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Shiloh Reading Book Guide

Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862, by O. Edward Cunningham, Gary D. Joiner and Timothy B. Smith, editors

Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862, a dissertation written by Cunningham (deceased) under the direction of Dr. T. Harry Williams several decades ago, is considered by the Shiloh rangers and many historians to be one of the finest studies on the battle and campaign. Edited by Gary D. Joiner and Timothy B. Smith, richly annotated with footnotes and original maps, Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862 adds significantly to our understanding of this combat in the Western theater. We hope these thought-provoking questions lead to some lively book discussions.

  1. Cunningham obviously viewed Shiloh in a larger context than just the battle or even campaign. What actual role did Shiloh play in the opening of the Mississippi Valley?
  2. Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862 deals heavily with the commanders, more so, in fact, than any other book on Shiloh. Why did Cunningham feel so inclined to talk about the merits, or lack thereof, of the commanders at Shiloh? Consider not just those of the upper tier, but commanders at the regimental and company levels.
  3. What do you think of these portrayals? How do they compare with other descriptions of these commanders?
  4. The editors indicate that Cunningham's work was light years ahead of its time. Historiographically, where does Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862 fit into the "New Military History" that is now coming of age in today's academic world?
  5. Cunningham spends time on topics that have not received much public attention in the past. These topics include places such as the Crossroads, Rhea Field, and others. How would our view of Shiloh have been altered had Cunningham published his work in the late 1960s, thus becoming the first major academic history of the battle?
  6. Cunningham mentions the role of the U.S. Navy gunboats during the night following the first day's fighting. Discuss the potential psychological effect on soldiers of both sides who heard the continuing bombardment. Discuss the importance of that night's shelling on the course of the battle on April 7.
  7. It can be argued that the Battle of Shiloh and Union victory elevated the status of some participants, preparing them for future greatness (U. S. Grant, James A. Garfield, John Wesley Powell). How might their careers and the course of the war have changed had the Confederacy been victorious?
  8. Compare Cunningham's narrative style with historians writing about the Civil War over the past fifty years. Which historians use similar narrative styles?
  9. How did the death of Albert Sidney Johnston affect Confederate hopes and strategies following the battle?
  10. The Battle of Shiloh produced 23,746 official casualties in two days, with the actual number probably as much as a third higher. Consider the public response to casualties in the War on Terror and predict the public's response today if more than 23,000 soldiers were to be lost in two days of fighting.