Thursday, February 12, 2009
Seeing the Elephant
Seeing the Elephant: Raw Recruits at the Battle of Shiloh by Joseph Allan Frank and George A. Reaves
This is one of my favorite Shiloh books. It examines how green troops reacted to their first brush with combat. Both armies were primarily made of men who had never been in combat before with the exception of some men who fought at Fort Donelson (almost exclusively Union troops) and a small group that were at Belmont.
Frank and Reaves had a wealth of source material, in all they used 381 letters and diaries covering 160 units. The first third of the book covers how the men became soldiers. The second third deals with the battle directly. The last third tells what the men thought of their performance, as well as how outsiders viewed their performance.
This book has a ton of anecdotal quotes but its much more than that. I know I'm not doing a fantastic job of describing the book but if you want to know how fresh troops dealt with their first big battle this is the book. Especially if you want to know about how the dealt with Shiloh. But the themes expressed in the soldiers' writings would translate well to other instances of green troops seeing the elephant. If your focus was First Manassas I'm sure you could find plenty of similar experiences between Shiloh soldiers and Manassas soldiers.