Friday, February 25, 2011

Shiloh: Battlefield, Books and Ghosts

As part of an ongoing long-term research project I am reading various books pertaining to the Civil War. Of particular interest to me is the battle at Shiloh in Tennessee on April 6th and 7th, 1862.

The best book I have read about Shiloh (and I have read a great deal) is James Lee McDonough’s Shiloh – In Hell Before Night. Originally published in 1977, a reprint is currently available from The University of Tennessee Press. At a sparse 260 pages including footnotes, bibliography and index, McDonough’s book manages to clarify brigade and army movements in a concise and understandable fashion. Most Books about this pivotal battle get bogged down with facts and lose sight of the riveting personal accounts that have helped make this battle one of the most studied in American military history.

The logistics, blunders, victories and tragedies that combined to make Shiloh so fascinating are clearly delineated here: Grant and Sherman’s overconfidence, Beauregard’s alleged blunder that cost the Confederates a victory, Buell’s late but still timely arrival to save the Union forces, the peach orchard, the bloody pond, the sunken road and the Shiloh Church are all as clear to the discerning reader as if photographed today. The ebb and flow of battle has never been more clear than it is in McDonough’s excellent book.

Also of interest, and for comparison purposes, I recommend Shiloh: The Battle that Changed the Civil War (1997) by Larry J. Daniel. A much longer, detailed work, the Daniel book takes a slightly different approach which is not unusual for scholars of the Civil War. Each student of history invariably arrives at a different conclusion when speculating on the battle’s dynamics, but speculation doesn’t change the outcome. Maybe that’s part of the fascination – the disparate opinions and passionate arguments over Beauregard’s reasoning and Grant’s lackadaisical attitude toward the enemy all serve to highlight a ferocious but ultimately tragic chapter in American history.

In relation to Shiloh, I recommend Ambrose Bierce’s Civil War edited by William McCann. Bierce served with the Union Army and wrote several firsthand accounts which are included here along with his fictional pieces such as the famous “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” His short non-fiction piece, “What I Saw of Shiloh” makes for compelling reading.

Meanwhile, the research continues involving my great, great, great grandfather who fought with Wisconsin’s famed “Iron Brigade” until he lost a leg at the battle of South Mountain. That story, and those of other ghosts, will be told here on another day….

Saturday, February 12, 2011 - An interesting blog

Here's a link to one of the better writing blogs. It's called You can find it HERE.

Frederick Remington – Novelist!

Frederick Remington (1861-1909) is best known as a painter of the American west, but he also published many novels. Among these John Ermine of the Yellowstone is among the best. Published in 1902, the characters in the novel were inspired by the people he met during his many travels on the frontier. John Ermine of the Yellowstone is a tragedy about Ermine’s struggle to serve in the U.S. Army although he’s an Indian at heart. Raised by the Crow Indians, Ermine will learn the hard lessons of a frontier that knows no mercy. Remington’s prose is concise, colorful and realistic as one would expect. This, in fact, was Remington’s last novel.

Photo: Fight for the Waterhole (partial enlargement) by Frederick Remington, 1903

Note: The book cover is the current Barnes & Noble edition with a fanciful painting of Wild Bill Hickok which obviously has nothing to do with Remington’s novel.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

History Lesson

Unpublished until 1998, Wind River Adventures: My Life in Frontier Wyoming by Edward J. Farlow recalls his life in Wyoming covering the period from 1871 until 1931 and makes for great reading. This first-hand account details his relationship with the Indians on the Wind River Reservation with anecdotal insight into Custer’s last stand, the battle of Crowheart, the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang and even a few movie stars. Published by High Plains Press, this book is a must for anyone interested in American western history.