Battle of Shiloh: Details


Union Army - Grant's army of 48,894 men consisted of six divisions.

Grant’s Union army was spread out in bivouac style, many around the small log church named Shiloh (the Hebrew word that means "place of peace")

Confederate Army - Concentrated almost 55,000 men around Corinth, Mississippi, about 20 miles (30 km) southwest of Grant's position.

On the eve of battle, Confederates were poorly armed with antique weapons, including shotguns, hunting rifles, pistols, flintlock muskets, and even a few pikes (long pole spear thing). Also had very little combat experience.

Battle April 6, 1862

Early morning attack

At 6:00 a.m. on April 6, Confederate army was deployed for battle, straddling the Corinth Road. In fact, the army had spent the entire night bivouacking undetected in order of battle just two miles (3 km) away from the Union camps. Their approach and dawn assault achieved almost total strategic and tactical surprise. The Union army had virtually no patrols in place for early warning.

Grant and Sherman rally

The assault, despite some shortcomings, was ferocious, and some of the numerous inexperienced Union soldiers of Grant's new army fled for safety to the Tennessee River.

During this period, Sherman, who had been so negligent in preparation for the battle, became one of its most important elements. He appeared everywhere along his lines, inspiring his raw recruits to resist the initial assaults despite staggering losses on both sides. He received two minor wounds and had three horses shot out from under him. Historians mark the battle as the turning point of Sherman's life, which helped to make him one of the North's premier generals.

The Union troops slowly lost ground and fell back to a position behind Shiloh Church.

As the Confederates advanced, many threw away their flintlock muskets and grabbed rifles dropped by the fleeing Union troops.

Hornet’s Nest

Union men established and held a position nicknamed the Hornet's Nest, in a field along a road now popularly called the "Sunken Road," although there is little physical justification for that name.

Johnston (Confederate) was mortally wounded at about 2:30 p.m. while leading attacks on the Union left through the widow Bell's cotton field against the Peach Orchard when he was shot in his left leg. Deeming the leg wound to be insignificant, he had sent his personal surgeon away to care for some wounded captured Union soldiers, and in the doctor's absence, he bled to death within an hour, his boot filling with blood from a severed popliteal artery.

Defense at Pittsburg Landing

The Union defensive line included a ring of over 50 cannons and naval guns from the river.

A final Confederate charge of two brigades, led by Brig. Gen. Withers, attempted to break through the line but was repulsed. Beauregard (Confederate) called off a second attempt after 6 p.m., with the sun setting.

The Confederate plan had failed; they had pushed Grant east to a defensible position on the river, not forced him west into the swamps.

Evening lull

The evening of April 6 was a dispiriting end to the first day of one of the bloodiest battles in American history. The pitiful cries of wounded and dying men on the fields between the armies could be heard in the Union and Confederate camps throughout the night. A thunderstorm passed through the area and rhythmic shelling from the Union gunboats made the night a miserable experience for both sides.

Union –

After the first day of battle the exhausted Confederate (I think this should be Union) soldiers bedded down in the abandoned Union (I think this should be Confederate) camps, Sherman (Union) encountered Grant under a tree, sheltering himself from the pouring rain. He was smoking one of his cigars while considering his losses and planning for the next day. Sherman remarked, "Well, Grant, we've had the devil's own day, haven't we?" Grant looked up. "Yes," he replied, followed by a puff. "Yes. Lick 'em tomorrow, though."

Confederate –

Beauregard (Confederate leader) sent a telegram to President Davis announcing "A COMPLETE VICTORY" and later admitted, "I thought I had General Grant just where I wanted him and could finish him up in the morning."

Battle April 7
, 1862

On April 7, the combined Union armies numbered 45,000 men. Confederates only had 20,000.

Union forces started moving forward in a massive counterattack at dawn.

In a thicket near the Hamburg-Purdy Road, the fighting was so intense that Sherman (Union leader) described in his report of the battle "the severest musketry fire I ever heard."

Realizing that he had lost the initiative and that he was low on ammunition and food and with over 10,000 of his men killed, wounded, or missing Beauregard (Confederate leader). When the Confederates began an orderly withdrawal back to Corinth. The exhausted Union soldiers did not pursue much. The Battle was over.

Grant cited the exhaustion of his troops, although the Confederates were certainly just as exhausted.


Union - In the immediate aftermath of the battle, Northern newspapers vilified Grant for his performance during the battle on April 6. Reporters, many far from the battle, spread the story that Grant had been drunk, falsely alleging that this had resulted in many of his men being bayoneted in their tents because of a lack of defensive preparedness. Despite the Union victory, Grant's reputation suffered in Northern public opinion.

Calls for Grant's removal overwhelmed the White House. President Lincoln replied with one of his most famous quotations about Grant: "I can't spare this man; he fights."

Both sides were shocked at the carnage. None suspected that three more years of such bloodshed remained in the war and that eight larger and bloodier battles were yet to come.

Grant came to realize that his prediction of one great battle bringing the war to a close was probably not destined to happen. The war would continue, at great cost in casualties and resources, until the Confederacy succumbed or the Union was divided. Grant also learned a valuable personal lesson on preparedness (being ready for surprise attacks) that (mostly) served him well for the rest of the war.

Battle of Shiloh sections: