A two-day American Civil War battle (April 6th and 7th, 1862) near Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee. Named for a Methodist chapel near the battlefield, this large engagement did much to determine the course of future battles in the western theatre.

The Union army, led by Major General Ulysses Simpson Grant, was massing for an attack on the Confederate held rail hub of Corinth, Mississippi. Feeling that the war was already as good as won, the Union commanders had not intrenched or otherwise made defensible their positions near the landing, preferring instead to drill and wait for the Army of the Ohio under major general Don Carlos Buell to link up before the assault. Unknown to them, however, the Confederate commanders had brought their own forces up to assault the Union positions, intending to smash Grant's army before Buell's could arrive.

Logistical difficulties and mass confusion reigned as units impeded each other on the march, and the Confederates arrived south of the Union positions several days behind the original plan. Nonetheless, they drew up to the Union positions on April 5th undetected. The men slept under arms overnight, and launched a surprise assault at dawn. The Union divisions, caught unprepared, were initially thrown back in disarray. By mid-morning they had settled into various secondary positions, most notable the division under Benjamin Prentiss which had taken what cover they could in a worn-down wagon trail. Several waves of Confederate troops failed to dislodge them. "It's a hornet's nest in there!" Johnny Reb cried. The crucible of the first day's battle was thus named.

Finally by 3:30pm, repeated mass assaults having failed, the Confederate command lined up over 60 guns facing the Hornet's Nest, loaded with canister shot and grape shot. The divisions covering Prentiss' flanks were broken, and Prentiss' troops were surrounded. He held out until 5:30pm when he was finally forced to surrender.

By the time Prentiss' men were taken, the Confederate army was exhausted. Their commander Albert Sidney Johnson had been killed while rallying his troops. Command passed to Confederate general Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, who tried to move his troops on to force the Union to retreat, but they were spent. Twilight came on and ended the first day of battle.

Prentiss' stand had saved the Union from total defeat. Overnight Buell's men arrived, fresh and ready to stiffen the Union lines. The second day brought a reverse of the first, as Grant's fresh forces forced back Beauregard's exhausted ones, and the gains of the previous day were given up. The Confederates retreated to Corinth, leaving the field again to the Union.

Casualties were over 10,000 per side. The Confederates fell back without fulfilling their goal of smashing the Union army, and preventing Buell's linkup with Grant. The Union forces would ultimately follow them to Corinth. This in turn began a retreat and roll up of Southern forces that cost the CSA two states.

Shiloh National Military Park commemorates the site today.

Sources include Shelby Foote's The CIvil War, A Narrative, Volume One.

The Battle of Shiloh began on April 6, 1862 as an effort by Confederate forces to stop Union troop movements along the Tennessee River. 40,000 troops under the command of two of the most aggressive Confederate Generals, P.T.Beauregard and A.S.Johnston attacked the Union army under the command of Ulysses S. Grant while they were camped in an area near Shiloh Meeting House, near Pittsburg Landing (which is another name the battle has been known as).

Grant, who was waiting on reinforcements from Nashville under the command of Don Carlos Buell, was caught by surprise and suffered heavy casualties. The advance of the Confederate forces on April 6th was slowed before they could reach the river where Grant's troops were camped with heavy cannon fire and desperate efforts by the Union army to avoid annihilation.

The advance of the Confederate troops was slowed enough to give Buell's troops to arrive from Nashville on April 7th. The Union forces now outnumbered the Confederates and Buell's fresh troops overwhelmed the exhausted Confederates, causing them to retreat and allowing Grant and Buell to continue to control their campaign on the Tennessee River.

One of the most curious events of the Battle of Shiloh was the death of Confederate General A.S.Johnston. A very aggressive and fearless commander, Johnston suffered a leg wound at Shiloh. It was not considered to be a very serious injury, but Johnston neglected the wound. It is believed that had he simply agreed to allow a tourniquet to be used, he would have lived. His death disenchanted his troops, speeding their retreat from Shiloh, and allowed Grant's stranglehold on the western theatre of the war to become that much stronger.

After his capture of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, General U. S. (“Unconditional Surrender”, for what he demanded of Donelson’s garrison) Grant was ordered by superiors in Washington to march on Corinth, an important Confederate rail junction. Grant moved about 40,000 men to the west bank of the Tennessee River, at Pittsburg Landing. Grant was then ordered to await reinforcements in the form of 30,000 more men under Don Carlos Buell. The last thing Grant expected was an attack by the Confederate troops under A. S. Johnston huddled miserably in the Corinth entrenchments.

Johnston realized that once the two Federal armies linked together nothing the Confederates could throw at them could stop them. Johnston boldly decided to throw his 50,000 raw recruits, (“fresh fish”) some without guns, at Grant’s army in a surprise attack. The attack was initially scheduled for April 5, 1862, but the muddy roads and inexperienced commanders made it impossible for the army to attack that day. In a roadside conference, most of Johnston’s generals, including Pierre G. T. Beauregard, said that the attack was no longer a surprise and so could no longer succeed because the troops had made so much noise (cheering, firing guns into the air to test them) on the march that Grant had do know about the “surprise.” Johnston replied, “I would attack them if they were a million.” The next day, the Confederate army smashed into Grant’s unprepared men in their bivouacs around Pittsburg Landing and a small church named Shiloh, Hebrew for “place of rest.”

The Confederates and the Federals engaged in fierce fighting at the inaccurately-name Shiloh Church throughout the morning. Further down the line, the Confederates were slowly grinding W. T. Sherman’s flank of the Union line through a peach orchard and the Hornet’s Nest, after which the Federals entrenched on a sunken road. Some Confederates stopped shooting to plunder the camps of the well-supplied Federals, giving Grant a chance. After a few hours, this strong defensive position was abandoned by Grant, who established a defensive line around Pittsburg Landing to protect it. As the first day of battle ended, this final defensive line by Grant held against the Confederates.

Grant’s position at dawn of the second day of battle was much better. The Confederates were exhausted after the first day of fighting. Grant, on the other hand, had received some of Buell’s men as reinforcements that night. In the morning, he decided to launch a counterattack. Grant’s newly-reinforced army slowly drove the Confederates back over the Union campgrounds they had lost the day before. By nightfall, the Confederates had begun a withdrawal back to Corinth.

Each army lost upwards of 10,000 men in the first real battle of the war (First Manassas doesn't count: it was more of a picnic than a battle). One of the Confederate casualties was Johnston himself, who was replaced by Beauregard. He was the highest-ranking Confederate killed in the war. The horror of Shiloh let both the Union and the Confederates realize that the war would be not only long, but also bloody. In the next few months, the two sides would engage in similarly apocalyptic and bloody battles that would finally result in defeat for the South.

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