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Shiloh Military Park - Page 2

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Shiloh Indian Mounds


Indian Mounds at Shiloh National ParkAbout 800 years ago, a town occupied the high Tennessee River bluff at the eastern edge of the Shiloh plateau. Between two steep ravines, a wooden palisade enclosed seven earthen mounds and dozens of houses. Six mounds, rectangular in shape with flat tops, probably served as platforms for the town’s important buildings. These structures may have included a council house, religious buildings, and residences of the town’s leaders. The southernmost mound is an oval, round-topped mound in which the town’s leaders or other important people were buried.


This town was the center of a society that occupied twenty-mile-long stretch of the Tennessee River Valley. Around  1200 or 1300 A.D., inhabitants moved out of this part of the Tennessee Valley, perhaps to upriver locations now submerged under Pickwick Lake.


Since the Shiloh society disintegrated several hundred years before there were written records to tell us who they were, it is not clear whether or how the Shiloh residents were related to later societies like the Choctaw, Chickasaw, or Creek Indian tribes.

Archaeologists refer to the society centered at Shiloh as a “chiefdom.” The chief would have been the most important political leader as well as religious figure. Probably a council, composed of elders and respected members of the community, shared power with the chief. Close relatives of the chief would have been treated like nobility; some were probably buried in “Mound C.”

The Residents of the Shiloh site were farmers. Corn was their most important food. They also grew squash and sunflowers, as well as less familiar crops such as goosefoot, marshelder, and maygrass. In addition to their cultivated crops, they also ate a wide variety of wild plants and animals. The most important wild plant foods were hickory nuts and acorns. Most of their meat came from deer, fish, turkey, and small animals such as raccoon, rabbit, and squirrel.

An Effigy Pipe found at the Shiloh Indian MoundsIn addition to the Shiloh site, the chiefdom included six smaller towns, each with one or two mounds, and isolated farmsteads scattered on higher ground in the river valley. Downstream on the river’s eastern bank, in Savannah, Tennessee, once stood another palisaded settlement with multiple mounds. Many of the Savannah mounds were actually built much earlier, about 2,000 years ago, but, the site was reoccupied at roughly the same time as the Shiloh site. We don’t know whether these two towns were occupied at exactly the same time. Modern buildings in Savannah have obliterated most of the prehistoric site.

The Shiloh chiefdom had as neighbors, other chiefdoms in what is now Alabama, Mississippi, and western Tennessee. Most of the chiefdoms occupied portions of the major river valleys, like the Tennessee and Tombigbee Rivers. Some of the neighboring chiefdoms would have been hostile to the Shiloh chiefdom, while others were linked to Shiloh by political alliances. Archaeological evidence of these alliances survives in the form of “prestige goods” that chiefs exchanged as tokens of their friendship. Often, it can be determined where specific prestige goods were made, which reveals who these indigenous people were trading with. In the case of Shiloh, it is known that political ties existed with the powerful chiefdom at Cahokia, near St. Louis. In contrast, there is no evidence of political ties to chiefdoms in central Tennessee


The First Archaeological excavation at Shiloh took place in 1899 when Cornelius Cadle, chairman of the Shiloh Park Commission, dug a trench into “Mound C.” There, he found the site’s most famous artifact, a large stone pipe carved in the shape of a kneeling man. Now on display in the Tennessee River Museum in Savannah, Tennessee, this effigy pipe is made of the same distinctive red stone and is carved in the same style as a number of human statuettes from the Cahokia chiefdom, located in Illinois near St. Louis.


Survey work in the winter of 1933-34 revealed numerous small, round mounds at the Shiloh site, each about one foot high and ten to twenty feet in diameter. Here were found the remains of wattle-and-daub houses. These structures had walls of vertical posts interlaced with branches (wattle), which were then coated with a thick layer of clay (daub). Each house had a fireplace in the center of the floor. A palisade wall, also made of wattle and daub, protected the site.

The early inclusion of the mounds area within the boundary of the Shiloh National Military Park has protected the site from any modern use. Because the Shiloh site has never been disturbed by the plow, the daub of collapsed walls still stands as low rings or mounds. Shiloh is one of the very few places in the eastern United States where remains of prehistoric houses are still visible on the ground’s surface.




Monuments to the various regiments who fought in the Battle of Shiloh are located within the park.Shiloh National Military Park

Congress established Shiloh National Military Park on December 27, 1894 to commemorate the April 6-7, 1862 battle that raged around Shiloh Church and Pittsburg Landing. The Secretary of War appointed a commission to oversee its building and development which was made up of veterans, who relied heavily on its appointed historian, David W. Reed, a member of the 12th Iowa, which had fought squarely in the Hornets' Nest. Reed wielded much power in locating troop positions, making sense of the confusing reports, and interpreting interpreting the battle to the public. With images of battle in his mind and a growing consensus that the Hornets' Nest was the central event of Shiloh, Reed developed the Hornet’s Nest interpretation of the battle, which still dominates Shiloh historiography today.


Producing more than 23,000 casualties, the battle was the largest engagement in the Mississippi Valley campaign during the Civil War. Originally under the War Department, Shiloh National Military Park was transferred to the National Park Service in the Department of the Interior in 1933. Currently, the park has over 4,200 acres. The Corinth Battlefield Unit encompass roughly 240 acres with potential for a total of 800 acres.


Besides preserving the site of the bloody April 1862, battle in Tennessee, the park commemorates the subsequent siege, battle, and occupation of the key railroad junction at nearby Corinth, Mississippi. It also protects and preserves the Shiloh National Cemetery and the Shiloh Indian Mounds. Both Shiloh and Corinth feature visitor centers. A 12.7 mile auto tour route, with 20 stops, takes you through the Shiloh Battlefield.  The park will provide you with a map of the battlefield and brief commentary for each stop. The entire route is accessible to school buses.


 Both Shiloh and Corinth host several living history events throughout the year, mostly from April to October. The major event each year is the Battle of Shiloh anniversary living history demonstration. The park is open all year with the exception of Christmas Day.



More Information:

Shiloh National Military Park

1055 Pittsburg Landing Road
Shiloh, Tennessee 38376
Shiloh Battlefield Visitor Center - (731) 689-5696
Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center - (662) 287-9273



Compiled by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated September, 2017.


Primary Source: National Park Service


Also See:


Siege & Battle of Corinth

Campaigns of the Civil War

Civil War (main page)

Tennessee (main page)

Tennessee Civil War Gallery Slideshow


All images available in prints HERE.



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