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Shiloh National Military Park

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Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee

Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee, from 3-D display at the Shiloh Visitor's Center, photo by Kathy Weiser, February, 2013.

This image available for photographic prints and downloads HERE!



Shiloh Battlefield:


Battle of Shiloh

Hornets' Nest

Shiloh National Cemetery

Shiloh Indian Mounds

Siege & Battle of Corinth

Shiloh National Military Park

Tennessee Civil War Photo Print




No soldier who took part in the two day’s engagement

 at Shiloh ever spoiled for a fight again. We wanted a square, stand-up fight and got all we wanted of it.  -- Union Veteran


The Shiloh National Military Park, established on December 27, 1894, not only preserves the site of the bloody Battle of Shiloh in April, 1862; but, also the siege, battle, and occupation of the key railroad junction at nearby Corinth, Mississippi. The park also includes the Shiloh National Cemetery, which contains around 4,000 soldiers and their family members, and the Shiloh Indian Mounds, a National Historic Landmark in its own right.


Battle of Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862) - Also called the Battle of Pittsburg Landing, this battle took place in Hardin County, Tennessee.


By mid-February, 1862, Union forces had won decisive victories in the West at Mill Springs, Kentucky, and Forts Henry and Donelson in Tennessee. These successes opened the way for invasion up the Tennessee River to sever Confederate rail communications along the important Memphis & Charleston and Mobile & Ohio railroads. Forced to abandon Kentucky and Middle Tennessee, General Albert Sidney Johnston, supreme Confederate commander in the West, moved to protect his rail communications by concentrating his scattered forces around the small town of Corinth in northeast Mississippi where the strategic crossroads of the Memphis & Charleston and the Mobile & Ohio Railroads sat.

In March, Major General Henry W. Halleck, commanding U.S. forces in the West, advanced armies under Major Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Don Carlos Buell southward to sever the Southern railroads. Grant ascended the Tennessee River by steamboat, disembarking his Army of the Tennessee at 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. Halleck had specifically instructed Grant not to engage the Confederates until he had been reinforced by Buell's Army of the Ohio, then marching overland from Nashville. Once combined, the two armies would advance on Corinth and permanently break western Confederate railroad communications.

Battle of ShilohGeneral Johnston, aware of the Federal designs on Corinth, planned to smash Grant's army at Pittsburg Landing before Buell arrived. He placed his troops in motion on April 3, 1862, but, heavy rain and difficulties encountered by marching large columns of men, artillery, and heavy wagons over muddy roads, delayed the attack. By nightfall on April 5th, his Army of the Mississippi, nearly 44,000 men present for duty, was finally deployed for battle four miles southwest of Pittsburg Landing.

At daybreak, on Sunday, April 6th, the Confederates stormed out of the woods and assailed the forward Federal camps around Shiloh Church. Grant and his nearly 40,000 men present for duty were surprised by the onslaught. The Federals soon rallied, however, and bitter fighting consumed “Shiloh Hill.” Throughout the morning, Confederate brigades slowly gained ground, forcing Grant's troops to give way, grudgingly, to fight a succession of defensive stands at Shiloh Church, the Peach Orchard, Water Oaks Pond, and within an impenetrable oak thicket that battle survivors named the Hornets' Nest.


Despite having achieved surprise, Johnston's troops soon became as disorganized as the Federals. The Southern attack lost coordination as corps, divisions, and brigades became entangled. Then, in 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. Grant's battered divisions retired to a strong position extending west from Pittsburg Landing where massed artillery and rugged ravines protected their front and flanks. Fighting ended at nightfall.


Overnight, reinforcements from Buell's army reached Pittsburg Landing. Beauregard, unaware Buell had arrived, planned to finish the destruction of Grant the next day. At dawn on April 7th, however, it was Grant who attacked. Throughout the day, the combined Union armies, numbering over 54,500 men, hammered Beauregard's depleted ranks, now mustering barely 34,000 troops. Despite mounting desperate counterattacks, the exhausted Confederates could not stem the increasingly stronger Federal tide. Forced back to Shiloh Church, Beauregard skillfully withdrew his outnumbered command and returned to Corinth. The battered Federals did not press the pursuit. The Battle of Shiloh, or Pittsburg Landing, was over. It had cost both sides a combined total of 23,746 men killed, wounded, or missing -- more casualties than America had suffered in all previous wars -- and ultimate control of Corinth's railroad junction remained in doubt.


Battle at Pittsburg Landing, Shiloh Battle, TennesseeMajor General Henry W. Halleck, recognizing Corinth's military value, considered its capture more important than the destruction of Confederate armies. Reinforced by another army under General John Pope, he cautiously advanced southward from Tennessee and, by late May, entrenched his three armies within cannon range of Confederate fortifications defending the strategic crossroads. Despite being reinforced by Major General Earl Van Dorn’s Trans-Mississippi Army, Beauregard withdrew south to Tupelo, Mississippi, abandoning the most viable line of east-west rail communications in the western Confederacy.

Federal efforts to recover the Mississippi Valley stalled in the late summer of 1862, and Confederate leaders launched counteroffensives in every theater. Armies led by Generals Braxton Bragg and Edmund Kirby Smith invaded Kentucky, while troops under General Van Dorn boldly attacked the heavily fortified
Union garrison at Corinth, “linchpin” of Federal control in northern Mississippi. In one of the more bitterly contested battles of the war, Van Dorn was decisively repulsed, following two days of carnage on October 3-4, 1862 that claimed nearly 7,000 more Confederate and Union casualties.

Although overshadowed by the failure of Robert E. Lee's Confederate invasion in Maryland, Van Dorn's defeat, coupled with Bragg's retreat from Kentucky after the Battle of Perryville on October 8, 1862, caused discouragement in Richmond, Virginia and relief in Washington. More significantly, Van Dorn's defeat at Corinth -- the last Confederate offensive in Mississippi -- seriously weakened the only mobile Southern army defending the Mississippi Valley. This permitted Major General Ulysses S. Grant to launch a relentless nine-month campaign to capture “the fortress city” of Vicksburg and recover the Mississippi River.


Hornets' Nest, Battle of Shiloh, TennesseeHornets' Nest


Of the many separate skirmishes that took place within the greater Battle of Shiloh,  the best known is that of the Hornet's Nest. Ranking with Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, Bloody Lane at Antietam, and the Stone Wall at Fredericksburg, Shiloh's Hornet’s Nest is well known to even the most amateur of Civil War buffs.


Lying in the center of Shiloh Battlefield, this was the scene of heavy combat on both days of the battle. On the first day, elements of three Union divisions manned the line along a little-used farm road that ran through the J.R. Duncan land. Duncan and his family worked a small cotton field that bordered the road to the south. With its open fields of fire and road cover, there is little wonder that the Duncan plot became one of the most important localities on the battlefield. Heavy fighting raged in the area of the Hornet’s Nest on the first day, with no less that eight distinct Confederate attacks turned back by the determined defenders. Confederates so named the location because, they said, the enemy's bullets sounded like swarms of angry hornets.


Confederate General Daniel Ruggles, after having witnessed the unsuccessful attacks against the position, formed a line of artillery consisting of as many as 62 guns and concentrated its fire upon the Federal line. With the aid of these cannon, the Confederates were able to form a circle around the Hornet's Nest, surrounding and capturing General Prentiss, with more than 2,200 troops, late in the day on April 6th.


Union General Benjamin PrentissAlmost as soon as the battle ended, key participants began describing the action at the Hornet’s Nest as the central event of the battle. Defenders of the area, such as Brigadier General Benjamin Prentiss, openly argued that their stand made against so many brave Confederate attacks held the Union line long enough for army commander General Ulysses S. Grant to establish a last line of defense. Over the years, historians expanded on the veteran’s remembrances and even today, continue to argue the importance of the Hornet’s Nest. In portraying the Hornet’s Nest as the savior of Grant's army, historians made it an American icon.


However, historians today believe that a different story probably took place and question the overall importance of the Hornet’s Nest’s role in the battle.


Several pieces of evidence offer insight into the context of the battle as a whole. The number of dead and wounded in the area shows that the Hornet’s Nest did not see the heaviest fighting at Shiloh. An 1867 document, produced by laborers locating bodies on the battlefield, states that the heaviest concentrations of dead lay on the eastern and western sectors of the battlefield and that the dead were fairly light in the center, where the Hornet’s Nest was located. That, in itself states, that casualties were fewer in the center where, according to early writings, the heaviest and most important fighting took place.


Supporting this point are casualty figures for the units engaged in the Hornet’s Nest. Colonel James M. Tuttle’s brigade of four Iowa regiments, which held the Hornet’s Nest and the road in front of Duncan Field, sustained a total of 235 killed and wounded in the battle - a number less than some individual regiments sustained on other parts of the field. Troop positions also show that the Hornet’s Nest was not the critical area on the field for most of the day. When they went into action, Colonel Thomas W. Sweeny’s Union brigade of six regiments, positioned in Duncan Field, north of the Corinth Road, did not have ample room to deploy. As a result, only two regiments went on line while Sweeny held the other four in reserve.


Cannons at Shiloh BattlefieldOnce the Union line began to fall apart on either side of the Hornet’s Nest, Sweeny began to send his reserve regiments as reinforcements for the other more critical areas. He sent two Illinois regiments to the Peach Orchard sector and one to the north to aid Major General John A. McClernand. Only one regiment went to aid the Hornet’s Nest. Had the Hornet’s Nest been a critical point with desperate and severe fighting, Sweeny probably would not have sent his regiments away from the area. Furthermore, troop position tablets show that very little action took place in Duncan Field. Confederate officers, knowing what would happen to charges across open ground, chose to seek cover while making their attacks. Duncan Field, where myth states that so many Confederate charges took place, has no Confederate tablets denoting troop positions.


If the Hornets' Nest was not the central event in the Battle of Shiloh, why then, did it become so important to historians? The answer is simple. For years after the Civil War, veterans of the Hornet’s Nest emphasized their role in the battle, claiming that their sacrifice had provided Grant with enough time to establish a last line of defense. Division commander Brigadier General Benjamin M. Prentiss wrote a widely circulated report after the battle, which emphasized his role in the battle as well as that of his troops. Even after the war, veterans still claimed the defense of the Hornet’s Nest was the central event of Shiloh.

The new interpretations of Hornets' Nest do not minimize the role of the fighting in the center of the battlefield. The area was indeed important, especially later in the day when almost every Confederate unit on the battlefield concentrated at that point. Many Confederate charges swept forward into the grueling Federal fire, only to be turned away. Hundreds of brave men and boys lost their lives in the Hornet’s Nest. For all these reasons, the Hornets Nest continues to be very important; however, perhaps not as important as other, less well known operations taking place simultaneously on other parts of the battlefield.


After the Battle of Shiloh, Union troops would continue into Corinth, Mississippi, where opposing forces would battle between April 29-June 10, 1862 in the Siege of Corinth. When General P.G.T Beauregard evacuated the town, the Union had consolidated their position, ending the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers Campaign.


The Union victory at the bloody Battle of Shiloh resulted in an estimated casualties of 13,047 Union and 10,699 Confederate. Among these was Confederate army commander, General Albert Sidney Johnston, who was killed on April 6, 1862. In all of American History, he is the highest-ranking American military officer ever to be killed in action.


The battle also changed the way that both armies conducted their maneuvers. Determining that no position was truly secure unless it had been improved with picks and shovels, soldiers were required to dig deeper and more often as the war went on. (See Pick & Shovel Warfare in the Civil War)


Shiloh National CemeteryShiloh National Cemetery


In 1866, the War Department established a cemetery on the Shiloh Battlefield, in southwestern Tennessee In order to bury the dead not only from the April 6-7, 1862, Battle of Shiloh but also from all the operations along the Tennessee River, workers began building the “Pittsburg Landing National Cemetery.” Changed to “Shiloh National Cemetery” in 1889, the cemetery holds 3,584 Civil War dead, 2,359 of whom remain unknown. In the fall of 1866, workers disinterred the dead from 156 locations on the battlefield, and 565 different locations along the Tennessee River. Wooden headboards  first marked each grave, but, were replaced in 1876 and 1877 by granite stones. Tall stones marked the known dead and square, short stones denoted unknown soldiers.

Workers built a stone wall around the cemetery in 1867, and fashioned ornamental iron gates at the entrance in 1911. A superintendent cared for the cemetery until it was officially consolidated with Shiloh National Military Park in 1943. The results of so much labor produced what one observer called “the handsomest cemetery in the South.”


Although established as a Civil War burial ground, the Shiloh National Cemetery now holds deceased soldiers from later American wars. Many World War I and II, Korea, and Vietnam burials are in the newest section of the cemetery. There is also one Persian Gulf War memorial. Total interred in the cemetery now stands as 3,892. Although the cemetery was officially closed in 1984, it still averages two or three burials a year, mostly widows of soldiers already interred. 

There is perhaps no more honorable title than that of “American soldier.” Inscribed on the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery are the words, “Here Rests in Honored Glory, An American Soldier, Known But to God.” Thousands of known and unknown American soldiers rest in national and private cemeteries all over the world, as they do in Shiloh National Cemetery. Near the river bank lies six Wisconsin color bearers, all killed in action as they carried their regimental standard into the heat of battle. Just to their west lies Captain Edward Saxe of the 16th Wisconsin, the first Federal officer killed in the battle. Near him lies the teenage drummer boy John D. Holmes of the 15th Iowa. Nearby, two Confederates lie amid so many Union soldiers, their pointed tombstones in stark contrast to the rounded stones of United States soldiers. Across the cemetery lies J.D. Putnam of the 14th Wisconsin, whose 1862 burial inscription on the foot of a tree, cut by his friends in the heat of battle, was still legible in 1901. Near him lies George Ross, a Revolutionary War soldier. In the newest sections of the cemetery, many more recent American soldiers lie in honored glory. One memorial honors a Persian Gulf veteran killed in service. Most sadly, interspersed between all these American soldiers are countless grave stones with only a number identifying them. They too had lives, mothers, perhaps wives, sons, and daughters, fears, hopes, and dreams. All these soldiers, known and unknown, served their country and gave the ultimate sacrifice. They deserve the honor and tribute of Americans, and the title “An American Soldier.”


A large Confederate monument commemorates the southern soldiers who fought and died at the Battle of Shiloh.With the exception of the two Confederates, all those interred in the national cemetery are United States soldiers. There has been heated debate concerning why the Confederates are not buried in the cemetery. There are several reasons. Regulations require that only veterans of the United States military can be buried in national cemeteries. As Confederates were technically not United States personnel, they have traditionally been buried elsewhere. Although Congress stipulated in 1956, that Confederate soldiers should be treated the same as United States soldiers, the practice of burying Confederate remains in places other than national cemeteries still exists. Similarly, when taken in the context of Civil War era events, the practice of burying Confederates in national cemeteries was almost nonexistent. The Federal government’s view of former Confederates in 1866, when the cemetery was established, was that of traitors, revolutionaries, the enemy. Burying Confederates in national cemeteries in 1866 would be synonymous with burying American Revolutionary War soldiers in British military cemeteries.


Shiloh National CemeteryAs a result, the Confederates who died at Shiloh were not disinterred from their battlefield graves. They remain on the field in several large mass graves and many smaller individual plots. As many as eleven or twelve mass graves exist, but the park commission that created the battlefield could only locate five. Those five are now marked, the largest of these being the mass grave at Tour Stop # 5.

National cemeteries and soldier plots are special places, and Shiloh is no different. Buried with these American soldiers is the honor, courage, and sacrifice of an entire American generation. Indeed, these soldiers gave the ultimate sacrifice for what they believed in. Can we of today’s generation learn from these soldiers and meet our own challenges and problems with the same dedication they possessed? Despite different means to wage war, different enemies to face, and different objectives to win, we are still fighting for the same causes they were: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Perhaps President Abraham Lincoln said it best when he declared “that these dead shall not have died in vain,” but that this nation “shall not perish from the earth.” It is our duty to take the standard and make sure Lincoln’s vision is never lost.


Continued Next Page



The reconstructed Shiloh church.

The reconstructed Shiloh church, Kathy Weiser, February, 2013.


Shiloh Military Park Visitor's Center.

Shiloh Military Park Visitor's Center, Kathy Weiser, February, 2013.


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