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Battle of Shiloh
Civil War Encyclopedia >> Major Event
Civil War Encyclopedia >> Battles
Battle of Pittsburg Landing [US]
Battle of Shiloh [CS]
Union forces engaged 65,000, 1,754(k), 8,408 (w) 2,885 (m)
Confederate forces engaged 44,000, 1,728 (k), 8,012 (w) 959 (m)
Both Union and Confederate commanders realized that the key to the West after the fall of Fort Donelson was the rail center of Corinth, Mississippi. General Henry Halleck [US] had newly promoted Major Generals Ulysses S. Grant [US] and Don Carlos Buell [US] moving into position to attack the Rebel positions there, rapidly becoming a Confederate stronghold. After capturing Nashville almost unopposed Buell, as so often the case, moved south more slowly than the eager Grant. With a larger body of men Grant moved south along the Tennessee River finally arriving at Pittsburg Landing 10 days in advance of Buell and the Army of the Ohio. He established a wide camp with his forward units around Shiloh Church, some 2.5 miles south of Pittsburg Landing.
P. G. T. Beauregard [CS], unhappy in the East, moved West to assume a second-in-command role under Albert Sidney Johnston [CS], generally regarded as one of the best generals in the South in spite of his loss at Fort Donelson. Johnston realized that with a combined force of nearly 70,000 Grant and Buell could simply overrun his 50,000 men at Corinth. The Rebel leader decided to attack Grant's extended line before Buell could reach him in part because of intelligence from Frank Cheatham that the brigadier was engaged by Lew Wallace's [US] division. That left Grant with an estimated 37,000 men. Once the decision was made to attack, Johnston left most of the tactical planning of the attack to Beauregard.
William Tecumseh Sherman [US], whom Grant had given tactical supervision over the camp near Shiloh Church, was skeptical of some of the reports of enemy in the area, but did increase pickets. His cavalry units, which would normally sweep the area had been reassigned and the replacement cavalry had not yet arrived. General Benjamin Prentiss [US], too, had been receiving reports of increased enemy activity late on Saturday, April 5, but refused to believe them. Luckily, a "brigade colonel" named Everett Peabody did believe the reports and issued orders that pickets be increased.
Why did Sherman not entrench his position? Sherman's memoirs on Shiloh
The battle of Shiloh, April 6
Johnston ringed the southern end of the federal position with two corps under the command of William Hardee [CS] and Braxton Bragg [CS], holding in reserve men under Leonidas Polk [CS] and John Breckinridge [CS]. Warned by the sound of the Union patrol being engaged (the additional patrol moved forward by Peabody), Sherman's soldiers began drawing ammunition before sunrise. Hardee moved forward towards Shiloh Church with 9,000 men and launched the initial attack on the right of the Union line (forces under Sherman's command). Bragg quickly followed with 10,000 more men. Prentiss, also in front of Shiloh Church, was quickly involved in the battle, although the attack on Sherman's men was significantly heavier.
Sherman and Prentiss did hold off the Rebel attack, but the unified Confederate advance was designed to expose open holes. Beauregard exploited these holes and after two hours of fighting Sherman's division ceased to be an effective fighting force and withdrew. As the Rebels pushed the Union line back, John A. McClernand's [US] forces, camping behind Shiloh Church were engaged, strengthened the line but not for long. At nine o'clock am the entire Union Army began a retreat that ended half a mile later.
Shortly after 7:00 am the thunderous roar of battle swept over Ulysses S. Grant's headquarters at Savannah, Tennessee, 12 miles north of Shiloh Church. He began ordering reserves forward. As he approached Crumps Landing Grant docked with Wallace's headquarters vessel and ordered Wallace to be ready to advance at a moment's notice. Wallace told Grant he was already preparing for a move south from Stoney Lonesome along the Shunpike (or Shun Pike).
'Bull' Nelson, the lead element of Buell's force who arrived at Savannah the evening before, was ordered to advance to Pittsburg Landing as quickly as possible. After boarding the USS Tigress and sailing to Pittsburg Landing, Grant sent out orders to the battlefield: Form a line and hold it at all costs.
Generals W. H. L. ("Will") Wallace and John A. McClernand began forming a line on the Purdy and Hamburg Roads along a forested rise just north of the Corinth Road. Shortly after 10:00 am the remaining men from Prentiss's division along with some from Sherman's division moved into position, supporting the right flank of Wallace and McClernand's position. Forming a weak line the decimated Union Army made a historic stand at the Hornet's Nest. Some of Sherman and McClernand's men were forced backwards towards the river by William Hardee as Braxton Bragg's division began the first of 8 distinct assaults on the center of the Union line. Meanwhile, Sherman organized a counterattack, actually moving Hardee's forces back, only to encounter stiff resistance. Sherman was soon forced back to his original position. Stephen Hurlbut [US] protected the left flank of the Union line against Confederate assaults from a peach orchard.
Grant ordered this desperate stand to give himself needed time to build a defensive perimeter around Pittsburg Landing. He wanted to secure the landing for many reasons: It would keep Grant's supply line open, it would protect the massive number of wounded men quickly mounting at field hospitals near the landing and it would give Don Buell an entry point to the battlefield when his troops arrived. Starting at 11:30am, Grant visited each of his division headquarters for a personal update on the situation, then returned to the Tigress where General Don Carlos Buell appeared at 1:00 pm.
Realizing the drive to the Confederate right had stalled, Sidney Johnston rode over and led a brigade of Breckenridge's division against Stephen Hurlbut's forces in front of Sarah Bell's Peach Orchard about 2:00 pm. A stray bullet struck the general's leg above the top of his boot. Upon seeing Johnston his volunteer aid, Tennessee governor Isham Harris, asked if the General had been hit. Johnston indicated he had and Harris helped him dismount. His men quickly laid Johnston on the ground and removed his blood-filled boot to reveal a small but deep wound. Johnston's last words were "We will water our horses in the Tennessee tonight." He was wrong.
The death of General Johnston at 2:30 pm triggered a number of events. Beauregard took command of the Confederate forces. As news of Johnston's death spread through Breckenridge's division they broke off the attack on Union left in the Peach Orchard. General Daniel Ruggles [CS] forged ahead to the "Hornet's Nest" with cannon to support Bragg while the road to Corinth was slowly filling up with Union prisoners of war. After a short break, Breckinridge's men renewed their attack on the Peach Orchard and began to solidify their first gains of the afternoon.
When Ruggles was finally in position, he had assembled 62 cannon pointed at the center of the Union line, in the forest above the Hornet's Nest. The opening volley from these guns at 4:30 pm was both deafening and deadly. As grapeshot danced off the federal positions less than 1,000 feet away, the Rebel Army prepared for a final assault.
Beauregard had ordered most of the Confederate Army on the battlefield to advance on the Union position and half-an-hour later the Yankees were in full retreat. Rebel forces were making strong gains pressing on the Union flanks. W. H. L. Wallace realized this and tried desparately to break out of the pocket that was forming. He was mortally wounded leading some of his men to safety just before the Confederate lines met. Now completely enveloped, Benjamin Prentiss, the highest ranking officer, surrendered the 2,300 men remaining in the Union pocket.
Almost the entire Confederate Army had been committed to turning the Union line along the Sunken Road. Unknown to the Confederates, Grant had begun to get men and supplies from Savannah, Tennessee. Nelson's Division of Buell's Army of the Ohio arrived and began crossing the Tennessee River at Pittsburg Landing. Two Confederate brigades, though, advanced to the left flank of the 20,000 man Union line formed to protect Pittsburg Landing. On the top of a hill just south of the Tennessee River landing Grant had positioned artillery backed by infantry. The Union general had hoped to use the lay of the land as a defensive barrier against a Rebel assault. As these Confederate brigades advanced, some of Grant's men abandoned their positions, but Grant and William Nelson [US] led the first of Nelson's brigades to the ridge where they fell into line in support of the artillery just as the gunboats Tyler and Lexington opened up a barrage. This, the only Rebel assault against "Grant's Last Line," was called off when Beauregard suspended Confederate activity for the night.
Ordered from Stoney Lonesome at 11:00am to the right of the Union line by Grant, Wallace marched south on Shunpike towards Sherman's original position. Grant dispatched several couriers including Lt. Colonel James McPherson to find Wallace and get him to the field of battle. In spite of these repeated attempts, Lew Wallace and his "missing" division did not arrive at Pittsburg Landing until 7:00 pm.
Additional Union divisions under Crittenden and McCook arrived throughout the night as rain soaked the battlefield. That evening, as Beauregard prepared to drive the Army of the Tennessee into the Tennessee River, Grant informed his division commanders to be prepared to attack the next day at sunrise. Nathan Bedford Forrest scouted Pittsburg Landing and realized Grant was not retreating but being reinforced. General Hardee dismissed his report but told him to find Beauregard and let him know, a task Forrest was unable to complete. Grant now had a significant numerical superiority over the Confederates.
The battle of Shiloh, April 7
With the Confederates ready to move forward on the morning of April 7, 1862, General Ulysses S. Grant had many tangible advantages over the Rebel forces surrounding him. A soft rain started about 10:00 pm Saturday night, impacting the Confederate effort to resupply their men. Grant, being resupplied by ship, had less to worry about because of the rain. Grant's line had been established but the Confederates were just beginning the work on theirs at sundown. Buell was reinforcing Grant's positions with thousands of fresh troops while Beauregard's men were battling the effects of 36 hours of marching and battle.
In a nighttime meeting Grant and Buell agreed that each would command there own troops and that no one would be in overall command. Buell let William Nelson [US] began the advance along the Union left well before sunrise. By 7:00 am all the rested troops, including Lew Wallace's "missing" division were advancing along a wide front, driving the Confederate forces back, slowly but continuously. By 10 am Yankees were consolidating gains they have made that returned them to the Sunken Road (Hornet's Nest), sight of the heaviest fighting the day before.
By this time the Confederate leaders were scrambling to put together a cohesive line. William Hardee [CS] welded an amalgam of Rebels together to hold the right, but Lew Wallace blasted through the Confederate left about 11:00 am. Over the next two hours the Rebels enjoyed some successes, but by 1 pm the Union line was holding and advancing again. Beauregard, who had pinned his hopes of turning the battle on the arrival of General Earl Van Dorn [CS] determined that continued fighting would be pointless when Van Dorn had not arrived in Corinth and could not be located. With a 22 mile march to the safety of his established line in Corinth, he ordered withdrawal at 2:00pm. Former United States Vice-President John C. Breckenridge withdrew and reformed south of Shiloh Church at about 2:30, after which the other divisions withdrew for the march to Corinth. After the withdrawal had be accomplished, Breckinridge withdrew at 5:00 pm
Facts: At the time, Shiloh was both the bloodiest day and the bloodiest two days in American history. It would later be surpassed by Antietam (bloodiest single day) and Chickamauga (bloodiest two days).
According to the Civil War Book of Lists the Battle of Shiloh had two of the top turning points of the Civil War: Buell's arrival at Pittsburg Landing and Sidney Johnston's death.
Errata about the battle: More men died at Shiloh than in all previous American wars. More than 4,000 Americans died in battle during the American Revolution, easily surpassing the 3,800 battle deaths at Shiloh.
Don Carlos Buell and Ulysses S. Grant never discussed the possibility of retreat. According to Buell, the source of the quote commonly attributed to him is a staff officer. The Century Magazine, A "Famous Saying" Contradicted, by Gen. D. C. Buell: pp. 956. In the same article, Buell states that he found Grant on his headquarters steamer and not at Pittsburg Landing.
According to Ulysses S. Grant he arrived at Pittsbugh Landing at 8:00 am. Others put the time at 9:00am. We believe that Grant arrived at 9:00 am.
The time at which the Union line at the Hornet's Nest was enveloped is also widely placed, from 4:00pm to 5:30pm. Based on both Union and Confederate reports, it seems to be closer to 5:30
Lew Wallace at Shiloh
Shiloh Visitor's Center
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Battle of Shiloh was last changed on - January 17, 2008
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