Battle Of Shiloh


Battle of Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862) was a two day battle fought between Union and Confederate armies in Southern Tennessee. It was the first major battle of the western theater of war and involved some of the most influential military commanders on both sides. It was the bloodiest battle of the civil war at the time with a total 3500 dead.

Earlier in war, Union army had taken Kentucky from Confederate forces and had defeated them in western Tennessee. After following Tennessee River, a Union army led by Major General Ulysses S Grant reached deep inside Tennessee and encamped at the western bank of the river at Pittsburg Landing, Hardin County. Grant’s army waited there for the arrival of their last remaining division led by Major General Lew Wallace and reinforcements from Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of Ohio.

Surprise Attack:

While Grant’s army waited for the reinforcement, Confederate forces, led by Generals Albert Sidney Johnston and Beauregard were watching closely. They knew that Grant was waiting for reinforcement and a beefed up Union army could have decisive edge over them. They decided to launch a surprise attack against an incomplete Union force and aimed to destroy them before Buell’s army reached the scene of action.

Johnston ordered an attack on the morning of April 6, 1862. The attack was unexpected and Union lines broke under panic. However, few lines did hold back Confederate attack. One such line of defense was a sunken road known as ‘Hornet’s Nest’. This line was defended by the troops of Brigadier Generals Prentiss and Wallace. In the fierce fight General Wallace was killed and Prentiss was taken prisoner of war. These men had nonetheless, provided Union forces precious time to regroup.

First Day to Confederate Army:

Confederate army had won the battle honors on the first day. Union army was battered and was pushed back. However, Ulysses S Grant was still not defeated and Confederate forces had lost their commander General Johnston, which was a big setback in itself. Johnston was the highest ranked fatality of the entire civil war on both sides.

Confederate General Beauregard, who had taken over the command after Johnston fell, made the fatal error of assuming victory. He even sent a telegram to Confederate President Davis, claiming outright victory. He cannot be blamed for this folly, as his army had over run Union positions and were holding thousands of prisoners.

Reinforcements Arrive for Grant:

Things were not working very well for Union army. The only positive sign for a battered Union army was the arrival of the 6th division of Grant’s army led by Lew Wallace and a portion of Buell’s Army of Ohio. Before the next morning, reinforced Union army was ready to turn the tables on Beauregard and his men.

Final Day to Union Army:

Beauregard ordered attack again on the morning of 7th and did not realize that the reinforcements had arrived for the Union army. On the morning of second and final day of the battle, Union army had strength of 45,000 men as opposed to only 20,000 of Confederate army, which was depleted by casualties, stragglers and deserters.

Unaware of this Beauregard launched his attack. He was however, surprised by a massive counter attack launched by Grant and Buell. Sensing he had no chance against a larger Union force, Beauregard retreated. Shiloh was a big success for Union army but it damaged Grant’s reputation temporarily. The press in North blamed him for his incompetence on the first day of the battle. Of the total 1700 dead Union men, more than 1500 were from Grant’s army. At the time it took place, Battle of Shiloh was the bloodiest battle of the war.