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 Posted: Sat Aug 30th, 2008 12:11 am
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Wrap10
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Tim Smith's two books about Shiloh - This Great Battlefield of Shiloh, and The Untold Story of Shiloh: The Battle and the Battlefield - are probably the best sources on the park, and how the history of the battle evolved.

The evolution of the Hornet's Nest as the focal point of the battle apparently had its origins with Union veterans, especially the park's first historian, David W. Reed. Reed's unit, the 12th Iowa, had helped defend part of the Sunken Road near Duncan Field. When the park was created in 1894, Reed was chosen as the park's first secretary and historian. He is the one who is mainly responsible for the park we know today.

He also wrote a history of the battle in the early 1900's, that became the foundation for what could now be called the traditional view of Shiloh. According to Smith (and you can verify this by reading the account itself), Reed's account is rather straightforward and accurate account of the battle that stands up quite well today. But, he also seems to have placed a subtle emphasis on the importance of the fighting in the Hornet's Nest and the Sunken Road, where Reed himself had been located.

But, Smith also makes the point that Reed almost certainly did not intend for the Hornet's Nest to dominate the history of the battle as came to do. (I think he makes this point, although I've also heard it from a former park ranger and I may be getting the two confused. But I'm pretty sure that Smith makes the very same point.) Apparently what happened is that other folks, including future historians of the battle, picked up on Reed's account, and it's subtle, perhaps unconscious emphasis on the Hornet's Nest, and basically ran with it, magnifying its importance beyond what Reed probably intended.

There's more to it, but Smith's book is really the place to turn. You can also read one of the early versions of Reed's original report here -

http://www.shilohbattlefield.org/commission/home.htm

The report has also just been re-released in book form for the first time in nearly 100 years.

As for Prentiss, from what I understand, he was apparently a fairly popular post-war speaker, and in this way did much to help secure his own reputation as a hero of the battle. He was also among those who supported efforts to establish a park on the site of the battle.

So as often seems to be the case, it appears to have been a combination of factors that brought about the story of Prentiss as the Hero of the Hornet's Nest, and the man who saved Grant's hide at Shiloh.

Perry

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