The Story Of The Battle Of Shiloh, by Zachary Kent
One of the aspects of this book that is disappointing, at least a little bit, is the way that this book chooses to allocate its limited space. This is a short book that is designed for young readers, and yet even though the book is itself about the Battle of Shiloh, a battle that occurred months before the Emancipation Proclamation was made and years before the Thirteenth Amendment passed Congress, the author chooses to emphasize hostility towards slavery in the behavior of Union troops at this stage of the war. In fact, it should be remembered that at this time Lincoln was having to rein in his more abolitionist generals in order to keep Kentucky and Missouri in the Union and to seek to broaden the appeal of anti-rebel action to those who were hostile to the rebellion of the Confederacy but not to slavery itself. It is only later, and gradually, that Lincoln was able to shape Union war aims to include freedom as a means of justifying the sacrifices of both whites and blacks made on behalf of Union. A book this short simply doesn’t have the space to cover the role of slavery as a cause of the Civil War with the nuance that would be necessary to do it justice.
This book is a short narrative history about the Battle of Shiloh that is about 30 pages long or so. After an introductory story about the dramatic (and not true) story of the “surprise” rebel assault at dawn, when there had been attacks on the pickets for an hour and a half or so before the full attack began, about a third of the book is devoted to the context of slavery and the beginning of the Civil War. This makes sense only if someone who wants to read about the Battle of Shiloh is not familiar with the Civil War and its course as a whole. The focus on narrative history relating to the Battle as a whole tends to disregard the larger political arguing on both sides that was involved in the battle, from Halleck’s effort to gain control of the combined army on its way to Corinth after the battle, to the reluctance of Buell to work with Grant, to the struggle over Lew Wallace’s disposition and march, and even the location and timing of Gen. Johnston’s death and the lack of reality of the “missed opportunity” on the part of the Confederacy to defeat the Union army as a whole. Given the narrative weakness of the level of historical accuracy of the book, this cannot be recommended.
In reading a book like this, it is important to remember that the author appears more interested in telling an exciting story about the Battle of Shiloh than conveying a historically accurate account of the battle or its course itself. The author, for example, can be found peddling a lot of not particularly true accounts of the battle itself, including the idea that the attack was completely a surprise to Grant’s army–when it was not–and that the Confederates made a smashing success of the early part of their attack only to falter at the end of the day. In general, it appears as if both days of the battle were hard-fought, but a challenging battle between two inexperienced armies fighting over control of the Upper South is not nearly as easy to sell as a battle in which one side is apparently surprised and flees all the way to the river and yet manages to hold on to that area all day. Alas, this book is too short to go into much detail, and it is not really going to provide the reader with the insight that will make them knowledgeable about the battle of Shiloh.