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The Battle of Shiloh, April 6-7, 1862


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A courier immediately left to tell Beauregard that he was now in command of the Mississippi Army. At the same time, the attack on the northern left wing ceased completely. This simultaneity will be extensively commented on after the war, notably by supporters of the "Lost Cause", a historiographical current led by former generals and Southern leaders and defending the idea that the Confederation could have won the war. For them, the twist of fate of Johnston's death was the turning point in the Battle of Shiloh, as it cut off the momentum of the Southern attack and gave the Feds a precious respite from which they received reinforcements. General Hardee, moreover, was already defending this idea the very day after the battle. But correlation is not causation and the reality, presumably, is quite different: Southerners are starting torunning out of ammunition and must momentarily stop their attack. Withers, in particular, mentions this explicitly in his report, and arguably for this reason the attack was starting to subside even before Johnston's fatal injury.

As soon as he is informed of the death of his superior, Beauregard decides to put an end to the Hornet's Nest. He orders all units he can find toconverge on the northerly position, if necessary, guided by the sound of the cannon. Confusion reigns in the Confederate chain of command. Upon learning of Johnston's death, Hardee abandons what remains of his corps after handing it over to Hindman and walks to the right, then turns around when he learns that Bragg has taken over the coordination. right wing forces. After somehow retrieving a few cartridges, the men of Withers' division resumed their assault around 3 p.m. This time it’s the right one: Stuart’s brigade cracks and ebbs back. Grant immediately sent one of the brigades of W.H.L. Wallace, that of John McArthur, to plug the breach. Its regiments are made up mostly of Scottish immigrants, including McArthur himself, who wear the traditional Scottish beretBalmoral in lieu of the federal army's regulatory cap. They only manage to postpone the deadline, however, and the situation on the northern left wing is becoming more critical every minute.

Victory at hand

Simultaneously, the troops converging against the Hornets' Nest begin to assault it, but they still come up against the deadly fire unleashed by the Northerners. Daniel Ruggles’s division was thus pushed back, in part because its artillery support proved insufficient. Never mind, Ruggles then sends his aides-de-camp to collect all available batteries. Imitating one of Napoleon Bonaparte's favorite tactics, he wants to concentrate them to launcha decisive bombardment. In all, it will recover within an hour of twelve batteries, or in theory nearly fifty guns. The "Ruggles battery" opened fire at 4 p.m., taking in a row the right, now poorly covered, of the W.H.L. Wallace. The latter is weighed down with grapeshot and shrapnel at close range for twenty minutes, and the men quickly begin to retreat for safety.

At the same time, the left wing cracks and Hurlbut's division breaks: the Union line is about to be broken in two places. Sherman, McClernand, and W.H.L. Wallace quickly agreed: Grant's orders, which were to resist at all costs, can no longer be followed without running the risk of the army being wiped out. At 4.30 p.m., ageneral withdrawal is decided. The troops will reposition themselves on a final line of defense, near Pittsburg Landing, which Grant had prepared by placing his artillery reserves there. While the Sherman and McClernand divisions retreat in good order without being overly threatened, the rest of the army does not. The Hurlbut Division retreated so hastily that the McArthur Brigade found themselves isolated. She has to pierce back to break free, and her boss is injured in the action.

Battle of Shiloh, April 6, 1862: situation from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.


Confusion also reigns within the W.H.L. Wallace, who is under heavy pressure from the Confederates. Along with Ruggles’s men, she is beset by elements of Polk’s corps, and by Hardee who has rounded up any isolated regiments he can find to send them back to battle. Prentiss agrees tosacrifice to allow Wallace to break free, and stay ahead. Despite everything, the retreat was disorderly, and the Federals suffered heavy losses. Hare is shot in the arm and hand and Wallace himself is seriously injured; in the ambient panic, it will not be evacuated. We will find him the next day where he fell, dying. It will expire on April 10. Sensing the quarry coming, Polk and Hardee launch their cavalry in pursuit of the enemy. The latter manages to capture an entire northern battery, but does not go much further: momentarily stopping its retreat to face danger, McClernand's division welcomes it with heavy fire, breaking the charge of the Southern cavalry.

Even so, the sacrifice of the Prentiss division pays off: Southern forces converge on their positions, neglecting the pursuit of the rest of the army. Trying to take her turn, Prentiss finds herself completely surrounded and, at 5.30 p.m., hecapitulateto avoid a now unnecessary massacre. He and what remains of his division, some 2,200 men, are taken prisoner. General Prentiss will be exchanged a few months later. Under a now overcast sky, the day is drawing to a close, and the Federals have withdrawn to their last defensive position. This runs between Pittsburg Landing, to the east, and the bridge over Owl Creek, to the west, through which Lew Wallace's division must arrive any minute, relying on the road that connects one to the other. While the right, with Sherman and McClernand Divisions, is in good order, the situation on the left is more worrying, as Hurlbut and W.H.L. Wallace (the latter now under Colonel James Tuttle) are very disorganized and suffered heavy casualties. To compensate for this weakness, Grant had about ten batteries massed around the landing stage, that is to say more than fifty guns; even the heavy pieces for the siege of Corinth were used. But the artillerymen have no infantry support in their immediate vicinity.

Battle of Shiloh, April 6, 1862: situation from 5:30 p.m. until nightfall.

On the south side, Bragg rushes forward with the right wing. Guided by a local resident, Withers' division managed to bypass the resistance offered by Prentiss and marched straight on Pittsburg Landing to deliverthe final assault. John Jackson's brigade is very disorganized, and James Chalmers's is out of ammunition; Never mind, we will attack with bayonets. But when the Confederate troops emerge into the ravine at the foot of the plateau where Pittsburg Landing is located, a bad surprise awaits them. If the bulk of the Union's river forces are now concentrated on the Mississippi, Grant has no less on the Tennessee than twotimberclads, USSTyler and USSLexington. Their cannons cannot point high enough to reach the top of the stream's steep banks, except precisely where those banks are cut by ravines. The two gunboats therefore greet Withers’s men with deadly fire.

Soon, the artillery placed on the plateau joined them, and the Southerners suffered significant losses before they even made contact. And to drive home the point, the Ohio Army is finally here. The first soldiers landed at 4 p.m., and the leading brigade, that of Jacob Ammen, is now complete. As she steps onto the stage to lend a hand to the gunners, Beauregard has already understood that her attack is doomed. Its forces are too dispersed and disorganized to coordinate their efforts, and there is barely an hour of daylight left. He orders that the action beinterruptedand that the troops withdraw out of range of the gunboats fire. At around 6:30 p.m., the battle came to a complete halt for the first time in thirteen long hours. The southern commander-in-chief nevertheless remains optimistic: tomorrow, he will regroup his forces, rested and supplied, to deliver the coup de grace to his weakened enemy.

Evening is setting over the bloodiest battlefield the Americas have ever seen, butthe fight is not over. On the right wing of the Northerners, Lew Wallace's division has finally joined the rest of the Tennessee Army. At the other end of the front, Don Carlos Buell's men keep coming. The two transport ships at Pittsburg Landing will be bustling through the night to take them across Tennessee. In all, Buell will bring 19,000 men from four different divisions. With these fresh troops, Grant does not intend to stay in his position and wait for Beauregard to come and get him: at dawn he will attack him. Meanwhile, the roar of guns fired by the thousands gives way to the roar of thunder: a violent thunderstorm hits the battlefield of Shiloh.

One night in hell

Under the downpours, the fighters will have a difficult night. The Feds have little or nothing for shelter, having left their camps in the hands of the Southerners. In such climatic conditions, it is not easy to make a fire, and there is not always something to cook in it. General Hurlbut must wait until 8 am to obtain "some cookies for [his]men And the Sherman's division must fend for itself to find food. Union troops sufferedterrible losses, leaving behind thousands of wounded and at least thirty pieces of artillery in the hands of their enemies, not to mention all that their camps contained in arms, ammunition, food and equipment. In addition, thousands of fugitives literally crowd around Pittsburg Landing, still hoping to make it across Tennessee to safety.

Ambrose Bierce, who would become a renowned writer and literary critic, was not yet 20 when he arrived on the Shiloh battlefield as a lieutenant in the Ohio Army. Years later he would leave a vivid account of the scenes he had witnessed, titledWhat I saw from Shiloh (What I saw of Shiloh). It must be said that what the young soldiers of Buell had in front of them when they arrived at Pittsburg Landing was not at all encouraging. By late afternoon, Buell had counted 4 to 5,000 stragglers on the shore, but by the time William Nelson disembarked after dark, that number had probably doubled. Bierce describes this mass of terrorized men to us: "They were deaf to duty and insensitive to shame. […] Whenever a steamer landed, this abominable crowd had to be bayoneted at bay; when he left, they clung to it and were pushed into the water en masse, some of them each drowning in their own way. The men who disembarked insulted them, pushed them aside, beat them. In return they expressed their profane joy at the certainty of our annihilation by the enemy. »

We find the same scenes of chaos from the pen of William Nelson, who commands the lead division of the Ohio Army: "I found, as I crossed it, from 7 to 10,000 stragglers lurking on the banks of the river, mad with terror and completely demoralized, who greeted my courageous division with cries of "We are beaten, cut to pieces!"They were insensitive to shame or sarcasm - I tried both - and indignant at so much cowardice, I asked permission to open fire on these rascals.. He didn't get it, but the rough Kentuckian Nelson was justifying his nickname ofBull (the bull). He also asked the gunboats tokeep firing Judging the southern positions once every ten minutes, a task they performed all night. Despite the surreal traffic jam on the banks of the Tennessee, by 9:00 p.m., the three brigades of Nelson's Division had dismounted and other reinforcements followed suit.

The Confederate night was not easy either. Few of them could sleep peacefully because of the heavy shells falling blindly, at regular intervals, more or less close to them. To put them out of reach, Beauregard had made them fall back into the camps they had taken from the Northerners. While this allowed many of them to sleep dry in the tent, it was not necessarily to their advantage. Many hungry Southern soldiers threw themselves greedily on the food and alcohol reserves, which they over-consumed. Some generals forbade their men to move there, such as Patton Anderson: "I had deliberately avoided the enemy's tents, fearing the effect their rich contents might have on starving and exhausted troops. "Some plundered, then fled to Corinth"laden with booty from Yankee camps As Patrick Cleburne would write. There were so many dead, wounded and fleeing that on the morning of April 7, Beauregard had little more than20,000 men ready for battle.

Miserable too was the night ofwounded. Thousands of them had been abandoned on the battlefield, exposed to the elements. At least the rain saved some of them a much more cruel fate: as at Fort Donelson, the thick carpet of dead leaves had proved easily flammable, burning alive the unfortunate wounded who did not have managed to take cover. Forever marked by what he had seen, Ambrose Bierce recounted these horror scenes: "[...]with each step I sank into the ashes up to my ankle. […] Some [body]were swollen to double in size; others shriveled up to resemble homunculi. Depending on their degree of exposure, their faces were blistered and yellow, or black and stunted. The contractions of their muscles […] had frozen them in a hideous smile. Damn! I cannot count all the charms of these courageous gentlemen who had there what they were committed to. »

Others are dying, helpless: "He lay on his back, inhaling with a convulsive sniffle, and exhaling a creamy scum that trickled down his cheeks, and collected in his neck and ears. A bullet had opened a groove in his skull above the temple; through there his brains came out and fell in flakes and filaments. I didn't know until then that you could live, even in this unsatisfactory state, with so little brains. One of my men[…] asked me if he should finish him off with his bayonet. Ineffably shocked by this proposal made in cold blood, I replied that I did not think so; it was unusual, and too many men were watching. The lucky ones - or the least severely affected - crowd intomakeshift hospitals : « These tents constantly received the wounded, but were never full; they continuously ejected the dead, but were never empty. »

The battle resumes

The fights of April 7 will be as confused as those of the day before. The Confederate army is dispersed: some brigades have remained close to the northern lines, others have been brought far back to bivouac. From 4 a.m., the soldiers from both camps are ready to march and at 5.20 a.m., the northern left winggo on the attack. Buell is progressing slowly: he has no maps of the battlefield and is moving forward almost blind. At 6:15 am, he orders Nelson to stop his division, because it is too far advanced and that of Thomas Crittenden - the son of Kentucky Senator John Crittenden commands two brigades - no longer covers his right. She soon leaves again but around 7 a.m., she is greeted by the Southerners deployed in line of battle, probably what remains of the Withers division. Ambrose Bierce is one of the northern skirmishers who receive the first salvo: "Then - I cannot describe it - the forest suddenly seemed to burst into flames and disappear with a roar similar to that of a great wave on the beach - a roar that expired in a scorching hiss, with the sickening sound of lead. striking the flesh. About ten of my brave companions collapsed […] ».

At the other end of the front, Lew Wallace also started walking, probably around 6 a.m. Deployed in an impeccable formation that would earn him praise from Sherman, his division soon hit the southern left wing. This is Preston Pond's Brigade, Ruggles Division, very advanced and accompanied by elements of cavalry. They pretend to charge the northern cannons but must quickly change their minds in the face of the intensity of the fire they face. As the rest of Ruggles's division draw closer to rescue Pond, Wallace sets out to turn the Confederate left: Charles Whittlesey's brigade passes behind the Southerners along the right bank of Owl Creek. At the same time, the McClernand division arrives in support of Wallace. The double maneuver was successful and despite a counterattack from the Gibson brigade, the Confederates had to retreat. Around 10 o'clock,the commitment becomes general and reinforcements are sent on the left by the two camps: the Sherman and Hurlbut divisions on the northerly side, that of Cheatham for the Southerners.

Battle of Shiloh, April 7, 1862: situation between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m.

Buell is in an increasingly uncomfortable situation. His men were cold picked and most importantly, he lacks artillery support. A consequence of the speed of his march: the road that his army had to take to reach the crossing point on the Tennessee was inaccessible to the teams, and it was necessary to transport the guns by boat directly from Savannah. Of the Ohio Army, only three or four batteries will arrive in time to take part in combat. At around 9 a.m., Nelsonlost the initiative and is under increasing pressure from the Breckinridge Corps. The Confederates even tried to flank him, and Grant had to send him two batteries in support to enable him to face the enemy maneuver. He will succeed, but will still have to bow his back to the enemy artillery for several hours.

In the center, uncertain fighting rages on, made up of attacks and counter-attacks, not far from what was the dreaded "Hornet's Nest" the day before. Despite its dismal condition, the Cleburne Brigade is once again thrown forward, without any support - so much so that its incredulous commander must repeat the order given by Bragg, who this time is coordinating the Southern Left. Several of his men were killed even before the action began by the branches of trees brought down by northern artillery shells. Ambrose Bierce, again, aptly describedthe devastating effect of projectiles on vegetation: "The bark of these trees, from the root to a height of ten or twenty feet, was so pierced by bullets and grape-shot that one could not have laid a hand without covering several holes.. The Cleburne Brigade is cut to pieces and retreating to the rear, the Northerners on the trail. Its commander regrouped his last regiment still present, the 15th of Arkansas, and launched a counterattack that drove the enemy back - but except Cleburne himself, there were no senior officers left in the brigade.

Battle of Shiloh, April 7, 1862: situation between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m.

On the northern right, the Wallace division continues to advance. Whittlesey's flank maneuver, combined with the clever tactics of Wallace himself - who ordered his men to make the best use ofthe cover provided by the field to minimize casualties - forces the Confederates to gradually retreat across a large open field about two kilometers north of Shiloh Church. At around noon, the Southerners stopped in a new position, towering over a deep ravine and directly anchored to Owl Creek, preventing the Northerners from flanking them further. This forces Wallace to realign his brigades, and the Confederates take advantage of this to try to outflank him from the left. The situation quickly becomes uncomfortable, as McClernand's men are in trouble and cannot offer their support. Luckily for the Union, Alexander McCook’s three-brigade division is now hard at work, and Buell immediately launches it through the center to close the gap.

Beauregard retreats

The fresh brigades of William Gibson and Lovell Rousseau did not take long to make the difference against the exhausted Southerners. At 1 p.m., the Federals took over the initiative across the board. Wallace's renewed pressure against the bloodless Confederate left wasted no time in pushing it back despite another failed attempt by the Southern cavalry, while at the other end of the battlefield Nelson's division was ordered to resume its progression. Beauregard has long run out of reserves and feels his army is on the verge of collapse. He decides toretreat. This will be done in two stages: a first position, heavily endowed with artillery, will be installed, building on the church of Shiloh and the thick undergrowth that surrounds it. It will allow the army's right wing to retreat for about a mile, and Breckinridge will then establish a rear guard on the main road to Corinth. At 2 p.m., the southern regiments stalled one after the other, starting on the right.

Shortly thereafter, the Feds began to assault the southern position around Shiloh, but were overwhelmed with grape-shot by opposing artillery. The attack is carried out by the 32th Colonel August Willich's Indiana Regiment, whose actions drew a cry of admiration from General Sherman: "Then arose the most violent musketry fire that I have ever heard, which lasted some twenty minutes, until this splendid regiment had to fall back. Nonetheless, Rousseau's brigade soon renewed the attack with the support of what remains of troops in Sherman and McClernand. While their first defensive position resisted, the Confederates strove to bring back as manyequipmentthat they can - they will bring 17 Northern cannons back to Corinth in this way - and destroy everything else. The wounded were also evacuated, first to a field hospital located several kilometers away, then to Corinth.

Battle of Shiloh, April 7, 1862: situation after 12 noon.

Between 2:30 p.m. and 3 p.m., the southern left wing also stalled, in good order. To freshen up some air, Breckinridge launches shortly aftera limited counterattack on Nelson's division. It is pushed back, but proves enough to deter Buell from going any further. True to his usual - often excessive - circumspection the Northerner general considers it more prudent not to attempt to pursue his enemy with so little artillery, and without cavalry or maps of the region. Grant, for his part, could ask little more of his own weary troops. The shooting gradually diminishes in intensity, the gunfire lessens. They stop between 4 and 5 p.m. Breckinridge's men in turn retreat, unmolested. The Battle of Shiloh is over, although there is still a skirmish to fight.

The next day, Tuesday April 8, the Federals decide to launch a semblance of pursuit. Sherman brought together a few scattered elements of cavalry and two of his brigades, which he joined with Thomas Wood's division, which had arrived too late the day before to take any significant part in the fighting. Arriving about ten kilometers southwest of Pittsburg Landing, his detachment came across the remains of a Confederate camp, including their field hospital - which now contained only the untransportable wounded. It is only defended by a blast intended to slow the advance of the Northerners, and Forrest's cavalry regiment. The latter takes his enemy by surprise as he charges, causing him serious casualties and narrowly failing to bring down Sherman himself before northern reinforcements arrive. The move came close to costing Forrest, however, who was shot in the abdomen at close range but miraculously managed to stay in the saddle and escape. The Feds did not insist, and the fight over "Fallen Timber" (nickname given in reference to the slaughter) did little more than lengthen the endlesslist of victims.

A staggering record

Both sides claimed victory. On the evening of April 6, Beauregard had telegraphed to Richmond "a complete victory ". It didn't matter to him that he was in control of the pitch, since that was what his predecessor A.S. Johnston had originally planned anyway. However, the stated purpose of the operation, the destruction of the Tennessee Army, had not been achieved, and Corinth was still under threat. The Confederation could take comfort in saying that it had partly re-equipped its troops at the expense of the federal government, even if the booty was necessarily smaller than expected. Halleck had also claimed victory: his men had turned the situation around and pushed the enemy back, remaining in control.

After the euphoria of the first dispatches subsided, both sides discovered the scale of the carnage. The latter shocked America, North as well as South: with3,500 killed and 16,500 injured, the Battle of Shiloh had claimed more lives than all the battles fought since the start of the war combined. In 36 hours, Shiloh suffered almost twice as many combat casualties as during the 18 months of the war against Mexico. The dead and wounded were distributed roughly equally between the two belligerents: the Union had lost 13,000 men and the Confederation a little less than 11,000, the difference roughly corresponding to the number of prisoners the Southerners had captured when the Prentiss division had lost. capitulated. The battle of Shiloh had been an appalling butchery even though it had produced no significant strategic results, posing to public opinion on both sides this agonizing question: how many more similar massacres would it take to bring about a end to this war?

The circumstances of the battle were also to call their share of criticism, especially in the northern camp. While Buell was hailed as a savior, Grant was particularly targeted: the start of the battle had once again surprised him far from his forces and his army was absolutely not ready to support the southern attack. His refusal to establish field fortifications to protect his positions made him, in the eyes of many, responsible for the heavy losses suffered, and had nearly cost even more if the army had been destroyed. Many demanded his replacement, but Lincolnrefusedto withdraw his support. It was in this context that he would have used a famous quote about Grant: "I can't do without this man. He's fighting. It is true that compared to a McClellan, Halleck, or Buell, Grant never hesitated to attack - a rare occurrence in the Federal Army in 1862. He retained his command.

The campaign, moreover, was not over. The Battle of Shiloh - or Pittsburg Landing for the Northerners - had done nothing to change General Halleck's plans. At most, she had delayed the continuation of operations for a few weeks. In accordance with his plan, Halleck came to take command of the two combined armies and on April 29 he began operations against Corinth. Unwilling to be surprised again by an unexpected attack from the enemy, he engaged ina cautious advance, digging imposing country fortifications at every stop. It took him nearly a month to settle within cannon range of the city, while bringing in all available reinforcements - he assembled a massive army of 120,000 men. There was no major fighting, but the siege of Corinth was a health disaster. The city was surrounded by unsanitary marshes, and thousands of soldiers from both camps died of illnesses in absolutely inadequate field hospitals.


Beauregard n’avait que 65.000 hommes pour faire face aux entreprises de Halleck, et ne pouvait risquer de se laisser enfermer dans Corinth pour y perdre son armée. Il eut recours à la ruse pour dissimuler son départ et éviter d’être poursuivi. Le 28 mai, il fit distribuer à ses hommes des rations de combat pour trois jours en prévision d’une attaque. Prévenus par des déserteurs, les Nordistes se mirent sur la défensive : exactement ce que Beauregard espérait. Le général sudiste en rajouta en faisant exécuter par son artillerie un faux bombardement préliminaire, puis commença à faire évacuer la ville par la voie ferrée. Chaque train était accueilli comme s’il amenait des renforts, tandis que des canons factices remplaçaient les vrais dans les tranchées sudistes. Finalement, l’armée confédérée s’échappa nuitamment et le 30 mai 1862, les Nordistes dupés entrèrent dans Corinth déserte. Mais même si leur ennemi s’était échappé, ils tenaient néanmoins l’objectif stratégique de la campagne. La Confédération, elle, devrait désormais se passer de cet axe ferroviaire capital.


Video: Battle of Shiloh Union l Grand Tactician: The Civil War - Historical Battles (June 2021).