Day 25: Shiloh

Cover to ShilohIn Shiloh, the historian and novelist Shelby Foote has written an interesting fictional account that describes the battle from the points of view of several different narrators, some on the Union side and some on the Confederate. Each narrator has his own chapter. In these brief narratives you get a sense of the character while being able to trace the larger movements of the battle.

Foote manages to work into the narratives the major events, such as the death of General Johnston; the surviving Confederate leadership’s failure to follow Forrest’s recommendation of attacking again at night, which probably would have ended in victory for the Confederates; the 10,000 Union “shirkers” who hid along the riverbank after they became dispirited from having to pull back time after time; and the river crossing by Buell’s troops, which turned the tables in the Union’s favor.

Lieutenant Palmer Metcalfe is marching with the Confederate army under Johnston as it prepares for a surprise attack on the Union troops. He thinks back with satisfaction to the complicated plan he helped draft, as he is a staff officer under Johnson. The noisy troops may have lost the element of surprise, but Johnston insists upon attacking.

Captain Walter Fountain is a Union soldier writing a letter to his wife Martha during a Tennessee evening when the Confederate troops burst out of the woods and charge the Union army.

Private Luther Dade is wounded in battle and is sent to a triage area to wait for a doctor. After hours pass and no doctor shows up, Dade begins to show signs of infection. He stumbles around across a large swathe of the battle area and finds himself witnessing the death of the Confederate commander Johnston.

So the novel proceeds in short chapters that culminate with a return to Lieutenant Metcalfe as he reviews the results of the battle. The characters are briefly drawn but have distinct personalities. Through following the peregrinations of the various characters and with the assistance of the maps in the book, you can get a good understanding of the complex battle and why the initially successful attack ultimately failed.

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