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ACW Book Review: Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862

By Lance Herdegen
11/19/2018 • America's Civil War Magazine

Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862

by O. Edward Cunningham Savas Beatie, El Dorado Hills, Calif., 2007, $34.95.

Decades ago Edward Cunningham’s study of the Shiloh campaign of 1862 should have become a book. He completed it while a student of Dr.T. Harry Williams at Louisiana State University, but it was not published at the time and has since languished in typed form in various repositories. Dr. Cunningham died in 1997.

Now editors Gary D.Joiner and Timothy B. Smith and publisher Savas Beatie have corrected the oversight in Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862.The Battle of Shiloh and subsequent maneuvering in 1862 has long been part of Civil War lore but has received only three modern treatments:Wiley Sword’s Shiloh:Bloody April in 1974; James Lee McDonough’s Shiloh—In Hell before Night in 1977; and Larry J. Daniel’s Shiloh:The Battle That Changed the Civil War in 1997.

The fighting of April 6 and 7,1862,was the first major battle of the Western theater and proved a stern test of the Union generalship of U.S. Grant and W.T. Sherman. For the South,the fatal wounding of Albert Sidney Johnston, considered the most accomplished military leader of the new Confederacy, marked lost hopes.

A sprawling brawl between untested and mainly Western soldiers on both sides,the slugfest cost nearly 24,000 casualties and pointed to the likelihood of a longer war than expected.

Cunningham’s careful study questions whether the fighting at the famous Hornet’s Nest was as critical to the outcome of the battle as is now believed. He also argues that there were fewer assaults against the Sunken Road and that Daniel Ruggles’ artillery had at most 51 Confederate cannons in line, not 62.

Cunningham instead singles out the fighting in the area where the Hamburg-Purdy and Corinth-Pittsburg roads intersect as key to the battle’s outcome.The author also examines the failure of the Confederate generals to understand and read the landscape,a critical flaw.

The valuable introduction by editors Joiner and Smith traces Shiloh historiography beginning with David Reed’s The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged, published in 1902, through Daniel’s book in 1997.They believe—and they cite the agreement of Park Ranger George Reaves—that Cunningham’s work is an important and fresh look at the campaign and battle.The book is supported by 30 original maps,an order of battle and a table of losses, as well as photos.

Cunningham’s writing is generally entertaining and not the heavy, scholarly style often found in dissertations. Credit for that should probably go in part to Dr. Williams and a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Dr. William B. Hesseltine, who insisted his doctoral candidates take courses to improve their writing. A wise man, Dr. Hesseltine.

The Cunningham book is a welcome addition to the Shiloh bookshelf. It is the work of a researcher who looks at the evidence and then reports his interpretations in a clear, readable style.The editors also make Cunningham’s work stronger.The book proves again that good research,careful interpretation and solid writing produce works of timeless quality, whether written today or four decades ago.

 

Originally published in the September 2007 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.  

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