Normally, of course, this blog is all things Chickamaugish. But I just got back from another Civil War battlefield: Shiloh.
Frankly, as a field to study Shiloh only grew on me slowly. It’s an early war fight, and the rawness of both troops and commanders mean that the tactics (if we can call them that) are pretty primitive. Lots of charging, lots of routing. Not to take anything away from the men who fought there, but frankly, a good number of them were so new to soldiering that they never should have been there in the first place. We did things differently back then.
Over time, I have come to appreciate the battle more. I’ve started to collect primary sources on the subject, have read a lot of material, and walked the field several times. I’ve taken some groups there in the past, and got a chance to lead another small tour group this past weekend. Except for the heat (I know, August, what did I expect?) we had an excellent time.
However, what is leading me to post is how the park has improved in the past two years. First and foremost, Cavalry Road is now open, and the driving tour is now completely revised. Cavalry road gives battlefield stompers easier access to Jones Field and the vitally important Union right flank on April 6, where Sherman and McClernand decide to counter-attack at Noon. This part of the battle is usually overlooked, and is only now starting to come into it’s own as part of the story. Adding this road and these tour stops is a huge leap forward. The road only opened at the end of May or so, so this is a brand new experience for most students of Shiloh.
Additionally, the riverside road that wound down through Dill Branch and up to the Landing is now re-opened as well. For years, this road was closed to vehicles, as erosion had made the bank unstable. Now everything is fixed, and the tour ends up on this route.
All in all, if you haven’t been to Shiloh lately, go back. You’ll like what you see.
I think a big reason why Shiloh has been so successful in these endeavors is stable leadership: the park superintendent and chief ranger have both been there for many years, both are enthusiastic stewards of the field, and have accomplished a great deal in their time at the helm. Chickamauga, unfortunately, has not been so lucky. In the past few years they have lacked for a superintendent. They got a new one about two years ago, but I see now that he is moving on, up to regional HQ in Atlanta. Once again, the park will be looking for a new boss. While I think the interpretive staff can’t be beat, they cannot themselves make up for a leadership vaccuum at the top.
Now, to switch gears, I want to mention a book on another battle, one that also holds a connection for me – New Market. As a VMI Cadet, I did living history weekends at New Market in the early 1980s, and spent a fair amount of time there. For years, the only book on the subject was William C. Davis’ tome, published in the 1970s. This spring, Savas Beatie published the first new work on the battle in years, with Charles Knight’s Valley Thunder: The Battle of New Market. It’s a fine addition to the available literature, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.
Savas-Beatie also does book trailers for many of their books, and this one is pretty cool. If you are interested in the book, check out the trailer.
Charlie’s Blog can be found here.