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Civil War Trust

Union Victory at the Battle of Shiloh Emphasized Civil War's Brutality - www.civilwar.org

The battle of Shiloh, which occurred from April 6 to 7, 1862 in Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, was the bloodiest Civil War battle in Civil War historyor U.S. history up to that point. It played a relatively important role in Union progress in the western theater and the Union victory gave Tennessee to the North. This eventually led to the Confederate loss at Vicksburg, which was crucial to the Federal strategy of capturing the Mississippi River and thus dividing the South in half.

After losses at Forts Henry and Donelson, Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston fell to Corinth, Mississippi to begin preparations for a major offensive against the Federals under Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. He hoped to catch Grant before the Army of the Ohio under Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell could arrive to reinforce the Union’s position in Tennessee. Grant mistook the move for a retrenchment and moved the roughly 40,000 in Union forces south along the Tennessee River slowly. Grant was ordered to wait for Buell at Pittsburg Landing. Thus, as the morning of April 6 dawned with Johnson and his men ready to attack, Grant was completely unaware of Johnson’s similarly sized – though less experienced and not as well armed – camp just three miles to the south.

The Confederates launched confused but ferocious attacks that routed many Union divisions in the early morning. By late morning, Federal troops established a defensive line known as the “Hornets Nest.” Yet the Bluecoats continued to fall back through the rest of the day, though Johnston had been mortally wounded. The Union troops established another line covering Pittsburg Landing, anchored with artillery and supported by the first of Buell’s men. Northern defenses held as night fell, but both sides suffered a heavy toll.

By the next morning, the combined Federal forces amounted to about 40,000, outnumbering Confederate forces, under Beauregard, of less than 30,000. Unaware at first of Buell’s arrival, Beauregard launched attacks that were beaten back throughout the morning of April 7. Beauregard realized that he could not win, having suffered too many casualties, so he retired from the field and headed back to Corinth.

The battle of Shiloh had two effects on the Civil War. First, reporters covering the battle from Washington that the first day’s defeats could be blamed on drunkenness and a general lack of preparation on the part of General Grant. Over time research into Civil War history has show that this was not true. It took him some time to regain his reputation, and in the immediate aftermath he was given a de facto demotion that some historians believe slowed the pace of Federal military progress in the western theater. Second, when such a massive loss of life had a limited tactical effect on the war and didn’t increase the odds of a quick end to the war, it served as a clear sign for many important Northern generals, including Grant, that the war would be long and arduous no matter who prevailed.

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