Background and Facts
Note on Name of Battle: Much of the battle took place around a log Methodist Church called Shiloh, which, ironically is roughly translated from the Hebrew as “Place of Peace.”
Location: Near and around Pittsburg Landing, in western Tennessee, on the west bank of the Tennessee River.
Date: April 6-7, 1862
Outcome: Union Victory
Casualties: 19,900 killed or wounded (Union casualties about 13,000).
Significance: Bloodiest battle to date on American soil. This battle was a precursor of very bad things to come in a long and protracted struggle between the North and South. (Read more below on the battle’s effects on both sides.)
Description of the Battle
After his easy victories at Forts Henry and Donelson the preceding February, Union General Grant pressed on with his force of 60,000 inexperienced troopers south on the Tennessee River to Pittsburg Landing. His goal was the vital rail junction in Corinth, Mississippi, and thence south on the Mississippi River to Vicksburg.
Confederate General Albert S. Johnston, however, had other plans. The bivouacked, inexperienced Yankee troops were a prime target for a frontal and flanking assault and an opportunity to destroy Grant’s army. Johnston struck on the morning of April 6 and quickly overran the unprepared Yankees, who had not even posted patrols. General Johnston was struck in the leg by a stray bullet and bled to death. His second in command, General Beauregard, took command, but failed to cut off the Yankee retreat to the river.
Grant and Sherman rallied, reorganized and held off the furious Confederate assault until darkness and exhaustion caused both sides to stop and rest. The following day, the Yankees surprised Beauregard with reinforcements and a furious counterattack, and Beauregard grudgingly withdrew, leaving the field to the Yankees.
Aftermath and Consequences
Effects on the North
The Northern public was shocked at the press accounts of the massive dead and wounded. Shiloh’s casualties were the highest number ever to be experienced on American soil up to that time.
General Grant’s career was nearly ruined. Bad press accounts labeling Grant as a “butcher” and personal animosity between him and his superior, Genera Henryl Halleck, resulted in Grant’s temporary demotion to second in command. Grant was rescued by President Lincoln, who moved Halleck to Washington, D.C., and restored Grant to command.
General Grant’s attitude and respect towards the fighting ability and tenacity of the South underwent a radical change. As a result of Shiloh, Grant realized that the war would be long, and that the South would have to be completely crushed before they would give in.
The Union victory would be the beginning of the end of the south’s efforts to defend its western flanks. Corinth and Vicksburg would fall, splitting the South in two; Grant would return to Tennessee, kick the Confederates out and send Sherman south to Georgia.
Effects on the South
General Albert S. Johnston’s death was a terrible blow to the South’s hopes in the west. Johnston was one of the South’s best generals, and none of his successors would do nearly as well.
Equally irreplaceable were the South’s losses in manpower (over 10,000 killed, wounded and missing/captured). The Civil War was, in the end, a war of attrition, which, because of its lower manpower resources, the South could not win.
The South was forced to evacuate much of Tennessee. General Johnston’s failure to crush Grant’s army opened the way to Vicksburg and the eventual Northern domination of the Mississippi River.
There are a number of interesting eyewitness accounts of the Battle of Shiloh. One particularly engaging episode is an account with quotations by the young Confederate soldier Henry Morton Stanley (later of Stanley and Livingston fame): EyeWitness to History.com: The Battle of Shiloh .
Here are some suggested thought-provoking questions that could be posed either in class or as an essay assignment on the Battle of Shiloh:
♦ Describe the “violets in the hat” incident in the first paragraph of Stanley’s quote. Why do you suppose young Henry Parker thought wearing flowers into battle was a wise thing to do?
♦ Describe the weapons the Confederate soldiers carried. How difficult would they be to load and fire during the stress of battle?
♦ What contrast and irony does the author see in marching through the woods to do battle on a Sunday?
♦ What effect did the “Rebel yell” have on Stanley and the rest of the soldiers?
♦ Right before he was captured, Stanley heard a Yankee call, “Down with that gun, Secesh…” Then he says, “…and I dropped my weapon, incontinently.” Contrast Stanley’s feelings about being captured with his previous excitement over seeing the Yankees retreat the day before.
More Information on the Battle of Shiloh
This post is part of the series: Pivotal Battles of the Civil War
This is a series of articles on U.S. Civil War battles that were pivotal to the eventual Union victory. Read about the battles at Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg, Vicksburg and the fall of Atlanta. Each of these battles played a key role in the outcome of our nation’s bloody and protracted civil war.