by Shelby Foote
Category: Fiction / Historical
185 pages; ISBN: 0-86241-773-2
Rating: 9/10 (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Dan Champion
On the night of April 6 1862, illuminated by the fitful flashes of mortars lobbed by his gunboats into Confederate lines, Federal general Ulysses S Grant stared ruin in the face. Earlier in the year he had broken through the Confederate lines in northern Tennessee and captured Nachville, but as he paused on the banks of the Tennessee river awaiting reinforcements, Confederate general Albert Sidney Johnston mustered his beleaguered defences to launch a massive counter-attack. The battle that ensued was named after a little Methodist preaching house on the battlefield, Shiloh. It has gone down in history as the first great battle of the American Civil War.
"Corporal Blake said books about war were written to be read by God Almighty, because no one but God ever saw it that way. A book about war, to be read by men, ought to tell what each of twelve of us saw in our little corner. Then it would be the way it was - not to God but to us. I saw what he meant but it was useless talking. Nobody would do it that way. It would be too jumbled. People when they read, and people when they write, want to be looking out of that big Eye in the sky, playing God."
The words of Robert Winter, 23rd Indiana, in Shelby Foote`s brilliant account of this decisive battle of the American Civil War. Blake would most definitely have approved of Foote`s creation, following the unfolding battle of Shiloh as it does from the point of view of 6 individual soldiers and a squad of the 23rd Indiana. It is this perspective which lends the book its tremendous power, emotion and humanity. At times the actual military alignment of the various narrators becomes secondary, as the personal circumstances, fears, hopes and motives illuminate only men, less driven by great principles than by the desire to survive.
This is a book I recommend unreservedly. To those with an interest in the Civil War it will present itself as a shining example of an historical novel of the period; to those without, a dramatic and moving portrayal of brutal, bloody war as it was over a century ago, and of the men fighthing not only for a cause but also against their own deepest fears.
Buy Shiloh at amazon.co.uk
Buy Shiloh at amazon.com