This essay is a review of the book Shiloh- In Hell Before Night written by James Lee McDonough. James Lee McDonough was born on June 17, 1934 in Nashville, Tennessee. It is here that he spent his childhood. Regarding his education, the author attended Lipscomb High School. He received his higher education at David Lipscomb College where he attained a BA degree in 1956. He later went to M. A Abilene Christian University where he attained an M. A degree in 1961. The author received his PhD from the Florida State University in 1966. He was to be appointed as a Professor of History, a post he held in Lipscomb, Pepperdine and Auburn universities.
Currently, he is a retired professor of history at Auburn University. The author was lauded by the Army for his role in furthering knowledge in military history and has received many accolades for his efforts in military history scholarship . Besides Shiloh- in Hell before Night, the author has written many other books. These include Chattanooga – Death Grip on the Confederacy, Five Tragic Hours; Stones River- Bloody Winter in Tennessee, Nashville; The Western Confederacy’s Final Gamble and War in Kentucky: from Shiloh to Perryville.
His other books which are still in print include Sky Riders; History of the 327/401 Glider Infantry, ‘War so terrible’: Sherman and Atlanta and The Battle of Franklin. Moreover, he has written more than 30 articles, and reviewed close to seventy books . Shiloh- in Hell before Night was published by the University of Tennessee Press in 1977. At the time of writing the book, the author was a scholar at the David Lipscomb College in Nashville, Tennessee where he was a history professor. Having attained all the academic qualifications mentioned, he was well qualified to write the book.
In this book, the author has used both primary and secondary sources. He makes great use of primary sources when he lets the participants in the war narrate their experiences. Among the primary sources which the author has utilized include recollections, letters and personal diaries of the combatants. For instance, the personal diaries of Thomas Lovemore, Samuel Watkins, Clarence Buell, William Tecumseh Sherman, R. F Learned and Braxton Bragg are utilized. Regarding secondary sources, the author cites writers who have made contributions on related subjects such as D. W. Reed, Shellby Footes, Lloyd Lewis and John Duke.
He also cites magazine articles such as the Richmond enquirer, Chicago Times, and New Orleans Daily Picayune. Other secondary sources which the author has made use of include personal diaries, letters and official records. This book is an attempt by the author to provide an overview of the battle of Shiloh. This battle took place in 1862 at Shiloh near the border between Tennessee and Mississippi and was a defining moment in America’s Civil War. The action begun in February 1862 when the Union Army pushed the Confederate Army, which was led by General Albert Johnston at that time, compelling them to surrender most of Tennessee.
Major General Ulysses Grant was the commander of the Union Army and come spring, he assembled a 40,000 strong force close to Pittsburg Landing just next to the Tennessee River. The intention of the Union Army was to attack the rail intersection of Corinth, Mississippi, which was an important infrastructural facility. Before they could attack however, they were ambushed by the Confederates who attacked them when they were close to the Shiloh Church. This event occurred on April 6th, 1862. The total number of Confederate troops who made the march were no less than 44, 000 and were led by Johnston and General P.
G. T Beauregard. As the author writes, the element of surprise worked well for the Confederates as they were able to repulse the Union Army’s right flank by one and a half kilometer after battling for three hours. However, the Union Army withstood the assault and its left flank remained largely unmoved. The area of action where the Union forces withstood the confederate attack was called the ‘Hornet’s Nest’. By late evening, Johnston lay dead, having been injured on the leg. Beauregard assumed control of the Confederate Army upon the death of Johnston and called off the action later in the day.
The Union Army got reinforcements later during the night. The reinforcements were led by Major General Don Carlos Buell and Lew Wallace. Beauregard turned down pleas by General Nathan Bedford Forrest that the Confederates attack when he saw the arrival of the reinforcement. With the reinforcements, the Union Army was able to repulse the Confederates and Beauregard surrendered before evening and retreated to Corinth. The battle of Shiloh was costly as it led to the deaths of more than 23,000 people. This book is important as it was the first scholarly attempt at describing the battle of Shiloh.
It redefined the way people viewed the battle, what with its treatment of aspects deemed to be controversial. In a major departure from the prevailing thoughts, the author asserted that the death of Johnston did not in any way influence the outcomes of the battle. Additionally, he avers that there was no respite whatsoever following this death. Another major assertion which the author makes is that Beauregard’s decision to halt the attack was the right one and that, contrary to the dominant thought; the Confederates did not have any real opportunity on the evening of April 6th.
What’s more, the author posits that the arrival of the reinforcements led by Buell did not have any noticeable impact on the outcome of battle on the first day. The author also asserts that the main activity of the entire battle was the conflict at Hornet’s Nest. He avers that Grant was able to erect the last line of defense at Pittsburg Landing primarily because the Sunken Road was able to withstand the Confederate offensive. The author does not stop there as he holds Braxton Bragg responsible for the Confederates’ inability to pry open the Hornet’s Nest.
This, as he explains, was occasioned by Bragg’s inability to assemble the 18,000 troops required to mount the offensive. The purpose of the author is to provide an accurate, irrefutable and personalized rendition of the battle of Shiloh. Through this book, he hopes to give the reader an overview of the events preceding and occurring during, and immediately after the 48 hour battle. By and large, it can be said that the author achieved this purpose. He wades through the occurrences, giving reasonable explanations which rationalize such controversial questions as what made the Union Army to be ambushed in surprise.
The author also provides judgment on whether Beauregard exercised judicial restraint when he halted the battle on the first day. He gives us sneak previews on what went into the preparations of both sides, discuses the personalities and experiences of the generals and shows us what was done wrong. The author also delves into the role of the Confederate and Union generals, assessing the various command decisions and returning judgment on the leadership ability. Through all these, he achieves his purpose as the reader is able to understand what happened, why it happened, when it happened, where it happened and most importantly, how it happened.