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With the loss of Forts Henry and Donelson in February, General Johnston withdrew his Confederate forces into west Tennessee, northern Mississippi and Alabama to reorganize. In early March, General Halleck responded by ordering General Grant to move his Union Army of West Tennessee on an invasion up the Tennessee River.
Occupying Pittsburg Landing, Grant had no thought of a Confederate attack. Halleck's instructions were that following the arrival of General Buell's Army of the Ohio from Nashville, Grant would move south in a joint offensive to seize the Memphis & Charleston Railroad, the Confederacy's only east-west all weather supply route that linked the lower Mississippi Valley to cities on the Confederacy's east coast.
Assisted by General Beauregard, Johnston shifted his forces and placed almost 55,000 men around Corinth. Strategically located where the Memphis & Charleston crossed the Mobile & Ohio Railroad, Corinth was the western Confederacy's most important rail junction.
On April 3, realizing Buell would soon reinforce Grant, Johnston launched an offensive with his Army of the Mississippi. Moving upon Pittsburg Landing with 43,938 men, Johnston planned to surprise Grant, cut his army off from retreat to the Tennessee River, and drive the Federals west into the swamps of Owl Creek.
In the light of dawn, April 6, a small Federal reconnaissance discovered Johnston's army deployed for battle astride the Corinth road, just a mile beyond the forward Federal camps. Storming forward, the Confederates found the Federal position unfortified. By mid-morning, the Confederates seemed within easy reach of victory, overrunning one frontline Union division and capturing its camp. However, stiff resistance on the Federal right entangled Johnston's brigades in a savage fight around Shiloh Church. Throughout the day, Johnston's army hammered the Federal right, which gave ground but did not break.
Meanwhile, Johnston's attack stalled in front of Sarah Bell's peach orchard and the dense oak thicket labeled the "hornet's nest" by the Confederates. Grant's left flank withstood Confederate assaults for seven crucial hours before being forced to yield ground in the late afternoon. Despite inflicting heavy casualties and seizing ground, the Confederates only drove Grant towards the river, instead of away from it. The Federal survivors established a solid front before Pittsburg Landing and stopped the last Confederate charge as dusk ended the first day of fighting.
The Second Day
April 7, 1862
Shiloh's first day of slaughter also witnessed the death of the Confederate leader, General Johnston, who fell at mid-afternoon, struck down by a stray bulle.
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Taken by surprise, General Beauregard managed to rally 30,000 of his badly disorganized Confederates, and mounted a defense. Inflicting heavy casualties on the Federals, Beauregard's troops temporarily halted the determined Union advance. However, strength in numbers provided Grant with a decisive advantage. By mid-afternoon, as waves of fresh Federal troops swept forward, pressing the Confederates back to Shiloh Church, Beauregard realized his armies' peril and ordered a retreat.
General Johnston's massive and rapid concentration at Corinth, and surprise attack on Grant at Pittsburg Landing, had presented the Confederacy with an opportunity to reverse the course of the war. The aftermath, however, left the invading Union forces still poised to carry out the capture of the Corinth rail junction. Shiloh's awesome toll of 23,746 men killed, wounded, or missing brought a shocking realization to both sides that the war would not end quickly.
After living in Tennessee for nineteen years, I finally got in the car and drove the on hundred miles to see the battlefield of Shiloh. As you will see in the pictures that I have with this paper, that this was not a small battlefield at all. This is usually known as the Gettysburg of the South because of how brutal of a battle that was fought there.
Known originally as the Battle of Pittsburg Landing, the battle of Shiloh was the bloodiest battle fought in North America up to that time. Pittsburg Landing was an area from where the Yankees planned to attack the Confederates who had moved from Fort Donelson to Corinth, Mississippi. General Ulysses S. Grant commanded the North, while General Albert Sydney Johnston led the South. The Union army was taken by surprise the first day when the Confederate Army unexpectedly attacked, but after the Union?s reinforcements arrived and the fighting virtually ended in a tie. Lasting for two days, April 6 and 7 of 1862, casualties for both sides exceeded 20,000. The Battle of Shiloh was a message to both the North and South that the Civil War was for real.
General Grant was anxious to maintain the momentum of his victory at Fort Donelson. His army had moved up to a port on the Tennessee River called Pittsburg Landing in preparation for an attack on Corinth, Mississippi, where the Confederate troops were located. General Halleck, Western U.S. Army commander, had ordered Grant to stay put and wait for reinforcements. Grant had given command of the Pittsburg Landing encampment to General William T. Sherman while he waited at his camp in Savannah, Tennessee. At Corinth, Confederate Generals Albert Sydney Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard worked feverishly to ready the 40,000 plus troops there for an attack on the Union Army at Pittsburg Landing before U.S. Army General Buell and reinforcements could arrive from Nashville. The officers appointed as corps commanders for the South were Major General John Breckinridge, Major General William J. Hardee, Major General Braxton Bragg, and Major General Leonidas Polk. The South headed for Pittsburg Landing on April 4, 1862, but because of several delays the attack was postponed until April 6.
The Battle of Shiloh began early the morning of April 6. Johnston?s men burst out of the woods so early that Union soldiers came out of their tents to fight. The Confederate army drove the Yankees back eight miles that day. One area that was especially troublesome for the South was nicknamed the Hornet?s Nest and was commanded by Union General Prentiss. The area was a sunken road that Federal troops rallied behind and mowed down wave after wave of Rebel attackers until General Prentiss finally surrendered. The Hornet?s Nest got its name from Southern soldiers who reported that the sound of bullets and mini-balls flying through the air sounded like hornets. Prentiss fought, as he states, until half-past five P.M., when finding that further resistance must result in the slaughter of every man in the command. The enemy succeeded in capturing Prentiss and two thousand two hundred rank and file, many of them being wounded. Prentiss was captured along with 2200 Union troops. When a bystander asked him about General Buell he stated ?Buell is not coming here, and if any forces are on the way they must be very small. I know nothing of them?.
Both sides had suffered devastating losses and injuries. That evening soldiers from both armies wash their wounds in a small lake. The pond took on a red tint from the troops blood loss. From then on, it was known as the Bloody Pond. The South suffered a terrible loss at 2:30 in the afternoon of April 6, 1862. General Albert Sydney Johnston bled to death from a bullet wound to his leg. Beauregard sent a telegram to Jefferson Davis stating that loss on both sides were heavy including our Commander in Chief, General A.S. Johnston who fell leading his troops into the heart of the fight. Jefferson Davis held Albert Sydney Johnston in the highest esteem that he would have gladly turned the presidency over to him if he had had the power and that he was the only man he could lean on with entire confidence. Since the succession of the South and the beginning of the War Between the States, both sides were expecting one battle to decide the war. Reports to newspapers from Shiloh suggested the enormity and importance of the fight. ?The great battle to which the whole nation has so long been looking forward, begun this morning and has resulted in a complete victory?. This report was accurate as far as the first day?s fight was concerned. Both points of view show an overwhelming victory for the South during the first day?s battle.
The second day at Shiloh was a different story. As anticipated from information received at a late hour Sunday night, the enemy received strong reinforcements in the morning and about 7 o?clock renewed fighting. The Confederates held there own until reinforcements from General Buell reached Grant on the afternoon of April 7. It was now, however, only about one o?clock, and Buell?s fresh men numbering 30,000 in all were still coming in. The Confederate Army retreated to Corinth while the Union Army didn?t follow them and was glad to see them go. After the Battle of Shiloh both sides reported that the war would be long and drawn out. When asked, after he was captured, if he thought Shiloh would lead to peace, General Prentiss stated ?Never, till the Union is restored. If we do not whip you with the men we have, we will bring more?. Though the price of battle at Pittsburg Landing was high for both sides, it was only the beginning of the end for the Southern Confederate Army.
Sword, Wiley W. Shiloh: Bloody April. New York: William Morrow & Company, Inc., 1974. (Battle of Shiloh page.)
Tennessee Valley Authority. The Tennessee River Navigation System: History, Development,
and Operation. Knoxville, TN: Tennessee Valley Authority, 1964. (Index page.)
McPherson, James M. Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction.
New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1992 (Civil War page.)
Encyclopedia Britannica Online. www.eb.com (Battle of Chattanooga page.)
National Parks Service - Heritage Preservation Service. http://www2.cr.nps.gov/ (Battle of Shiloh and Chattanooga pages.)
National Archives and Records Administration. www.nara.gov (Battle of Shiloh and Chattanooga pages. Index page.)