Monday, January 9, 2006

Battlefield Detectives: Shiloh

Did anyone else watch this History Channel program that aired on Friday (I know Mike mentioned it on his blog)? It bothers me that they took archaeological evidence that seemed rather inconclusive to me (a ratio of a sample of fired vs. dropped small arms ammo found in the Duncan and Sarah Bell fields) and so confidently attempted a major historical revision of what happened around the Hornet's Nest area. Additionally, if I recall correctly, they neglected to provide an alternative overall day 1 scenario that they feel would better fit the new theory. Stacy Allen obviously knows a lot about the battle but I would have loved to hear both Sword's and Daniel's opinion about this new evidence (or for that matter what poor Randal Gibson would think of it if he was still around).

The shell skipping theory espoused by Gary Joiner was interesting. Joiner believes it was probable that the gunboats Lexington and Tyler fired up Dill Branch using the slope to ricochet 10 to 15-second fused shells into the air and over a wide area of the battlefield. It was unclear to me if Joiner came up with this theory himself or read about it through the accounts of actual participants.


  1. I missed it, is this the theory mentioned in Horowitz's Confederates in the Attic based on the location of Confederate mass graves, which argues that "the Hornet's Nest" was an artifact of after-the-fact reputation-politicking by the Prentiss clique, and that the heaviest fighting on the first day was on Sherman's front around Shiloh Church? The name "Allen" sounds familiar...

  2. I saw this show as well. The concern I have is how compromised is the evidence given relic hunting especially before the Park Service was in control. I thought the gun boat shell skipping theroy was plausible although you think it may have been mentioned in a an offical report.


  3. For some reason, my first response to Mitch didn't show up. I apologize for the double entry if it eventually returns. anyway...

    Thanks, Mitch, for bringing up the Horwitz book. I had completely forgotten that it mentioned this new thinking about the Hornet's Nest. As for the mass graves, the tv program did do a segment on that subject as well in support of the other evidence. I should have mentioned that Stacy Allen is the Chief Park Ranger there at Shiloh NMP.

  4. Guys,

    what exactly is the "new thinking" on the Hornet's Nest? I missed the show too and I'm not familiar with Horwitz's work.

    Brett S.

  5. Brett,
    Just basically what Mitch was saying, that the importance of the Hornet's Nest was overhyped (esp. so by Union vets) and the real center of gravity for the 1st day was further to the west on the Union right flank. The proponents take as definitive evidence the lack of mass graves in the immediate vicinity of HN and the high ratio of dropped bullets vs. fired bullets (indicating a lack of heavy sustained combat). Horwitz is a travel writer who just picked up the story for his book.


  6. Hmmm. Interesting. Do the primary accounts from the Confederate side seem to support this theory? I need to go take a look at the ORs.

    Brett S.

  7. I was wondering the same thing but haven't examined the reports myself.

  8. I know it's late to be posting on this subject but I recently finally saw this Shiloh documentary which I had missed for years. I had to purchase it on DVD to see it.

    I am still not convinced of the theory that the Hornet's Nest was not important. Like you mentioned in 2006, I wonder what poor Randall Gibson would think? Was he battling phantom Yankees in that area. They seem to think that people only think of the Hornet's Nest as across Duncan Field. I always think of the Hornet's Nest being from Duncan Field through the woods ending at the Peach Orchard.

    I think trying to measure combat by where the bullets can be located by metal detectors 140 years later is extremely misleading. There have been so many souvenir pickers over the years that have disturbed the ground. This same theory is also applied at Little Big Horn and to me is not very effective.

    I don't know why it has become an obsession with Stacy Allen and Timothy Smith (who led a tour I was on of the Hornet's Nest area in 2001) to say that the fighting wasn't heavy there. They even tried to use Cunningham's account in his book as evidence of lack of fighting in the area when it really said no such thing. I think there was heavy fighting at Shiloh on the left, right, and center that day.

    The one theory that was quite interesting and somewhat plausible on the show was ,as mentioned, the arcing of the shells by the gunboats on the night of April 6th-7th. But as someone posted it is strange that it was not mentioned at all in the OR.



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