Thursday, March 5, 2009

Struggle for Heartland

Struggle for the Heartland: The campaigns from Fort Henry to Corinth by Stephen D Engle

As the title suggests this book puts Shiloh in the context of the other operations in the Western theater at the time. Specifically the fighting along the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers. This is a pretty short book, 200 pages, and Shiloh only is about 30 of them, and doesn’t appear until nearly three-fourths of the book is over.

Engle is not the first historian to think of these battles as a campaign. Manning F. Force wrote a book in 1882 with that very title, Fort Henry to Corinth. Force was a veteran of these fights, having served as colonel of the 20th Ohio. I really like this book. It is obviously not useful to find out what regiment fought where but it is very useful for placing the battle in context with the other operations in the West in the spring of 1862.

I believe that the spring of 1862 was when the south lost the war. Sure they fought on for three more years but the ground lost in 1862 set things up for the rest of the war. I think that during the rest of the year the South does a fair job of mitigating those losses. Halleck does not use his superior position post-Corinth to bring the war to a close but instead loses the initiative and allows the South to take the offensive and transfer the area of active operations to middle Tennessee and Kentucky. The campaign for Vicksburg does not kick off until the late fall. I think that February thru May is a time when the Union takes great strides towards making this a short war, and that those advantages are then blown in the next few months so that it isn’t until the summer of 1863 that those possibilities can be turned into real gains. This book does a very good job of explaining how the Union achieved those impressive gains in the spring.

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