Shiloh 150 years later

Yesterday, April 6, and today mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh in southwestern Tennessee. This battle is significant in several ways, some which are explored in a New York Times article published yesterday. One of my buddies and fellow reenactor attended one of the 150th events last weekend and there is a buzz about them on one of the major reenacting forums. However, this battle is still one that is popular for people to read about and study, though not to the level of Gettysburg, but one of the most studied in the Western Theater.

The battle that began near Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River, near a small church called Shiloh, which meant place of peace, came to symbolize the carnage that characterized the Civil War. The Union forces were pushing down the Tennessee River towards the rail junction of Corinth, Mississippi. Having achieved two important victories in February against Forts Henry and Donelson, the Union was beginning to take the war to the South, under the leadership of Ulysses S. Grant. It was part of the larger strategy to gain control of the major inland waterways to cut the Confederacy in two. Confederate forces were hopeful of thwarting the Union strategy by delivering a major blow in the West, which reflected the state of the war in the East that was going in the South’s favor.

On April 6, General Ulysses S. Grant had established his camp on the bank of the Tennessee River, at Pittsburg Landing, the night before and was not prepared for General Albert Sydney Johnston’s Confederate army, which was encamped nearby. The Confederates launched a surprise attack on the Union camp that morning, which sought to drive the Union away and back up the river. Though initially caught off guard, Union troops rallied and fought a bitter fight against the Confederates along a line extending from the river for over a mile to Owl Creek. Part of the Union line engaged in heavy fighting, which became known as the Hornet’s Nest, where Union forces held firm. Fighting raged all along the line, with hundreds falling, including General Johnston, who was wounded in the back of the knee and bled to death. Johnston was the highest ranking officer killed on either side during the war.

After the first hard day of battle, a storm raged, with lightning flashing, showing hogs among the dead. Wounded soldiers came to a small pond to drink and bathe their wounds, dying the water pink, earning the small body the name “Bloody Pond”. William Tecumseh Sherman approached Grant under a tree, sheltering during the storm after the first day, and said, “Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?” Grant replied, “Yes, lick ‘em tomorrow, though.”

The second day, April 7 brought bad luck for the Confederates. The Union army was reinforced by General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio, which arrived the previous night. Further, the Confederates were disorganized by the loss of Johnston, which placed P.G.T. Beauregard in command, who did not realize he was outnumbered. In addition, Confederate command was rife with problems revolving around personality conflicts and subordinates not following Beauregard well. Facing a Union counterattack, Confederates were forced back from their gains the previous day and withdrew from the field, eventually back to Corinth.

The battle was the bloodiest in American history up to that time, and some claimed more casualties were suffered than all American wars combined to that time. Union casualties were 13,047 (1,754 killed, 8,408 wounded, and 2,885 missing), while Confederate losses were 10,699 (1,728 killed, 8,012 wounded, and 959 missing or captured). In addition to Johnston, Union general W.H.L. Wallace was also killed. Though initially vilified for his handling of the battle and the cost, Grant’s career was cemented by this victory. Though rumors circulated that he was drunk and calls for his job were made, Lincoln retained him, saying “I can’t spare this man; he fights.” Sherman also emerged a hero, and was a trusted subordinate and friend of Grant. This battle is quite important for the course of the war in the West and there are several great books on it, including:

Grimsley, Mark, and Steven E. Woodworth. Shiloh: A Battlefield Guide. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006.

Sword, Wiley. Shiloh: Bloody April. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1992.

Woodworth, Steven E., Ed. The Shiloh Campaign. Carbondale, IL:  Southern Illinois University Press, 2009.

Listen to webcast on the Battle of Shiloh

Last week, I participated in a webcast hosted by American Military University. If you were unable to take part, you can listen to the webcast, download the Q & A, and find the link to the last webcast, which will be on Tuesday, May 18, and will be on the Battle of Gettysburg. Click here to listen and join the Gettysburg webcast.

Latest webcast on the Battle of Shiloh

Thursday, I participated in another American Military University webcast, this one dealing with my area of interest in the war, the Western Theater, specifically the Battle of Shiloh. This battle occurred on April 6-7, 1862 in southwestern Tennessee. The participants were Dr. Steven E. Woodworth, professor of history at Texas Christian University, and Dana Shoaf, editor of Civil War Times. Despite a few technical glitches, the webcast was very good, as Dr. Woodworth discussed some good details on the battle.

On a personal note, I had the opportunity several years ago to meet and interact with Dr. Woodworth, as he visited my alma mater Illinois College. He is a well-known scholar, and is an authority on the Western Theater. This program went over an hour and a half and several questions, including one I submitted, were answered during the live webcast. This was the second in the series of three webcasts, with the last one scheduled for May 18 at 10:00 AM Central Time. The topic will be on Gettysburg, with information found here. Once the link to the recording of this webcast is made available to me, I will post it here.

Review of today’s webcast on Civil War soldiers

Well, I sat through the webcast, or webinar if you prefer, this morning and it was an interesting experience. The presenters, Dr. Barry Shollenberger and Dana B. Shoaf did an excellent job of presenting the subject of Civil War soldiers to an audience of varying backgrounds. While I was hoping for a discussion on the scholarship on soldiers and where it is heading, since it was sponsored by American Military University, it did convey the basic knowledge that everyone should know to understand the importance of Civil War soldiers. There was also a time for questions at the end. Overall, I found this a unique experience and hope to learn more about its usefulness in other settings.

A little about the presenters:

Dr. Barry Shollenberger is Provost Emeritus at Virginia College in Birmingham, Alabama and is also retired from The University of Alabama where he served as Associate Director of Distance Education and president of the State of Alabama Distance Learning Association. Dr. Shollenberger has taught American History for twenty years, is a member and contributor to the Society for Civil War Historians, and has taught continuously at AMU since 1997.

Dana B. Shoaf is the editor of Civil War Times, the oldest Civil War magazine in publication. Shoaf taught American history at colleges in Maryland and Northern Virginia before working for Time-Life as a writer and researcher. He has published dozens of articles dealing with the Civil War and often speaks at conferences. A committed preservationist, Shoaf is a former board member of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation.

This was the first in a series of three webcasts on the war. The next two will be on Gettysburg and Shiloh. Here is information on those presentations:

The Battle of Shiloh – Thursday, May 6, 2010  11:00 a.m.—12:00 p.m. ET
http://www.amu.apus.edu/lp/webcast/history/civil-war-shiloh/

The Battle of Gettysburg – Tuesday, May 18, 2010  11:00 a.m.—12:00 p.m. ET
http://www.amu.apus.edu/lp/webcast/history/civil-war-gettysburg/

I hope you will all take these in.

147th anniversary of Shiloh

First, I wanted to let everyone know that things are alright here, but we are bracing for a second crest as new snow from the southern valley heads north. Right now, the danger is there, but is diminished slightly. Your thoughts and prayers are appreciated.

Today, April 6, marks the 147th anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh. The battle was fought April 6-7, 1862 and resulted in more deaths than all American wars combined, up to that time. It resulted in the death of Albert Sydney Johnson and furthered the career of U.S. Grant. I have visited the battlefield twice and it is always a poignant place to be at. I would encourage anyone near the area to visit it today and tomorrow, as there is usually events of some kind, including a major reenactment of the battle. I would also recommend checking out the book Shiloh: A Battlefield Guide by Mark Grimsley and Steven E. Woodworth, as it provides a easy introduction to the battle. You may also read my review of the book here.

Review of the film “American Drummer Boy”

Note: I have made a few changes, which I highlighted. This is due to my receiving a reply from Dorian Walker via email, in which he explained certain issues that I did not consider at the time, but decided to incorporate certain ones in the interest of fairness.

First, I just finished viewing this film by Director Dorian Walker and must say that I should have removed my historian glasses, but with media dealing with one of my fields, it is very hard to do. That said, I found this film to be an interesting story, but one that could have benefited from a greater focus on the history as opposed to the drama.

The story revolves around young Johnny Boone, who wanted to join his community’s local regiment of Union infantry, the 11th Kentucky, which was depicted more like a company throughout the film. He ran away from home and attempted to catch up with the 11th, but was soon captured by Confederates, while walking along with Mr. Deets, an English actor, who is a rather annoying character. Johnny soon joins the 24th Mississippi Infantry still attempting to get to the Union lines, but also trying to survive. While masquerading as a Confederate drummer, he attends a social function held by the colonel of the 24th and meets the Colonel’s daughter, Samantha. Boone eventually finds his way to the Union army and the 11th and is enlisted as a drummer. He participates with the 11th in the Battle of Stones River and earns the Medal of Honor by saving his captain. However, the story takes a sad turn, when young Boone loses his father and is forced to desert the army to help his family, after appeals are denied. He is soon caught and sentenced to death. However, Johnny is saved by an interesting twist at the end.

“American Drummer Boy” is certainly a feel-good, family friendly picture that will hopefully ignite a fire to study the Civil War in children and adults. It shines in the area of battlefield tactics, uniforms, and army drilling. However, the story has several issues that do concern me.

I came away with a feeling that the film over-simplified the war, as it confined battles to a few small segments (Shiloh, Perryville, and Stones River) and emphasizing camp life. While the armies were in camp a great deal, it seems that devoting more to the battles and the roles that drummer boys played would have made the story better. However, this issue likely revolves around budget constraints and my misunderstanding of the director’s goal.

Further, the attempt to combine the stories of three real-life Civil War soldiers hurts this film. This film used the real-life stories of William Horsfall, Johnny Clem, and Asa Lewis (Horsfall and Clem were drummers, but Lewis was a young infantryman) and combined all three into the character of Boone. It causes the film to become disjointed and hard to follow at times. Had Walker produced a film based around only one of the boys, preferably Johnny Clem, it would have achieved the goal of telling the story of drummer boys, as Clem’s story is an incredible one in itself. In addition, the subtitles for the battles included were lacking, as providing the full dates for the battles, as opposed to simply the month, especially for the Battle of Stones River, which began on December 31, 1862 would have helped those viewing unfamiliar with the war.

In addition, a couple of elements in the film are quite far-fetched. One includes Johnny meeting up with Will Simpson, who is escaping slavery. Johnny later meets up with Simpson, now a corporal in the Union army. The interaction between the two seem very unlikely given the time, as Johnny, being from Kentucky, would have likely held attitudes about race similar to most in that region, which looked on African-Americans as either inferior, or with disregard. The fact that Simpson knew of Chicago and went there, eventually joining the Union army is also awkward, as if he was seeking freedom, he would have found it with Union forces, as many army commanders were commandeering escaped slaves to work for the Union army at this time. Basically, it seems that the character of Will Simpson is out of place for the subject of the film.

Another issue with this film revolves around effects and sound. The effects used for the battle scenes did not convey the desired effect. While I understand that this is an independent film that may have a limited budget, the effects used to show artillery explosions were not very convincing. In addition, at several points in the film the sound appeared to have a slight echo, as if recorded within a building, even when the scene was outdoors. This issue was comfined to dialogue, while battlefield sounds were quite good.

Overall, this film will delight families and can serve as a way to introduce the war to children, but I encourage parents to seek out books on the war and learn about it with their children. This movie contains a great story, but jumbles the stories of three young soldiers, causing their real lives to be lost. I would encourage families to keep their historian goggles at home, as they will hinder you fully enjoying the film. Drummer boys played important roles in Civil War armies and this movie, though containing some issues, will go a long way towards reinvigorating the study of these young lads in blue and gray.

I will leave you with two videos, the first the trailer to the film and the second the reaction of some audience members, who saw the film.