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Battle of Shiloh

fought in Hardin County, Tennessee, April 6-7, 1862


Following the fall of Forts Henry and Donelson in February of 1862, General Albert Sidney Johnston, commander of Confederate forces in the West, withdrew from western and middle Tennessee and regrouped his forces at Corinth, Mississippi, a strategic junction in the Confederate rail system..

In March 1862, Major General Ulysses Grant, commander of the Army of the Tennessee, ascended the Tennessee River by steamboat to Pittsburg Landing, 22 miles northeast of Corinth. There he established a base of operations on a plateau west of the river, with his forward camps posted two miles inland around a log church called Shiloh Meeting House. Meanwhile, Major General Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio marched southward from Nashville, Tennessee. The plan was for the two armies to join up and launch an offensive against Johnston at Corinth, but that plan was spoiled by Johnston.

recreation of the Shiloh Meeting House (Shiloh Church)
recreation of the Shiloh Meeting House (Shiloh Church)

Knowing that the Union was gathering troops for an attack on Corinth, Johnston decided to strike first and, on April 3, began moving his army northeastward. By nightfall, April 5, his Army of the Mississippi, nearly 44,000 strong, was deployed for battle four miles southwest of Pittsburg Landing.

The Battle

On the morning of April 6, Johnston launched a surprise attack on Grant’s camps around Shiloh Church.  Throughout the morning, Confederate brigades slowly gained ground, forcing Grant's troops to give way and fight a succession of defensive stands at Shiloh Church, the Peach Orchard, Water Oaks Pond, and within an oak thicket survivors named the Hornets' Nest.

Despite having achieved surprise, Johnston's troops soon became as disorganized as Grant's, as corps, divisions, and brigades became entangled. Then, at mid-afternoon, as he supervised an assault on the Union left, Johnston was struck in the right leg by a stray bullet and bled to death, leaving General P. G. T. Beauregard in command of the Confederate army. Fighting continued until dark, when Beauregard pulled his soldiers back from the landing, where they were being shelled by the USS Lexington and USS Tyler.

Believing that Grant's army was beaten and that Buell was still miles away, Beauregard expected the next day's battle to be short, and that it would end with a decisive Confederate victory. But, Buell’s men arrived and ferried across the Tennessee River during the night, as did a division led by Major General Lewis Wallace. These new arrivals added 23,000 Union troops to the fight.

On April 7, it was Grant who attacked first. Throughout the day, the combined Union armies, now numbering over 54,500 men, hammered Beauregard's depleted ranks, now numbering barely 34,000 troops. Despite mounting desperate counterattacks, the exhausted Confederates could not stem the increasingly stronger Union tide and Beauregard was forced to lead his remaining men from the battlefield. By the time all fighting had ceased, the Battle of Shiloh had cost both sides a combined total of 23,746 men killed, wounded, or missing, making it one of the bloodiest battles of the war.

The Battle of Shiloh, by Thure de Thulstrup
The Battle of Shiloh, by Thure de Thulstrup

maps of the Battle of Shiloh
map of the first battle at Shiloh map of the afternoon battle at Shiloh map of day two of the Battle of Shiloh


Civil War Trust
Eyewitness to History
Shiloh National Military Park

See Also

Ulysses Grant
P. G. T. Beauregard

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The Robinson Library >> Civil War Period >> Campaigns and Battles

This page was last updated on December 07, 2018.