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'Shiloh 1862' and 'The Long Road to Antietam'

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Ulysses Grant is the most fascinating character here. Before he was the rock upon which Lincoln built victory, before he served as president for eight years, before a grand tomb was erected in his honor (yes, that tomb, in which no one is actually buried), Grant was a failure. Not to mention a reputed souse of the highest order, a poor dresser ("the most unmilitary looking officer in the army"), and a most unlikely leader of men.

There are plenty of other characters too, from William Tecumseh Sherman (thought to be mad, and with good reason) to connivers and politicians to a high-profile Confederate general who looked like the spitting image of comic actor Jonah Hill and would lose his life to a bullet, but not on the battlefield. Full of evocative stories – plus helpful maps and fascinating photos – "Shiloh 1862" is the perfect Civil War battle book for those who don't read Civil War battle books.

Shiloh was the first mammoth rumble of the Civil War, and Antietam would be the third, just a few months later in September 1862. Historian Richard Slotkin's The Long Road to Antietam: How the Civil War Became a Revolution is a remarkable piece of work, an eye-opening double history of a battle and a war.

Slotkin is interested in wider themes than what happened on a single bloody day, although he devotes plenty of space to the Battle of Antietam itself. He sees Antietam as a turning point, a quasi-victory for the North that gave the president breathing room and turned the war into a slog, an "all-out war of subjugation" from the North's perspective.

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