Thursday, February 5, 2009

Shiloh: Bloody April

Shiloh: Bloody April by Wiley Sword

This is a book I have mixed feelings about. On one hand it is the most detailed study of the battle (although the recent arrival of Cunningham's dissertation for the 1960s ranks a close second). But I've found errors in it, somewhat substantial errors. So if I was wondering what the 77th Ohio did I would use this, along with the Official Records, but I would not trust what I read here 100%. I would make sure to double check everything, which is a good practice anyway but sometimes its nice to use something and know you don't have to worry if its right or not.

My main problem with the book is on his day two chapters. I found this while researching the 14th Wisconsin, which only fought on the second day. Sword credited them with capturing Cobb's Battery near Woolf Field. When I tried to find out more about this I found that Cobb's Battery had been captured the day before by the 11th Illinois, 12th Illinois and 11th Iowa. There is even a tablet on the battlefield saying this. Sword does include that event in his book but then he talks about the 14th Wisconsin, 13th Ohio and 9th Kentucky capturing it again on the second day. I think what he means at that point is that they captured the abandoned guns as nearly all of Cobb's horses were killed (forgetting that there are sources that say during the night Cobb found enough animals and men to drag away the guns). But even that is a problem because the 14th Wisconsin was no where near that place on the second day. I think that ranks as a pretty substantial mistake. Sword has mixed up a variety of locations and times, and he stands alone in placing the 14th Wisconsin in that area on that day.

That is what makes me wonder about everything I read in there. Some day I hope to have the time to produce my own manuscript on Shiloh of comparable length and see just how much I agree with what Sword, and all the other Shiloh historians, have written.

I own a first edition, a reading copy I had picked up earlier, and his revised edition. The revised edition primarily offers a long appendix on Albert Sidney Johnston and where me might have died. Sword thinks the location is wrong and places it the next ravine north of where everyone else says it was. He does make some good points but overall I do not agree with this assertion either.

My final complaint is that Sword refers to Shiloh as the Pearl Harbor of the Civil War. He does this outside of the main text area. I understand his surprise reference but Shiloh was a tactical surprise on the same level as Cedar Creek in Virginia in 1864. This was not that rare an occurrence though the frequency was not that great either. Pearl Harbor was a strategic surprise that the Civil War lacks. The firing on Fort Sumter came as no surprise, both sides knew it was coming soon. The actual moment may have surprised some people but very few people were not surprised it happened in April 1861.

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