union. Wiley Sword does not mention the fall of Corinth or New Orleans, nor does he mention that Shiloh was a key step towards the Union capture of Vicksburg. McDonough does all of this very well. However, Wiley's book is a good complement to McDonough's book. Both authors have shortcomings that are off set by the work of the other. Wiley Sword's book makes a valuable contribution to fount of literature about the Civil War in general and about the battle of Shiloh in particular.