Location: Shiloh, Tennessee
Webpage: National Park
General Description: At the beginning of the Civil War, the Confederacy was in control of all of Tennessee and the southern part of Kentucky, but in February, 1862 the Union had taken control of the Tennessee and Cumberland River with the fall of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, capturing a large number of Confederate troops. Confederate General A.S. Johnston withdrew his forces from western Tennessee, northern Mississippi and Alabama to reorganize choosing the small town of Corinth, Mississippi. This was the vital crossroads of two major railroad lines essential for the movement of soldiers and supplies from the Mississippi to the Atlantic coast. However, this move opened up the Tennessee River for Union General U.S. Grant to quickly bring troops south into Tennessee. In April, 1862 the Civil War was not yet a year old and more than half of the troops on both sides had never seen combat and were not a well trained fighting force. Grant moved the Army of Tennessee south along the Tennessee River arriving at Savannah on March 14. Five divisions established a camp on the west bank of the river at Pittsburgh Landing, with an additional division 4 miles to the north at Crump’s Landing. He was under orders from General H.W Halleck to maintain this position until Major General D.C. Buelle arrived with the Army of the Ohio traveling overland from Nashville.with an additional 4 divisions. While they waited, Grant believed it was more important to train his green soldiers rather than spending time building any defensive battlements. Especially after the defeats at Fort Henry and Donelson, he did not believe the Confederates were in any condition to attack and would consolidate their position at Corinth instead. Pittsburgh Landing was over 20 miles from Corinth and Grant firmly believed he would plenty of warning if the Confederates moved to attack. While the Confederates did construct defense battlements to the north and east of Corinth, General Johnston was needing to take back the initiative and drive the Union out of Tennessee. He also knew that before Buelle and the Army of the Ohio arrived, the forces were approximately the same and he intended to surprise Grant and trap him along the river. On April 3, Johnston began the march north with over 40,000 troops. Plans were to quickly advance on Grant and surprise him. However, the march which should have taken a day, ended up taking three days due partly to the weather and partly to the inexperience of his troops. This should have given the Union army plenty of warning, but Grant had sent out no patrols and the soldiers were under orders not to engage the enemy. Any minor engagement was believed to be against small Confederate patrols. Johnston’s plan was to attack Grant’s left cutting him off from the gunboat support and the river. He would turn the Union left flank forcing Grant into the Snake and Owl Creek swamps. He believed Grant was positioned with his center facing west away from the river, so attacking from the south should expose his left flank. However, Grant was positioned facing south, so what should have been his left flank was actually the center of the Union forces. On April 5, the Confederate army spent the night positioned only two miles south of Shiloh Church where Major General Sherman had his command in the Union center. Disobeying orders, Colonel Peabody in General Prentiss brigade, sent out a heavy patrol of 250 soldiers before dawn on the morning of April 6. The patrol met fire from the woods along the edge of Fraley Field and from 5-6 am they exchanged fire. However, when the Confederates withdrew they were soon replaced by the advance of the entire Confederate Army. By 9 am the entire Union army was either under fire are rushing forward from the Landing. The Union camps on the right flank were soon overrun, but instead of continuing the advance, the Confederate troops broke to pillage the camp. Of course, it should be noted that the Confederates were poorly supplied and most had very little to eat since leaving Corinth three days prior. The Union right at Shiloh Church, however, put up stiff resistance under the command of Sherman allowing the Union time to bring men and cannon forward. Throughout the morning, the Union continued to be forced back to establish new defensive lines with a large number simply escaping the battleground for the relative safety of the Landing. However, the Confederates were not much better as their Command and Control was a shambles as they continued to lose contact with units in the confusion. In the Union center, at a location nicknamed “The Hornet’s Nest” Prentiss and W.H.L. Wallace’s divisions established a defensive position and holding for 7 hours beginning at 9 am. Rather than bypassing this position, the Confederates continued to attack the position with heavy casualties. In the meantime, the Union flanks were being pushed back encircling this position. With the near collapse of the Union right Major General D. Ruggles was able to amass over 50 cannon to fire on the Hornet’s Nest at close range, which they did for over an hour. This was the largest concentration of cannon used in a battle during the Civil War. The Confederates were able to encircle the Hornet’s Nest and captured between 2200 and 2400 men. In the meantime, at the Peach Orchard near the Confederate right flank, General Johnston was mortally wounded by a miniball behind his right knee. The shot severed the artery and he bled to death in the matter of minutes, the highest ranking officer on either side to be killed. Command now shifted to General Beauregard who continued the attacks on the Hornet’s Nest. This concentration of effort allowed the remaining Union forces to withdraw and establish a massive final semicircle around Pittsburgh Landing. This ring of over 50 cannons and the gunboats on the river made a very stiff defense. With the belated arrival of Lew Wallace’s division from Crump’s Landing and the first brigade of Buell’s army the Union was ready for the final advance of the Confederates. However, after capturing the Hornet’s Nest, the Confederates called off the assault around 6 pm. Believing that all that was left was a “mopping” up action the following day, the Confederates withdrew to the original Union camps around Shiloh Church. However, they got little rest during the night with the combined sounds of the wounded and dying, the gunboats shelling their position throughout the night, and a severe thunderstorm after 10 pm. The Confederate soldiers were more interested in obtaining food from the abandoned Union camps and did not establish any defensive positions. In the meantime, most of Buell’s Army of the Ohio arrived from Nashville and along with the fresh brigade of Wallace, the Union army was nearly replaced with fresh troops and now outnumbered the Confederates. nearly 2 to 1 Although Beauregard assumed that Grant would withdraw as much as possible during the night, Grant was not about to retreat. Beginning at dawn, the Union army counter-attacked. All along the Union advance, the Confederates were easily driven back regaining most of the lost ground by noon. In the early afternoon, Beauregard mounted a series of counter attacks from the Shiloh Church area temporarily pushing back the Union right at Water Oaks Pond. However, the Union responded and once again drove the Confederates south. Beginning at 5 pm, after heavy fighting, the Confederates began an orderly retreat back to Corinth. General Grant decided not to pursue the Confederates, citing the exhaustion of his troops, but also likely to be due to the strange command position of General Buelle who maintained he was acting independently. Shiloh was the costliest battle of the Civil War up to that time with over 13,000 Union casualties and over 10,000 Confederates. Both sides were now convinced that this was not going to be a quick war and three more years was still ahead.
1) A visit to Shiloh National Military Park must begin at the Visitors Center where they have an excellent movie about the battle and many exhibits giving important background and aftermath of the battle, as well as, the two day battle itself. There is a driving tour of the battlefield that does not begin to visit all the monuments and markers across the park. We purchased a driving tour CD at the bookstore, which visits the stops along the driving tour is a different order that is chronological to the two days. I recommend this CD as it provides a lot of important information about the battle that you can not get from the interpretive signs at each stop.
2) Although the Visitors Center is located at Pittsburgh Landing, the first stop on the CD was the actual location on the Tennessee River, which you can drive down to. You can also visit the National Cemetery where the Union troops were re-interred after the war. from this location as well.
3) The next stop on the CD is Shiloh Church which was the location of Sherman’s command on the right flank of the Union line before the battle. There is a reconstructed log church that matches as close as possible to the church at the time of the battle.
4) The battle begins at the edge of Fraley Field where the Union reconnaissance patrol meets the advancing Confederate forces at 5 am.
5) The next stop is where Prentiss’ division made its first stand along a low ridge. The Union troops were soon forced back through their camps where breakfast was still cooking.
6) The next stop is the location of Prentiss’ camps which were overrun by the Confederates early in the morning. Having little to eat over the past three days, Confederate commands lost control of their troops who began pillaging the camps. This gave time for Prentiss to reestablish his defensive line.
7) The next stop is one of the locations of a Field Hospital where Federal surgeons set up one of the first field hospitals of the Civil War. By concentrating medical services on the battlefield, patient care vastly improved and the death rate lowered.
8) The driving tour then proceeds to the site of General Johnston’s death near the Peach Orchard. There is a nice memorial to General Johnston as well.
9) The next stop is then the Peach Orchard where they Union put up a stiff defense before the left flank was forced back to Pittsburg Landing. It was also the scene of a fierce battle the following day as the Union retook this position during the morning of April 7. This is also the location of Sarah Bell’s house, the only surviving structure from the time of the battle.
10) Near the Peach Orchard is the Bloody Pond where both sides came to drink and bathe their wounds during the battle until the water was red with blood.
11) At this point we took a side trip along Riverside Drive to visit the Shiloh Indian Mounds. This National Historic Site has a nice pathway that leads through the site of the village and visits each of the five mounds. There are a number of interpretive signs along the path providing a good description of what would have been. At the edge of the bluff overlooking the Tennessee River is the largest mound which they have a wooden stair you can climb to get a view of the village from above. The most interesting feature were the low mounds scattered throughout the site that mark the locations of their homes.
12) The next stop is one edge of the “Hornet’s Nest” along one side of Duncan Field in the Union Center. Near this location was where over 2000 Union troops were captured when the Hornet’s Nest was eventually surrounded by the Confederates.
13) A short distance away is one end of the line of Ruggles Battery where the Confederates amassed over 50 cannon to bombard the Hornet’s Nest at close range before surrounding it. Today there are a long string of cannon marking the location, although they number only in the 30s.
14) Along Calvary and Jones Field Roads are the location of a few of the Confederate Burial Trenches where the Federal troops interred the Confederate dead after the battle.
15) The final stop on the tour is the Water Oaks Pond which is one of the locations from the second day of battle when General Beauregard attempted to mount a counter attack against the Federals. Failing this, he began his retreat to Corinth late afternoon of April 7.