Shiloh: Conquer or Perish. By Timothy B. Smith. Illustrated, photos, maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, index, 583 pp., 2014, University Press of Kansas, www.kansaspress.ku.edu, $34.95.
The lament of most Western theater students is that there are not enough books published on the theater they deem the most important.There will likely be more books published on Gettysburg this year than Shiloh has had in the last 40 years.One thing Shiloh enthusiasts have going for them now though is that there is a new large history of the battle.Excusing the 2007 printing of an older dissertation this is the first Shiloh history since Larry Daniel’s in 1997.
One thing that stands out right away in Smith’s book is that each day of the battle is examined in the same detail.Most books devote the lion’s share to the first day of battle, treating the second like an after thought.Smith instead devotes nearly as many pages to the second day of battle as he does to the first.
Terrain played a big part in how the battle unfolded and it was interesting to see it described as an hour glass.This hour glass of high ground would affect each day’s fighting.On day one it allowed the Union to withdraw into a secure compact position while on the second day as the Confederates retreat they have to defend a larger area. I don’t believe I’d heard the terrain described this way but it makes sense.
Although there has not been many large battle histories published the study of Shiloh has been helped with many smaller books and articles.Smith has been able to convert all of this scholarship into a more modern view point on the battle than was previously available.
This is a great book that will soon become to the go to source for Shiloh.As a student of the battle I hope we do not have to wait another 17 years for someone to further our insight into this complex battle.Until then though this book deserves a place on the shelves of everyone interested in how and why the battle of Shiloh was fought.