Groom enhances his solid reputation as a writer of general audience military history with this narrative of the Civil War’s first major battle in the west. Shiloh was fought by armies unprepared in every way. Men and regiments were untrained; armament was improvised; senior officers were no more than uniformed civilians. Only the few experienced commanders, like Ulysses Grant and William Sherman of the Union, and Confederates Albert Sidney Johnson and P.G.T. Beauregard, had any idea of what to expect when their neophyte soldiers met on April 6–7, 1862. What they endured was a savage death grapple in a remote corner of Tennessee. Groom skillfully uses personal narratives to reconstruct the horror of slaughter pens like the Hornets’ Nest , where Union troops drove back eight attacks before surrendering. Disorganized by victory, the Confederates stumbled, then retreated as Union reinforcements began reaching the field. The battle was a tactical draw, not for lack of courage but from want of skill. “A determined effort by Grant to pursue the retreating Confederate army likely would have ended the Civil War in a fell swoop,” concludes Groom (Kearny’s March: The Epic Creation of the American West, 1846–1847), in a harsh assessment of Grant’s leadership at a crucial moment. Agent: Theron Raines, Raines and Raines. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
"Groom has given the Battle of Shiloh the mega attention that it deserves by writing a book with the storytelling appeal of fiction but solidly backed with fact.... This is a book that will stay with you for a very long time." –The Washington Post
"Groom enhances his solid reputation as a writer of general audience military history with this narrative of the Civil War’s first major battle in the west." –Publisher's Weekly
“This thrilling narrative account of Shiloh from the bestselling author of Forest Gump, is a vivid portrayal of key players and epic moments that changed America’s understanding of the war.”
–Publishers Weekly Top 10: History and Military History
"Stirring Civil War history from the author of Forest Gump....The emphasis on the human element gives the book a power that sets it apart from most military histories." –Kirkus [Starred Review]
"Including pertinent military detail about weapons and organization, Groom’s compositional acumen makes Shiloh move quickly, vividly, graphically, and perfectly for armchair buff and battlefield visitor alike." –Booklist
“Groom’s gripping narrative is full of absorbing firsthand accounts from drummer boys, officers and enlisted men, nurses, and civilians…A provocatively rendered and persuasively argued study that demands a central place in Civil War historiography.” –Library Journal (Starred Review)
In chronicling the bloody fighting of the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee 150 years ago, novelist and historian Groom (Kearny's March: The Epic Creation of the American West, 1846–1847) compels the reader to appreciate the enormous toll to both sides owing to advanced arms, outmoded battle tactics, and poor generalship. Although Groom lays responsibility on both sides, he especially blames General Grant and General Sherman, serving under him, for failure to fortify positions, properly reconnoiter, read the signs of enemy advances, and have a battle plan in case of attack. Union forces prevailed owing to late-arriving reinforcements and Confederate failure to capitalize on earlier gains. Groom's gripping narrative is full of absorbing firsthand accounts from drummer boys, officers and enlisted men, nurses, and civilians, including future writers such as Lew Wallace (Ben-Hur) and Ambrose Bierce ("An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"). In conclusion, Groom sees Shiloh as a learning experience for Grant, who finally understood that no single battle, no matter how costly or geographically significant, could end the rebellion: the Union could be restored only through the total conquest of the South. VERDICT A provocatively rendered and persuasively argued study that demands a central place in Civil War historiography. Highly recommended. (Illustrations and editorial apparatus not seen.)—John Carver Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Cleveland
Stirring Civil War history from the author of Forest Gump. Groom (Kearny's March, 2011) presents Shiloh, fought on April 6-7 in western Tennessee, as a turning point in the war. The casualty count exceeded all previous American wars combined. After setting the stage, Groom takes the reader to Pittsburg Landing, the nearest town to the battle, a few days beforehand. Grant and Sherman had moved 48,000 troops into the area, and were expecting more. Against them were arrayed some 45,000 rebels commanded by Albert Sidney Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard. But little of the commanders' brilliance showed in the early fighting. Grant and Sherman, expecting reinforcements from Don Carlos Buell, were caught unprepared. Meanwhile, Beauregard either misinterpreted or disregarded Johnston's battle plan, sending his troops in three consecutive waves rather than in three corps fighting abreast. Add to that the utter greenness of the troops, many of whom had never fired their guns, and the difficulty of the terrain, and it is easy to understand the chaos of the first day's battle. Driven back in the morning, the Union lines stabilized over a sunken road to repel successive rebel assaults. When Johnston was killed, Beauregard, after more fierce action, called his men off to await the morning. But it was too late—Buell, with 17,000 reinforcements, arrived on the field, leading the Union to victory. Groom follows individual soldiers and small units as well as the larger shape of the battle, and quotes extensively from primary sources, including memoirs by Henry Stanley, Ambrose Bierce and Lew Wallace. The author also looks at the battle's impact on civilians, some of whom remained in their farmhouses while fighting raged over their fields. The emphasis on the human element gives the book a power that sets it apart from most military histories. Essential reading for Civil War buffs and a great overview of a key battle for neophytes.
Read an Excerpt
By early April 1862 the spring storm season had already begun in Tennessee. The thunderheads made up on the southern plains, then tore across the South with lightning and killer tornadoes. Terrifying as this was, it paled before the violent thing now gathering along the Mississippi River Valley.
From Illinois, Ohio, and Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, Northern men had begun to converge. They marched in turn by squads, platoons, companies, regiments, brigades, and finally whole infantry divisions. As the cold Dixie weather receded and they tramped farther south, before them loomed a great battle they were told would bring an end to the war.
Up from the South likewise they came, from Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, Florida, and Arkansas; Tennessee, of course, was represented in full. And from the border states Kentucky and Missouri came men of both sides who fought as friend against friend, sometimes brother against brother. There were more than a hundred thousand in all—whose average age was not yet 20.
Down in the far southwestern corner of the state the winding Tennessee River straightens out for twenty or so miles after changing its course northward toward the wide Ohio. Halfway along that stretch is a bight on the western bank, occupied long ago by a tribe of mound builders, now called Pittsburg Landing, a nondescript hog-and-cotton loading station perched before tall oak-strewn bluffs where steamboats put in from time to time. There they took on cargo and traded with the residents, who were fairly low on the scale of Southern sophistication in the era of King Cotton and the fanciful aura of moonlight and magnolias. These Pittsburg Landing people might have had plenty of the latter, but it was about all they had. The curse of slavery was barely a whisper in the scratched-out fields among the shocking thickets where they eked a living and went to Sunday meetings at an ax-hewn chink-and-mortar Meth- odist church named Shiloh chapel. The church itself was hardly better than a respectable Missouri corncrib in its design and archi- tectural aspect, but it was a house of God and gave its name to one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War.
On Sunday morning, April 6, the fateful day, Elsie Duncan, then age nine, told of being in the garden of her family’s home about a mile west of Pittsburg Landing. The place was peaceful “as paradise” itself, she remembered, surrounded as it was “by a beauti- ful forest with every kind of oak, maple and birch,” plus “fruit trees and berry bushes and a spring-fed pond with water lilies blooming white.” Her father, Joseph, was one of the few substantial citizens of the area, owning a farm of 200 acres called Pleasant Land as well as being a circuit-riding preacher of the Gospel. Everybody had been on edge for several weeks, ever since the Duncans’ black nurse Margie had come back from a visit to the landing to report that there were “strange steamboats on the river, and Yankees camped in the hills.”
Hardin County, where Pittsburg Landing was located, was fairly typical of rural Tennessee outside the state’s main cotton belt. In the 1861 referendum on secession, the residents voted to stay with the Union, and there was still strong Union sentiment on the east side of the river. But on the west side, where Elsie Duncan lived, the young men had been formed to fight for the Confederacy, and had been drilling regularly, led by her own father, whom she described as a “drill master” in addition to his duties as a Rebel chaplain. It was at one of these drill sessions, or parades, that she spent her final time in “that dear old Shiloh church.” It had been appropriated for a Rebel celebration, she recalled, complete with Confederate flags and a chorus of little girls “dressed in red, white, and blue, and singing ‘Dixie.’ ”
The suddenness with which war had come to Hardin County alarmed everyone. Citizens began to plan for some sort of cataclysm as the blue-clad Federals arrived by the hundreds, and then the thousands, at Pittsburg and other landings along the river. Reverend Duncan had a cave on his property, “at the edge of the woods, just above the spring which was under a bluff just back of the orchard.” It was “about the size of a large room,” she said, and her father rein- forced the roof with heavy planks and laid a floor, then “sealed the entrance off with brush and made a trap door with a ladder to go down.” It would prove to be a safe harbor when fighting broke out.
The people in that part of the country, she said, “did not know how long the war was going to last,” and so in a small cabin far back in the woods her father also hid “eight barrels of home-raised flour upstairs, buried a large box of home-raised hams in the garden and put a sweet potato bed on top of them.” The men, she recalled, “left everything as secure and safe as they could to protect their homes and families, and then left them in the care of the Lord” to join the Confederate army.
Thus, Elsie, her mother, Harriet, and her five children ranging in age from 7to 15, as well as their nurse Margie, were home alone on Sunday morning, April 6, 1862, when from somewhere beyond the deep woods came the rough, guttural muttering of artillery like distant thunder. Elsie had not had breakfast and was out in the garden playing.
“It was a beautiful Sunday morning. The sun was shining, birds were singing, and the air was soft and sweet,” she said. “I sat down under a holly-hock bush which was full of pink blossoms and watched the bees gathering honey.”
Elsie Duncan hadn’t the faintest idea at that point—nor had many of the 40,000-strong Yankee host nearby—that something dreadful was brewing in the tangled forests to the south and descending upon them as swift and merciless as a cyclone from the southern plains.