Shiloh, Battle of

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Shiloh, Battle of [Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee] (1862).The prelude to the Shiloh campaign occurred months earlier in the Civil War, in February 1862, when Union Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant captured Forts Henry and Donelson. The successful Union offensive along the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers resulted in the evacuation of Nashville and forced Confederates under Gen. Albert S. Johnston to cede much of middle and western Tennessee.

Grant massed his 40,000 troops at Pittsburg Landing, on the Tennessee River twenty‐two miles north of Corinth, Mississippi, a vital rail junction and Grant's next operational target. Union theater commander Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck ordered Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell, who had occupied Nashville, to leave the capital with 35,000 troops and rendezvous with Grant's force of 40,000 near Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee.

The potential concentration of Grant and Buell alarmed Confederate Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard, Johnston's second in command, who boldly took charge in the wake of the loss of two forts in February. Beauregard proceeded to issue appeals, collect and organize troops at Corinth, and wield influence over Johnston when the latter arrived. Problems abounded for the Confederate army. Most of the soldiers were inexperienced, some were poorly trained, and there was a general lack of familiarity between the various components. In spite of the difficulties, Beauregard recommended an offensive strike against Grant near Pittsburg Landing before Buell arrived. Johnston assented.

The movement commenced 3 April, but Beauregard's timetable was too ambitious for the green troops. The plan called for an attack the next day, but rain, rough terrain, and logistical difficulties prevented an attack on either the 4th or the 5th. Convinced that the element of surprise was gone, Beauregard urged Johnston to return to Corinth; but Johnston demurred. Battered by critics for the past several months, Johnston was psychologically unwilling to abandon the offensive. As a result, a massive two‐day battle opened early on 6 April near a Methodist meetinghouse called Shiloh Church.

Beauregard's overly intricate order of battle arranged the 44,000‐man army into four lines, commanded successively by William J. Hardee, Braxton Bragg, Leonidas Polk, and John C. Breckinridge. Hardee's men collided with Federal skirmishers before daylight, and the Confederates soon struck three Union divisions without fieldworks under Brig. Gen. Benjamin M. Prentiss, Brig. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, and Maj. Gen. John A. McClernand. The Confederates achieved tactical surprise and steamrolled one Union position after another. Some Northern units fought tenaciously, while others fell back and reorganized; many of the raw recruits fled, panic‐stricken. After three hours of hard fighting, the Confederates had forced the Union right back nearly a mile. Yet success came at an awful price, as casualties and confusion blunted the Southern momentum.

Prentiss rallied his Union troops along a sunken wagon road, and this spot in the Union center became a magnet for uncoordinated Confederate assaults. At least eleven separate efforts were made against what bloodied Confederates dubbed the “Hornets' Nest.” Preoccupation with the Hornets' Nest stalled the Confederate attack for hours. It also prevented the Southerners from massing an effort against Grant's left, closer to Pittsburg Landing. Although the Confederate battle plan called for the primary blow to be made here, the fighting had swirled predominately along Grant's right and center. Johnston rode near the front lines throughout the day, exhorting his men and sending units into the fray. By early afternoon he began probing for the Union left, in order to turn that flank. However, struck by a stray ball that severed an artery in his leg, Johnston died around 2:30 P.M., and Beauregard assumed command. The Hornets' Nest finally gave way after the Southerners assembled sixty‐two guns and blasted the position. Surrounded, Prentiss and the last survivors surrendered around 5:30 P.M.

Despite the carnage on his right and center, Grant's hold on Pittsburg Landing was never seriously threatened. The Confederates never marshaled enough men for a knockout punch to drive the Federals away from the river. By the time dusk arrived, it was too late. Johnston's son later accused Beauregard of squandering a brilliant victory by calling off the action at sunset, but evidence suggests that this is untrue. The disorganized blows delivered against the Union left were easily repulsed, and by late afternoon a line of over fifty Federal cannon crowned the heights above Pittsburg Landing. By the end of the day, the assaulting Southerners faced insuperable problems. Hunger, fatigue, command disorder, and high losses helped check the Confederates.

Beauregard had received a telegram asserting that Buell was near Decatur, in northern Alabama. As a result, he evidently expected Grant to retreat across the river that night or remain in place for a renewed Confederate assault the next morning. Yet the vanguard of Buell's army began crossing the river in late afternoon on 6 April. The reinforcements from Buell and the belated arrival of one of his own divisions more than made up for Grant's losses. At dawn on 7 April, Grant assumed the offensive. Beau regard's troops resisted the onslaught but without reinforcements could do little more than launch isolated counter attacks. By midafternoon Beauregard realized the precariousness of his situation and began withdrawing to Corinth, Mississippi.

Both sides claimed Shiloh as a victory, but the Federals had a far stronger case. They retained possession of the battlefield, and in addition, the strategic situation in the west remained unaltered despite the bloodletting. The Confederates had not dealt a mortal blow to either Grant or Buell. Nor had they driven the invaders from Tennessee or reversed the Union's victories in the winter campaign. Instead, Memphis and the remainder of western Tennessee fell into Union hands after the Confederates evacuated Corinth in late May.

The lengthy casualty lists from Shiloh stunned both North and South. Union losses included 1,754 dead, 8,408 wounded, and 2,885 missing, for a total of 13,047 casualties; the corresponding Confederate figures were 1,723, 8,012, and 959, for a total of 10,694. Shiloh disabused both sides of the notion that the war would be short‐lived. Grant's failure to fortify, and his heavy losses, injured his reputation until the capture of Vicksburg in July 1863 redeemed him.
[See also Civil War: Military and Diplomatic Course; Union Army; Vicksburg, Siege of.]


Shelby Foote , The Civil War: A Narrative, 3 vols., (1958–74), Vol. 1: Fort Sumter to Perryville.
Thomas Connelly , Army of the Heartland: The Army of Tennessee, 1861–1862, 1967.
Wiley Sword , Shiloh: Bloody April, 1974.
James Lee McDonough , Shiloh—In Hell Before Night, 1977.
Steven E. Woodworth , Jefferson Davis and His Generals: The Failure of Confederate Command in the West, 1990.
Larry J. Daniel , Shiloh: The Battle that Changed the Civil War, 1997.

Christopher Losson

Shiloh, Battle of

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SHILOH, BATTLE OF. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's capture of Fort Henry on 6 February 1862 and Fort Do-nelson on 15–16 February in northwestern Tennessee opened the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers to Union water traffic and pierced the center of the Confederate defensive line, so that Columbus, Kentucky, had to be evacuated. Union Gen. Don Carlos Buell occupied Nashville with the Army of the Ohio, and Gen. Henry W. Halleck on 1 March ordered Gen. Charles F. Smith, with thirty thousand troops of the Army of the Tennessee, to concentrate at Shiloh (or Pittsburg Landing), twenty-five miles north of the Confederates under the command of Gen. Albert S. Johnston at Corinth, Mississippi. Buell's twenty-five thousand troops were to join by marching overland from Nashville.

On 3 April Johnston moved out of Corinth, fifty thousand strong, to strike Grant's force before the junction with Buell could be effected. Early on 6 April Johnston made a surprise attack against the unfortified Union position. Vigorous Confederate attacks drove in Grant's outlying units, shattered the hastily formed lines, and pushed the Union troops against the river.

Buell arrived that night. In the morning Grant launched his reorganized army into the Confederate lines. Grant's strike, with the fresh troops of Buell and Gen. Lew Wallace and aided by portions of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's and Gen. John A. McClernand's commands, killed Johnston and swept the Confederates from the field toward Corinth.


Bannister, Donald. Long Day at Shiloh. New York: Knopf, 1981.

Daniel, Larry J. Shiloh: The Battle that Changed the Civil War. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997.

Sword, Wiley. Shiloh: Bloody April. New York: Morrow, 1974.

ElbridgeColby/a. r.

See alsoCivil War ; Cumberland, Army of the ; Donelson, Fort, Capture of ; Henry, Fort ; Tennessee, Army of .

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