"The battle which lost the West?" Shiloh National Military Park by etfromnc
Shiloh National Military Park Travel Guide: 46 reviews and 131 photos
In April 1862, the Confederacy was a year old. While each side had scored victories on the battlefield, there had been no strategic blows. All that changed in April 1862. For two dreary spring days two great armies clashed at Shiloh, a small church that was nothing more than a log cabin near the bank of the Tennessee River in western Tennessee. The location, the timing, and the outcome were the results of miscalculations, miscommunications, and misunderstandings. When the battle was over the balance of power in the Western theater of the Civil War had tipped heavily toward the North.
The Union campaign that brought the armies together at Shiloh began in February along the Kentucky-Tennessee border where Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston had established a long thin line of defense. On the western end, Fort Henry and Fort Donelson guarded the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, which gave access to the Deep South. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, who had not previously distinguished himself, attacked both forts with soldiers and gunboats. Fort Henry fell quickly, in no small part because the fort, built on low and swampy ground, was mostly submerged, a victim of the rising waters of the Tennessee River. Fort Donelson offered more resistance, but with indecisive generals—two abdicated their posts—it fell 10 days later with the surrender of 12 - 15,000 Confederate troops.
With no natural defenses to fall back on and the loss of a third of his army, Johnston withdrew his forces to Corinth to regroup and protect the town’s railroad crossing. Grant, with unrestricted access to the Tennessee River, ferried five divisions to Pittsburg Landing about 22 miles north of Corinth, and one to Savannah, a few miles downstream. Grant was eager to press on, but was ordered to wait until Gen. Don Carlos Buell, who had just captured Nashville, could reinforce him.
Knowing that Buell was coming, Johnston decided to attack before Union reinforcements would render the Confederates hopelessly outnumbered. His plan was to drive the Union Army into a swamp along the tributary Owl Creek and away from the river. Gen. Pierre Beauregard, second-in-command, disagreed, wanting to drive them back into the river. The two generals never reconciled their different strategies. There were logistical problems and confusion over orders that delayed the Confederate advance, costing them valuable time. A heavy rain bogged down troops and artillery.
On April 5, the eve of the battle, the Confederate Army was camped two miles from the Union forces. Orders to maintain silence were ignored as soldiers fired their weapons to make sure their powder was dry, but still the Union heard nothing, and Sherman brushed off warnings. When Col. Jesse Appler of the 53rd Ohio told Sherman his men had been fired on by a “line of men in butternut clothes,” Sherman’s response was, “Take your damned regiment back to Ohio. There is no enemy closer than Corinth.”
On the 6th of April, as the battle began, the Confederate assault was disorganized; soldiers from different corps were mixed, artillery was misplaced, and unit movements were not well-coordinated. Yet the Union line gave way, with Sherman’s inexperienced division taking the brunt of the attack. Appler panicked under the strain: “Retreat and save yourself,” he ordered, even though his men were holding off an assault by the Confederates. Only the intervention of another division prevented a rout. Grant sent orders for the reserve division to advance into the fray. The orders were confused and the battlefield was changing rapidly. The division never entered into the fight, and by the end of the day returned to its encampment six miles downstream.
Dawn on April 7 revealed a much strengthened Union Army. With reinforcements arriving overnight, its 45,000 troops nearly doubled the Confederates’ 28,000 men. Beauregard had planned to attack, but the Union made the first move at dawn. The Confederates were caught off guard much as the Union had been the day before. It took two hours to locate Polk and several more to stabilize the Confederate line. A counterattack by Breckenridge failed to dent the Union advance; an early afternoon counterattack by Beauregard likewise failed to turn the tide. With Breckenridge’s division providing cover, the out-manned Confederates left the field of battle and began a orderly retreat back to Corinth.
The carnage of this battle was greater than any battle to that date. The Union had suffered 1,754 killed, 8,408 wounded, and 2,885 missing; the Confederates had 1,728 killed, 8,012 wounded and 959 missing or captured. A small pond near the Hornet’s Nest has come to symbolize the suffering on both sides. “This shallow pond attracted the weary and wounded soldiers of both armies who were engaged in heavy fighting nearby. Some crawled here for their last drink. Observers after the battle reported that the pond was littered with dead soldiers and horses. Blood had turned the water a murky red,” reads the National Park Service plaque located nearby.
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