In 1862 on the 6th and 7th of April the Northern Armies of Tennessee and the Ohio led by Ulysses S Grant and Don Carlos Buell met the Southern Army of the Mississippi commanded by Albert Sidney Johnston and General PGT Beauregard. The battle that ensued was the bloodiest battle in the History of the USA to that point. It is known in the North as the Battle of Pittsburgh Landing and in the South as Shiloh.
It was a battle of fog and confusion fought in a swampy hell of forest, brush and wetland. Nobody on either side had a clear picture of what was going on.
The battle of Shiloh, or Pittsburg landing, has been perhaps less understood, or to state the case more accurately, more persistently misunderstood, than any other engagement between National and Confederate troops during the entire rebellion. Correct reports of the battle have been published, notably by Sherman, Badeau and, in a speech before a meeting of veterans, by General Prentiss; but all of these appeared long subsequent to the close of the rebellion and after public opinion had been most erroneously formed — Ulysses S. Grant
I am not going to give a big history of the Battle of Shiloh in this post, there are many books written on the subject. For me there are a few important lessons.
- Shiloh is in microcosm a prediction of the outcome of the Civil War. The South fought on passion and secured some victories with bravery and élan. The North assessed the larger picture, assembled its greater strength and won in the end.
- The action at the Hornets Nest/Sunken Road demonstrated that the rifle musket with the minié ball , the most common weapon of both sides, favoured the defender. The war was characterised by the trench, and should have served as a lesson to Generals of the Great War.
- Like Napoleon at Marengo Grant had the ability to see through a defeat and assess the potential for a reversal. Sometime after midnight in the early hours of 7th April, Sherman encountered Grant standing under a tree, sheltering himself from the pouring rain and smoking one of his cigars. Sherman remarked, “Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?” Grant looked up. “Yes,” he replied, followed by a puff. “Yes. Lick ’em tomorrow, though.”
- War is hell. “I saw an open field, in our possession on the second day, over which the Confederates had made repeated charges the day before, so covered with dead that it would have been possible to walk across the clearing, in any direction, stepping on dead bodies, without a foot touching the ground.” — Ulysses S. Grant
As a side note from Shiloh I always liked this story told by General Grant’s son, Frederick Dent Grant :
At the battle of Shiloh the Confederates left on the field a rawboned horse, very ugly and apparently good for nothing. As a joke, the officer who found this animal on the field, sent it with his compliments, to Colonel Lagow, one of my father’s aides-de-camp, who always kept a very excellent mount and was a man of means. The other officers of the staff “jollied” the colonel about this gift. When my father saw him, he told the colonel that the animal was a thoroughbred and a valuable mount and that if he, Lagow, did not wish to keep the horse he would be glad to have him. Because of his appearance he was named “Kangaroo,” and after a short period of rest and feeding and care he turned out to be a magnificent animal and was used by my father during the Vicksburg campaign.
And now a poem by a fellow blogger on WordPress:
my eyes weep blood.
Pharisees smile like vipers,
they laugh and mock their venom:
Blind snakes leading
the deaf and dumb multitude.
Where are my friends?
The landscape is dry and desolate.
They have stretched my shredded body
on this humiliating tree.
The hands that healed
and the feet that brought good news
they have pierced
with their fierce hatred.
The man-made whip
that opened up my back
preaches from a proper pulpit.
They sit in comfort:
That vacant-eyed congregation.
The respected, demon-possessed reverend
forks his tongue
scratching itchy ears
while Cain bludgeons
Abel into silence.
My flesh in tattered pieces
clots red and cold and sticks
to the rough-hewn timber
that props up my limp, vertical carcase
between heaven and earth.
My life drips and puddles
below my feet,
as I gaze down dizzily
on merciless eyes and dagger teeth.
The chapter-and-versed wolves
jeer and taunt me.
Their sheepwool clothing
is stained black with the furious violence
of their heart of stone.
They worship me in lip service,
but I confess,
I never knew them
(though they are my creation).
My tongue tastes like ashes:
It sticks to the roof of my mouth.
I am so thirsty.
This famine is too much for me.
The bulls of Bashan have bled me white.
Papa, into your hands
I commend my Spirit.
Published in Ethos
Iowa State University
Genesis 49:10 : “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.”