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.