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The Battle of Shiloh / Pittsburg Landing

The two-day battle that ended, after such high Confederate hopes, in their defeat and that staggered the American nation by its carnage.

Name of the Battle : Shiloh or Pittsburg Landing

Map of The Battle of Fredericksburg
Map of The Battle of Shiloh by John Fawkes
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Date:  6tth and 7th April 1862

Place:  Southern Tennessee on the western bank of the Tennessee River.

Generals commanding:  The Federal Army of the Tennessee commanded by Major General Ulysses S. Grant; the Federal Army of the Ohio, which arrived on the night of 6th/7th April 1862, commanded by Major General Don Carlos Buell.
The Confederate Army of Mississippi commanded by Major General Albert Sidney Johnston and Major General PGT Beauregard.

Numbers involved:  The Federal Army of the Mississippi comprised 49,000 troops with 150 guns.  The Federal Army of the Ohio comprised 18,000 troops with 60 guns.
The Confederate Army of Mississippi comprised 45,000 troops with 120 guns.

Arms and equipment:  Both sides suffered from significant difficulties in conducting land warfare in the 1860s.  Small arms, with the Minié style of rifled musket, had become significantly more lethal than had been the case with the old short ranged, grossly inaccurate, smooth bore muskets that had been the standard infantry weapon for nearly 2 centuries.  Rifled guns firing shell projectiles increased the range and effectiveness of artillery.  More sophisticated systems of transport and organisation of supply, made possible by railroads and advances in industrial production, allowed for much larger armies.  Tactics had advanced little from the era of the Napoleonic Wars of the beginning of the 19th Century in Europe.  Probably only the Prussian army with its long standing General Staff had conducted sufficient study of the impact of changes in warfare to enable it to train its staff officers and generals to control the substantially greater and more sophisticated armies of the period.  The French and British had first shown their failure to grasp problems of warfare in the second half of the 19th Century during the Crimean War.  The French confirmed their failure to show any greater grasp in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the British in the South African War of 1900.  In each of these wars reliance was placed on successful colonial commanders who had no idea how to handle the large armies involved in a major war. 

The Battle of Shiloh
The Battle of Shiloh

Uniforms:  In Europe the French military establishment of Emperor Napoleon III was in the ascendancy following the Crimean War and the wars in Northern Italy fought by the French against the Austrians.  Both Federal and Confederate armies adopted the French style ‘kepi’ and several regiments on each side adopted the uniforms of the French North African ‘Zouaves’.  The Federal regiments wore dark blue.  The Confederates in theory wore a light grey uniform.  In practice the Confederate government was unable to maintain a proper supply of uniform clothing for its troops who wore whatever they could get their hands on.  In many instances the most ready supply of uniforms lay in captured Federal supplies, leading to confusion on several battlefields, when Confederate troops were mistake for Federals.

Small arms:  The Crimean War between the British and the French and the Russians from 1854 to 1856, saw the conversion of the British and French infantry from the old smoothbore musket, which had been in service for 150 years, to the Minié rifled musket, with its substantially increased range and accuracy.  The Federal government equipped its infantry with Minié style rifled muskets bought from Europe but increasingly manufactured in Federal armouries.  Lacking a manufacturing base and cut off from European import by the Federal blockade, the Confederate government was forced to equip its soldiers with stocks of weapons seized from Federal armouries located in southern states.  These were largely the old smooth bore muskets, of short range and notoriously inaccurate.  Many Confederate troops, without even these weapons, were forced to use whatever firearms they were able to bring on enlistment.  As General Lee’s army in Virginia captured Federal stocks established after the outbreak of war more modern firearms were seized and used to equip his infantry.

Federal artillery at the Battle of Shiloh
Federal artillery at the Battle of Shiloh
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Artillery:  As with small arms, the Federal access to European markets and its own manufacturing base gave the Federal army an immense advantage in the production of cannon.  Broadly the Federal artillery was equipped with rifled guns firing shells, while the Confederate artillery was equipped with the old style smooth bore cannon, of lesser range and accuracy; firing ball, grape shot and case shot.

Orders of battle:  The order of battle of the Federal Army of the Tennessee:
The divisions of:
Major General Lew Wallace
Major General John A. McClernand
Brigadier General W.H.L. Wallace
Brigadier General Benjamin M. Prentiss
Brigadier General Stephen A. Hurlbut
Brigadier General William T. Sherman

General William T. Sherman

The order of battle of the Federal Army of the Ohio:
The divisions of:         
Brigadier General Alexander M. McCook
Brigadier General Thomas L. Crittenden
Brigadier General William Nelson
Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood
The order of battle of the Confederate Army of Mississippi:
The Corps of Major General Braxton Bragg comprising the divisions of:
Brigadier General Jones M. Withers
Brigadier General Daniel Ruggles
The Corps of Major General Leonidas Polk comprising the divisions of:
Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham
Brigadier General Charles Clark
The Corps of Major General William J. Hardee comprising the divisions of:
Brigadier General Patrick Cleburne
Brigadier General Sterling A. M. Wood
Brigadier General Thomas C. Hindman
The Corps of Brigadier General John C. Breckinridge comprising the divisions of:
Colonel Winfield S. Statham
Colonel Robert Traubee
Brigadier General John S. Bowen
The Cavalry Brigade of Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest

Circumstances:  Following the capture by General Grant’s Federal army of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson on the Tennessee River in mid- to northern Tennessee, General Albert Sidney Johnston was forced to withdraw his Confederate army south west leaving General Grant free to advance down the Tennessee River towards the heart of the Confederacy.

General Grant moved his Army of the Tennessee, using the Federal predominance in river shipping, south to Pittsburg Landing on the western shore of the Tennessee River.  General Grant was directed by Major General Halleck, the Federal Commander in the Western Theatre, to await the arrival of General Buell’s Army of the Ohio then marching across country to the river.  Buell would cross to Pittsburg Landing and join Grant’s force, thereby creating a united army that substantially outnumbered the Confederate Army of Mississippi commanded by Generals Johnston and Beauregard.


General Johnston resolved to attack Grant before he could be joined by Buell’s force.  On 3rd April 1862 the Confederate Army marched out of Corinth, north east towards General Grant’s camp.  General Johnston’s plan was opposed by some Confederate officers who considered the venture too risky for an army that was badly equipped and comprised of many inexperienced troops.

Account:  General Grant has been accused of concerning himself too much with his own plans and failing to take account of Confederate intentions.  Whether this is a fair general comment on General Grant he certainly failed to prevent his army being surprised on 6th April 1862.

The Army of the Tennessee on its arrival at Pittsburg Landing encamped over an area of 7 miles along the main roads leading away from the river.  Sherman’s division, the furthest from Pittsburg Landing, pitched camp around a primitive, single roomed, wooden church building called Shiloh, a word meaning ‘place of peace’ in Hebrew.  This building that was blasted to pieces in the ensuing battle gave an ironic name to the bloodiest battle in the War to that date.  Grant’s remaining divisions set up camp between Shiloh Church and Pittsburg Landing, other than the division of General Lew Wallace, left 5 miles upstream to the North at Crump’s Landing.

The Federal divisions took few precautions to secure themselves against attack.  No field fortifications were built.  No cavalry screen was pushed out in the direction of the enemy.  The infantry pickets posted on the roads to Corinth, where the Confederates were known to be, were too close to give sufficient notice of a Confederate advance.  The Federal regiments were required to practice drill and await the arrival of General Buell’s Army of the Ohio before resuming the advance. 

General Grant fell from his horse and was injured on 4th April 1862.  On the night of 5th April 1862 he was in Savannah, Tennessee, while his unsuspecting army was about to be attacked. 

On that same night the Confederate army completed its approach march and lay within 3 miles of the Federal encampments.  It must be a matter of some surprise that the Federal army could spend a night unaware that an army of the same size to itself (45,000 troops) lay so close by.

At first light on 6th April 1862, the Confederate army began its attack on the line of Federal encampments, with the Confederate corps of Hardee and Bragge, closely supported by Polk, on the left, and Breckinridge on the right.    

The Federal troops awoke to hear the roar of the firing around Shiloh Church as Hardee and Polk fell on Sherman’s division.  The surprise of the Federal troops was complete, many soldiers being still asleep or cooking breakfast.

Although supported by the regiments of McClernand’s division, Sherman’s troops were driven back.  In the centre of the Federal encampment the divisions of Prentiss and WHL Wallace formed a defensive position in an area of ground behind a farm track.  Constant use of such tracks tended to cause them to be lower than the bordering land, making them a useful defensive feature.  Prentiss and Wallace maintained their positions in this area against increasingly frenzied Confederate attacks and it has come to be known as the ‘Hornet’s Nest’. 

Hickenlooper’s battery in the Hornet’s Nest
Hickenlooper’s battery in the Hornet’s Nest
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It is far from clear that Generals Johnston and Beauregard had a plan for the Confederate attack, other than to defeat the General Grant’s Federal army.  It is said that their intention was to launch the main attack near the river and to drive the Federal army upstream and away from Pittsburg Landing, so that Buell’s army could not join it.  If this was the plan it did not work out.  The direction of the Confederate attack had the effect of pushing the Federal troops back towards the river.  It is reported that a large band of demoralised Federal soldiers gathered at Pittsburg Landing trying to escape by boat.

General Grant Recaptures Battery
Grant’s troops recapture a battery
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General Grant arrived at the scene of the battle at around 8am to find his army being pushed back from its line of encampments, except at the Hornet’s Nest.  Grant’s chief of staff worked hard to establish a new Federal line along the road leading from Pittsburg Landing to the Hamburg-Savannah Road, while Grant rode through the Federal divisions encouraging his troops.

By mid-afternoon the Federal divisions had fallen back to the new line, leaving Prentiss and Wallace holding on in the Hornet’s Nest.  It is said that Johnston was at fault in allowing the Federal resistance in the Hornet’s Nest to hold up the Confederate assault.  However it is hard to see that he could do other than overwhelm Prentiss and Wallace before continuing the Confederate advance.  Johnston could hardly bye-pass a whole Federal division, and leave it in the rear of his army.

14th Wisconsin at Shiloh
14th Wisconsin at Shiloh
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Grant ordered Prentiss to hold on in the Hornet’s Nest at all costs.  This for most of the day Prentiss did.  Finally some 60 Confederate guns were brought up to subdue the Federal resistance in the Hornet’s Nest.  General Wallace with the remnants of his division fought his way out of the now surrounded Hornet’s Nest, and was fatally wounded in the attempt.  At around 6pm Prentiss surrendered with some 4,000 of his troops.  The Federal stand in the Hornet’s Nest held off the Confederate attack for sufficient time to enable Grant to establish the new Federal line and for darkness to bring an end to the fighting.

The casualties in the Hornet’s Nest fighting were high on both sides.  One of those was General Johnston himself.  Johnston was leading the assault on the Federal positions when he was shot in the leg, the round severing an artery.  Johnston bled to death within the half hour, leaving the command of the Confederate army to General Beauregard.
As night was falling Breckinridge attempted a final assault on the Federal left but was driven off.  Beauregard called a halt to the Confederate attacks for the day, although several Confederate commanders urged him to continue the assault. 

During the evening and night 2 Federal gunboats in the Tennessee River, USS Tyler and USS Lexington, provided supporting gunfire to the Federal army with their 8 inch guns.

That night Beauregard wrote a despatch to the Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, claiming a major victory over the North.  “Victory is ours” he wrote. 

During the fighting on 6th April 1862, General Grant had been sending urgent orders to General Lew Wallace at Crump’s Landing to bring up his division in support of the main army.  Despatches to General Buell informed him of the crisis facing the Army of the Tennessee and urging him to hurry his troops to the river.  General Lew Wallace’s division arrived on the battlefield in the late afternoon and joined the Federal line ready for the battle the next day.  General Grant was severely critical of the time it had taken General Wallace to cover the 5 miles from Crump’s Landing.  Buell’s Army of the Ohio arrived at the river crossing during the night and were brought over to Pittsburg Landing by the Federal river boats. 
During the evening General Sherman reported to General Grant.  Sherman said “We’ve had the devil’s own day.”  Grant replied “Yes.  Lick them tomorrow, though.”

Federal Counter Attack
The Federal counter attack on the second day of the Battle of Shiloh

Once Buell’s troops were across the Tennessee and in line on the morning of 7th April 1862, the Federal counter-attack began.  General Lew Wallace began the assault from his position on the right of the Federal line.  The Confederate army was in some confusion after the fighting the day before.  Casualties had been high and many Confederate units had broken up and become intermingled in the difficult country.  Heavy rain had driven the Confederate soldiers to take shelter in the various Federal camps left standing and abandoned in the confusion of the Confederate attack.  Polk had marched his corps back to the camp they occupied before the attack on the 6th April 1862, some 3 miles back.  There had been no effective re-supply of the Confederate infantry and guns with ammunition.  Significantly outnumbered and outgunned the Confederates were driven back all along the line by the unexpected Federal assault. 
Beauregard attempted a counter-attack around Shiloh Church but after initial progress the Confederate troops were again driven back.  With his troops exhausted and running out of ammunition, Beauregard was forced to concede that he could not now achieve a victory.  At around 5pm on 7th April 1862, covered by a force commanded by General Breckinridge positioned around Shiloh Church, the Confederate army marched off the field towards Corinth.  The battle field was left to General Grant and his Federal army, strewn with round 10,000 dead and wounded of each side.

Shiloh Church before the Battle of Shiloh
Shiloh Church before the Battle of Shiloh

Casualties:  Federal casualties were 1,754 dead, 8,408 wounded and 2,885 missing.  Confederate casualties were 1,728 dead, 8,012 wounded and 959 missing or captured.

Aftermath:  General Sherman conducted a follow up to see if there was any danger of a further Confederate attack and found that there was not.  The battle was considered a Federal victory.  Grant’s and Buell’s armies united leaving the joint Federal army free to continue its advance into the Confederacy.  General Grant was subjected to considerable criticism for allowing his army to be surprised on the first day of the battle.  President Lincoln was subjected to pressure to sack Grant, which Lincoln resisted saying “I cannot lose this general.  He fights.”

Nevertheless General Halleck took command of the joint Federal armies, relegating General Grant to second in command for the advance on Corinth.

General Sherman
General Sherman

Anecdotes and comment: