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Civil War Trust

Death and Bad Press at the Battle of Shiloh -

The Battle of Shiloh pitted Union Major General Ulysses S. Grant against the Rebel Generals Albert Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard in what was the bloodiest battle in the Civil War and in U.S. history at that point. The two forces met on April 6 to 7, 1862, at Pittsburg Landing in southern Tennessee. Grant had been advancing south across Tennessee towards Mississippi following the retreating Confederate forces, and then stopped at Pittsburg landing to wait for arriving support troops.

A few specific Battle of Shiloh facts explain the high casualty rate. On April 6, Johnston surprised the relatively green Northern troops and Grant. The extreme element of surprise and Grant’s troops’ lack of experience resulted in significant Union casualties throughout the day, which totaled roughly 13,000 to the Confederate 8,500. With Gen. Johnston dead, Beauregard had taken command and chose not to pursue the attack into the darkness, assuming that he had Grant in a weakened position. This set the stage for the events of the second day.

Through the night and into the early morning, divisions of the Army of Ohio under Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell arrived, bolstering the Union forces to 45,000. The effective counterattack overwhelmed the rebel forces, which totaled just over 20,000 after casualties and desertions, and Beauregard, his troops decimated withdrew to Corinth defeated but unmolested by Grant. Both generals’ decisions were not lost on Northern and Southern populations in the Battle of Shiloh summary, most notably Grant’s having been surprised on the morning of the 6th and Beauregard’s decision to halt the attack that night. Both generals experienced condemnation from the public, though not much of it relating to the high casualty rate. However, the Union victory at the Battle of Shiloh made the assault into Mississippi possible.

The current Shiloh National Military Park encompasses a very large majority of the original Shiloh battlefield, spanning from the rear of the Northern position on April 6 and including Pittsburg Landing, all the way south to the position of the Confederate support troops at the same time. The park at Shiloh offers a tour of the main sites of the battle, and includes the Shiloh Cemetery. This well preserved battlefield makes it easy to envision the battle.

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