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New Book on Shiloh

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Thank for the heads up on this being out-'ve been waiting for it.I'll review a book later this week-when I get a copy=to read.=The War Cabin by dewayn Helzog(i'm not sure I've gotten his name correct.)

Mona

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Be sure to check out Drew's review of this new Shiloh book. He gives a very good and evenhanded overview of the various articles, outlining what he sees as the pluses and the minuses. His overall conclusion of the book is....well, you have to read it to find out. :)

Perry

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Drew thank you so much for posting this review. I have not read the book yet but I hope to be able to read it through my library soon.

I have a question for you about something you said in the review:

"Smith's article is additionally focused on the historiography and memory of the Hornet's Nest sector of the battlefield, concluding that its importance has been greatly exaggerated."

I have read Tim Smith's article on HistoryNet "Shiloh's False Hero", where Smith compares Prentiss to phoney "Vietnam veterans" who buy their fraudulent medals from surplus stores. I personally think this comparison is outrageous and offensive, but few seem to have objected to Smith publicly about this unfair characterization of a man who legitimately risked his life for our country and faced the same bullets as the rest of his men on that Line.

http://www.historynet.com/shilohs-false-hero.htm

Then I read your review about Smith's article in this new book. Maybe this seems like splitting hairs, but I see a real difference between thinking the Hornets' Nest has perhaps been over emphasized, or given more recognition, than other interesting and crucial aspects of the battle, but that still is a far cry from saying its importance "has been greatly exaggerated". 

You didn't give your own opinion of Smith's latest article in your book review, but I wonder if you now have some thoughts on it that you can share in this forum? Do you find Smith's opinion, that Prentiss was a fraud, and the Hornets' Nest "greatly exaggerated" (as opposed to merely being "over publicized"), to be valid?

I hope I am not opening up a big can of wormy controversy,  but I personally think Tim goes way too far in this modern attempt to try to level "Prentiss and the Nest" in order to bring more well deserved attention to other areas of the battle. Smith's opinion though seems to be gaining ground, mainly I think because he keeps repeating it, and because he has the status of park ranger to lend his ideas credence.

Once again, I have yet to read his article in this book but your brief review caught my attention and I hoped you'd have more comments about it here. Any thoughts?

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EGM,

In the review, I didn't comment on his conclusion because it didn't really add anything to what he's already written about it in a number of his books and magazine articles over the past few years.

As for my own opinion about the relative importance of the Hornet's Nest, I'm with you that he goes too far in the other direction.  I also think he seems to take for granted that Cunningham would agree with his analysis, whereas Cunningham's own book takes a solid middle road view (or at least it seemed that way to me). I don't remember enough about exactly where Prentiss was or what his actions were at various stages of the battle to comment, but Smith's assault on Prentiss's character strikes me as overzealous.

Whether other historians and readers at large are buying into Smith's thesis is a good question.  I don't know. It will be interesting to see how Cozzens will handle the subject.

Drew

[user=93]EGM[/user] wrote:

Drew thank you so much for posting this review. I have not read the book yet but I hope to be able to read it through my library soon.

I have a question for you about something you said in the review:

"Smith's article is additionally focused on the historiography and memory of the Hornet's Nest sector of the battlefield, concluding that its importance has been greatly exaggerated."

I have read Tim Smith's article on HistoryNet "Shiloh's False Hero", where Smith compares Prentiss to phoney "Vietnam veterans" who buy their fraudulent medals from surplus stores. I personally think this comparison is outrageous and offensive, but few seem to have objected to Smith publicly about this unfair characterization of a man who legitimately risked his life for our country and faced the same bullets as the rest of his men on that Line.

http://www.historynet.com/shilohs-false-hero.htm

Then I read your review about Smith's article in this new book. Maybe this seems like splitting hairs, but I see a real difference between thinking the Hornets' Nest has perhaps been over emphasized, or given more recognition, than other interesting and crucial aspects of the battle, but that still is a far cry from saying its importance "has been greatly exaggerated". 

You didn't give your own opinion of Smith's latest article in your book review, but I wonder if you now have some thoughts on it that you can share in this forum? Do you find Smith's opinion, that Prentiss was a fraud, and the Hornets' Nest "greatly exaggerated" (as opposed to merely being "over publicized"), to be valid?

I hope I am not opening up a big can of wormy controversy,  but I personally think Tim goes way too far in this modern attempt to try to level "Prentiss and the Nest" in order to bring more well deserved attention to other areas of the battle. Smith's opinion though seems to be gaining ground, mainly I think because he keeps repeating it, and because he has the status of park ranger to lend his ideas credence.

Once again, I have yet to read his article in this book but your brief review caught my attention and I hoped you'd have more comments about it here. Any thoughts?

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Drew, thank you so much for the reply, and so fast too! I hope you didn't think I was putting you on the spot.  I know you read and review alot of books and it's best to remain a semblence of neutrality perhaps. But that was the exact reason I wondered how you felt, because you DO read alot of books, probably many more than most folks are able to, and therefore have thought about these things more than most and have been exposed to thinking from many sides of a controversy.

Plus,  I have found your reviews very on target and helpful. So thanks for injecting a little more of "you" into the forum here. Sometimes you cannot do that in a objective review.

I have been seeking the earliest accounts I can find of the "Hornets' Nest-Prentiss" controversy that is now fashionable because of Tim Smith's articles. I am seeking early accounts from soldiers themselves (not the first bad and inaccurate press reports).

One of the first published sources I can find is from an Iowa chaplain captured with the 14th Iowa.  He was held as a POW until October. When he came home he was pretty whipped up by the conditions he endured as a POW but also because of what he then read from the newspaper accounts of the battle. He wanted to fan the Northern readers up to support the soldiers and not waver, but also to correct the record of their capture. So he began his account immediately.

The chaplain was FF Kiner and the book is One Year's Soldiering which is still easily available. It is a great read, and was published in 1863. In his Introduction, (and again in quoting a recent speech by fellow officer WC Jones in Chapter 12) Kiner and Jones both say that when they were exchanged and returned to the North in late October they were greeted by Halleck:

General Halleck received us warmly and ordered a special paymaster to pay us, which was done; and it is with pride I recall the remark made by him to General Prentiss, "By sacrificing yourselves you saved the army of the West."   "

In Chapter 5 Kiner says they felt that the delay of the rebel army by the Union center had provided Grant the time to form the strong final defensive line and bring up Buell (this of course was learned AFTER he got home because when they were marched away under guard they thought the battle had gone badly for them and had no knowledge of Grant's victory. Although during the next day marching to Corinth as prisoners, they became aware the battle tide had turned in the Union favor). Still, Kiner wrote this in late 1862 - early 1863 and it was published soon afterwards.

In Chapter 13 Kiner says:

" ...let me conclude this chapter by adding that it has frequently came to our hearing, since our release from prison, that all those captured regiments surrendered early on the morning of the 6th of April at Shiloh, and that disgracefully too without fighting. Nothing can be more false or slanderous to the character of these noble veteran heroes who in every respect did their duty upon the battle field ... and nothing can be more villainous than for wicked or designing men, who neither fight nor assist in this struggle for our county's unity, to raise such reports about soldiers in the field. "

I think it very important when reading Smith's articles about Prentiss and the Nest, to remember that the idea that the Union center had "saved the army" did not spring from Prentiss and Reed thirty years later in order to blow their own horns long after the fact.  This book shows that as early as October 1862:

1- Halleck himself, after he had reviewed the situation for himself soon after the Shiloh battle (and while these captured officers like Kiner, Jones and Prentiss and Reed were still away as prisoners and unable for themselves to evaluate what had happened overall)  felt that they indeed had "saved the Army of the West". Therefore this notion came to them at that time, and directly from their commander, at least according to Kiner and Jones.

2- That these officers were not "blowing their own horns", or "puffing up" their roles as some now claim, but that  they were defending themselves from the "villainous slander" of the early press reports that had called them slackers hardly better than deserters. Again, it has to be emphasized this was published in 1863. I think it drastically undercuts the idea that Prentiss and Reed were 'revising' history. They were intent on setting the record straight, and repeated how Halleck AT THE TIME saw the importance of their performance.

Does anyone know of other early first person accounts and reports? Any other places where Halleck expresses this idea early on to other officers about the importance of the Hornets' Nest ? Or was Halleck just making empty compliments to the exPOWs? Either way, if Halleck indeed said this in October 1862  then Prentiss and Reed weren't  "exaggerating" their own roles and "puffing up" the importance of their long stand.

Tim Smith says "The early historiography of Shiloh sheds critical light on how and why historians have wrongly shaped the story of the Hornets’ Nest."  Yet it seems Smith leaves out Hallecks' early assessment on the importance of the delay at the Nest.

One other point I'd like to make about Tim's "False Hero" article. Let's imagine WHL Wallace had not been killed. It is absurd to think that Wallace would say of the Hornets' Nest, "what we did there is greatly exaggeratted". I think it much more likely that Wallace himself would add his voice to that of Prentiss and Reed in saying what happened there was consequential. So, even while Prentiss would have had to share the limelight with Wallace (and I agree Prentiss should have given more credit to Wallace and Peabody who could not speak for themselves) Wallace would have surely and strongly substantiated the idea that "the Nest saved the West". Therefore Tim's argument that Wallace was the true hero of an action Tim considers of exaggerated importance seems rather strange to me.

Kiner's is a terrific book with lots of interesting details other Union men were not able to furnish, or at least from a perspective not available to the men still with Grant. These men were marched along with the retreating rebel army and Kiner reports that the mud was so bad that had the northern army pursued in earnest, they may have captured great numbers of rebel cannon and equipment that the southern army could barely move along the muddy roads. They of course had no idea what shape Grant was in or Forrest, but what they saw of the rebel army around them was that they were on edge and struggling as they retreated. It makes for interesting reading.

I hope I am not being argumentative. I basically just wanted to hear more about Smith's article from Drew and get more of Drew's thoughts about it since he has read it and I haven't. Thanks again Drew for both the review and the reply. I can't believe you replied so fast! I'll try to read the book of essays real soon.

Elaine

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Elaine,

You are not being argumentative, and even if you were it's not an issue - your post and your exchange with Drew is exactly the sort of thing this board is about. We don't all have to see eye-to-eye about things. Although in this case, I agree with much of what you say as well as what Drew said.

I'm not quite sure where on here it is, but rrrwright and I had a pretty good debate/discussion about Prentiss, the Hornets Nest, and Tim Smith's views about it all in a different thread a few months back. If I can track down which forum it's in, I'll post the link here, in case you'd like to read through the posts.

For now I'd like to touch on a couple of things you've brought up, because I tend to be critical of Prentiss myself.

First, I think you make a very good point that Smith should place the history of the Hornets Nest, and Prentiss' role, in a larger context than he seems to do. To borrow from the late and great Paul Harvey, there's the rest of the story to tell about. (In our debate that I mentioned, rrrwright did an excellent job of driving that point home.) I'm not sure why he doesn't, but while I think he's done an excellent job with his books and articles on Shiloh, this is probably one area where he could do even more.

My own personal take on Prentiss is that by and large he acquitted himself well in the Hornets Nest. I think he probably should have retreated much sooner than he finally tried to do, but that to me is an honest mistake made in the heat of battle. I think he badly misjudged the situation when he opted to stay put, but I also think he made that decision because he honestly believed at the time that it was the right decision to make.

Broadly speaking, there are two areas where I find fault with Prentiss, and neither really has to do with the battle itself. First, I do think he somewhat misrepresented his actions in the Hornets Nest in his official report. Put another way, I think he fudged the facts to make himself look better. He wasn't the first or last to do such a thing, but he still did it. That he may have done so, in whole or in part, in response to false reports that he and most of his division were captured in their tents when the battle began, doesn't let him off the hook for me. This is probably where Tim Smith's Vietnam analogy comes in, and to be honest, I think I see what he means, but I also think he could have picked a better analogy than that one.

But this goes to the second problem I have with Prentiss, and that has to do with his treatment of Everett Peabody, whom he all but totally ignores in his report, and as best as I can tell, for the rest of his life. He never acknowledged Peabody's crucial role in alerting the army to the danger present, or own-up to his own role, however inadvertent, in being caught off-guard by the Confederate attack. He was about as guilty as Sherman or Grant on that count, in my opinion, but unlike those two officers, he has largely escaped sharing the blame.

I've posted my views on the Prentiss & Peabody issue way too often, but I feel pretty strongly about it. It's one of the primary problems I have with Prentiss. If he felt that he had been unjustly treated in the early reports of the battle, he basically turned around and did exactly the same thing to Peabody, although he did so mainly by his silence. I don't know why although I have a theory about it, that I think I've posted on here somewhere.

In any case, I think what we may have with Prentiss is an example of going from one extreme to the other; from early reports of his having been captured at the beginning of the battle and thus basically being disgraced, to becoming the saviour of Grant's army. A role he later relished, which I think is understandable, and not without some merit, but it's also exaggerated.

That to me is the larger point of Smith's article, that there was more to the battle than what Prentiss did, or what happend in the Hornets Nest. Now, that said, we also don't want to swing back to the other extreme again, and paint both Prentiss, and the Hornets Nest, as being irrelevant. Drew makes an excellent point when he says - and pardon me because I'm paraphrasing here - that Cunningham's approach to the Hornest Nest was rather even-handed. He places the fighting there on about the same level of importance as the other aspects of the battle.

In the historiography of Shiloh, that's major news, to relegate the Hornets Nest to simply one part of the larger story, rather than the most important part. In fact, I'd go so far as to call it stunning news, given the place of the Hornets Nest not only in the history of the battle, but in the history of the war. It's one of the iconic images from the war as a whole, and not just the battle.

But I also think placing the Hornets Nest in the context that Cunningham places it is accurate. Without saying as much or even addressing the issue, he takes it off that iconic pedestal and places it alongside the other parts of the battle. Which is almost certainly where it belongs. That's the way it seems to me that Cunningham approached it. My feeling is that Smith views it largely the same way, but maybe it's the way he approaches the subject that makes it seem as if he doesn't. If that makes any sense.

As usual I've droned on way too long, but this is a good subject for discussion Elaine, and I appreciate you addressing it, and Drew for responding.

Perry

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Thank you very much Perry for the kind welcome and the information on other posts. I'll have to check them out. I have been trying to read all the posts in your forum a few at a time but it is a formidible job. There's alot of great content here. That is why I posed my question about Halleck here in the first place, hoping someone here would know the answer or have more thoughts.

Can anyone else here provide more information about Halleck's contemporary thoughts about the battle and what he may have said about, and to, Prentiss and the other HN POWS about their role or importance in this battle? (HN = Hornets' Nest)

It really must be emphasized that in July 1862 , a few months after Shiloh, and a few months before Prentiss's October release frpm POW camp, Halleck was promoted by Lincoln to commander in chief of the whole army. What Halleck told Prentiss therefore carried great weight, and Tim Smith leaves this important information out of his article.

Here is what Kiner said in his Introduction:

So far as their capture is concerned, there can be no cowardly reflection to cast upon them. The remark of General Halleck shows how much their labor on that fatal day, April 6, 1862, is appreciated by those who are capable of judging, when he says: "By sacrificing yourselves, you saved the army of the West."

My other thoughts are based only Tim Smith's "False Hero" article. I had many problems with this article. I have yet to read his latest article in the book that Drew just reviewed, that is why I asked Drew for more information about that article.

I think had Tim Smith begun his article by saying that the first words of greeting that Prentiss heard from Halleck, Prentiss' commmander, upon returning from months of captivity were, "Welcome home, you saved the army at Shiloh" Smith's article that Prentiss was a self-proclaimed "false hero" would have fallen completely apart. Therefore to me, Halleck is key to the early perception and interpretation of the role of the men at the HN, and how Prentiss began to perceive the role of the HN, even if we now have a better understanding of the overall picture than any of the generals had in their own lifetimes.

That is just the start. Elsewhere in Tim's article, he uses strange language like this:  " With those two acts — the reluctant surrender and his decision to make that boastful retort — Benjamin Mayberry Prentiss was on his way to undeservedly earning the weighty sobriquet  “Hero of Shiloh.”  "

What does that mean?  Who ever surrenders eagerly? And what general would not call his men the "bravest brigade" in the army? Yet Tim somehow makes both these things seem unseemly and as marks against Prentiss' character. It put me off and made me begin to question the validity of the entire article.

Smith elsewhere seems to imply blame on Prentiss for the writings of Bruce Catton and Otto Eisenschiml, hardly a fair criticism of Prentiss I think.

Later Smith even takes issue with an obit of Prentiss headlined "Hero of Shiloh Passes Away". I don't understand his objection. I bet many common soldiers died with similar headlines in their hometown papers. Nothing in this headline implies Prentiss was the ONLY hero of Shiloh, or THE hero of Shiloh, yet Tim somehow finds the headline "false". In a similar manner Chester Arthur is remembered as "President of the United States". I wonder if Smith would object to that title being used in Arthur's obituary? Surely there are other men who served better in the President's office than Arthur. Yet Smith implies Prentiss should not be called a Hero because maybe better men at Shiloh were more heroic than Prentiss.

Smith then complains that Prentiss received undeserved praise with these words: “On the pages of history his name will appear as one on whose bravery and indomitable courage hung the fate of Shiloh battle field and perhaps the fate of a nation.” Smith then comments rather snidely that "Prentiss apparently had saved more than just the Union army at Shiloh. "

I don't understand Smith's comment. Surely it is not unreasonable for anyone to believe that more than just an army was saved at Shiloh. I think alot of very intelligent folks might believe Shiloh was a very significant victory, a victory that had a lot of very important repercussions and long range consequences for the entire country than just another battle won. (Notice also it says Prentiss was "one", as in out of many, not "THE one")

But most of all, I said it above, and repeat, I just find it astonishing that Smith first makes the case in "False Hero" that Wallace was the real hero, a forgotten hero long neglected, and that in his opinion Prentiss was merely a false usurper of the glory that Wallace rightly deserved.

I agree fully with Smith about Wallace being a true hero, and Smith makes his points very well, that Wallace deserves much more recognition for his important and brave role at the HN.

But then in this latest article, Smith now says what was done at the HN (by the neglected hero Wallace) wasn't really all that notable or important anyway, and has been "greatly exaggerated"!!!!! That is what I find so astonishing. "Wallace was a neglected hero, but he didn't do much"? Does all that makes any sense to folks in this forum? It doesn't to me.

I really hate to pick on Smith, who I am very sure has much much more knowledge of Shiloh than I'll ever have, but it seemed like this "False Hero" article falls short on many points and isn't very well thought out, and that this newest Smith article sounds like it even undercuts the most valid point of the first one, which was to acknowledge Wallace. I wanted to make these observations about Smith's "False Hero" article but I don't want to make a big long thing of it. I need to read the second article before I comment on it.

Perry I agree with you about Peabody and was going to comment on him too but this is already way too long so I'll save it for another post someday.  Now I am going to let this go for awhile and go read some more forum posts. Thanks for letting me vent.

Elaine

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I would like to take a moment to weigh in on the Prentiss issue. Last year at the beginning of one of the battlefield hikes an individual called Mr Prentiss a "fraud". I felt this statement was totally unnecessary and it really set my teeth on edge..

During the past ten or fifteen years research had been done that pretty much concludes that the Nest probably did not play the pivotal role in the battle that had been believed for the past 125 years..  However, does this new information make Prentiss, Reed and all the rest liars and frauds??

To answer this question I think we need to look at the battle through their eyes..  Those troops were lined up on a dirt road in the middle of a thicket.. Mr Grant ordered them to hold the ground at all hazards.  In attempting to do so they held off seven confederate attacks and endured a bombardment that must have sounded like Armageddon. When they surrendered at Cloud Field practically half of the Confederate Army was in the vicinity. Meanwhile Grant, Sherman and all the rest were huddled near the landing.. They were the last ones standing. They had done what Grant had asked them to do..  All available evidence pointed to fact that they had held up the attack..  They knew full well that after their surrender it was too late for the Confederates to mount an attack at the landing..  They learned what happened the next day..  In their minds they bought Grant the time for Buell to come up and the Union to prevail on April 7th.

All of this was without a doubt reinforced over and over..  As an earlier post pointed out Prentiss was hailed "The Hero of Shiloh" by Halleck.  It is my understanding that this would have to be a lot like being anointed by God.

Of course, in the last few years evidence has pointed to the fact that a lot of folks worked to save Grant's bacon that day..  If Stuart had not done what he done in the ravines, Sherman at the Crossroads, or Prentiss in the center Mr Grant would likely not enjoy the fame he has today..

Does this new evidence suggest fraud?  My definition of fraud includes deliberate deceit and trickery.  Not sure that happened in this case..  I think Prentiss, Reed, et al were mistaken. They took credit for something they believed to be true. All evidence pointed to the fact that it was true..  In fact, it was a belief that was held by practically everyone for 130 years..  For modern historians to embark on character assasinations like this one that appears to be leveled against Mr Prentiss is just plain wrong. 

Your Obedient Servant

Rebel

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Rebel: I concur with your assessment. It is easy to look back with rose colored glasses and 20/20 hindsight. I think Prentiss and WHL Wallace both did a lot to save Grant's bacon" as you put it & there actions were very important to the outcome of the battle. That is not to say that others, as you mention, did not also play a very important part. SAM

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Yes, rebel and idaho native, you said it just right. We now have a wider view and a wider understanding of the complexity of the whole battle, beyond the more famous or better publicized HN, because we now have had more time and more access to more accounts and more documentation and more study. We know that many many officers and thousands of men contributed to the overall success, not just a select group in the center, which was clearly understood back then also, because Sherman and Stuart (and other men on the west and east sides) were both well praised publicly, but perhaps not as well publicized later on as the HN over time.  

But that newer, more expanded, more documented understanding in our own time should never be mis-used to mis-characterize old understandings of the past as "frauds". Rebel said it just right, it is character assassination. Smith's article could just as easily, and more effectively, been writtten and presented to be MORE about Wallace and entitled, "Shiloh's Forgotten Hero". It would have accomplished more, been more accurate, and done much more justice to a neglected hero without tearing falsely into Prentiss.

We need to, and can,  expand the fuller understanding we now have of everyone's participation and roles in the battle, across the entire scope of the battle, without calling a patriot soldier like Prentiss a false hero, and doing so by leaving out critical information to make that  false claim against him. The false hero article seems to me more like false history, and I'll restrict any further comments, at least until I get a chance to read Smith's latest article. 

This really was well said, rebel, a bullseye, it is just right on the mark:

"Of course, in the last few years evidence has pointed to the fact that a lot of folks worked to save Grant's bacon that day..  If Stuart had not done what he done in the ravines, Sherman at the Crossroads, or Prentiss in the center Mr Grant would likely not enjoy the fame he has today.. "

I want to thank Drew again for the helpful review, and Perry Admin for his thoughtful comments too, they were very accurate.

(Perry I want to add this remark: I understand what you mean by Smith having a point about the false vietnam vet's false medals,  and that maybe Smith should have used a better image, as you say. But once that phrase is out there, it is a little like a prosecutor calling a defendant a kitten-kicker or something, and then having the judge tell the jury to 'disregard' the comment after the image is already solidly fixed in their minds.)

Elaine

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