LONG DAY AT SHILOH by Don Bannister


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This decently crafted novel of the American Civil War (by a Britisher) has the misfortune to appear close on the heels of Thomas Keneally's far, far richer Confederates--and it pales noticeably in comparison. The battle is Shiloh; the perspective is that of Grant's Union Army, which is ensconced safely (it thinks) on the Tennessee River. But then, around six in the morning, the underestimated Confederate forces make their move, surrounding the Yankees in short order, racking up tremendous scores of carnage as they do. And Bannister (Sam Chard) presents the conflict in a stop-action style to suggest how no single battle in war can be truly perceived by the participants until it's over: he gives quick focus in vignette to general and private alike; he italicizes their thoughts (""craziest thing I ever saw and hundreds of miniÉ balls whizzin' about everywhere we lust never knowed it would be like that and the captain gettin' blinded and runnin' all over the place damndest thing""); and this constantly shifting technique is often effective. But some of the descriptive prose here is disappointingly flabby (""Sabers rise and fall, reaping a grim harvest""). And while historically responsible (e.g., Grant vexed over General Wallace's failure of troop support), the book seems more closely lashed to its rather tame narrative tricks than to any sort of narrative urgency. Like Sam Chard, then, a showing of talent but without much force or power.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1981
Publisher: Knopf