An Unsolicited Review of The Devil’s Own Day: Shiloh and the American Civil War

Full disclosure: Jay D. Zollisch, (LTC, MI, USAR, Ret), the reviewer, is an old Army buddy of the author.

“From my view point this is a definitive book on the Civil War Battle of Shiloh.  If I were to read only one book on Shiloh this would be the book.  Why, because Johns book is so comprehensive and insightful.  The first 2 chapters set up the strategic influences that are going to come together to cause Shiloh.  The pre-Shiloh battles of Fort Donelson and Fort Henry are discussed, the different strategic objectives of the North and South and their lack of specific resources, the tradition and composition of the American militias, the peculiarities of the war in the West, the infantry and artillery weapons of our Civil War, how linear tactics were to evolve, and the importance of the American rivers in the Midwest as ‘travel and commerce waterways.’ All of this information flows nicely, and constitutes an excellent military PRIMER on the pre-Civil War soldier, logistics, officer quality, terrain,
and supporting government bureaucracies on both sides.

“After setting up these strategic influences, John drills down to discuss the operational level complexities.  All of the army, corp, divisional, brigade, and regimental commanders/units are noted with half page line and block charts.  All the key commanders are profiled so the reader can see some of their strengths, weaknesses, political influences, military experiences, and their specific contributions to the battle of Shiloh [especially Generals Grant, Sherman, Prentiss, Buell, Johnston, Breckinridge, and Beauregard].

“After setting the stage for the why, where, and who is going to fight, John narrates the Confederate pre-march and the Union camp setup immediately before the battle.  The actual battle scenes are narrated on a timeline basis, with Confederate action and Union reaction by corp, division, and regiment.  The reader gets a rare insight as to what happens when one militia army fights another militia army, and the following unique consequences to those type of soldiers ‘retreating and regrouping and who could lead them effectively’.  The battle flows are described in detail, the intentions of the flanking units revealed, and the perceptions and misperceptions of the higher level commanders identified.  There are ample battle position maps/charts in the book, to show the progression of regiments and brigades, every few hours.

“The research that went into this book, at all levels, is exhaustive but never boring.  If I were to make a documentary on the Battle of Shiloh, I would use this book as the format for Shiloh [and for any other Civil War battle].  I am a slow reader, but I could not put this book down and read it in 3 evenings, and this book goes into the top 10 category in my military library.  I highly recommend this book to all Civil War readers/historians.”  

The Devil’s Own Day: Shiloh and the American Civil War by John D. Beatty is available in paper back and PDF from Booklocker and other fine booksellers.

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