June 23, 2008

Shiloh and Brice's Crossroads

My fifteen-year-old son and I spent several delightful days visiting Memphis, where we feasted on BBQ, fried catfish, and Da Blues. The getaway included day trips to Shiloh last Thursday and then back to Brice’s Crossroads on Friday. I wholeheartedly recommend a visit to Shiloh to anyone who has never been there. It is about two hours east of Memphis and is somewhat in the middle of nowhere, which means that the park has a tranquility often missing from other large battlefields. We did the hour-and-a-half CD audio tour by car and then took in a ranger-led side excursion to the “Hornet’s Nest” where we were educated on the many unknown facts and mythology that has grown around that central part of the fight.

I found the statuary to be quite beautiful and the facilities are excellent. On the left is the Confederate Memorial and on the right is the Visitor's Center.

As to books on the battle, the newly-published Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862 now appears to be considered the standard work on the battle. Though finally published last year by Savas, it is not a “new” work by any stretch. Its author, the late O. Edward Cunningham, wrote the book in 1966 as his doctoral dissertation at Louisiana State University. Though unpublished, many Shiloh experts as well as park rangers considered it the finest overall treatment of the engagement. Forty years later, editors Gary Joiner and Timothy B. Smith have at last brought Cunningham’s work to life.

From a collectors perspective, the first edition of The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged by David W. Reed seems to be the one to have on your shelf. Reed was a Shiloh veteran and the battlefield’s first official historian when the park was created in 1894. His work was the first tactical narrative but apparently only provides detail down to the brigade level. The first edition appeared in a full black cloth binding in 1903 and was a U. S. government-sponsored publication. Veterans of the battle were given a free copy and once supplies were exhausted six years later, a second revised edition was prepared. Copies of the first edition tend to sell between $100 and $200 depending on condition. The University of Tennessee Press has just published a nice hardcover reprint of this long out-of-print title.

Brice’s Crossroads was a much smaller battle and therefore offers a more compact tour of its battlefield than at Shiloh. Its CD audio tour is only about 22 minutes long. The battlefield in fact contains only one acre that’s owned outright by the Federal government (right at the crossroads) however the local Brice’s Crossroads Battlefield Commission has in recent years secured the protection of approximately 1000 acres, thereby preserving the sight of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s greatest tactical victory for future generations.

Forrest at Brice's Crossroads and in North Mississippi in 1864 is probably the best-known work on the battle and is a surprisingly tough find in the first edition. The research was originally started by historian Glenn Tucker and was to be published by Morningside Bookshop. Tucker’s untimely death however put a temporary stop to the project. Morningside owner Bob Younger then asked Ed Bearss, a close friend of Tucker’s, if he would take up the mantle and finish the work. Bearrs’ book was published in hardcover by Morningside in 1979 and to the best of my knowledge, did not include a dust jacket. My copy features an austere black binding with gold leaf lettering on the front and spine, though Morningside is presently offering a first edition ($75) in a red binding (no jacket). The book also included some nice maps of the campaigns on the endpapers and internally.

As mentioned before, it is a difficult book to acquire. At present, I found only two first editions for sale on the internet. Even reading copies can be difficult as the title appears to be presently out of print. What’s worse, at the Brice’s Crossroads Visitor’s Center, I found no works for sale that discuss the battle.