Battle of Shiloh

Shiloh Battlefield / Shiloh Battle

The Battle of Shiloh took place on April 6-7, 1862 in southwestern Tennessee. It was also known as the Battle of Pittsburg Landing to southerners. The Union army was led by Major General Ulysses S. Grant and he faced Confederate forces under Generals P.G.T. Beauregard and Albert Sydney Johnston.

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On the morning of April 6, Grant had his troops camped on the west bank of the Tennessee River at Pittsburg Landing. It was the intention of the Confederates to drive Grant’s forces away from the landing thus preventing him from from linking up with Major General Don Carlos and his Army of the Ohio.

The Confederate attack was quick and the fighting became confused. Johnston had wanted to push the Union forces away from the Tennessee River to cut off their chance to reinforce or retreat if necessary. Beauregard’s plan was to attack in three waves and push the Union forces into the Tennessee River. The Confederates were not unified in battle strategy and this led to an attack that was not very effective at the Battle of Shiloh.

Battle of Shiloh, Shiloh Battlefield, Shiloh Battle, Shiloh Battle Map

April 6, 1862 - morning (Map by Hal Jespersen, www.posix.com/CW)

Nonetheless the Confederates pushed on and the Union forces fell back behind Shiloh Church. General George Tecumseh Sherman rode up and down the lines and inspired his men to fight hard against the unrelenting Confederate attack. He was wounded twice and had three horses shot out from under him but he stood tall.

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The Confederates had pushed the Union forces into a strong defensive position later name the “Hornets Nest” - some call it the “Sunken Road”. Although they had been pushed back, they were now well-entrenched with strong artillery support.

Nonetheless the Confederates pushed on and the Union forces fell back behind Shiloh Church. General George Tecumseh Sherman rode up and down the lines and inspired his men to fight hard against the unrelenting Confederate attack. He was wounded twice and had three horses shot out from under him but he stood tall.

Battle of Shiloh, Shiloh Battlefield, Shiloh Battle, Shiloh Battle Map

April 6, 1862 - afternoon (Map by Hal Jespersen, www.posix.com/CW)

The Confederates had pushed the Union forces into a strong defensive position later name the “Hornets Nest” - some call it the “Sunken Road”. Although they had been pushed back, they were now well-entrenched with strong artillery support.

While coordinating attacks, Commanding Confederate General Johnston had been killed and the next move was up to General Beauregard. This was a huge blow to the Confederacy as he was considered by C.S.A President Jefferson to be his most effective commander.

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Johnston had been leading from the front and Beauregard was positioned in the rear. Some say his decision not to assault attack the Union position was clouded by his inability to accurately assess the circumstances at the Battle of Shiloh.

That night, Union reinforcements arrived in the form of Buell’s 15,000 troops and Grant would make preparation for a counterattack the next morning. Overnight the moans of the wounded and dying could be heard around the battlefield and the constant shelling from Union gunboats made sleep for either side almost impossible on the Shiloh battlefield.

Battle of Shiloh, Shiloh Battlefield, Shiloh Battle, Shiloh Battle Map

April 7, 1862 (Map by Hal Jespersen, www.posix.com/CW)

On the morning of April 7 at the Battle of Shiloh, the Union army with 45,000 men in the field was ready to attack. The estimates of Confederate troop-strength were between 20,000-28,000. In comparison to the day before, everything would go in the Union favor this day.

Grant aggressively attacked Beauregard’s troops over the ground they had taken the previous day. At first the Confederates were pushed back, then Beauregard rallied his troops and they stiffened then counterattacked from the area of Shiloh Church. General Sherman later wrote in his battle report that it was "the severest musketry fire I ever heard."

The Confederate counterattacks were flanked and it was clear to Beauregard the battle was lost. He had 10,000 casualties at this point and his depleted, exhausted men could fight no longer. He used 5,000 troops to screen the retreat to Corinth and by late afternoon, most of the Confederate force had abandoned the field.

Grant had to consider whether to pursue the retreating Confederate soldiers in the wake of their defeat. He decided not to press the attack as his troops were exhausted after two days of heaving fighting and it was rumored that Buell was acting independently of Grant’s orders although he was technically below Grant in rank - thus the Shiloh battle ended.

The Battle of Shiloh will be forever mired in controversy as much criticism has been place on Confederate General Beauregard and his decision not to press the attack on day 1. Grant was also criticized for not being prepared for the battle and rumors started that he was too drunk to lead. Many in the north called for his removal before President Lincoln came to his defense by saying, "I can't spare this man; he fights."

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