Shiloh, the battle that really shocked both sides for its intensity and ferocity, occurred 140 years ago this weekend of April 6-7, 2002. What many do not realize is that it was the first major battle in the Western Theater of the War.
Albert Sidney Johnson came very close to winning a major victory the first day of the fighting at Shiloh or Pittsburg Landing. His mortal wounding occurred during a crucial moment in the battle when Federal forces had mostly been savagely pushed back against the Landing. For Sam Grant, things looked very grim indeed that bloody April 6.
What I find so intriguing about the battle is how Grant and most of his subordinate commanders, including Sherman, to be surprised despite clear warning of something about to happen. The signs had been there for a few days prior to the commencement of "the ball" from not only increased contacts with Confederate patrols but the persistent habit of the raw Confederate troops to shoot their muskets to see if they were indeed loaded!
G T Beauregard, the Hero of Ft. Sumter, was Johnson's second in command with Bragg as one of the primary subordinates. Bragg would, within months, emerge as the commander of what became known as the Army of Tennessee. Later in 1862, he would take his force on an offensive movement that was but one prong of the only time the Confederate States of America truly went on the offensive.
Up until Shiloh/Pittsburg Landing, most of the actions between Union and Confederate forces in the Western Theater had largely been small affairs. It is interesting to note that the capture of Fts. Henry and Donelson by Sam Grant in February of 1862 happened at much the same time as Lincoln was trying to get his balky commander of the Army of the Potomac (and then General in Chief) George Brinton McClellan to move against Confederate forces in Northern Virginia.
Sam Grant emerged the victor from Shiloh due to a combination of forces which, had they not been present, might have ended his military career. Firstly, Grant was able to cobble together an imposing line of artillery and also call upon two U.S. Navy gunboats, the USS Tyler and USS Lexington, anchored in the Tennessee River to provide some artillery support. The two gunboats did not create much damage to the Confederate attackers, but they did provide some psychological support to the battered Union defenders. (The main artillery line put together near the Landing is what ultimately stopped Confederate assaults late in the day.) Second, Grant sent urgent messages to both Don Carlos Buell, commanding the Army of the Ohio, and to Lew Wallace, commanding a division at Crump's Landing, for their reinforcement. (Both commands would arrive during the night of April 6 to bolster Grant. Thirdly, and most importantly, Grant—though beaten badly by the standards of the time—was unwilling to cave in. His remark the evening of April 6 to Billy Sherman, when asked by the latter about the day and what he, Grant, had in mind is indeed most telling. "Whip 'em tomorrow, though," is what Grant reportedly said.
The Confedeate momentum became sapped not only due to the loss of A S Johnson but also the relative inexperience of the soldiers in the ranks and the nature of the terrain itself. Draws and ravines often split attacking Confederate columns from their alignments, intermingling of units so command cohesion was difficult to maintain, and obstinate Union resistance at such places as the Hornet's Nest which bought time for Sam Grant to patch together a solid defensive line also contributed towards the ultimate Union victory.
When the casualty lists for both sides were published Noth and South, both sections recoiled in horror. First Manassas/Bull Run might have proved to the North that restoring the Union would not be accomplished with a mere single battle. Shiloh proved to both sides that the contest would be much longer and much more severe than either anticipated. The ultimate outcome of the Battle of Shiloh was the appointment of Sam Grant as General in Chief of all the Union Armies with the rank of Lt. General in November, 1863 following the successful raising of the siege of Chattanooga. The defeat of the Confederate Army of Tennessee proved to be more important and long lasting in its effects, not only for the Western Theater (where some claim the American Civil War was actually won) but for the entire history of the War.© 2002