Shiloh has been called the first “great and terrible battle” of the American Civil War. Before it was fought in the spring of 1862, many believed the war would be over by Christmas. But then word came from southwest Tennessee of the battle’s 23,000 casualties — more than in all previous American wars combined. The conflict began on April sixth as the Confederate Army mounted a surprise attack on General Ulysses grant’s poorly prepared troops. When it ended a day later, both sides finally realized what they had unleashed – and understood the war was far from over. On its 150th anniversary, a look at Shiloh’s pivotal role in America’s Civil War.


  • Winston Groom Author of fourteen books, including "Patriotic Fire," "Shrouds of Glory" and "Forrest Gump"

Program Highlights

Award-winning author Winston Groom has written a new history of the Civil War battle – the Battle of Shiloh – which got its name from a tiny Methodist chapel that stood at the site of the heaviest fighting. The book is titled simply, “Shiloh, 1862.” In it, Groom brings key characters from the battle vividly to life. He focuses on the human aspects of the story.

A Battle Of Colonels

Groom calls the Battle of Shiloh a “battle of colonels.” The generals didn’t have a lot of say or control in the course of the battle. “So when I looked at it, I thought there’s gotta be a way to tell this story so that your average reader can appreciate it. And what I did was I found a dozen or maybe more, 18, 19 people who were either in the battle itself or very personally affected by it who had written letters or diaries or memoirs. And I let them carry the thread all the way through the fight,” Groom said.


Gjelten noted that while it seems that not many people keep diaries today, back in the Civil War era, people seemed to do it more and many were strong writers. Groom said that people back then poured their hearts into their diaries; they didn’t have phones to pick up or emails to write. One diarist, Josie Underwood, came from Bowling Green, Kentucky, a town that was bitterly divided Confederate sentiments. Her own family were staunch Unionists, but she went to Memphis to stay with relatives for a summer and fell in love with a staunch Confederate there. Her diary reveals the depths of her torn feelings and her ultimate decision to go back to her family and her Unionists roots.

The Brutality Of The Battle

Groom said that he still can’t understand how Ulysses S. Grant “got himself surprised by 45,000 men sneaking up on him,” but apparently that’s what happened. “I mean, to not fortify, to not put out patrols when you knew that you had 20 miles away a great Confederate Force is beyond me. But these guys, to think about them, you know, they were polishing their boots or doing their wash or, as I said, playing cards,” she said.

You can read the full transcript here.


  • 11:06:54

    MR. TOM GJELTENThanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's recovering from a voice treatment. Today, we're noting the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh. Award-winning author Winston Groom has written a new history of the Civil War battle which got its name from a tiny Methodist chapel that stood at the site of the heaviest fighting. The book is titled simply, "Shiloh, 1862." In it, Winston Groom brings key characters from the battle vividly to life. He focuses on the human aspects of the story.

  • 11:07:27

    MR. TOM GJELTENWinston Groom joins me today in the studio. Good morning, Winston.

  • 11:07:30

    MR. WINSTON GROOMGood morning.

  • 11:07:31

    GJELTENThanks for being with us on this historic anniversary.

  • 11:07:34

    GROOMWell, thanks for having me.

  • 11:07:35

    GJELTENThose of you who are Civil War buffs will no doubt wanna join our conversation with your own comments and questions. You can reach us at 1-800-433-8850 or by email, or via Facebook or Twitter. You know, Winston, about the nicest thing you can say about a historian is that they write like a novelist. You are a novelist so writing history in a literary style comes naturally to you.

  • 11:08:07

    GROOMWell, I guess. I mean, writing at this point in my life comes pretty natural to me. I mean, it's something that I have some talent for, I guess.

  • 11:08:21

    GJELTENWe're coming up on the 25th anniversary of "Forrest Gump," which is a book that certainly put you...

  • 11:08:26

    GROOMThat's hard to believe. Twenty-five years. Gosh, it seems like yesterday.

  • 11:08:30

    GJELTENOh, is that right? Yeah.

  • 11:08:31

    GROOMAnd I'll put in a plug. Vintage at Random House, Vintage Books is putting out the 25th anniversary edition of Forrest Gump just a couple weeks ago. It is available anywhere.

  • 11:08:44

    GJELTENWell, congratulations.

  • 11:08:45

    GROOMThank you.

  • 11:08:46

    GJELTENSo remind us how many books have been written about the Battle of Shiloh.

  • 11:08:51

    GROOMOh, dear, I mean dozens, some major, some minor. There are probably half a dozen what I call major exploration of the battle...

  • 11:09:05


  • 11:09:06

    GROOM...that have been published, oh, in the past 25 years or 30 years. And there was some earlier ones, as well, by which I mean back in the early part of the 20th century.

  • 11:09:20


  • 11:09:21

    GROOMBut probably a half a dozen, which is not many considering if you look at Gettysburg or Antietam or some of the eastern battles are so more. But when I looked at it, most of these books are very good historically. They chronicle the fight minute-by-minute and regiment-by-regiment. Well, there were 170 or so regiments in this thing. And so I think...

  • 11:09:52

    GJELTENSo you can get bogged down in the details really quickly.

  • 11:09:54

    GROOMYou can, if you really wanna explore it that way. And that’s a good way to. I mean, it paves the way. If you wanna understand a battle do it by regiment-by-regiment is gonna do it, but it can be confusing. And I'd always avoided Shiloh as a topic and the battles in the West because it was confusing like that. It was 100,000 people all trying to murder each other, minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, all day long and into the next morning of the next day. And in terrain that was impossible to control anybody. And I'm thinking this is more like a melee than a battle.

  • 11:10:33

    GROOMIt was a battle of colonels. I mean, in regiments, the generals basically didn't have a whole lot of control in this thing. So when I looked at it, I thought there's gotta be a way to tell this story so that your average reader can appreciate it. And what I did was I found a dozen or maybe more, 18, 19 people who were either in the battle itself or very personally affected by it who had written letters or diaries or memoirs. And I let them carry the thread all the way through the fight.

  • 11:11:16

    GROOMSo I think that you get a little more human aspect of it, I guess.

  • 11:11:22

    GJELTENVery much so.

  • 11:11:22

    GROOMAnd there was some very good writers there. I mean, you had Ambrose Bierce who was an infantry officer in the Union Army. And of course he was one of the most popular writers of the 19th century. He wrote "The Devil's Dictionary" which I remember reading in high school.

  • 11:11:39


  • 11:11:39

    GROOMI thought it was gonna be dirty, but it wasn't, but it was funny.

  • 11:11:42

    GJELTENAnd what was he in the war?

  • 11:11:43

    GROOMHe was a lieutenant...

  • 11:11:45


  • 11:11:45 General Buell's Army.

  • 11:11:48


  • 11:11:49

    GROOMAnd went there on the second day. And then, there was David Morton Stanley who was of Stanley and Livingston fame.

  • 11:11:55


  • 11:11:56

    GROOMHe was a great African explorer and a journalist. And he was there. And Lew Wallace.

  • 11:12:02

    GJELTENLew Wallace.

  • 11:12:02

    GROOMLew Wallace. Now, Lew Wallace wrote the most popular novel of the 19th century, "Ben Hur."

  • 11:12:07


  • 11:12:07

    GROOMHe was there. Even beyond those professional writers, there was some great diarists and who later went on to be very good journalists. I beg your pardon, not diarists, memoirists.

  • 11:12:22


  • 11:12:23

    GROOMPeople who later went and wrote their memoirs of the fight. And I'm thinking they're pretty much telling the truth. I mean, it sounded okay by me.

  • 11:12:34

    GJELTENBut you mentioned diarists. In addition to these professional writers, people were better writers back then. I mean, people actually wrote. People kept diaries. We don't keep diaries that much anymore. I mean I remember this fascinating woman and I wanna get back to her, Josie Underwood, who was a civilian. She was not a professional writer, but she kept a detailed and beautifully written diary about what happened to her, her experience of that time.

  • 11:12:59

    GROOMIt'll break your heart.

  • 11:12:59


  • 11:13:00

    GROOMAnd you know you're absolutely right. The people back then poured out their -- I mean, they didn't have a telephone to pick up.

  • 11:13:06


  • 11:13:07

    GROOMOr a cell phone or all this email and everything. And I don't know what's gonna become of the world of letters, as we call it now, but that's off the topic. But, yeah, Josie Underwood was this young girl who I think had just turned 21. And she was from Bowling Green, Kentucky...

  • 11:13:26


  • 11:13:27

    GROOM...which was a town bitterly divided between the Union and the Confederate sentiments. And her father had been a congressman. He was a very wealthy planter there and a politician. And he was a staunch Union man. He could not believe the South was gonna try to split off from the Union, but they disliked Lincoln. They voted for...

  • 11:13:56

    GJELTENSteven Douglas.

  • 11:13:57

    GROOM...John Bell or somebody.

  • 11:13:58


  • 11:13:59

    GROOMBut her childhood friend suddenly -- the whole thing was coming apart. And they had this big mansion there. And all of a sudden, the mansion is burned down in this thing. But the touching story about Josie Underwood to me was that she fell in love with -- they sent her to Memphis for the winter...

  • 11:14:21


  • 11:14:22 her very wealthy relatives. And she fell in love with this young lawyer who was a rebel, a Confederate. This was before the...

  • 11:14:32

    GJELTENEnthusiastic rebel.

  • 11:14:35


  • 11:14:35

    GJELTENAn enthusiastic rebel. He enthusiastically...

  • 11:14:38

    GROOMOh, yeah, extremely. Well, he was a wealthy Mississippian who was practicing law in Memphis. And he said, when the South goes, I will go with it, basically. And that whole family in Memphis did that, her family. Some of them went one way, some of them went the other way. And this young man became a Confederate officer and her feelings were so torn. And you can see the wrenching of her heart in her diary that she kept, which the University of Kentucky Press published a few years ago.

  • 11:15:15

    GROOMAnd, I mean, she obviously loved the man, but...

  • 11:15:19


  • 11:15:20

    GROOM...she could not bring herself further than, I love him, but I can't marry him because he's destroying the country that I love.

  • 11:15:28

    GJELTENAnd her own brother-in-law. As you say, she was firmly on the Union side.

  • 11:15:33


  • 11:15:33

    GJELTENHer brother, I think, enlisted in the Union Army.

  • 11:15:35

    GROOMHe went with the Confederacy.

  • 11:15:37

    GJELTENHe was how old, 16 years old?

  • 11:15:38

    GROOMWell, this is what happened in that war. And especially in the West. Not so much in the East, although around Maryland and Virginia it did, but in states like Kentucky and Missouri...

  • 11:15:48


  • 11:15:49 had brother fighting brother.

  • 11:15:50


  • 11:15:51

    GROOMYou had friend fighting friend. You had, oh, I don't know how many regiments. Maybe 30 or 40 regiments came out of Kentucky for the Union side and the same number came out for the Confederate side. And they all fought each other.

  • 11:16:04

    GJELTENUm-hum. Well, your book really reinforces, underscores that this was a civil war. I mean, when you think about rebels fighting confederates, but the notion of a civil war is so terrible for a country to go through. And your book reminds us in what ways this really was a civil war.

  • 11:16:23

    GROOMIt was a civil war in that aspect. It was not a civil war in the aspect -- we normally think of a civil war where you have some faction that wishes to take over the government.

  • 11:16:33


  • 11:16:33

    GROOMThat is what we think of traditionally in a civil war. This is a civil war in which you had a faction that wishes to split away from the existing government. But it was still a civil war. You had brother fighting brother.

  • 11:16:47

    GJELTENUm-hum. Let's talk about why you chose, I mean, as you said in the beginning, there have been many, many books written about Civil War battle, most of them about battles here in the East. You've had a particular interest in the western side of the Civil War. Your first Civil War book was about the western campaign, as well. Has the war in the West gotten less attention, not as much attention as it has deserved to get?

  • 11:17:14

    GROOMThat's a very good question. And I began sort of cutting my teeth on this thing with Shelby Foote who became a good friend. And he focused in his great corpus of work more on the West than any other Civil War writer has. And yes. I mean there are so many books on Gettysburg and Antietam and all that. You know when you write a book of history you wanna bring something fresh to it. And there was a lot of competition out there in the East. Besides that, I sort of live in the West. My great-grandfather fought -- both great-grandfathers fought in the Civil War and both of them in the West.

  • 11:17:57

    GJELTENUm-hum. Winston Groom is the author of 15 books, including "Vicksburg, 1863" and "Forrest Gump." His new book is "Shiloh, 1862." We are today and tomorrow and the next day commemorating, marking the 150th anniversary of this war. When we come back, Winston, I actually want you to read a couple of sections of this book. As I said in the beginning, as a novelist, you have a fine writing hand. And you have really brought to life this battle, which was so important in the evolution of the war.

  • 11:18:32

    GJELTENIt really foreshadowed, didn't it, what was to come. And it was early. It was only in April of 1862, just barely a year after the Civil War broke out. And you can join us, listeners, 1-800-433-8850. We're gonna take a short break right now. We'll be right back.

  • 11:20:05

    GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten sitting in today for Diane Rehm. And my guest is Winston Groom. He's the author of "Shiloh, 1862" an account of the first great terrible battle of the American Civil War. It started on April 6, 1862 exactly 150 years ago today. And, Winston, one of the things that you do so beautifully in this book is set the scene in a way, as you say, that the average reader can really get into it.

  • 11:20:33

    GJELTENAnd so the fighting began, Winston, on a Sunday morning. Thus far, a typical Sunday morning as General Sherman had dubbed it. I've marked a little section in your book there and I wonder if you could read that out loud where you're talking about what soldiers were doing that Sunday morning just before the fighting began.

  • 11:20:56

    GROOMYes, this is just before the battle. Soldiers had finished their breakfast and were tending to routine tasks such as washing clothes or writing letters or simply lounging around. Some were engaged in playing cards or other games of chance, while still others attended services conducted by brigade chaplains on the lovely Sabbath day. It was cool, bright, clear and too early in the year for bugs. The orchards were in full blossom, oaks were tasseling, dogwoods and redbuds were in bloom.

  • 11:21:28

    GROOMAnd an inordinate number of those on hand recorded in their diaries and memoirs how many birds were singing in the trees. Some singled out robins, some bluebirds, some mourning doves. Others noted the disharmony of the sounds of the birds and the distant spatter of gunfire.

  • 11:21:48

    GJELTENThat's really good writing, Winston, because you introduce that discordant element at the end, which I think is really captivating. The discordant -- on the one hand the birds singing and then in the distance, gunfire. It really gives a sense of foreboding.

  • 11:22:02

    GROOMWell, if you could imagine it, and I did, that's what I do for a living as a novelist. I mean, I try to put my head where the people were. And it was in early springtime and Shiloh was right on the border of Mississippi and Tennessee in the southwest corner of Tennessee right beside the Tennessee river and marked off on one side by miry swamps and moccasin-infested creeks.

  • 11:22:31

    GROOMAnd this whole Union army of about 45,000 men were encamped there in thousands of these huge white eight-men tents. And most of them, the ones on the very front, the very southernmost they had some warning. There were rumors and notices that the Confederate army were there.

  • 11:22:57

    GJELTENWhen you say the Confederate army was there, how close were they?

  • 11:23:00

    GROOMWell, they were about a mile away when they began their attack. And how in the world Ulysses S. Grant got himself surprised by 45,000 men sneaking up on him, that has never been satisfactorily explained to me to date. I mean, to not fortify, to not put out patrols when you knew that you had 20 miles away a great Confederate Force is beyond me. But these guys, to think about them, you know, they were polishing their boots or doing their wash or, as I said, playing cards.

  • 11:23:37

    GROOMAnd these birds are singing and the gorgeous springtime and suddenly, you hear rifle fire beginning. And then out of the tree line comes a line of men in gray and butternut two miles long marching with their bayonets gleaming in the sun and the bands are all playing and the drummers are drumming and the officers are on horseback. And they began marching toward them.

  • 11:24:05

    GROOMAnd in the background, this enormous rebel yell, which is something that nobody has ever really been able to explain. They never recorded it as far as I know, even though some of those soldiers lived on until the '20s and '30s. But it's been described -- it's something Indian about it, but it's described as possibly a sound of like 50,000 foxhounds all yipping at once. And that had to send the hairs on the back of your neck standing straight up. It was this enormous chill to know these people were coming to kill you, that this was no joke.

  • 11:24:40


  • 11:24:41

    GROOMAnd these were Americans, other Americans. They were coming to kill you.

  • 11:24:46

    GJELTENYeah, one of the things that you really emphasize in your description of this battle is the sounds. As you say, you begin with the setting, the sound of the birds. And then the rebels come out of the woods and they have this rebel yell. And then before long there's this cacophony of artillery and rifle blasts. And several people that you quote in the book really talk about how deafening the sound was.

  • 11:25:06

    GROOMOh yes. I mean, and I don't know, a lot of people have heard these civil war guns. They are loud. Not as loud as the modern (unintelligible) high explosive powders is beyond -- it's a huge crack. These guns -- it's a boom. And of course I've only heard them in reenactments when you see the things. But it's an enormously loud sound to hear one of these things go off. But each side had probably close to 200 pieces of artillery and all of it was firing all day long all the time. And that was just the artillery.

  • 11:25:39

    GROOMAnd then, well, you had about 90 or 1,000 or 100,000 men and they were trained -- of course, not the case 'cause we'll get to that in a moment. These people were not trained. They were practically green new troops. But a trained infantryman could get off three rounds a minute. Well, you multiple three rounds a minute by 100,000 men and you can think of the amount of lead that was flying around through the air.

  • 11:26:06

    GROOMI mean, they went back the next day and -- especially in places where the battle was the most ferocious in the hornets' nest or the sunken road. And whole trees, I mean, big 6 inches in diameter, the trunks of trees had been felled just by rifle bullets. They just...

  • 11:26:27

    GJELTENWith small arms.

  • 11:26:28

    GROOMYeah. I'm on the board of a Civil War museum in New Orleans. We have a piece of wood that came from Shiloh that it looks like termites had gotten through it.

  • 11:26:40

    GJELTENWell, and you mention, okay. Let's remind our listeners we're talking here April, 1862, not even a year after the war started. And up until then, there had been very few, you said, except for the Battle of Bull Run where 5,000 people were killed, mostly we hadn't seen great big battles. And particularly in the West here, as you say, a lot of these soldiers on both sides, but probably especially on the Union side, really didn't have any idea what they were in for, right? They had never heard a gun fired in anger. They didn't necessarily know how to use weapons. They certainly didn't know what combat was like.

  • 11:27:15

    GROOMThat's true of both sides. Actually, the Union soldiers, I think, had more combat experience than the Confederates because Ulysses Grant brought them down to Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, which were north of Vicksburg and they had fights there. But some of these guys had been in state militias and so they knew how to use guns in the rudimentary aspects of military drill and things. And some of the officers had been in the Mexican War.

  • 11:27:45

    GROOMBut by and large these people were completely inexperienced and, I mean, well, on the Union side you had between -- and this is an estimate -- 10 and 15,000 of these men simply ran away from the fight, ran down to Pittsburgh Landing trying to get on the boats to get away. They were terrified. And you had southern regiments who were sent back out of the fight because of a failure to stand up to combat.

  • 11:28:13

    GROOMAnd so that's just a sign of green troops that they panicked, they totally panicked because they see somebody fixing to kill them.

  • 11:28:22


  • 11:28:23

    GROOMAnd it's a scary thing, I know.

  • 11:28:25

    GROOMYou know. You actually served in Vietnam briefly, didn't you?

  • 11:28:29

    GROOMI did. I did a long time ago.

  • 11:28:31

    GJELTENWhat was at stake in this battle? I mean, so it's the first big -- great big battle of the Civil War. What would it have meant if that battle had gone differently?

  • 11:28:44

    GROOMWell, you know, we play a what-if game here, which is fun. I'm not sure how protective it is, but certainly if it had gone the other way, if the Confederate army had badly defeated General Grant and caused his army to be what they call destroyed, which means captured or surrendered or just burst or whatever, there was nothing much left between the Confederate army and Chicago or Cleveland or any of the northern cities. I think that certainly the State of Kentucky, which had been wavering, would've gone to the Confederates. Missouri probably and that would've been a calamity to the Union.

  • 11:29:24

    GROOMLincoln, at the worst possible moment, would've had to have altered his plans to take Richmond and sent that whole army west to see if he could rectify the situation. Well, if they could be rectified is again questionable because I think that had that battle gone that way the southern ranks would've swollen immediately because this would've been a huge southern victory.

  • 11:29:52

    GROOMAnd, of course, again we don't know that that would've happened because Jefferson Davis did not want to invade the north. Until the Battle of Antietam, he did not want -- he wanted to present this confederacy to Great Britain and to France and other European countries as not being an aggressor. They simply wanted to keep the north out of the south. They did not want to -- so, you know, again, there's so many what-ifs, but it's always fascinating to talk about.

  • 11:30:28

    GJELTENYeah. Let's talk about it for a moment from the military point of view. Now something that you said at the very beginning is that General Grant set his troops up in these big white tents. And he did not pay attention to fortifying his position. To what extent was what General Grant -- the way that General Grant approached that battle, to what extent did it reflect his military training, military doctrine at the time? What lessons were drawn from this battle?

  • 11:30:57

    GJELTENYou point out that one of the reasons that General Grant did not fortify was that he wanted to spend the time in drill commands and you say because drill commands were considered so critical in combat. What lessons did he draw from that?

  • 11:31:10

    GROOMWell, certainly drill was not the sort of formal thing that we think of today when people march down in parades and stuff in the military. The drill then was critical because you had to control these troops. And the only way you could control them -- I mean, you had to get the most firepower in the right place at the right time with everybody doing everything at once. And so they had all sorts of (word?) and angle drill, I call it, and things that they commanded so that everybody got to the right place. And that was important.

  • 11:31:42

    GROOMBut, I mean, to not fortify your positions when you had a big enemy -- he knew he had a big enemy only 18 miles away from the -- actually the southernmost part of your command, to me, is almost criminal. General Sherman, who was Grant's sidekick sort of, and became, of course, his best friend in more ways than one -- Sherman was a fine general. But he had been accused of being a nervous Nelly and being crazy actually about six or eight months earlier than that in the newspapers. And he recovered from this nervous Nelly-ness after taking a couple weeks off and pulled himself together.

  • 11:32:27

    GROOMBut I think it may be that he overcompensated. He was the commander on the ground. Grant was way nine miles north of there at a mansion on the river but Sherman was a senior officer and a West Point graduate. And he was there on the ground and he did not want to fortify. He said he thought it would show a weakness. And so what, that the Union soldiers were scared of the Confederates to fortify? I mean, sensible people do this. If they had fortified, I don't believe that General Johnson would've attacked.

  • 11:33:01

    GJELTENAnd General Sherman seemed almost offended by the notion that he should be preparing for these. In fact, you write that on the night before the battle began he was reassuring people that nothing was going to happen.

  • 11:33:11

    GROOMNot only that, he had a sergeant who had seen the Confederates out there arrested for spreading false rumors. Sherman, I don't know what got into him. He was a very mercurial character.

  • 11:33:24

    GJELTENI'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Speaking of sort of the military aspects of this battle, on the one hand, as you write, generals -- commanders were still sort of influenced by the doctrine that dated from the Napoleonic Wars. On the other hand, you saw in this battle some very advanced weaponry being used, emphasized largely for the first time.

  • 11:33:50

    GROOMYeah, I mean, the difference in the technology, the Napoleonic tactics were 50 years out of date. And the difference in especially in artillery and in infantry for the rate of fire, the distance that the guns could fire, the range had all greatly, vastly improved and the tactics remained the same. But, you know, there's an old maxim almost that the officers always fight the last war. In the first years of the Civil War this was quite true.

  • 11:34:25

    GJELTENAnd the first years so they learned pretty quickly...

  • 11:34:28

    GROOMThe first couple of years, you know, in the latter part of the Civil War, they did learn to fortify. Course, the Confederates never quite learned that. They always went to the attack.

  • 11:34:37


  • 11:34:39

    GROOMAnd until the very, very last, it really was cornered around Petersburg. But it was a fearful slaughter.

  • 11:34:47

    GJELTENWell, we're talking about a slaughter that took place in the space of 48 hours and there were some pretty dramatic changes of fortune during that time as well. The first day the Confederates attack and then the Union forces managed to stabilize their position. And it ends up being considered a Union victory.

  • 11:35:03

    GROOMOh yeah. Well, I mean, Grant held his field and the Confederates withdrew. So that would be a Union victory, but it was Pyrrhic in the sense that Grant was -- at first when the telegrams went out that the Union had a great victory and Grant was hailed suddenly in the press as being a hero. But when the casualty figures came in and the facts of the battle, he had let himself be surprised. And suddenly, you had -- one of the critical matters of why Shiloh was important to the war, was that it was a horrible awakening.

  • 11:35:52

    GROOMYou saw the casualty for this -- the only previous battle it pointed out the Battle of Bull Run was 5,000 casualties. Shiloh was working on 25,000 casualties. And the people who had expected the war to be over by Christmas or to have some dainty military maneuver suddenly end the war were confronted with the realization that they had unleashed a monster, a corpse factory that was going to continue year after year.

  • 11:36:27

    GROOMShiloh was the first of the big battles, the first of the great battles, but it wasn't going to be the last. And basically, what we're dealing with here is a war of attrition, meaning there were going to be a lot of people killed. And so it wasn't going to be suddenly the Union is going to crush the Confederacy or suddenly the Confederacy gets free of the Union. No. Shiloh said this is going to be a monster.

  • 11:36:51

    GJELTENAnd it was a monster. It was a type of fighting because it took place in a heavily forested area. It was a very unique type of fighting. Before we go to our break, Winston, I want to read a couple of lines about what it looked like. When the rebel lines came crashing through the woods they were preceded by a Diaspora of frightened wildlife, bounding rabbits, leaping deer, worrying coveys of quail, even flights of wild turkey sailing high overhead. It wasn't as though the Confederates were actually sneaking up on anyone.

  • 11:37:23

    GROOMA very graphic account of the battle of Shiloh by Winston Groom, a famous author, the author of "Forrest Gump." When we come back from this break, we're going to be going to the phones. A lot of people are calling, a lot of Civil War buffs out there with their own questions. Stay tuned. Thanks for listening.

  • 11:40:05

    GJELTENWelcome back I'm Tom Gjelten sitting in today for Diane Rehm. And we're talking about the Battle of Shiloh, the first great terrible battle of the American Civil War. It broke erupted on April 6, 1862 that's 150 years ago tomorrow. And we have a lot of listeners who are very interested in what we're talking about today. My guest is Winston Groom who is the author of "Shiloh, 1862," a new book on the history of that battle.

  • 11:40:34

    GJELTENAnd, Winston, I have here an email from Mark who was interested in your description talking about the Rebel yell. He says, "The best description I ever heard of the Rebel yell was one I heard during the original airing of Ken Burns's epic, "The Civil War" on PBS. Burns cited a quotation from a Confederate veteran who many years after the war was asked by a group of friends and acquaintances to give the Rebel yell. He declined and said that one couldn't properly give the Rebel unless one was hungry, tired, cold, afraid and charging into enemy fire."

  • 11:41:10

    GROOMWell, that tops me.

  • 11:41:16

    GJELTENYou had to be motivated.

  • 11:41:16

    GROOMI still like my pack of 50,000 foxhounds, but who knows.

  • 11:41:20

    GJELTENI saw beagles.

  • 11:41:22

    GROOMYeah, but, well, that's a foxhound.

  • 11:41:23

    GJELTENYeah, okay, all right. It must have been very scary, though, because it was motivated by fear -- it was motivated by emotion.

  • 11:41:31


  • 11:41:32

    GJELTENYeah, yeah. All right, let's go now to Jim who's on the phone from St. Louis, Mo. Jim, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:41:40

    JIMGood morning. My ancestor was martyred at the Battle of Shiloh. He was Lieutenant Colonel Felix St. Jim. He was out of the Missouri Third Volunteers and I guess about six months after he died the secretary of war and the governor of the State of Ohio had his regiment changed to the Ohio 23rd. So all the records pretty much show that they say he was in the 23rd. But the story was that he was there and he was under a colonel.

  • 11:42:07

    JIMMy ancestor was friends with General Fremont and he had been appointed and one morning Sherman walked in and said assemble your men and he said, well, the colonel's not here. He said assemble your men. And he went and he stood his ground and he came under attack by a Confederate battery and he was mortally wounded. And he died in Grant's tent three days later. The interesting thing, though, was he had been a slave owner in Missouri, very wealthy French immigrant, and the Pope came out against slavery and urged them to free their slaves. And he incorporated them into his regiment, which I thought was kind of neat.

  • 11:42:45

    GJELTENWhen you say he died in Grant's tent, I presume you mean the Grant's hospital tent.

  • 11:42:50

    JIMThe surgical tent, I'm sorry, yes.

  • 11:42:51

    GJELTENRight, yeah. Well, he raises an interesting point, Winston, which is how many of the Union soldiers, combatants, actually were slave owners themselves?

  • 11:43:03

    GROOMI don't have that figure, but that's a politician's answer.

  • 11:43:08


  • 11:43:08

    GROOMBut I don't think that there were black soldiers fighting at Shiloh. That -- it's possible. Anything's possible because it was a huge...

  • 11:43:17

    JIMWell, it's in the Missouri archives, sir.

  • 11:43:18

    GROOMIt's what?

  • 11:43:19

    JIMIt's in the Missouri archives.

  • 11:43:20

    GROOMWell, then if it's in the archives, it must be so. There must be some truth of it. I did not run into that myself, but it's fascinating. Again, we're talking about brother against brother. We're talking about slave holder suddenly changes and many people like Josie Underwood's father who was a big slave holder were staunch Unionists and very much against the Confederacy. And so this was why the Civil War was so brutal because you had people who, you know, who were friends with each other.

  • 11:43:53

    GROOMIn part of the dialogue in the book between Josie Underwood, the young girl recorded, was her uncle and her cousin speaking about, well, if you go join the Confederacy, I'll have to form a regiment and go round you up. He said well, go right ahead. And these were people who had known each other all their lives and sat down to a dinner table together all -- I mean, when they're talking about that, they're talking about killing each other. They're talking about death.

  • 11:44:23


  • 11:44:24

    GROOMNot some fancy joke. It was death.

  • 11:44:26

    GJELTENRight, now, Winston, to what extent was slavery less of an issue in the west than it was in the east? One of the things that you point out in your book is that the Rebel soldiers seemed to be at least around the Battle of Shiloh seemed to be more motivated than the Union solders because the Union soldier were at that point on Confederate territory. They had come into Confederate territory so that the Rebel soldiers saw themselves as fighting against invaders. What about -- what was motivating the Union soldiers at that time and how important was slavery in that part of the war?

  • 11:45:03

    GROOMWell, I think of both east and west in the early years of the war what I've gleaned from letters and diaries and things is that, for the most part, this was prior to Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. The Union soldiers were fighting to preserve the Union. But you have to go back to 20 years or more of antagonism between the North and the South. If anybody started that war, and particularly the war, it was probably the newspapers because they were even more inflammatory than they are today and politicians rhetoric and name calling and, I mean, you had churches split into Southern Baptist, into Southern Methodist and which remain split today over there.

  • 11:45:54

    GROOMThe antagonism was even greater, I might say, than it is today between the two factions. And so the southerners had been led to believe that the South was -- first of all, your state was more important than any federal government.

  • 11:46:14


  • 11:46:15

    GROOMThat was what they -- but the South as a whole had been vilified for years and the North had been vilified in the South by these loudmouth fire eaters and so it was -- when the North invaded the South, the South took a personal affront at it. They thought well, we're not -- they had already formed their own Confederacy and they thought this was okay. Well, it wasn't okay, but they believed it was okay.

  • 11:46:42

    GJELTENYou know, we were talking about the Rebel yell. Was there anything corresponding to that on the Unionist side and the fact that this was a Rebel phenomenon what did that indicate?

  • 11:46:49

    GROOMWell, I don't know. I mean that's a very good question. I thought about that, but the Union, yeah, they yelled, but they didn't seem to have a concerted yell that was recorded in memoirs and diaries as being the Rebel yell. I mean the Rebel yell's so famous you got a bourbon named after it. It's quite good if you're a bourbon drinker.

  • 11:47:09

    GJELTENWell, we'll take that -- we'll take that to point. All right. I'm going to go now to Matt who's calling us from Pensacola, Fla. Good morning, Matt, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:47:18

    MATTHey, good morning, Tom, good morning, Winston. I just really quickly want to wish my wishes to Diane on a speedy recovery.

  • 11:47:24

    GJELTENThank you very much. We'll convey that.

  • 11:47:25

    MATTWinston, I have a question. You mentioned General Grant's -- Generals Grant and Sherman earlier. Many -- not all, but many of the eastern generals became failures and afterthoughts. Do you think the special kind of fighting in the west really either impressed Lincoln that these two men would win this war and also that formed or followed Grant and Sherman to the east when they went out east? Because as we know, Grant still was famous for large casualties and Sherman, of course, is still the most vilified general in Georgia and, again, Tom, thanks. And I'll take the question off the air.

  • 11:48:07


  • 11:48:08

    GROOMWell, that's a really good question. And I'll tell you Shiloh was what informed Grant of the way the war was going to have to be fought. He was among those people before the Battle of Shiloh who believed that there was going to be a big battle, a big fight in the west. The Union was going to win it and once they did they'd control the Mississippi River Valley and that would end the Civil War.

  • 11:48:32

    GROOMIn Grant's own memoirs he said that after the Battle of Shiloh I realized that the only way the Union was going to win this conflict was to, in his words, subjugate the South or, in other words, to totally crush them meaning this was going to be a war of attrition. And that's the way Grant fought it and he knew that the Union -- the North -- had twice the manpower of the South, roughly, and, of course, the enormous manufacturing ability. And so when Lincoln brought him west -- backwards here -- he brought him east after the Battle of -- well, actually Chattanooga, but after Grant conquered Vicksburg and that indeed split the Confederacy in two.

  • 11:49:20

    GROOMAnd then Lincoln brought him west in 1863 and he fought the war as a war of attrition. He could marshal 100,000 men and Robert E. Lee could only marshal 50,000 so he knew it was just a matter of time. When you have that many more men you can -- you don't worry about being outflanked. You can keep outflanking them because you got so many men. Wherever they go you go right -- you follow them. So that is a great question but Shiloh was where Grant figure out the strategy and the tactics that he was going to use for the rest of the war.

  • 11:49:57

    GJELTENNow, in your book and speaking of the famous generals from this war you have generals really that -- the most famous generals on the Union side were all involved in one way or another. You have General Grant, General Sherman and sort of in the background General McClellan. I mean those are three real all stars of the Union military leadership aren't they?

  • 11:50:14

    GROOMWell, McClellan unfortunately fell by the wayside, but what you did have you had McPherson.

  • 11:50:20


  • 11:50:21

    GROOMWho was really destined -- he was number one in his West Point class and Grant and Sherman both thought that he was going to be the head of the army when they had a conversation and Sherman said, yeah, if he lives. Well, McPherson did, in fact, live to be the head of the army of Tennessee -- of The Tennessee -- but he was killed in Atlanta.

  • 11:50:45

    GJELTENWell, you know, speaking of Tennessee I want to get our callers from Tennessee on the air and Mike is calling us from Knoxville, Tenn. Good morning Mike you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:50:55

    MIKEThanks. I'm happy to hear somebody talk about the western theater where the war was really won, but, anyway, I've often wondered -- you know, you mentioned that Grant and Sherman really blew it there. Grant sort of tried to -- well, he did try to blame part of the failure on Lou Wallace and made him a -- I thought he made him a scapegoat. I was wondering what you thought about that.

  • 11:51:26

    GJELTENHow about that Winston?

  • 11:51:27

    GROOMWell, that's a good question, too, because in the beginning he did. Lou Wallace was encamped, I think, about six miles north of the rest of Grant's army. He couldn't fit on the battlefield is the reason. I mean they were too many. Grant had too many soldiers there at Pittsburgh Landing so he put him north. And when Grant informed Wallace -- Grant took a steamboat to the landing there where Wallace was and he says, you know, you stay tuned. I'm going to send a messenger and you get on the battlefield when I tell you, when I find out what's going on.

  • 11:51:57

    GROOMWell, he kept sending messages and there was no Lou Wallace and then Wallace didn't turn up until 7:00 p.m. that evening after that fight was over and it almost cost Grant the battle. And indeed what had happened was -- two or three things had happened. Wallace was misinformed, first of all, and in the event Grant laid the blame initially on Wallace and then after he had written his memoirs, he received letters from some of his former officers who said this is not so that Wallace did not violate any orders or anything. And so Grant retracted this in later versions of his memoirs.

  • 11:52:45

    GJELTENWinston Groom is the author of "Shiloh, 1862" a battle that unfolded 150 years ago this week. I'm Tom Gjelten. This is "The Diane Rehm Show." And I want to go now to a couple of callers who actually have -- a couple more callers who have ancestors who fought at Shiloh. First of all to Daniel who's calling us this morning from Bloomington, Ind. Good morning, Daniel.

  • 11:53:08

    DANIELOh, good morning. Mr. Groom, it's such an honor to speak with you.

  • 11:53:12

    GROOMMr. Groom is my father.

  • 11:53:16

    DANIELThank you, sir. Your book was a great help in helping me trace my great grandfather's exploits. He was at Shiloh through Atlanta where he lost his command at Atlanta when he was -- they were guarding the railroad cut and the Confederate army decided to move through there.

  • 11:53:39

    GJELTENSo what unit was he in, Daniel?

  • 11:53:42

    DANIELThe 20th Illinois. And I was curious about the action of the 20th Illinois at Shiloh. I know he was with McClernand. I believe in the center of the line.

  • 11:53:55

    GROOMYeah, he would have been in the center of the -- well, he would have been not on the front line meaning the southern...

  • 11:54:02


  • 11:54:03

    GROOM...Southern most line, but he would have been in the second line and, of course, McClernand had a big fight there. You know, there were 170 regiments and I'm embarrassed to say I couldn't keep up with all of them right on the top of my head, but certainly the Illinois regiments had a tremendous fight. And McClernand, no matter what trouble he caused later in the war, was a fine commander there at Shiloh.

  • 11:54:23

    GJELTENAnd, Daniel...

  • 11:54:24

    DANIELThey held the center on that day.

  • 11:54:25

    GROOMHe did.

  • 11:54:26

    GJELTENYeah, all right. Thank you very much, Daniel. Let's go now to Barry who's calling us also from Indiana. Barry you're on "The Diane Rehm Show." Thanks for calling.

  • 11:54:35

    BARRYWell, thank you. It's certainly a pleasure, Winston, to talk to you and even make a comment and I have a question. One of the things I found that people in the North -- I now live in Indiana and people in the North don't realize is how much it affected families because my family was actually split because of Union and Confederate sentiment. And part of my family moved to Texas to fight for the South because the northern sympathizers they didn't get along well with. And this has affected our families for generations.

  • 11:55:16

    GROOMWell, you know, that is an excellent question because there were, in fact, Illinois regiments fighting for the South. The southern part of Illinois was more inclined toward the southern way of thinking and the southern way of light. They called it Little Egypt or Egypt or something because of the way the river flooded, but the sentiments there in southern Illinois, where Abraham Lincoln was born and raised were decidedly pro-Confederate. I say decidedly they were county by county, but there was a lot of pro-Confederacy sentiment there in southern Illinois.

  • 11:55:52

    GJELTENThank you, Winston. You know that caller and others have called attention to the civil aspects of this war which is something that you have really emphasized. Here at the close of the program I want to mention an email from Leah whose great, great, great grandfather died from wounds at Pittsburgh Landing preliminary to Shiloh. She says she wonders about the effect of the loss of heads of families on both sides. "My great, great, great grandfather's widow had to petition again and again for her pension and the effect on the children of the family is sad, broken marriages, scattered children."

  • 11:56:24

    GJELTENShe says, "All of the Civil War has affected our nation deeply and only in recent years and with this anniversary does it seem we are realizing it." Well, Winston Groom, we're out of time today, but your book certainly makes that clear. The book is "Shiloh, 1862." The author is Winston Groom. He's the author of 15 books, including "Vicksburg, 1863" and of course "Forrest Gump," which is now celebrating its 25th anniversary. Winston Groom, it's been a great pleasure to have you here in our studio this morning. Thank you so much.

  • 11:56:57

    GROOMPleasure's all mine.

  • 11:56:58

    GJELTENAnd I'm Tom Gjelten. Thanks for listening.

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