Sunday, April 6, 2014



Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee (JFK+50) 152 years ago today, April 6, 1862, Union forces under General Ulysses S. Grant came under attack along the Tennessee River in the western part of the state.

The battle was named SHILOH after a small church located on the battlefield.

Map by Hal Jespersen

General Grant's forces had captured Forts Henry and Fort Donelson in February and then made their way southward along the Tennessee River.

Confederate troops under Generals Albert Sidney Johnston and PGT Beauregard launched a surprise attack and by the end of the day had driven Grant's forces back to the river.

Union forces under General Benjamin Prentiss*, however, made a stand at the Sunken Road where fighting was so intense this area of the battlefield was called the "Hornets Nest."

In a tragic turn of events for the Confederacy, General Johnston was badly wounded in the leg during the afternoon and bled to death on the battlefield.

Military historians note that a simple tourniquet could well have saved the General's life, but because his surgeon was elsewhere on the battlefield treating wounded soldiers he was not available to care for Johnston.
The two day battle at Shiloh was fought to a tactical draw but because Confederate forces retreated back into Mississippi, military historians see it as a Union victory.  

Despite the fact that there would be even bloodier battles to come, because it was the first battle of the War Between the States to have so high numbers of casualties on both sides, the Battle of Shiloh is known as the "Bloodiest Battle of the Civil War."

Shiloh Church 
Shiloh National Battlefield
Photo by Donald Wiles (2006)

A recent article by Timothy B. Smith, "Battle of Shiloh: Shattering Myths," argues that the long held view that the Confederates launched a surprise on Grant's Union forces is a myth.  

Smith says that newspaper men who were miles away during the battle are responsible for the story.

Another myth, Smith claims, is the idea that had Albert Sidney Johnston** survived the battle, the South would have won it and perhaps even the war.

Mr. Smith writes...

 "Johnston could probably have pressed the attack no faster" and would have also been "preoccupied with capturing the Hornets Nest."

He adds...

 "By 6 p.m. (on April 6) it is highly doubtful Shiloh could have been a Confederate victory even with Napoleon Bonaparte in command."

*Benjamin Prentiss (1819-1901) was born in Belleville, Virginia and was a rope maker and auctioneer before the Civil War.  He served as a postmaster in Bethany, Missouri after the war.

Benjamin Prentiss

**Albert Sidney Johnston (1803-1862) was born in Washington, Kentucky and educated at Transylvania University and West Point.  He lived most of his life in Texas where he served in the army of Sam Houston.  

ASJ was the highest ranking officer to lose his life on either side during the Civil War.

Albert Sidney Johnston