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Shiloh Discussion Group
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Perry Cuskey

How this group came to be

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Perry Cuskey    261

Shiloh was the severest battle fought at the West during the war, and but few in the East equaled it for hard, determined fighting.

- Ulysses S. Grant

Welcome

Welcome to the Shiloh Discussion Group. The purpose of this board is pretty simple - to provide a place for sharing opinions and information on the campaign and battle of Shiloh and Shiloh National Military Park, and for learning more about it all. The board is meant for anyone interested doing this. That about sums it up.

There are no membership requirements, unless you wish to post to the board, in which case you simply need to register. To do so, simply click on the "Create Account" link you'll see on the upper right-hand side of the main page.

Beyond that, if you are interested in discussing and learning more about some aspect of Shiloh, and talking with other like-minded folks, you're welcome here. Anyone with knowledge of the battle is of course welcome, and encouraged to take part; but if you feel that you have the interest but lack the knowledge, that's okay. Feel free to lurk for a while if you like, but remember that you are welcome to join in and take part at anytime with questions, comments, opinions, etc. If you've got the interest, the knowledge will come. Honest.

Why Shiloh?

You might wonder why someone would start up a discussion group on Shiloh. After all, there are other boards out there where people can talk about the battle. Does it deserve it's own board? That's an individual opinion I suppose, but personally (and obviously), I think the answer is yes.

Part of the reason for that can be summed up in another quote by Grant, who wrote that Shiloh was "perhaps less understood, or, to state the case more accurately, more persistently misunderstood" than any other battle of the war. Grant may have had his own reasons for feeling as he did, but there is a great deal of truth in what he wrote.

In fact, while Shiloh may very well rank as one of the best known names among battles from the war, it may also rank, ironically, as one of the least studied of those battles. As pointed out by historians Tim Smith and Gary Joiner in the introduction to a recent book on Shiloh, compared to Gettysburg, the number of books covering Shiloh is incredibly small.

Indeed, much of the long-accepted conventional wisdom about Shiloh has been called into question in recent years, as historians and students of the battle begin to take a new look at some of the old theories surrounding Shiloh.

The catalyst for much of this re-examination has been Edward Cunningham's Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862, a 1966 PhD dissertation released in book form in 2007. Largely forgotten for many years, Cunningham's ground-breaking research is often cited by park rangers at Shiloh as quite possibly the best overall treatment of the campaign and battle.

Whether or not folks agree with that, or with Cunningham's conclusions, it is clear that his decades-old dissertation is largely behind what could be called a minor revolution in Shiloh historiography. What historian and former park ranger Tim Smith has called a "revisionist" history of the battle, and one that is still evolving.

While the term "revisionist" often carries a negative connotation these days, there are times when aspects of our history do indeed bear examining and, if warranted, 'revised' to some extent. Shiloh is no exception. Just because a certain version of the battle has been accepted for years does not automatically mean we should continue to accept it. Especially if modern research indicates that it might be flawed in some way. At the same time, the new research itself needs to be examined, and not simply accepted at face value.

One of the purposes of this board is to examine some of these ideas, debate them, discuss them, and help each other try to gain a better understanding of this incredibly complex and confusing battle, and it's proper place in history.

A little about the guy writing all this

Another reason why I wanted to start a board on Shiloh is a bit more personal. My own interest in Shiloh dates to the early 1970's, when my father first took me to the park. I'm not sure of the exact date (or even the exact year), but I still clearly remember my impression of the park. Simply put, I was spellbound. It was as if somehow, time had been frozen there, and all the trees, fields, cannons, markers, monuments, and buildings, had been left exactly as they were since...well, since forever.

To me, the park had always been as I first saw it that day. And I think I somehow believed that it would always remain so. Since that day I've had the good fortune to return to Shiloh quite a few times, and what never ceases to amaze me is how little the park seems to have changed from my very first visit.

Not all is exactly as it was on that first visit of course. Everything changes over time, even Shiloh. But when I visit the park anymore, it is not difficult at all to sit somewhere off by myself, close my eyes, and imagine, even if just for a moment, that's it's the early 1970's again.

The sense of timelessness I often have at the park may be imaginary. But, I'm just stubborn enough to think, not completely. And from what I hear from others, I'm not alone in thinking so. It seems that whether one first visited the park many years ago or just recently, the experience upon returning is surprisingly like the first. Like visiting an old friend who hasn't aged. For that little while, time once again stands still in that hauntingly quiet place called Shiloh.

That little matter of the battle

And that's the irony. The only reason we know of the placid beauty that is Shiloh is due to the horrific battle that took place there so many years ago. The serene 'Place of Peace' earned its reputation by first being a violent place of war. War on a scale that this continent had never before witnessed.

What was noteworthy about Shiloh was not only the human destruction resulting from the battle, but the scale of human destruction. Incredibly, the nearly 24,000 killed, wounded, or missing resulting from the two-day battle of Shiloh not only surpassed the casualty total from every previous battle in American history, it surpassed the total casualties from all three of America's previous wars combined. Simply put, the country had never experienced anything like this before. And the experience left its mark.

In a very real sense, Shiloh was a demarcation point, in both the war itself and in the country's history as a whole. In April of 1862 Shiloh had no equal in American history. Nothing, in fact, even approaching it. By April of 1865, such battles had seemingly become the norm. That tragic transformation can be traced to the awful carnage in the woods and fields around Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee.

At it's most basic level, Shiloh is a story overflowing with humanity, of both the best and the worst kind. It is also a story of total, terrifying, chaos. Chaos and confusion on a scale so massive, that even after years of research on the battle producing some truly excellent books to help guide us, it can still be a little hard to follow what's what.

That's why we're here

And that brings us to this board. We don't have all the answers here, and in fact, we don't always agree on the answers that we do have. But what we share is the desire to seek those answers, however elusive they might be, continue to ask questions, and help each other in the process. Some of us are newbies to learning about Shiloh and some of us have been studying the battle for years, but the one thing we all share is an interest in learning more, and understanding it better. And in joining up with others who feel the same way.

So if like us, you enjoy discussing, debating, and learning about Shiloh, then I hope you decide to take part here. Share your knowledge. Post your opinions. Ask your questions. That's why this board is here.

And if you visit Shiloh someday, and happen across a man sitting along the fence beside Duncan Field around sunset, eyes closed and looking like he has no idea what year it is, well, I hope you understand.

Enjoy your stay, and don't be a stranger.

Perry

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