BOOK REVIEW: 'Forrest Gump' Author Publishes Civil War Book

By Noble, Don | The Tuscaloosa News, June 24, 2012 | Go to article overview

BOOK REVIEW: 'Forrest Gump' Author Publishes Civil War Book


Noble, Don, The Tuscaloosa News


Alabama author Winston Groom has had a remarkable spring of 2012.

His novel "Forrest Gump" was reissued in a 25th anniversary edition, and now his 16th book, his third study of a Civil War battle, has been published. This is a highly detailed narrative, and the reader had better want to learn a lot about the Battle of Shiloh, April 6 and 7, 1862.

The battle came less than one year into the war. In Virginia, there had been several big battles, especially First and Second Bull Run, but there had yet to be a meeting of great armies in the West, the territory from the Appalachians to the Mississippi.

Shiloh would be that battle, and the savagery and cost of that battle would change minds in the North and South. The war would not be over by that Christmas or the next or the next. The South learned the North would fight, and the Yankee generals, specifically Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman, determined the South could be subdued only by total "conquest and subjugation."

This volume is carefully, minutely, researched. Groom has amassed a veritable Civil War reference library, so some of this material he was already very familiar with. He gives very useful biographical sketches of characters like U. S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, P.G.T. Beauregard and many of the other players. He also makes use of different personal diaries by such figures as Ambrose Bierce, who would become a famous writer, Henry Morton Stanley, who would later "find" Dr. Livingston in Africa, and observers like young Elsie Duncan or Josie Underwood, who lived near the battle site.

Groom summarizes how the war had gone to this point, April of 1862, and how the major players had arrived there.

After a short and lucid summary of how Grant took Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, both in Tennessee, he gets to the main subject.

The site of the battle was a savage landscape, torn by ravines, crisscrossed by swollen creeks and wild tangles of woods devastated by tornadoes.

The Union Army was on the west bank of the Tennessee River and might have built up a good defensive position. But they did not.

In those days, Groom tells us, military intelligence was an oxymoron; it was not considered quite cricket to spy on your enemy, so the Union forces did not know how many rebels there were or where they were. …

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