Battle of Shiloh
The Battle of Shiloh occurred on April 6 and 7, 1862, at Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River. Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston attacked a Union army under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant, hoping to repel the Northern advance.
In the previous few months, the Union military had won several victories in Kentucky and Tennessee. Grant and his Army of the Tennessee, numbering approximately forty thousand men, had captured Confederate Forts Henry and Donelson in February. General Don Carlos Buell, commander of the Army of the Ohio, had secured Nashville, the capital of Tennessee, several weeks later. Grant was now located at Pittsburg Landing in southwestern Tennessee. He was waiting for the arrival of the Army of the Ohio's thirty-five thousand men. The combined Union force then would advance against Johnston's nearly forty thousand Confederates.
Johnston hoped to defeat Grant before the two Union armies could combine their numbers. The Confederates initially planned to advance from Corinth, Mississippi, an important railroad junction, against Grant's army on April 3. However, Johnston's men were not in position to attack the Union soldiers until the morning of April 6. Grant did not expect an attack. He was advancing against the Confederates. He believed that Johnston was on the defensive and would not launch an assault. Because of Grant's beliefs, the Northern soldiers had prepared only limited defenses.
As the Confederates launched their assault in the early morning hours of April 6, the Union soldiers put up fierce resistance, but they were still driven back toward the Tennessee River. By nightfall, the Confederates had driven the Northerners back more than a mile from their early morning positions. One of the main reasons that the Union army was not completely defeated was the death of Johnston in the fighting. His second in command, General P.G.T. Beauregard, was an able military commander. However, it was difficult for Beauregard to assume command in the middle of the battle and direct the assault against the Union soldiers.
On the evening of April 6, Union reinforcements arrived. One division of Grant's army had been too far away to participate in the first day of the battle. Several divisions from the Army of the Ohio also arrived. The next morning, the Northern soldiers, despite the setback that they had endured the day before, took the offensive. Beauregard's army put up a strong resistance, but it had no reinforcements. Facing the combined strength of two Union armies, the Confederates were forced to retreat from the battlefield. The Union soldiers did not pursue the Confederates.
At the Battle of Shiloh, approximately twenty thousand men were killed or wounded. The casualties were equally divided between the two sides. While Grant did not immediately advance after the battle, he had severely weakened the Confederate force opposing him. The Southerners abandoned Corinth, Mississippi, approximately one month later. The North took control of this important railroad center.
Grant endured harsh criticism for his conduct at Shiloh. Rumors circulated that Grant was not on the battlefield most of the first day because he was drunk. It was true that Grant was not on the battlefield when the initial attack occurred, but he arrived by 9:00 AM. His headquarters was located several miles behind the majority of his troops. Grant was not drunk. Some historians have argued that he did deserve criticism for not establishing his headquarters closer to his men. He also has been criticized for not ordering his men to prepare adequate defenses, even if he did not expect an attack.
Ohio residents were joyous about the Northern victory, but they also were discouraged by rumors that many Ohio regiments fled the battlefield on the first day of the fight. Ohioans also united to assist the soldiers. The state government dispatched several boats of supplies and medicine to Grant's army following the battle. The government also sent doctors and nurses to assist the wounded soldiers.
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- Smith, Timothy B. This Great Battlefield of Shiloh: History, Memory, and the Establishment of a Civil War National Military Park. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2004.