After Shiloh the South would never smile again. Known originally as the
Battle of Pittsburg Landing, The Battle of Shiloh was the bloodiest battle
fought in North America up to that time. Pittsburg Landing was an area from
where the Yankees planned to attack the Confederates who had moved from
Fort Donelson to Corinth, Mississippi. The North was commanded by
General Ulysses S. Grant and the South by General Albert Sydney Johnston.
The Union army was taken by surprise the first day when the Confederate
Army unexpectedly attacked, but after Union reinforcements arrived the
fighting virtually ended in a tie. Lasting for two days, April 6 and 7 of 1862,
casualties for both sides exceeded 20,000. The Battle of Shiloh was a
message to both the North and South that the Civil War was for real. General
Grant was anxious to maintain the momentum of his victory at Fort Donelson.
His army had moved up to a port on the Tennessee River called Pittsburg
Landing in preparation for an attack on Corinth, Mississippi, where the
Confederate troops were located. General Halleck, Western U.S. Army
commander, had ordered Grant to stay put and wait for reinforcements.
Grant had given command of the Pittsburg Landing encampment to General
William T. Sherman while he waited at his camp in Savannah, Tennessee. (1)
At Corinth, Confederate Generals Albert Sydney Johnston and P.G.T.
Beauregard worked feverishly to ready the 40,000 plus troops there for an
attack on the Union Army at Pittsburg Landing before U.S. Army General
Buell and reinforcements could arrive from Nashville. The officers appointed
as corps commanders for the South were Major General John Breckinridge,
Major General William J. Hardee, Major General Braxton Bragg, and Major
General Leonidas Polk. The South headed for Pittsburg Landing on April 4,
1862 but because of several delays the attack was postponed until April 6.
The Battle of Shiloh began early the morning of April 6. Johnstons men burst
out of the woods so early that Union soldiers came out of their tents to fight.
The Confederate army drove the Yankees back eight miles that day. One
area that was especially troublesome for the South was nicknamed the
Hornets Nest and was commanded by Union General Prentiss. The area
was a sunken road that Federal troops rallied behind and mowed down wave
after wave of Rebel attackers until General Prentiss finally surrendered. The
Hornets Nest got its name from Southern soldiers who reported that the
sound of bullets and mini-balls flying through the air sounded like hornets.
Prentiss fought, as he states, until “half-past five P.M., when finding that
further resistance must result in the slaughter of every man in the command, I
(2) had to yeild the fight. The enemy succeeded in capturing myself and two
thousand two hundred rank and file, many of them being wounded” (The
Rebellion Record, 1865 p 258). Prentiss was captured along with 2200
Union troops. In an interview with General Beauregard after being captured,
General Prentiss stated concerning the Union Army at Pittsburg “I am afraid
that all of our men will be taken” (New Orleans, Times-Picayune, 1862).
When a bystander asked him about General Buell he stated “Buell is not
coming here, and if any forces are on the way they must be very small. I
know nothing of them” (New Orleans, Times-Picayune, 1862). Both sides
had suffered devastating losses and injuries. That evening soldiers from both
armies wash their wounds in a small lake. The pond took on a red tint from
the troops blood loss. From then on, it was known as Bloody Pond. The
South suffered a terrible loss at 2:30 in the afternoon of April 6, 1862.
General Albert Sydney Johnston bled to death from a bullet wound to his leg.
Beauregard sent a telegram to Jefferson Davis stating “Loss on both sides
heavy including our Commander in Chief, General A.S. Johnston (3) who fell
gallantly leading his troops into the thickest of the fight” (The Papers of
Jefferson Davis, 1995, p 131). In a letter written to General Earl Van Dorn
from Jefferson Davis, the president stated “The report that General A.S.
Johnston was killed sadly depresses me. Victory however great cannot cheer
me in the face of such a loss. God grant it may not be true and he yet lives to
sustain the cause for which he was willing to die” (The Papers of Jefferson
Davis, 1995, p 135). Jefferson Davis held Albert Sydney Johnston is such
high esteem that he was known to say he “would have gladly turned the
presidency over to him if he had had the power” and that he was “the only
man he could lean on with entire confidence” (The Papers of Jefferson Davis,
1995, p 132). Since the succession of the South and the beginning of the
War Between the States, both side were expecting one battle to decide the
war. Reports to newspapers from Shiloh suggested the enormity and
importance of the fight. “The great battle to which the whole nation has so
long been looking forward, begun this morning and has resulted in a complete
victory” (New Orleans, Times-Picayune, 1862). This report was accurate as
far as the first days fight was concerned. General P.G.T. Beauregard wrote
to C.F.S. (4) President Jefferson Davis in agreement with the the
Times-Picayune reporting that “We this morning attacked the enemy in strong
position in front of Pittsburg & after a Severe battle of ten hours, thanks be to
the Almighty, gained a complete victory driving the enemy from every
position” (The Papers of Jefferson Davis, 1995, p 131). Both points of view
show an overwhelming victory for the South during the first days battle. The
second day at Shiloh was a different story. “As anticipated from intelligence
received at a late hour Sunday night, the enemy received strong
reinforcements in the morning and about 7 oclock renewed fighting” (New
Orleans, Times-Picayune, 1862). The Confederates held their own until
reinforcements from General Buell reached Grant on the afternoon of April 7.
“It was now, however, only about one oclockand Buells fresh men
numbering 30,000 in all were still coming in. Gen. Beauregard knew there
was a limit to human enduranceand after proper consideration, thought it
wise to retire” (New Orleans, Times-Picayune, 1862). The Confederate
Army retreated to Corinth. The Union Army didnt follow them and was glad
to see them go. (5) After the Battle of Shiloh both sides reported that the war
would be long and drawn out. When asked, after he was captured, if he
thought Shiloh would lead to peace, General Prentiss stated “Never, till the
Union is restored. If we do not whip you with the men we have, we will bring
more (New Orleans, Times-Picayune, 1862). Though the price of battle at
Pittsburg Landing was high for both sides, it was only the beginning of the
destructiveness that lay ahead.
WORKS CITED Primary Sources Crist, Lynda Lasswell 1995. The Papers
of Jefferson Davis. Louisiana State University Press. Volume VIII. Moore,
Frank 1865. The Rebellion Record. Arno Press. Volume XXII. H.P. Special
Correspondant, “The Battle of Shiloh.” April 11, 1862. New Orleans The
Times-Picayune. Volume XXVI Number 65. Secondary Sources
McDonough, J.L. 1934. Shiloh-In Hell Before Night. 3d ed. Tennessee
Press / Knoxville Mitchell, Joseph B. 1955. Decisive Battles of the Civil
War. 42-55. Putnam Press Nevin, David 1983. The Road to Shiloh.