Saturday, January 8, 2022

Booknotes: Thunder in the Thickets

New Arrival:
Thunder in the Thickets: Shiloh's Soldiers Speak by Mark Russell Richardson (Author, 2021).

Of course, there are already a healthy number of full-length Shiloh operational and tactical battle histories from which to choose, all worthwhile. However, Mark Richardson's Thunder in the Thickets: Shiloh's Soldiers Speak was not created to compete with those type of works from Sword, McDonough, Daniel, Cunningham, or Smith. Instead, Richardson's book "rehumanizes the combatants of the late American Civil War by recreating Shiloh exclusively through raw excerpts from firsthand accounts and memoirs. Experience the bloody conflict through a tapestry of real-time personal narratives and supporting information drawn only from sources immediately available to frontline troops during the events of April 6–7, 1862."

According to the author's preface, the ground-level perspective presented in Thunder in the Thickets depicts Shiloh as "a contest between individual men," its collection of quotes written by those "personally immersed in the thick of the battle" (and mostly from captain and below). In common cause with the traditional descriptions of Shiloh as a ferociously fought `soldier's battle´ between armies consisting largely of green troops, this book seeks to convey to readers the picture of a desperate battle during which a lack of training and experience was compensated for somewhat by "sheer will and stubborn resolve" on the part of those on the front line.

Officer and soldier quotes are presented in indented, bold-faced paragraphs (with parts consisting of information that could only have been known after the battle excised), and these are connected together by the author's two-part (Union and Confederate) bridging narrative. All of the material is annotated. From a quick glance through the bibliography, it appears that roughly 75 individual accounts were used. The final chapter offers information, where available, about the post-Shiloh lives of the contributing writers.

More from the description: "Not simply another American Civil War history, Thunder in the Thickets: Shiloh’s Soldiers Speak is an entirely unique and innovative exploration of the human experience amid fierce combat."


  1. Drew: Any ideas on how this differs from the Frank/Reaves book Seeing the Elephant? At first glance it appears that this turf may already have been covered.

    1. No, I was getting constantly interrupted yesterday morning and didn't get beyond skimming the preface. I do disagree with the premise that the existing Shiloh library doesn't "humanize" the common soldiers enough by adequately conveying their front line experiences.


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