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.

The joys of visiting battlefields

A recent episode of TLC’s Little People, Big World inspired this post. The episode noted how Matt Roloff, the dad, brought two of his children to Paducah, Kentucky with him, as he was there for a speaking engagement. The kids visited Civil War related sites and met reenactors, who allowed them to handle their equipment. The episode mentioned the kids’ interest in the Civil War and history and it got me thinking about the many wonderful memories I have visiting battlefields and other Civil War sites both with my parents and while in college.

Over the years, I have visited the following battlefields (some more than once): Parker’s Crossroads, Shiloh, Corinth, Vicksburg, Stone’s River, Gettysburg, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania Courthouse, and Appomattox Courthouse. I visited the sites in the Western Theater on two occasions. The first time was about ten years ago, when my parents and I took a trip down south from Illinois to Nashville. While on the way to Nashville, we stopped at (actually, we stumbled across it) Parker’s Crossroads, which has a personal connection, as one of my ancestors (my relation to him is uncertain) died as a result of wounds suffered in the battle. We then went to Nashville and visited Opryland USA and the massive Opryland Hotel (Nashville is a great city by the way). We then headed towards Vicksburg, but stopped at Shiloh along the way.

While at Shiloh, my dad and I enjoyed ourselves, as this battle is one of our favorites because it cemented the career of that great, formerly drunken, general who took the fight to the South, as opposed to some of his Eastern counterparts, Ulysses S. Grant. My mom merely tolerates my dad and I’s fascination with history, but even my dad did something on this trip that surprised me. We stopped by the Sunken Road and my dad decided to walk down it, while mom and I ate (nowadays, I would probably join him on the walk, but I was much younger at the time). We ended up waiting around, wondering where he was only to find out that he walked to the Hornets’ Nest to “commune with the ghosts of the past”, as he put it.

After Shiloh, we spent a couple of days touring beautiful Vicksburg, Mississippi (if you ever have the chance, please visit this city, as it is quite beautiful in the spring and summer). Mom spent time either in the hotel or shopping, while dad and I visited the battlefield and the museum to the USS Cairo (pronounced kay-ro), a Union gunboat sunk by a Confederate mine (they used the term torpedo then), which was salvaged and now serves as a floating museum.

USS Cairo
This is the USS Cairo, which I photographed during my second visit to Vicksburg in 2004.

My second battlefield trip was during Spring Break 2004. While most college students go to the beach and party hard, several fellow history enthusiasts, Dr. Jim Davis (I will get you to write for this site sir), and I toured the South, visiting Vicksburg, Corinth, and Shiloh (we attempted to convince Dr. Davis to visit the Jack Daniel’s distillery, but that was not to be). We had a blast, as we enjoyed good conversations with Dr. Davis as well as interesting sites, including the gentleman in northern Mississippi who filled his gas tank next to our van with a lit cigarette in his mouth. A couple of the sites we visited were the courthouse in Vicksburg, as well as the monument to Illinois soldiers.

courthouse
The courthouse at Vicksburg, with some of my friends sitting on the steps.

Illinois monument
The monument to the Illinois soldiers that served at Vicksburg.

pic-5.jpg
What next General? Discussing the artillery piece with Dr. Davis.

After visiting Vicksburg, we headed northeast towards Corinth. Along the way, we stopped in beautiful Oxford, MS, home of Ole Miss. Oxford had a really cool square and was geared towards the university. We enjoyed visiting a local bookshop and dinner at one of the local restaurants. The next morning, we toured Corinth and visited the national cemetery located there and saw the construction of an interpretive center for the battle. We then headed to Shiloh and had a wonderful time visiting the site. Here are a couple of pictures of from Shiloh.

pic-14.jpg
Overlooking Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River at Shiloh.

Bloody pond
We are posing in front of “Bloody Pond”, where wounded soldiers drank and bathed their wounds after the first day of battle.

My last battlefield trip was while I was on a 15-day research trip to Washington, DC with Dr. Davis and several other history students in summer of 2004. We visited Gettysburg, Antietam, Fredericksburg, The Wilderness, Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania Courthouse, and Appomattox Courthouse both on the way to and returning from DC. Time and weather limited our visits to The Wilderness, Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania Courthouse, and Appomattox Courthouse, but we made the best of it.

We spent more time at Antietam and Gettysburg, which was great. I could have spent days in Gettysburg, as there are all sorts of unique stores, including reenacting stores. We toured the battlefields extensively. At Gettysburg, we visited the town as well, taking in the shopping and other sites. Of course, what trip to Gettysburg would be complete without walking Pickett’s Charge. Though it was a hot day, I had a great time at Gettysburg and hope to go back someday. Here are a couple of pictures, one from Antietam and the other at Gettysburg.

Stone Bridge
The stone bridge across Antietam Creek.

group at Gettysburg
Our group at the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy” where rebel forces briefly broke through the Union line during Pickett’s Charge.

Overall, I have wonderful memories of visiting all these sites with friends and family and it is something I hope to pass on to my children someday. I encourage everyone to take a lesson from the Roloffs and I and take your kids on trips to historical places, as they are wonderful opportunities to bond and teach your kids about where we come from. I would also encourage families to check out or buy books on the subjects and places of family trips. For serious history buffs and scholars, I encourage you to purchase Staff Ride guides or battlefield guides published by historians, as they provide a more in-depth look at the sites. So get out there and travel, and most importantly, have fun.

Review of Shiloh: A Battlefield Guide

Shiloh coverThis review will appear in an upcoming issue of On Point: The Journal of Army History.

Grimsley, Mark and Steven E. Woodworth. Shiloh: A Battlefield Guide. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2006. 176 pp. Illus., maps. ISBN 10: 0-8032-7100-X $19.95

This book by two eminent Civil War historians is necessary for anyone that will travel to the Shiloh National Military Park in Tennessee in the future. The authors have created a work that gives the reader an in-depth account of the Battle of Shiloh that occurred in April 1862. Many wonderful aspects to this book make it valuable to tourists and historians alike.

Mark Grimsley and Steven Woodworth created this book to aid in understanding the battlefield tour stops. The book is thorough even though it is brief in pagination. The authors take the reader to each of the tour stops located at the park, covering both days of the battle, and examine key events pertaining to each stop. The guide is so thorough that the authors provide detailed directions to specific spots and tour stops on the battlefield, including distances via car in tenths of miles.

Most of the areas of the park covered are accessible by vehicle and Grimsley and Woodworth instruct readers to reset the trip odometers in their vehicles to follow the guide correctly. These instructions to readers in reaching stops are just one unique way that this guide is organized. There are small “vignettes” (authors’ term) that describe events relating to both the background of the battle and the battle itself that may be read in between the stops on the tour. Once at a particular stop, the reader is treated to descriptions of the action that occurred at the stop. In addition, many sections dealing with the tour stops contain small stories based off primary sources written by soldiers that participated in the battle.

The organization of this guide revolves around the stops on the battlefield tour, as well as chronologically with relation to the battle. The first stops and sections discussed in the guide are related to the events of the first day of the battle. The latter half of the guide deals with the events at the tour stops pertaining to the second day of battle. Within these broad sections dealing with each day of the battle, the authors provide the reader/tourist a couple of options. For instance, the authors list two route options for the battlefield tour, a western and eastern route, which allow the tourist to understand the battle on both sides of the park. In addition to the different route options, the guide provides an optional walking tour of the famous “Hornet’s Nest”.

This guide is packed with information on the battle and more information on each stop than can be placed on the various markers and memorials throughout the park. The guide is well researched and based on many good sources, including memoirs and scholarly works. It also includes several wonderful illustrations and helpful maps to compliment the written portions. The authors provide good lists of works for further reading as well. Overall, though not a typical work of scholarship, this guide is certainly a fine example of scholarship intended for a more general audience.

Both authors lend their experienced backgrounds to this guide. Mark Grimsley is a history professor at Ohio State University and author of And Keep Moving On, which deals with the Virginia campaign. Steven Woodworth is a professor at Texas Christian University and the author of Nothing but Victory, which covers the history of the Army of the Tennessee. Both authors are respected in their fields and their authorship of this guide gives tremendous credibility.

Overall, this guide is a wonderful resource for understanding the Battle of Shiloh and for touring the park. It provides a large amount of information in a small package and has the reputation of two respected scholars behind it. This book is a necessary tool for having a successful tour of the battlefield and a wonderful resource on the battle for all audiences, including professional historians, military officers, and general readers.

Daniel Sauerwein
Grand Forks, ND
AHF member