Friday, March 6, 2009

This Great Battlefield of Shiloh

This Great Battlefield of Shiloh: History, Memory and the Establishment of a Civil War National Military Park by Timothy B. Smith

This book covers the formation of Shiloh National Military Park from its formation in 1894 to its transfer to the Department of the Interior in 1933. This is a very important time for the battlefield as this is when the park as we know it takes shape. By 1933 nearly all the plaques, markers and monuments are in place. The park landscape had been returned to its 1862 appearance as best as possible (the biggest change being that the fields had changed over the 32 years before the battlefield became a park, although roads and homes had been added).

My primary complaint with the book is that it stops in 1933. I wanted to know more, I wanted a complete history of the park's administration up to the present day. Perhaps Smith will write a second volume down the road that finished the story.

The other thing I wish this book had more of is the various controversies that regiments had about the placement of their lines. Some of these were relatively minor while some, like the 81st Ohio's complaints were much larger events that involved high ranking members of the War Department. I find this sort of thing fascinating and I know of no other book that covers these controversies at Shiloh. There are certainly books that discuss the conflicts over monument placement at Gettysburg but I know of none for Shiloh.

Smith does a good job of explaining David W. Reed's impact on the historiography of Shiloh. Reed was the chief historian, he later served as superintendent, and was the voice of the park. Reed was not an unbiased observer, he had served in the 12th Iowa which fought in the Sunken Road. The Sunken Road begins to take a prominent spot in Shiloh historiography during the 1890s and Reed certainly helps make it that way.

All in all this is a very good book that covers all aspects of the first four decades of the park.

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