Civil War novelist Jeff Shaara to speak at USF

BRADENTON -- Shiloh, Jeff Shaara said, did not exist on a map.

There was no such town. No such place.

It was the biblical name of a small community church in southwestern Tennessee and the backdrop of one of the Civil War's bloodiest and perhaps most pivotal battles.

It is also the setting of the widely acclaimed author's newest book -- "A Blaze of Glory: A Novel of the Battle of Shiloh," published by Random House.

Shaara will discuss it 6 p.m., May 29 at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee's Selby Auditorium.

It marks the author's return to a genre that has earned him widespread acclaim, not to mention 28 weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers List.

The timing is appropriate, he said.

"It's the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and the other part is how many people in Mississippi and Tennessee have written me and were tired of hearing about Robert E. Lee and Virginia as if that's the whole war -- and they're absolutely right," said Shaara from his Tallahassee home. "In many ways the war was won or lost west of the Appalachians. Shiloh was the first piece of that."

Now a national military park, the Battle of Shiloh was fought April 6-7, 1862. Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had moved his Union army deep into Tennessee and camped on the west bank of the Tennessee River. Confederate Generals Albert Sidney Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard successfully attacked Grant the first day, but were defeated the second.

"They tried to prevent Grant from crossing the river to trap him and force him to surrender, but it didn't work out that way and that's the story," Shaara said.

The book is his 12th. Shaara's first was "Gods and Generals" in 1996, the prequel to his late father's epic about Gettysburg, "Killer Angels." It spent 15 weeks

on the New York Times Best Sellers List. His next, "The Last Full Measure," the Civil War's conclusion, was on it for 13 weeks.

All of Shaara's books, including ones on the American Revolution, Mexican War, World Wars I and II, are distinguished by his ability to bring historical characters to life and create realistic dialogue.

"Some have said, 'How dare you put words in the mouth of Robert E. Lee!' OK, challenge accepted. People care about that. I'd better get it right," Shaara said. "I do the research where I hear the voices of the character -- from the actual memoirs, collections of letters and diaries.

"I end up loving these characters. Problem is if I have to write their death. That's emotional to me and really tells me it works."

"Blaze of Glory" is the first of a Civil War trilogy.

Shaara's next book?

"I'm up to my ears in Vicksburg," he said.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

Related stories from Bradenton Herald