There have been many novels written about the Civil War in the East. Now Dan Korn brings to life the incredible story of the western theater’s first major battle, the titanic struggle between two massive ill-prepared armies as they met on the shores of the mighty Tennessee River at a lazy riverboat landing called Pittsburg Landing. Nestled in a glen not far from the water’s edge was a sleepy house of worship, named Shiloh Meetinghouse. Shiloh means “place of peace.” After the events of early April 1862, Americans would never think of peace when they heard the name Shiloh ever again.
As Dawn’s Gray Steel opens, the South is reeling over the recent twin losses of the Tennessee forts Henry and Donelson, and the taking of the Tennessee capital, Nashville, by the thus far victorious western armies of the North. These victories have given the North a new hero in the form of a quiet and unassuming leader, Ulysses S. Grant. To the North, Grant has become “Unconditional Surrender ” Grant. To end the string of Yankee victories, the Confederacy turns to the quixotic and charismatic Albert Sidney Johnston, a man some consider to be the greatest soldier in the Confederacy, and the man Jefferson Davis entrusts to save the Confederacy in the West. It will become Johnston’s mission to end Grant’s run.
Victory has brought Grant fame, and with that fame comes a certain relaxed feeling in Grant that allows him to place his still relatively inexperienced Army of the Tennessee into camp along the Tennessee without taking many defensive precautions. It is this relaxed atmosphere that causes deep anxiety in one of Grant’s newest division commanders, the cigar-chomping, wild-eyed William Tecumseh Sherman. Grant assures his new subordinate that Johnston would be crazy to attack the Union Army where they are. It is a mistake that Johnston is determined to make Grant regret.