Review of They Met at Shiloh by Phillip M. Bryant
I think I was required to read The Red Badge of Courage in High School. Normally a compliant student, I failed to complete that assignment. I don’t really like war stories, particularly graphically realistic and gruesome ones. I did, however, finish reading They Met at Shiloh. Yes, there is extreme realism in the description of the battle scenes and aftermath. But even if you’re very squeamish like me, here’s why you should read it anyway.
I swear I was there, trudging down those endless roads, rolling up those bedrolls, changing from my nightcap to my forage cap, hot, cold, sweat-soaked and rain-soaked, right along with these characters. Michael, Stephen, Robert, Phillip — I know them. Bryant gives such a richness of detail to his scenes, his clothing, and his characters. I smelled the powder and the blood. I saw that horrible pool you must read about to understand.
Above all else, I saw how real men felt and described their different Christian faiths, something glaringly missing from anything Stephen Crane might have written. Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans, as well as those who only scratched their heads at another’s belief (or screamed that it was hypocritical and false) all had their say. Crane gave us no hope. Bryant didn’t “save” everybody, or straighten everybody out to one belief, even. He let them grope, struggle, and come to grips or turn away in bewilderment as real men do.
That isn’t to say the message of what brings a man peace in Christ wasn’t clear. It was realistically presented, but not everybody understood what was happening or how it applied to them. Green soldiers think they understand how to do battle before they really engage. Some run. Some fumble. Some understand and do exactly what they must to do their duty. So it is with the lost. As prepared or unprepared as they may be by our poor efforts, God gives the increase.