In this history, the beginning of the Battle of Shiloh will be explained in a storyline beginning with the first contact between the armies early in the morning on April 6th, 1862 and detailing the attacks on the camps of General Tecumseh Sherman, on General Grant’s right and the attack on General Benjamin Prentiss’ camps in the center in the early morning hours and also in the late morning hours.
The photos were taken at Shiloh Battlefield National Park, and they are put in chronological order as the battle occurred starting in the pre-dawn of Sunday, April 6th, and finishing on Monday, April 7th.
The two photos below show the National Park Service map and its tour destinations. Each entry of photos will be labeled with the corresponding number listed on the National Park Service maps for easy reference. (Remember that you can click on each photo to be able to zoom into different aspects of the photos.)
Before the Battle
The overall commander of the Confederate forces gathered at Corinth, Mississippi was General Albert Sidney Johnston, and when he planned the attack with approximately 44,000 troops on Grant’s forces at Pittsburg Landing on April 2nd, 1862, he did not know that he would have to march his armies through sheets of rain and muddy roads. He knew that Union General Don Carlos Buell would soon be reaching General Grant with his march from Nashville, and he wanted to attack before the two armies could join together. Because of the constant rain, bad roads and traffic jams at crossroads, the attack was postponed twice and Johnston finally decided that his main attack would occur on the morning of Sunday, April 6th.
General Halleck, Grant’s superior officer, instructed the waiting army to not let the enemy draw him into battle until the juncture with Buell was completed. Grant’s army had approximately 48,000 troops and Buell’s army had approximately 37,000 troops. This combined force’s purpose, along with General Lew Wallace’s 7,500 troops located further north around Crump’s Landing on the Tennessee River, was to sever two major rail lines crossing through Corinth, Mississippi by attacking in force. By taking the Memphis and Charleston and the Mobile and Ohio railroads, the south’s supply lines and their ability to defend and hold the Mississippi Valley would be severely hampered.
Confederate General Albert Sydney Johnston’s Vision for Victory
Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston had a plan to defeat General Grant at Pittsburg Landing. He knew that he had to attack quickly before Grant was able to join his forces with General Buell’s army that would be joining them the next day. He knew the Tennessee River was the key to holding the Union position, especially with their cannons from the gunboats USS Tyler and USS Lexington defending from the river, and he believed that victory would come if he was able to push Grant’s left flank away from the river to the northwest towards Owl Creek, along with the rest of his army, to eliminate the possibility of an escape using the river. Once the Union was out of contact with the river, Johnston knew that victory would soon occur.
April 5th and the early morning of April 6th, 1862
Because of the continued rain causing delays for the Confederate army located just southwest of Grant’s forces on April 5th, some soldiers discharged their wet weapons to see if they would fire, even though they were specifically ordered to remain silent as to not alert the Union army. Despite the orders to remain silent, forward units in Grant’s army did hear suspicious noises. Colonel Everett Peabody, commanding the First Brigade of General Prentiss’s division, suggested to Prentiss, on the night of April 5th, the need to put the troops in readiness to receive an attack, but he was quickly dismissed by the commander. However, at 3:00 a.m., Peabody went against orders and put together a patrol of 250 men under Maj. James E. Powell to scout out the area down the Seay Field road.
Three-quarters of a mile southwest, Powell’s patrol was fired on by Confederate cavalry, and Powell formed his 250 men into a skirmish line and advanced his troops into Fraley’s Field, where he discovered Confederate General Sterling Wood’s brigade from General Hardee’s corps. At 4:55 a.m., Powell’s skirmishers were attacked by a group of Wood’s skirmishers from Major Aaron Hardcastle’s 3rd Mississippi Battalion, beginning the Battle of Shiloh.
The patrol that was fighting the confederate skirmishers in Fraley’s Field discovered Confederate General Hardee’s main line of battle at approximately 6:00 a.m., and shortly after, a messenger was sent to Colonel Peabody stating they were being driven back by large numbers. When the firing in the distance intensified, Peabody ordered the long roll sounded to prepare the camp for the battle to come. Shortly after this, General Prentiss came riding into the camp accusing Peabody of violating General Halleck’s order to not engage in a battle. Knowing that this was not just an isolated skirmish, Peabody rode out of camp and advanced his troops about a quarter of a mile south to a wooded low ridge and waited for the battle that would most assuredly come to him.
Behind the Confederate Lines
Confederate General Johnston began the battle by trying to turn Grant’s left away from the river, so he sent half of his army against General Prentiss using the divisions of General Hardee and Bragg, and he sent a third of his army to attack General Sherman at Shiloh Church under the command of General’s Beauregard and Polk. Johnston incorrectly believed that Prentiss was Grant’s left, explaining why he sent half of his army to that position.
7:00 to 7:30 a.m., April 6, 1862: Grant’s Right – Sherman’s Camps
At 7:00 a.m., General William Sherman, and his staff rode into Rhea Field, south of Shiloh Church and in the camp of Colonel Jesse Appler’s 53rd Ohio Infantry, and after commenting that a heavy skirmish was taking place to south, one of the officers with him shouted that a group of Confederate skirmishers, from General Patrick Cleburne’s brigade, were emerging from the woods lining the creek to the west. Sherman yelled, “My God, we are attacked!”, and shortly afterward, the general’s orderly fell dead off of his horse and Sherman had been shot in the hand. Sherman rode off quickly to organize the defense of the rest of the division.
As General Cleburne pressed his brigade forward, some of his regiments were separated, and upon clearing the ravine, two of his regiments, the 6th Mississippi and the 23rd Tennessee Infantry, advanced eastward toward the position of the 53rd Ohio, where General Sherman was at that time and attacked. With the help from Union artillery fire from Waterhouse’s Battery E, 1st Illinois Light Artillery that was deployed on a knoll at the northern end of Rhea Field, and Barrett’s Battery B, 1st Illinois Light Artillery, which was located four hundred yards to the northwest at Shiloh Church, the Confederate attacks were repulsed time and again. The 23rd Tennessee broke and retreated while the 6th Mississippi attacked two more times without success leaving approximately 300 of the 425 man regiment dead and wounded on Rhea Field, a 70.5 percent loss.
Behind the Union Lines
General Grant was downriver in Savannah, Tennessee to the north, when he first heard the sound of cannon fire at 7:15 a.m., and he ordered Nelson’s division of Buell’s Army of the Ohio to immediately march south along the east bank of the river to the opposite side of Pittsburg Landing. He then boarded the steamer Tigress to return to direct the battle at Pittsburg Landing.
At 7:30 a.m., General Hurlbut received a message from Sherman requesting him to help support the right by sending troops, and Hurlbut sent Colonel James Veatch’s brigade in response to the request at 7:40 a.m.
7:30 to 9:00 a.m., April 6, 1862: General Grant’s Center – Prentiss’ Camps
At 7:30 a.m., the Confederate brigades of General Sterling Wood and Colonel Robert Shaver attacked Peabody’s brigade in front of their camps in Grant’s center, and when the opening volleys were directed at each force, the 55th Tennessee, in Wood’s brigade, broke and fell back. Peabody’s brigade was not alone at this time. Colonel Madison Miller’s brigade had formed on its left before the attack occurred, with the artillery batteries of Captain Andrew Hickenlooper’s 5th Ohio Battery and Captain Emil Munch’s 1st Minnesota Battery, and at 8:00 a.m., Miller’s brigade was attacked by General Adley Gladden from General Bragg’s corps.
Miller’s brigade caused considerable casualties to Gladden’s brigade during the attack, and General Gladden was mortally wounded, but at 8:30 a.m., Gladden’s brigade, along with the support of General James Chalmers’ brigade, attacked Miller’s brigade again. This time the attack was ferocious. Within minutes, 59 of Prentiss’ artillery horses were shot down. Captain Hickenlooper lost two guns and Captain Munch was able to get all of his pieces away, but in the process, he was wounded.
During this attack at 8:45 a.m., Colonel Peabody was killed while directing his brigade to the right of Miller’s brigade, and by 9:00 a.m., Prentiss’ two brigades fell apart and withdrew out of their camps. As a saving grace to General Grant, many of the Confederate troops, which had not eaten in three days, stopped to raid the camps because of all of the food and supplies to be found, and this delay gave the Union troops time to reform closer to Pittsburg Landing.
General Johnston and the tin cup
It took General Johnston’s intervention to get his troops moving again. When he saw one of his officers looting from the camps, he reacted firmly, but Johnston decided the best course of action was to join with his troops. He grabbed a tin cup and said, “Let this be my share of the spoils today”, and by saying this, he rallied his men to begin the advance on the Union army again. Unfortunately for the Confederates, the raiding of the Union camps lost an hour which could have been used to fight and push the Union line further back and away from the Tennessee River.
General Grant Arrives
General Grant landed at Pittsburg Landing at 9:00 a.m., and he immediately found Captain A. S. Baxter and sent him with orders to give to Lew Wallace, at Crump’s Landing, to march to Pittsburg Landing. Also, Grant sent another message to General William “Bull” Nelson to hurry his forces to the front.
The Union Army’s rush to set up a line of battle on the Left and Center
With Grant’s center in retreat at 9:00 a.m., General Stephen Hurlbut sent the brigades of Colonel Nelson Williams and Colonel Jacob Lauman down the Hamburg-Savannah Road, also known as River Road, to begin forming a new line of battle at Sarah Bell’s cotton field to guard Grant’s center-left, which was in front of a Peach Orchard. Lauman’s brigade formed up facing west on the right and Williams’ brigade formed up facing south toward the Hamburg-Purdy Road, creating a right-angle. Supporting the brigades were three artillery batteries: Myer’s 13th Ohio, Mann’s 1st Missouri, and Ross’ 2nd Michigan.
Also, General W.H.L. Wallace sent Colonel James Tuttle’s brigade and the rest of Colonel Sweeny’s brigade down the Eastern Corinth Road to form another line of battle along the Sunken Road, near Duncan Field, to guard the right side of Grant’s center.
On General Grant’s extreme left, Colonel David Stuart’s brigade, from General Sherman’s Division, was originally ordered to guard the Hamburg road ford over Lick Creek. Stuart kept his force in this position to help guard Grant’s extreme left, next to the river.
7:30 to 10:00 a.m., April 6, 1862: General Grant’s Right – Sherman’s Camps
Returning back to Sherman’s right, it was shortly after the repulse of the 6th Mississippi when the 53rd Ohio’s Colonel Appler suddenly ordered, “Retreat, and save yourselves!” With this, the regiment fled north in disorder leaving Sherman’s left in danger, which caused General John McClernand to send Colonel Julius Raith’s brigade at 8:00 a.m. to reinforce Sherman’s left to the east of Shiloh Church. With the 53rd Ohio in retreat, the rest of the brigade under Colonel Jesse Hildebrand, began to fall apart by 9:30 a.m., even with the addition of Raith’s brigade. It was the two batteries of Barrett and Waterhouse that helped protect Sherman’s left at this time.
In the center of General Sherman’s division, Colonel Ralph Buckland’s brigade had held firmly against Cleburne’s brigade, and at 8:30, a part of General Braxton Bragg’s corps attacked Sherman’s position. General Patton Anderson’s brigade tried to assault the position of Waterhouse’s battery, but he was repulsed when Barrett’s battery fired into his flank from the Shiloh Church position on the Corinth Road.
At 9:00 a.m., it was troops from General Polk’s corps’ turn to attack Sherman’s position on the Union right by sending the brigades of Colonel Robert Russell and General Bushrod Johnson. With this attack, Waterhouse’s battery was nearly overwhelmed and had to withdraw, losing three cannons in the process.
At 9:30 a.m., Confederate General Johnston, after defeating General Prentiss at his camps in the center, sent five brigades commanded by Wood, Shaver, Stewart, Gibson, and Stephens to attack Raith’s brigade, the brigade sent by General McClernand, who is in position on Sherman’s left, and by 10:00 a.m., Sherman’s left was disintegrating at Shiloh Church, forcing Sherman to withdraw back to the Hamburg-Purdy Road, where he joined his forces to the right of the rest of McClernand’s division that had set up in this position shortly before Sherman’s withdraw.
10:00 a.m. to Noon, Grant’s Left and Center
Troops that had been escaping the occupied camps of General Prentiss came streaming past the brigades of General Hurlbut and General Wallace, and many of them were rallied together at 10:00 a.m., setting up a new line of battle between the brigades of Wallace and Hurlbut, along the Sunken Road.
Also at 10:00 a.m., Hurlbut’s brigades of Williams and Lauman were attacked by Gladden’s confederate brigade, now commanded by Colonel Daniel Adams, as well as the brigades of General John Jackson and General Chalmers, in a frontal assault, in the Sarah Bell cotton field, but after attacking, Colonel Stuart’s brigade was discovered and they were withdrawn to attack Grant’s extreme left for fear of being attacked on their right flank because it was believed that Stuart had an entire division on the far left. To complete General Johnston’s plan, it was imperative for the Confederate army to be able to roll up General Grant’s left, away from the river, to have complete victory over the Union.
The brigades of General John Bowen and Colonel Winfield Statham, from General Breckinridge’s reserve division, are dispatched at this time to the right to help in that sector of the battlefield, but Colonel Robert Trabue’s brigade, also in Breckinridge’s reserve division, was sent to the Confederate left to be in reserve for more attacks against General Sherman’s and General McClernand’s troops.
At 10:30 a.m., General William H. L. Wallace sent a portion of General John McArthur’s brigade, the 9th and 12th Illinois, along with the 50th Illinois from Colonel Thomas Sweeny’s brigade to help shore up Grant’s left by having him form up to the left of Williams on the east side of River Road. For artillery support, Willard’s Battery A, 1st Illinois Light Artillery was sent south on River Road after Hurlbut’s troops.
Also at 10:30 a.m., the Union position on the Sunken Road was attacked for the first time by Major General Benjamin Cheatham, which was leading Colonel William Stephen’s brigade personally during the attack, by crossing Duncan Field in another frontal assault. Cheatham, with Stephen’s brigade, was able to get within a hundred paces but he was forced back because of the Union fire on the Sunken Road.
At ll:00 a.m., Colonel Stuart’s Union brigade on Grant’s extreme left was attacked by General Chalmers’ and General Jackson’s brigades in an attempt the eliminate the danger to General Johnston’s right, as well as giving the Confederates the ability flank the Union forces at the Sarah Bell cotton field. By 11:30, the attack was successful and Stuart’s lone brigade was forced to withdraw several hundred yards to a more defensible position on the high wooded ridge behind to the east of the Peach Orchard next to the river. From this new position, Stuart was able to form a stable defense the next two hours against the attacks from Chalmer’s brigade, and this defense undoubtedly helped stall the Confederate advance up the River Road and halting their attempt, at this time, to roll Grant’s left away from the river.
The Confederate Army by 10:30 a.m.
Because of the many frontal attacks on the camps of General Sherman and General Prentiss, the Confederate army was losing cohesion from the many casualties caused by a stiff federal defense, and also from the fact that many of the troops became badly intermingled and disorganized on the rugged terrain of the battlefield, forcing the corp commanders to divide a three-mile front into four different sections: Hardee on the left, Polk held the left Center while Bragg held the right center next to him, and Breckinridge held the right where General Johnston was providing overall leadership. Behind them, at Shiloh Church, General Beauregard monitored the battle from his field headquarters at Shiloh Church.
Another reason to why the Confederate army became disorganized, besides the obvious factor that most of the troops were raw volunteers that have never seen a battle, was the fact that General Johnston was so involved with personally directing the units on the right, which contributed to losing control of the overall coordination of the entire army. As a result, over half of the eleven brigades that Johnston had in action by 10:00 a.m. were sent in to attack Grant’s right, west of the Eastern Corinth Road.
10:30 to 11:30 a.m., April 6, 1862: Grant’s Right .
After General Sherman’s division was pushed back beyond the Hamburg-Purdy Road at 10:00 a.m. from Shiloh Church, and with Sherman joining his forces to the right of General McClernand’s line, they were again attacked at 10:30 by troops under Hardee, Polk, and Bragg. This attack was from a line of battle using the brigades of Cleburne, Anderson, Johnson, and Russell, which were on the left, with the brigades of A.P. Stewart, Wood, and Shaver on the right. They had support from Pond’s brigade on the far left, Colonel Robert Trabue’s brigade that was a part of Breckinridge’s division but was detached early in the battle to be in reserve for General Polk formed behind Anderson’s brigade, Randall Gibson’s brigade formed behind Shaver’s brigade, and William Stephens’ brigade formed behind Shaver’s left. Many of these brigades were fatigued and disorganized because of the many casualties they received from earlier attacks.
The fight grew intense between 11:00 to 11:30 a.m. with close quarter, hand-to-hand fighting, and the Confederate left was able to overrun the Union right, causing many Federal casualties and capturing seventeen cannons. Sherman and McClernand’s forces were forced back 1,500 yards to the north into Jones Field, where the two generals urgently reformed their troops for another defense. At Jones Field, Sherman and McClernand were able to rally missing forces as well as receive fresh soldiers sent by General Grant at Pittsburg Landing. Sherman’s forces continued to occupy the far right with McClernand’s division to his left.
Sherman and McClernand counter-attacked at 11:30 a.m. and were able to push the Confederates back from Jones Field, but by 1:00 p.m., they were again pushed back to the field.
At 11:30 a.m., Captain Baxter located General Lew Wallace, where his troops were camped at Crump’s Landing, and delivers Grant’s orders to march to Pittsburg Landing as fast as possible. During Grant’s journey from Savannah to Pittsburg Landing, Grant stopped at Crump’s Landing and informed Wallace to be ready when called.
In the next article, A trip to Shiloh Battlefield – Part 2: The Hornet’s Nest, the attack at that location and in the Peach Orchard will be described as General Albert Sidney Johnston’s Confederate army pushes forward in its attempt to defeat the Union army on April 6th, 1862.