The Battle of Shiloh Summary – significance/impact

Summary

This article will give a summary of the Battle of Shiloh. The Battle of Shiloh, also referred to as the Battle of Pittsburg Landing, occurred on April 6-7, 1862, during the Civil War. This battle saw the combined Union Army of the Ohio and the Army of the Tennessee facing off against Albert Sidney Johnston and his Confederate army. The battle would result in a victory for Grant’s army. However, it would also result in a significant shift in the war and would become the bloodiest battle to that point in the war.

Background on the Battle of Shiloh and the Civil War

When the Civil War began, both the North and the South believed the war would be over in a short period of time. They prepared for a fast war and quick victory. This belief showed itself in the fact that citizens gathered to watch the first major battle of the Civil War, the First Battle of Bull Run (to learn more click here), as if it were a show. However, at Shiloh, soldiers and leaders would soon learn this would not happen.

A major focus of military strategy and movements during the American Civil War were railroad junctions. These junctions were important for transportation of supplies for the armies. This allowed supplies to not only be transported, but to be transported quickly, efficiently, and in large quantities. One of these important railroad junctions was located at Corinth, Mississippi. Corinth linked the east-west Memphis and Charleston Railroad to the north-south Mobile & Ohio Railroad. If the Union were to capture this crucial railroad junction, it would cripple the Confederacy.

In the winter of 1861-62, fighting had occurred north of Corinth as the Union began their push South in an attempt to capture the Mississippi River. The Confederacy got off to a bad start when Fort Henry and Fort Donelson were captured by Grant and his army. The fall of these Fort Henry and Fort Donelson forced Albert Sidney Johnston out of southern Kentucky, as well as the majority of Tennessee.

Johnston continued to move his force further south and created a new line of defenses to help protect the railroads that connected Richmond and Memphis. This railroad link was crucial as it allowed the Confederacy to bring men from the South to bolster their armies.

Following the falls of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson and the loss of Tennessee, General Albert Sidney Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard decided to concentrate 42,000 Confederate soldiers at Corinth, Mississippi.  27,000 came from Johnston’s force and 15,000 soldiers arrived from New Orleans and Mobile led by Braxton Bragg.

Albert Sidney Johnston

Beauregard planned to push the Union troops out of Tennessee all together. He stated, “We must do something, or die in the attempt, otherwise, all will be shortly lost.” Johnston decided it was better to strike Grant while his army was isolated at Pittsburg Landing before they could be re-enforced by Buell’s army.

P.G.T. Beauregard

On the Union side in the aftermath of Henry and Donelson, Henry Halleck was given command of all soldiers west of the Appalachian mountains. This put Halleck over Ulysses S. Grant and Don Carlos Buell and their armies. He ordered both to converge on Pittsburg Landing, located to the north of Corinth 20 miles on the Tennessee river. Halleck planned to take control of the 75,000 men at Pittsburg Landing once Buell’s army, the Army of the Ohio, joined Grant’s army. However, the Confederates planned to make a move first.

Ulysses S. Grant

Grant, however, did not expect the Confederates to make a move. Grant instead stationed his army and began to drill and strengthen his force. Morale in the Union camp was high following the victories at Henry and Donelson.

Beauregard’s Plan

Beauregard created a plan that consisted of four corps marching on roads that would meet and hitting the Union force on April 4. However, the plan was overly complicated for troops who were “green” (or who had not yet seen battle or been on long marches).

A Failed March to Pittsburg Landing

The march was a disaster with soldiers going the wrong way, blocking other divisions, and rains slowing down the move. It was not till April 5 was almost over before the army all arrived. Beauregard wanted to call off the attack fearing that Buell had reached Grant and reinforced him, however, Albert Sydney Johnston overruled him. He stated, “I would fight them if they were a million. Gentlemen, we shall attack at daylight tomorrow.” Johnston planned to push the Yankees back across the Tennessee river.

Buell’s lead division had indeed reached Grant. However, neither Grant nor Buell felt any pressure to unite their force and this force remained nine miles downriver at Grant’s headquarters instead of going to Pittsburg Landing. Despite the clumsiness and noise of the march, the rebels still managed to catch the Union force off guard. The Union force did not build defenses and camped without establishing a line of defense. The pickets and patrols did not reconnoiter more than a few hundred yards.

Battle of Shiloh – Day 1 (April 6)

Fighting Begins at the Battle of Shiloh

The Confederates hit the closest divisions to Corinth, William T. Sherman and Benjamin M. Prentiss’s divisions, on April 6. While the Union divisions were caught off guard, they were not surprised to the extent that some would later claim.

William T. Sherman

Some stated that the Union men were still asleep when the Confederates arrived. However, the truth was that very early in the morning, a patrol had been sent out and saw the incoming rebels. They engaged the Confederates, making noise to alert the divisions. Sherman stated, “My God, we’re attacked!”

Benjamin M. Prentiss

Sherman led with poise and coolness throughout the day. Sherman rode back and forth along the lies and even incurred two wounds during the fighting. He also had three horses shot out from underneath him. Sherman’s good mate, Ulysses S. Grant was about to eat breakfast when the fighting broke out. Grant arrived at the battlefield near 9:00 a.m. The Confederate forces had engaged six divisions at this point. The Union also double-timed their soldiers to the front.

Lew Wallace and his division were ordered to engage in the fighting. However, they went the wrong way and did not arrive at the fight to engage on the 6th. Many Union men engaged in this battle were “green” as well. When they got their first taste of battle, or “saw the elephant”, many of the Union broke and ran back to the banks of the Tennessee River and hid beneath the bluffs.

Shiloh Church

As the Union were being pushed back, some made a stand around Shiloh church. Here, the Union troops formed makeshift units and attempted to stop the Confederate troops as they advanced. This stand at Shiloh church occupied Johnston’s left flank. Even though the Union soldiers were eventually pushed back, they continued to slow down the Confederates and fought till the day’s end.

Battle of Shiloh

Albert Sidney Johnston Dies

Grant attempted to reorganize the fleeing soldiers and artillery on the ridge along the landing in case the Confederates pushed them back. Johnston also attempted to rally his soldiers and went to the front to try to encourage his tired fighters. At midafternoon, Johnston was struck by a Minié ball in the leg and was mortally wounded. This bullet severed an artery and Johnston bled to death.

Beauregard Takes Command

With Johnston’s death, Beauregard took over command of the Confederate force. Beauregard attempted to keep the fighting going and tried to press the Confederate advantage. The right and left of the Union line had been pushed back two miles by the Confederate force. However, the center still held. Here, Prentiss and his men made a stand along what they named the “sunken road.” The Confederates referred to this area as the “hornet’s nest.”

The Hornet’s Nest

Prentiss was ordered by Grant to “maintain that position at all hazards.” Over 12 attacks were launched at the hornet’s nest. Here, 4,500 Union soldiers faced 18,000 Confederates. This area, nicknamed for the sound the bullet’s made as they whizzed by, saw some of the most brutal fighting of the Civil War. Finally, the Confederates brought in sixty-two guns surrounded by ground forces. At this point, at 5:30 p.m., Prentiss and his 2,200 men surrendered. However, this stand at the “hornet’s nest” bought precious time for Grant and Buell.

The Hornet’s Nest – Shiloh

By the time the “hornet’s nest” surrendered, Lew Wallace and his Union forces had found their way and were arriving. The lead division of Buell’s force was also arriving. Beauregard, realizing that his force was disorganized and tired by the brutal fighting of April 6, decided to wait till the following day to finish the Union forces. While criticized by many, this was a sensible decision as the Union held the advantage of terrain and artillery. Grant, on the other hand, was also poised to attack the next day.

Reinforced by 25,000 fresh troops, adding to his remaining 15,000, Grant prepped for an offensive counterattack on the 7th. Grant, when prompted with the idea of retreat, stated, “Retreat? No. I propose to attack at day-light and whip them.” The Confederates also believed they would win the following day. Beauregard sent a message to Richmond stating, “After a severe battle of ten hours, thanks be to the Almighty, [we] gained a complete victory, driving the enemy from every position.” The following day, Beauregard planned to simply finish the job.

However, the Confederates were unaware that Buell and his force were arriving, believing instead that they were headed to northern Alabama. Nathan Bedford Forrest and his scouts attempted to warn their generals that Buell was arriving, however, he could not find Beauregard and was ignored by other generals. In response Forrest stated, “We’ll be whipped like Hell” the next day.

A Rainy Night

The night following the battle, rain poured down. The wounded and dead lay on the ground being soaked by the rains. Thunder and lightning began and illuminated the ground, showing the living the horror of the battlefield. An officer in the Union army wrote that his men were, “lying in the water and mud, were as weary in the morning as they had been the evening before.”

Ulysses S. Grant did not spend this miserable night in the luxury of command. Instead, he spent it on the ground among his men. Beauregard slept in what had been William T. Sherman’s tent. However, his sleep was not what he expected as he was awoken the next day when the Federals launched a counterattack. The Confederates were pushed back as they encountered the combined force of Buell and Grant’s men.

Union Counterattack

The Confederates did rally and put up several hours of resistance. As the Union soldiers pressed forward, they saw their fellow soldiers who had huddled together and died the night before. A Union soldier wrote, “Many had died there, and others were in the last agonies as we passed. Their groans were heart-rending… The gory corpses lying all about us, in every imaginable attitude, and slain by an inconceivable variety of wounds, were shocking to behold.”

Battle of Shiloh – Day 2 (April 7)

By the middle of the day, the Confederates were back where they had started. Near 2:30 p.m., the Confederates decided to retreat. The Union troops did not initially pursue, exhausted from the vicious fighting.

The following day Sherman and his men attempted to pursue the Confederates, however, Nathan Bedford Forrest and his cavalry were able to repel this exhausted pursuit. The only real result of this fighting was that Forrest was injured.

Results of the Battle of Shiloh

The Battle of Shiloh resulted in 20,000 killed and wounded. This was almost double the amount of casualties that resulted from the Battle of Manassas, Wilson’s Creek, Fort Donelson, and Pea Ridge combined. This showed what the war and fighting was becoming.

A man from Tennessee wrote, I never realized the ‘pomp and circumstance’ of the thing called glorious war until I saw this. Men… lying every conceivable position; the dead… with their eyes wide open, the wounded begging piteously for help… I seemed… in a sort of daze.”

Sherman wrote that there were “piles of dead soldiers’ mangled bodies… without heads and legs… The scenes on this field would have cured anybody of war.” After the bloody fighting at Shiloh, soldiers realized that victories would not come as easy as they did at Fort Henry and Donelson. A soldier wrote after the fall of Donelson, “My opinion is that this war will be closed in less than six months.” After Shiloh, he wrote something much different, stating, “If my life is spared I will continue in my country’s service until this rebellion is put down, should it be ten years.”

Battle of Shiloh

Public Opinion on the Battle of Shiloh

While the battle was a Union victory, public opinion still turned against Ulysses S. Grant. Prior to the battle, Grant had been the North’s favorite general after he captured Forts Henry and Donelson. However, in the aftermath off Shiloh, the Northern newspapers spread reports of Union soldiers being killed by Confederate bayonets’ while they were sleeping. This took Grant from a hero to a scapegoat. Grant really became the scapegoat due to false tales that he was drunk during the battle. This rumor eventually made its way to Lincoln. Upon hear this rumor, he famously replied, “I can’t spare this man; he fights.”

In addition to this, the battle at Shiloh did not initially seem quite like the Union victory that it was. After the Confederate force retreated, Beauregard claimed the Battle of Shiloh was a triumph for the South. He went on to say that the retreat back to Corinth was a part of his strategy. However, in reality, after the loss at Shiloh, the Confederacy was on the defensive for the rest of the Civil War in the western theater.

Battle of Shiloh

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