There have probably been more articles written about the
American Civil War than any other war in American History. It was
the war that changed the art of war forever. It was the end of
honor and chivalry. Although seen infrequently in the sky over
World War I European battlefields, this war saw the honor of war
give way to the mass killing of all those who passed its way. New
techniques in killing would send hundreds of thousands to their
death in just under 5 years. For the first time civilian
casualties would mount in staggering numbers as towns and
villages were put to the torch.
Today, many of these hallowed grounds which have seen so much carnage, are Federal Parks, dedicated to the preservation of the history that was acted out in the hills and valleys that make up the park. Such is the case of the Shiloh National Military Park, which is part of the National Park Service. We arrived along a beautifully wooded country road with neatly manicured grass strips alongside. Here and there could be seen a group of old smoothbore Napoleon cannons staged in picturesque settings. As we walked up to the visitors center, I had to wonder what it must have looked like on the 8th of April, the day after the infamous battle of Shiloh. Inside we donated our park fee and reviewed the small museum displaying many artifacts which had been found within the Park. We then settled down to a short but very effective film presentation of the happenings of April 6th and 7th, in the year 1862.
The South, which had hoped for a quick defeat of the North after Bull Run found itself in a slugfest with an unyielding Federal army that had rebounded and was now taking control of southern-held territories in the northern Mississippi River area. The winter of 1861-2 saw Kentucky and central Tennessee fall under Union control. The Southern forces in the area were commanded by General Albert Johnston. Known as a good tactician and strong leader, Johnston might have lead the South out of its quagmire if not for the battle of Shiloh. Having withdrawn before the Union onslaught for several weeks, Johnston regrouped his 44,000 men in the town of Corinth, Mississippi, from where he intended to take the initiative away from an upstart, newly appointed Union General by the name of Ulysses S. Grant, commanding around 40,000 men. Johnston's withdrawal from central Tennessee had been so rapid, Grant had been caught off guard. Not wishing to enter an engagement unorganized and unprepared, and with General Buell's Army of the Ohio only 2 days away from joining him, Grant bivouacked his army on the Tennessee river at Pittsburg Landing, some 22 miles from Corinth, with no knowledge of the close proximity of the Rebel Army. Both Armies were plagued with a nagging problem. Most of the men in the field were raw recruits who had never seen combat. Untrained and not used to taking orders, both sides, at times, resembled more of a mob than an Army. Grant forwent any preparations for defense, using the time allotted such action to begin the badly needed training of his troops. He even abandoned scout patrols, and thus never discovered the danger just over the hills. Johnston, on the other hand was quick to learn of Grant's presence, his strength and that Buell would be linking up with Grant in a few days. The combined armies of Buell and Grant were far too strong for Johnston to engage, so a plan to attack Grant immediately was hastily drawn up. The attack of June 4th never occurred. Johnston was unable to wield his forces into action for 48 hours. Still hoping for surprise, and against the advice of his subordinates, Johnston launched a full scale attack against the western side of Grant's encampment. The Union's senior commander in the field, Gen William T Sherman, was caught by total surprise, having treated earlier reports of Rebel movement with scorn. Disorganization and confusion became the theme of the day, as Rebel units rolled over position after position, capturing command posts as they went. With the river at their back and the hordes of Rebel soldiers charging their front, a Union General named Benjamin Prentiss rallied his division and took up position on a sunken road paralleling the Rebel advance.
We had returned to our car and drove the battle circuit as laid out by the by the map acquired at the visitor's center. Audio cassettes were available but we chose to travel silently, reading the placards as we went.
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