At the onset of the American Civil War, the State of Tennessee comprised the majority of the northern border of the Confederate States of America in the West. Defending that border was difficult for the Confederacy because three major rivers (the Mississippi, which flows south to the Gulf of Mexico, and the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, which flow north to the Ohio River) provided relatively easy access to the South.
At the onset of the American Civil War, the State of Tennessee comprised the majority of the northern border of the Confederate States of America in the West. Defending that border was difficult for the Confederacy because three major rivers (the Mississippi, which flows south to the Gulf of Mexico, and the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, which flow north to the Ohio River) provided relatively easy access to the South. In 1861, the State of Tennessee constructed earthen forts on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers to prevent Federal invasions from the north.
By late 1861, President Abraham Lincoln was pressuring Union commanders in the West to invade the South. On January 30, 1862, the Western Theater commander, General Henry Halleck, reluctantly approved Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant's request to attack Fort Henry, located on the Tennessee River, just twelve miles west of Fort Donelson. Eager to move, Grant left Cairo, Illinois on February 2, with 15,000 soldiers, plus a flotilla of seven gunboats commanded by United States Navy Flag Officer Andrew Hull Foote. On February 6, Confederate Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman surrendered Fort Henry after a seventy-five minute bombardment by Foote's gunboats. Following the surrender of Fort Henry, Grant turned his attention toward investing Fort Donelson, located just twelve miles to the east of Fort Henry on the Cumberland River. After a failed breakout on February 15, the Confederate commander of Fort Donelson, General Simon B. Buckner, surrendered Fort Donelson to Grant the next day.
The fall of Forts Henry and Donelson were serious blows to the Confederacy. It forced General A.S. Johnston, the commander of Rebel forces in the West, to abandon Kentucky and to consolidate his position deeper in Tennessee. The fall of the two forts also provided the Federals with two major waterways in the West from which to launch an invasion of the South. As Union armies surged into Tennessee, Johnston chose to abandon Nashville and move even farther south in late February, rather than risk suffering a major battlefield defeat.
Halleck ordered Grant to march his army south to the community of Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, near the Tennessee-Mississippi border, and to await the arrival of General Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio, which had just captured Nashville, Tennessee. Halleck's intention was to consolidate the two armies and, then, to move south to cut the Memphis & Charleston Railroad line at Corinth, Mississippi.
By early April, Grant's army of nearly 50,000 men was encamped along the western side of the Tennessee River near Pittsburg Landing. Not believing that Johnston's army was within striking distance, Grant chose to use the time waiting on the arrival of Buell's army to drill his troops, rather than to construct defensive fortifications. Johnston, however, was done retreating. Rather than waiting to confront the combined Union armies at Corinth, he decided to surprise Grant's unprepared men at Pittsburg Landing.
Despite reports of Rebel troop movements in the area in the days before the battle, the Federals were surprised when Johnston's Army of Mississippi launched its attack on the morning of April 6. In the ensuing confusion, many of the Federal troops fled in panic. Others were able to form lines of battle and mount some resistance, but the Union lines were gradually driven back to a defensive position behind Shiloh Church.
As the Rebels pressed their advance, Union soldiers commanded by Brigadier General Benjamin Prentice and Brigadier General W.H.L. Wallace made a stand at a position since popularized as the "Hornet's Nest," near a road now known as the "Sunken Road." Although Wallace was mortally wounded and many of the men were eventually killed or captured, their seven-hour stand bought valuable time for Grant to reorganize his men and to establish a final defensive line. In their attempt to dislodge the defenders of the Hornet's Nest, the Confederacy suffered a serious setback when General Johnston was mortally wounded.
As the first day of the battle concluded, the Confederate advance had spent itself. Grant had reestablished order amongst his troops and set up a defensive line near the river. Johnston's replacement, General P.G.T. Beauregard, attempted a final assault during the early evening, which the Federals repulsed. At that point, Beauregard called off the attack.
That night, Beauregard sent a telegram to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, proclaiming "A complete victory." Beauregard went to bed that night expecting to drive Grant's army across the Tennessee River the next day. Grant, however, had established a strong position and reinforcements from Buell's army were arriving on the scene. Although the size of the armies was about equal on the first day of the battle, Beauregard was now outnumbered.
On the morning of April 7, to Beauregard's surprise, Grant and Buell launched a counterattack. Outnumbered and running low on ammunition, the Rebels began to fall back. Despite several Confederate attempts to counterattack, the Confederates gradually lost the ground that they had captured the previous day. Eventually, Beauregard knew that he had lost and began an orderly retreat back to Corinth. To Buell's dismay, Grant chose not to pursue the retreating Rebels. With the exception of a short cavalry encounter at a place called Fallen Timbers on April 8, the Battle of Shiloh had ended.
Ohio units that fought at the Battle of Shiloh included:
1st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
6th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
13th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
15th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
19th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
20th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
24th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
41st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
46th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
48th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
49th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
53rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
54th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
56th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
57th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
58th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
59th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
64th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
65th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
68th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
70th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
71st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
72nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
76th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
77th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
78th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
81st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
Battery G, 1st Ohio Light Artillery
3rd Ohio Light Artillery Battery
5th Ohio Light Artillery Battery
8th Ohio Light Artillery Battery
13th Ohio Light Artillery Battery
14th Ohio Light Artillery Battery
5th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry
Although the North won the battle, inflammatory articles in the Northern press severely criticized Grant for being surprised by Johnston's attack. Rumors circulated that Grant was drunk as Union soldiers were bayoneted in their tents as they slept. Later historians credited Grant with rallying his men, maintaining his calm under dire circumstances and turning chaos into victory. After the battle, Halleck consolidated his armies and assumed personal command, relegating Grant to his second-in-command. When Halleck was later called to Washington and promoted to chief of all Union armies, Grant returned to a command position and resumed his string of victories over Southern forces.
The Battle of Shiloh cost each side about 13,000 casualties, but it must be considered as a Union victory. The Rebels were unable to prevent Halleck from combing the armies of Grant and Buell. Nor had they succeeded in driving the Federals back north. Additionally, they had lost the leadership of Johnston. Most importantly, the Union victory at Shiloh led to the capture of Corinth, opening the way for Federal assaults on Chattanooga, Tennessee and Vicksburg, Mississippi.
Cite this Entry
"Battle of Shiloh," Ohio Civil War Central, 2013, Ohio Civil War Central. 18 Jun 2013 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=463>
"Battle of Shiloh." (2013) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved June 18, 2013, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=463