The Shiloh Campaign is the first volume of Southern Illinois University Press's Civil War Campaigns in the Heartland series. Steven Woodworth, the author of many western theater titles, is an excellent choice for series general editor, and here he has assembled eight scholarly essays (all by academic historians). The compilation is heavily focused on the military aspects of the Shiloh Campaign, and one hopes the budding series will grow into a worthy western themed counterpart to UNC Press's Military Campaigns of the Civil War series.
The first essay, by John Lundberg, offers a spirited defense of Albert Sidney Johnston's leadership during the Shiloh Campaign. His refutation of the notion that Johnston was indecisive and lacking in confidence is largely effective; however, interesting as it may be in conception, Lundberg's argument that the general's offering of army command to P.G.T. Beauregard was not a significant sign of weakness is ultimately unpersuasive1. The author's contention that Johnston was unusually ill served by major subordinates is also well taken, but, even so, the commanding general's lack of oversight and knowledge of Beauregard's poorly conceived battle plan until it was too late to change is indefensible.
The book's next two chapters are the most tactical in nature, with Alexander Mendoza's account of brigade commander David Stuart's defense of the Union far left flank and Timothy Smith's summary of the Hornet's Nest fighting. Smith's article is additionally focused on the historiography and memory of the Hornet's Nest sector of the battlefield, concluding that its importance has been greatly exaggerated2.
Some chapters examine familiar controversies. Steven Woodworth does a fine, objective job of outlining the contentious circumstances and timeline surrounding Lew Wallace's march to the battlefield on April 6. Gary Joiner explores the effectiveness of U.S. naval gunfire, reiterating his 'skip shot' theory and providing evidence for its demoralizing effect on Confederate forces, as well as the navy's direct role in turning back the late afternoon Confederate assaults on the Union left. Grady McWhiney's essay, previously published in 1983, is critical of Beauregard's evening decision to suspend the offensive with sufficient light to continue and publicly declare victory.
For his article, Charles Grear sifted through diaries, letters, and reminiscences to gather evidence about how Confederate soldiers viewed the events at Shiloh. Perhaps surprisingly, given the relative chaos of the retreat, he finds that most soldiers viewed the battle as a draw, although with heavy doses of concern about the future.
In the final essay, Brooks Simpson pierces several myths about U.S. Grant, demonstrating that President Lincoln's advocacy was far from unshakable and it was timely and unexpected support by General Henry Halleck that did much to allay calls for Grant's removal. One is also persuaded by Simpson's contention that William T. Sherman's support for Grant in the aftermath of Shiloh is better viewed in the context of a sympathetic sounding board than an impassioned promoter of his commander's generalship.
While the book's material quality and scholarly representation bodes well for the series, The Shiloh Campaign is wanting in several aspects. The lack of an essay focusing on the second day of the battle mirrors the Shiloh literature's larger neglect of the April 7 events. Tighter copyediting was needed, and additional cartography [the absence of maps for Mendoza's tactical article was a critical omission] and illustrations would have greatly enhanced the study's clarity and presentation.
Regardless, some growing pains are to be expected with a series's first volume, and The Shiloh Campaign's strengths certainly do outweigh the weaknesses. Western theater scholars and students have been hoping for a series of this type for some time, and with continual improvements in presentation and content freshness, one hopes the run of Civil War Campaigns in the Heartland will prove to be a lengthy and fruitful one.
1 - The point is made that the offer was not pressed, and was perhaps not seriously entertained. Knowing Beauregard would not accept, it may also have been a ploy to outwardly reaffirm Johnston's superior position.
2 - Smith's point of view on this matter has also been expressed in previous publications -- Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862 (Savas Beatie, 2007), The Untold Story of Shiloh: The Battle and the Battlefield (UT Press, 2006), and This Great Battlefield of Shiloh: History, Memory, and the Establishment of a Civil War National Military Park (UT Press , 2006).
Other CWBA reviews of SIU Press titles:
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