The Battle of Shiloh

A rapid series of Union successes on the Mississippi was matched by important steps of progress on the Tennessee. General Grant had been ordered to advance on the line of the Tennessee towards Corinth in northern Mississippi. A misunderstanding with Halleck, however, resulted in his removal from his command, which was given to General C. F. Smith. Sherman was ordered to advance, and break the Memphis and Charleston Railroad. He failed in this, on account of severe rains, and returned with some difficulty to Pittsburg Landing, which had been occupied at his suggestion. General Smith being now taken ill, Grant was restored to his command. Buell's force, of about forty thousand men, was ordered to join him, to counteract the Confederate concentration at Corinth. Johnston, the Confederate commander, becoming aware of these movements, determined to attack Grant before Buell could come up, hoping to take him by surprise. The Confederate advance began on April 3, with about forty thousand men. Grant had thirty-three thousand on the field. Law Wallace's command of five thousand men was at a distance, and unable to aid immediately in the coming battle. On Sunday, April 6, the assault was made on Grant's outposts.

ON the westerly bank of the Tennessee, two hundred and nineteen miles from its mouth, is the historic spot of Pittsburg Landing. Its site is just below the great bend in the river, where, having trended many miles along the boundary-line of Alabama, it sweeps northerly in a majestic curve, and thence, flowing past Fort Henry, pours its waters into the Ohio. The neighboring country is undulating, broken into hills and ravines, and wooded for the most part with tall oak-trees and occasional patches of undergrowth. Fens and swamps, too, intervene, and at the spring freshets the back-water swells the creeks, inundating the roads near the river's margin. It is, in general, a rough and unprepossessing region, wherein cultivated clearings seldom break the continuity of forest. Pittsburg Landing, scarcely laying claim, with its two log cabins, even to the dignity of hamlet, is distant a dozen miles northeasterly from the crossing of the three State lines of Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee,--a mere point of steamboat freighting and debarkation for Corinth, eighteen miles southwest, for Purdy, about as far northwest, and for similar towns on the adjoining railroads. The river-banks at the Landing rise quite eighty feet, but are cloven by a series of ravines, through one of which runs the main road thence to Corinth, forking to Purdy. Beyond the crest of the acclivity stretches back a kind of table-land, rolling and ridgy, cleared near the shores, but wooded and rough farther from the river. A rude log chapel, three miles out, is called Shiloh Church; and, just beyond, rise not far from each other two petty steams, Owl Creek and Lick Creek, which, thence diverging, run windingly into the Tennessee, five miles apart, on either side of the Landing.

On this rugged, elevated plateau, encompassed by the river and its little tributaries like a picture in its frame, lay encamped, on the night of the 5th of April, 1862, five divisions of General Grant's Army of West Tennessee, with a sixth, five miles down the bank, at Crump's Landing.

The leading division of Buell's Army of the Ohio lay at Savannah, nine miles down the river, on the other bank. Wearied that night with their four days' march from Columbia, Nelson's men slept heavily. A long rest had been promised them, to be broken only the next day by a formal Sunday inspection, and leisurely during the week ensuing it would join the associate Army of West Tennessee; for transportation had not yet been made ready for its passage of the river, nor had General Halleck yet come down from St. Louis to direct the movement on Corinth, for which it had marched. Behind Nelson, the rest of Buell's army trailed that night its line of bivouac-fires full thirty miles backward on the road to Columbia.

Silent in Shiloh woods yonder, within sight of Grant's camp-fires and within sound of his noisy pickets, lay, grimly awaiting the dawn, forty thousand Confederate soldiers. It was the third of the three great armies drawn together that night towards Pittsburg Landing,--an army supposed by its fourscore thousand dormant foes, from commanding general to drummer-boy, to be lying behind its Corinth field-works, twenty miles away. It had crept close to the Union lines, three-fourths of a mile from the pickets, less than two from the main camp,--so close that throughout the night the bivouac hum and stir and the noisy random shots of untrained sentinels on the opposing lines indistinguishably mingled. This stealthily moved host lay on its arms, weary after a hard day's march over miry roads on the 4th, a day's forming on the 5th, and a bivouac in the drenching rain of the night intervening. No fires were lighted on the advanced lines, and, farther back, the few embers glowing here and there were hidden in holes dug in the ground. Most of the men lay awake, prone in their blankets, or chatted in low tones, grouped around the stacked arms, awaiting the supplies which commissaries and staff-officers were hurrying from the rear; for, with the improvidence of raw troops, they had already spent their five days' rations at the end of three, and were ill prepared to give battle. But others, oppressed with sleep, had for the time forgotten both cold and hunger.

Ere the gray of dawn, the advanced line of Johnston's army, composed of Hardee's corps, strengthened on its right by Gladden's brigade from Bragg's, stealthily crept through the narrow belt of woods beyond which all night they had seen their innocent enemy's camp-fires blazing. No fife or drum was allowed; the cavalry bugles sounded no reveille; but, with suppressed voices, the subordinate officers roused their men, for many of whom, indeed, the knowledge of what was to come had proved too exciting for sound slumber. Bragg's line as quickly followed, and, in suit, the lines of Polk and Breckinridge.

By one of those indefinable impulses of misgivings which detect the approach of catastrophe without physical warning of it, it happened that Colonel Peabody, of the 25th Missouri, commanding the first brigade of Prentiss's division, became convinced that all was not right in front. Very early Sunday morning, therefore, he sent out three companies of his own regiment and two of Major Powell's 12th Michigan, under Powell's command, to reconnoiter, and to seize on some advance squads of the enemy, who had been reported flitting about, one and a half miles distant from camp, on the main Corinth road. It was the gray of dawn when they reached the spot indicated; and almost immediately, from long dense lines of men, coming swiftly through the tall tress, opened a rattling fire of musketry. It was the enemy in force. The little band fell back in haste, firing as best they might. Close on their heels pressed the whole of Hardee's line, and, enveloping the left of Prentiss's camp, stretched in a broad swath across to the gap between his division and Sherman's, and thence onward across Sherman's. Instantly the woods were alive with the rattle of musketry right and left, on front and flank. The Confederate batteries, galloping up on every practicable road and path, unlimbered in hot haste, and poured their shot over the head of the infantry in the direction of the tents now faintly gleaming ahead. The startled infantry outposts, mechanically returning a straggling fire, yielded, overborne by the mighty rush of their enemy, and then streamed straight back to the main camps. The divisions of Sherman, Prentiss, and McClernand started from their peaceful slumbers amid the roar and smoke of battle. The exultant Confederates, creeping so long with painful reticence, now woke the forests with their fierce, long-pent yells. The flying pickets served, like avant-couriers, to point the way for their pursuers. And thus, with the breaking light of day, overhung by sulphurous battle-clouds, through which darted the cannon-flash, while the dim smoke curled forward through every ravine and road and enveloped the camps, Grant's army woke to the battle of Shiloh.

At the height of the shouting, the forming of the troops, the spurring hither and thither of the aides, the fastening of belts and boxes, and the dressing of laggards, the enemy's advance with loud yells swept through the intervening forest and burst upon the camps.

It was now about seven o'clock, and the resistance of the Union picket-line, feeble as it necessarily was, had been of priceless service in gaining time, while the rough and impracticable interval over which the Confederates had to pass served to break up somewhat as well as to extend and thin their lines. There seems to have been no special tactical formation, nor any massing of men on a key-point: the key-point, if any there was, had not been discovered. The movement, in short, was predicated on a surprise, and the method, to fling the three corps-deep lines of the Army of the Mississippi straight against the Union army from creek to creek, to "drive it back into the Tennessee." As for the Union generals, overwhelmed with surprise and chagrin, they could only strike back where the enemy struck, seeking above all to save the camps. Such was the nature of the confused, irregular, but bloody series of conflicts which now raged for three hours, during which time the Union troops succumbed, and yielded the first breadth of debatable ground.

Onward swept the Confederates, gaining ground, now on the right, now on the left, till before nine o'clock they were in full possession of Prentiss's camp. By ten o'clock the Union forces generally had yielded to the impetuous onset, and the camping-ground of nearly the whole line was in the hands of the foe. The plundering of the camps, which their generals could not hinder, detained them for a time, while the Union commanders were doing their best to re-form their broken lines. For five hours the battle went on confusedly, the Union troops being forced slowly back to the Landing, the nature of the ground, rolling, wooded, and cleft by ravines, enabling them to protract their defence. Both lines were badly broken up, and the different brigades mingled, each side fighting with no definite plan, other than to hold their ground on the one side and to advance on the other. Later on, the Confederates made a desperate effort to turn the Union left, capture their base at the Landing, and drive them down the river. This effort was vigorously opposed, and during the hard fighting at this point a ball struck the Confederate commander, General Johnston, wounding him severely. He continued on this horse, unheeding the bleeding, and before long reeled and fell from the saddle, quickly expiring. General Beauregard succeeded to the Confederate command.

It was now three o'clock, and the battle was at its height. Dissatisfied with his reception by Wallace, on the Corinth road, Bragg, on hearing of Johnston's fall, on the right, determined to move round thither and try his success anew. He gathered up the three divisions already spoken of, and, with specific orders of attack, flung them against Hurlburt, Stuart, and Prentiss. The assault was irresistible, and, the whole left of the Union position giving way, Bragg's column drove Stuart and Hurlburt to the Landing, and swept through Hurlburt's camp, pillaging it like those of Prentiss, Sherman, Stuart, and McClernand. Simultaneously, Polk and Hardee, rolling in from the Confederate left, forced back the Union right, and drove all Wallace's division, with what was left of Sherman's, back to the Landing,--the brave W.H.L. Wallace falling in breasting this whelming flood. Swooping over the field, right and left, the Confederates gathered up entire the remainder of Prentiss's division,--about three thousand in number,--with that officer himself, and hurried them triumphantly to Corinth.

At five o'clock the fate of the Union army was extremely critical. Its enemy had driven it by persistent fighting out of five camps, and for miles over every ridge and across every stream, road, and ravine, in its chosen camping-ground. Fully three thousand prisoners and many wounded were left in his hands, and a great part of the artillery, with much other spoils, to grace his triumph. Bragg's order, "Forward! let every order be forward;" Beauregard's order, "Forward, boys, and drive them into the Tennessee," had been filled almost to the letter, since near at hand rolled the river, with no transportation for reinforcements or for retreat. Before, an enemy flushed with conquest called on their leaders for the coup de grace. What can be done with the Union troops? Surely the being at bay will give desperation. Unhappily, the whole army, greatly disorganized all day, was now an absolute wreck; and such broken regiments and disordered battalions as attempted to rally at the Landing often found the officers gone on whom they were wont to rely. Not the divisions alone, but the brigades, the regiments, the companies, were mixed up in hopeless confusion, and it was only a heterogeneous mass of hot and exhausted men, with or without guns as might be, that converged on the river-bank. The fugitives covered the shore down as far as Crump's, where guards were at length posted to try to catch some of them and drive them back. The constant "disappearance," as the generals have it, of regiments and parts of regiments since morning, added to thousands of individual movements to the rear, had swarmed the Landing with troops enough -- enough in numbers -- to have driven the enemy back to Corinth. Their words were singularly uniform: "We are all cut to pieces." General Grant says he had a dozen officers arrested for cowardice on the first day's battle. General Rousseau speaks of "ten thousand fugitives, who lined the banks of the river and filled the woods adjacent to the Landing." General Buell, before the final disaster, found at the Landing stragglers by "whole companies and almost regiments; and at the Landing the bank swarmed with a confused mass of men of various regiments. There could not have been less than four thousand or five thousand.

Late in the day it became much greater." At five o'clock "the throng of disorganized and demoralized troops increased continually by fresh fugitives," and intermingled "were great numbers of teams, all striving to get as near as possible to the river. With few exceptions, all efforts to form the troops and move them forward to the fight utterly failed." Nelson says, "I found cowering under the river-bank, when I crossed, from seven thousand to ten thousand men, frantic with fright and utterly demoralized." Of the troops lately driven back, he expressed the want of organization by saying the last position "formed a semicircle of artillery totally unsupported by infantry, whose fire was the only check to the audacious approach of the enemy." Even this was not all. The Confederates, sweeping the whole field down to the bluff above the Landing, were already almost upon the latter point. Such was the outlook for the gallant fragments of the Union army at five o'clock on Sunday.

A precipitous ravine, near the Landing, now somewhat checked the pursuit, while the Union gunboats at this point began raking the hostile lines. A powerful battery was arranged along the ravine, forty or fifty guns being posted in a semicircular line. At the same time the advance of Nelson's division, which had just crossed the river, rushed forward to take part in the battle.

Already now the Confederates were surging and recoiling in a desperate series of final charges. Warned by the descending sun to do quickly what remained to be done, they threw forward everything to the attempt. Their batteries, run to the front, crowned the inferior crest of the ravine, and opened a defiant fire from ridge to ridge, and threw shells even across the river into the woods on the other bank. Their infantry, wasted by the day's slaughter, had become almost disorganized by the plunder of the last two Union camps, and a fatal loss of time ensued while the officers pulled them out from the spoils. The men, still spirited, gazed somewhat aghast at the gun crowned slope above them, whence Webster's artillery thundered across the ravine, while their right flank was swept by broadsides of eight-inch shells from the Lexington and Tyler. "Forward" was the word throughout the Confederate line. Bragg held the right, on the southerly slope of the ravine, extending near the river, but prevented from reaching it by the gunboat fire; Polk the centre, nearer the head of the ravine; while Hardee carried the left beyond the Corinth road. At the latter point the line was half a mile from the water, and four hundred yards from the artillery on the bluffs. There were few organizations, even of regiments, on the Union side, but a straggling line from Wallace's and other commands, voluntarily rallying near the guns, was already opening an independent but annoying fire; and these resolute soldiers were as safe as the torrent of fugitives incessantly pouring down to the Landing, among whom the Confederate shells were bursting.

Again and again, through the fire of the artillery, the gunboats, and Ammen's fresh brigade, and the severe flanking fire of troops rallying on the Union right, the Confederates streamed down the ravine and clambered up the dense thickets on the other slope. Again and again they were repulsed with perfect ease, and amid great loss; for, besides their natural exhaustion, the commands had been so broken up by the victory of the day and by the scramble for the spoils that while some brigades were forming others were charging, and there was no concerted attack, but only spontaneous rushes by subdivisions, speedily checked by flank fire. And when once some of Breckinridge's troops, on the right, did nearly turn the artillery position, so that some of the gunners absolutely abandoned their pieces, Ammen, who had just deployed, again and finally drove the assailants down the slope.

Confident still, flushed with past success, and observing the Union debacle behind the artillery, Bragg and Polk urged a fresh and more compact assault, on the ground that the nearer they drew to the Union position the less perilous were the siege-guns and gunboats. But the commander-in-chief had been struck down, and Beauregard, succeeding to supreme responsibility, decided otherwise. Bitterly then he realized the lack of discipline and organization in his army, entailed by the jealousy and ill-timed punctiliousness of Richmond. Victory itself had fatally disordered his lines, and the last hard task of assault had thrown them back in confusion from the almost impregnable position. Better to withdraw with victory than hazard final defeat; for already the sun was in the horizon, and the musket-flashes lit up the woods. The troops were all intermingled, and several brigade commanders had been encountered by the general, who did not know where their brigades were. Since darkness already threatened to leave the army in dense thickets under the enemy's murderous fire, all that was left of the day would be required in withdrawing so disorganized a force. Buell could not have got more than one division along those miry roads to the river. It was a day's work well done: to-morrow should be sealed what had auspiciously begun. Thus reasoning, Beauregard called off the troops just as they were starting on another charge, and ordered them out of range. Then night and rain fell on the field of Shiloh.

During the night Grant's army was heavily reinforced. Three divisions of Buell's army, Nelson's, Crittenden's, and McCook's, had crossed the Tennessee by Monday morning, while Lew Wallace's division of Grant's army, which had been led into a wrong route in its march from Crump's Landing on the previous day, came up at night-fall of Sunday. Twenty-seven thousand fresh troops had thus been added, while Grant's disorganized troops were gradually brought back into fighting trim. There were thus nearly fifty thousand men against about thirty thousand left to the Confederate army. By half-past five the advance began, Nelson and Crittenden marching steadily on the Confederate position. By six o'clock the battle opened, and by seven the advancing Union line reached Beauregard's front, where a determined resistance was encountered.

The ground on which the Confederates stood was sub-stantially that of the camps of Prentiss, Sherman, and McClernand, which, having been occupied in bivouac the night preceding, now lay a little in rear of the line of battle. This line stretched in front of Lick and Owl Creeks, and across all the roads so often described. The dawn of day found the Confederates very much disorganized. No time, however, was lost. The early advance of Nelson caused a rapid gathering and assorting of the disordered and shattered fragments of Beauregard, who met the onset with so firm a front that Nelson found himself checked. At length Crittenden's division came up to Nelson's right, and Mendenhall's battery, hurrying across, engaged the Confederate batteries and stayed the infantry advance. Despite their fatigue, Beauregard was already hurling his concentrated columns to an attack on his right; he had engaged all of Nelson and Crittenden, and before eight o'clock had also fallen upon Rousseau's brigade of McCook's division, which had just then completed its formation on Crittenden's right.

At eight o'clock, Cheatham's division, which had been posted hitherto, awaiting orders, in the rear of Shiloh Church, was thrown in, in front of Buell, on Breckinridge's line. The fire on the Confederate right, which had before been hot, was now redoubled, and rolled across all three of Buell's divisions. So severe was the artillery fire that Hazen's brigade was thrown across the open field into the fringe of woods where two batteries were posted, in order to dislodge them. Buell was then at Hazen's position, and in person gave the command "Forward!" which ran echoing along the line and was obeyed with a cheer. These troops had never before been in battle, but were in splendid drill and discipline, and moved forward in the best possible order. They soon caught the enemy's volleys, but did not slacken their pace; for it was a novel experience, and they did not resort, like veterans, to trees or cover. Driving in some outlying infantry supports, of whom not a few were sent as prisoners to the rear, Hazen, after half a mile of advance, got upon the batteries themselves. But at this moment the gallant brigade received a crossfire from both flanks from the rallied enemy, and, being without support on either hand, was forced to fall back, with a loss of one-third of its men. The sally had been a little too impetuous, so much so as to break up the organization; but it was one quite natural at so early a day in the war, and was a mistake in the right direction.

About nine o'clock the Confederates succeeded in turning Nelson's left flank, but were driven back, while Lew Wallace and Grant's other forces pressed heavily upon their left, forcing them to recede. The ground at this point was hotly contested, both sides gaining temporary advantages, but by one o'clock Nelson had swung round the Confederate right and gained a firm hold on that part of the field.

Let us turn now to McCook. On Crittenden's right Rousseau's brigade was early engaged, sustaining the attack of eight o'clock, and the heavier succeeding ones. Meanwhile, Kirk's brigade and a part of Gibson's had been ferried across from Savannah, hurried to the ground, and were deployed by McCook in short supporting distance to the right and rear of Rousseau. Willich's regiment he held in reserve behind his second line. McCook shared the varying fortunes of the morning, till the gradual giving way of the Confederate right by ten o'clock. Then Rousseau, finding his advance no longer checked, moved onward till he encountered the troops withdrawn to the Corinth road from Nelson's front. Here a fierce and long-contested engagement took place, the Confederates forming in McClernand's camp, to which they clung with desperation, but which at length they were forced to abandon to Rousseau, together with a battery captured the day before, of which one section had been playing on Rousseau's advance. But, as the Union line swept forward, McCook and Crittenden had become separated, and a counter-attack on McCook's left threatened to turn it, and was the signal for a fierce struggle. There then came a lull, and at one o'clock the battle began with fresh fury. McCook had reached a key-point in the Confederate line, a green wood about five hundred yards east of the church. Two batteries, one next the church and the other nearer the Hamburg road, swept the open space with grape and canister in front of the green wood, and the musketry fire was very severe. Grant hurried forward what aid he could to McClernand, Hurlburt putting in the remainder of his division, and Sherman appearing with his brigades. "Here," says Sherman, "at the point where the Corinth road crosses the line of General McClernand's camp, I saw for the first time the well-ordered and compact Kentucky forces of General Buell, whose soldierly movement at once gave confidence to our newer and less disciplined forces. Here I saw Willich's regiment advance upon a point of water-oaks and thicket, behind which I knew the enemy was in great strength, and enter it in beautiful style. Then arose the severest musketry fire I ever heard, and lasted some twenty minutes, when this splendid regiment had to fall back." Indeed, the conflict, arising on McCook's left, had spread all along his front and over that of Crittenden. Willich's regiment, having passed through Kirk's brigade, to the front, was thrown across to the green wood, in double column on the centre, with the flank companies skirmishing in advance. Then it received the overpowering attack which Sherman witnessed.

At this juncture Kirk's brigade got into position on McCook's left, and Rousseau, who had expended all his ammunition in the morning's battle, retired through it to the rear for a fresh supply. Gibson was next thrown in on Kirk's left. For an hour a terrific contest went on, the Confederates holding their position tenaciously, and some-times even taking the offensive. Finally, at two o'clock, Rousseau's brigade again moved to the front, supported by one of Hurlburt's brigades on the left and by McClernand on the right. McCook had no artillery; but the three uncaptured guns of Wood's battery and two of McAllister's were turned by McClernand and Sherman against the enemy. Finding the Confederates at last giving way before him, McCook ordered a general advance, and Rousseau's brigade, "beautifully deployed," says Sherman, "entered the dreaded wood, and moved in splendid order steadily to the front, sweeping everything before it." Indeed, the battle was already decided. At half-past one o'clock, Beauregard had issued orders to withdraw from the field. The last desperate fighting covered the attempt, and the final Union advance at two o'clock was comparatively unresisted. The withdrawal commenced on the Confederate right, in front of Nelson, and was transmitted to the left. At the latter point, Lew Wallace had steadily swung forward, participating in the varying fortunes of the day. His division also, at two o'clock, finding the obstinate enemy giving way, burst through the woods, easily carrying all before them. The Confederate retreat was conducted with perfect order and precision. Half a mile distant from Shiloh Church, on a commanding ridge, a reserve, selected for that purpose, was drawn up in line of battle for the expected attack.

It did not come. Having wasted half an hour, the line was withdrawn a mile farther. Here the artillery played for a time upon a small Union column advanced in pursuit; but no engagement took place, and even this desultory firing ceased by four o'clock. The battle of Shiloh was over.

This battle was followed by a concentration of all the Union armies of the West, and an advance on Corinth, General Halleck taking command. His army, in round numbers, now amounted to one hundred and twenty thousand men. That of Beauregard had been increased to about fifty thousand. The advance was made so slowly and cautiously that the Confederates, who had decided to evacuate Corinth, succeeded in getting out all their war-material before Halleck reached there, on the 30th of May. The place was at once strongly fortified as a Union stronghold. Shortly afterwards, on June 6, the naval battle at Memphis, above described, took place, and that town was captured. All West Tennessee and Northern Mississippi were now in Union hands, and highly-important progress had been made in the labor of conquering the West and South. Grant remarks that up to the battle of Shiloh he had shared in the general belief that a decisive Union victory would cause the sudden collapse of the Confederacy. The stand of the Confederates after that battle taught him differently. He perceived now that complete conquest was necessary. Sherman seems to have been of this opinion from the first.

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