US Grant

The Battle of the Wilderness: Lee Becomes the Objective

Soon after midnight, May 3d–4th, the Army of the Potomac moved out from its position north Rapidan, to start upon that memorable campaign, destined to result in the capture of the Confederate capital and the army defending it. This was not to be accomplished, however, without as desperate fighting as the world has ever witnessed; not to be consummated in a day, a week, a month, single season. The losses inflicted, and endured, were destined to be severe; but the armies now confronting each other had already been in deadly conflict for a period of three years, with immense losses in killed, by death from sickness, captured and wounded; and neither had made any real progress accomplishing the final end. – US Grant Personal Memoirs

And thus began an immortal dance that for ten months came to define the war. Two names intertwined in history. Two names forever linked. Yet, it was only for ten months they fought against each other. For Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, the beginning of the Overland Campaign on May 3, 1864, signaled the beginning of the end for the Confederacy in Virginia. By mid-summer, Grant would lay siege to Petersburg and have Lee somewhat trapped there. The auspicious start entailed above was anything but auspicious. It was cold and deadly. From May 3rd to May 7th, a battle that came to be known as The Wilderness was an introduction of Lee to Grant and Grant to Lee.

When Grant was placed in charge of Union forces in early 1864, he immediately changed the goals of the war, militarily speaking. Where previous commanders had failed, Grant’s change of emphasis in the war was aimed at bringing about the end of the South to make war. Goal number one in 1864 was simple. Destroy the Army of Northern Virginia and Robert E. Lee. Twice Lee had escaped the jaws of defeat in the North at Antietam and Gettysburg and live to fight another day. Rather than go after specific targets like Richmond, Fredericksburg, Petersburg, or Chancellorsville, Grant was going after Lee. If Grant could get to Lee, the war could grind to a halt. If Grant could bring Union forces to bear, the war in the East would soon be over. That was the goal on May 3rd when he crossed the Rapidan.

Grant’s greatest strength was his adaptability. Some historians claim it was his tenacity, but that tenacity was not based on thundering away at the enemy but rather in continually adjusting to what his enemy did in order to out maneuver him. For Grant in the spring and summer of 1864, this adaptability to Robert E. Lee will result in many battles, the first of which was in the Wilderness in northern Virginia.

The ground in Virginia had three summers of blood when Grant took charge. 1864 would be the last. At Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Spotsylvania, the two sides had met and fought over the same rivers several times with the Confederacy winning most every time. Grant described the land as such:

The country was heavily wooded at all the points of crossing, particularly on the south side of the river. The battle-field from the crossing of the Rapidan until the final movement from the Wilderness toward Spottsylvania was of the same character. There were some clearings and small farms within what might be termed the battle-field; but generally the country was covered with a dense forest. The roads were narrow and bad. All the conditions were favorable for defensive operations.

But for Grant, the Battle of the Wilderness was not to be a defensive operation. He might have known he would not win, but by engaging the enemy (Lee) Grant knew the Union could provide him with more men and resources than the Confederacy could provide for Lee. Grant would use the rivers of northern Virginia to his advantage to resupply himself and his armies at will. For a man who hated the sight of blood, Grant knew what it shedding would bring.

On to the battle…

When Grant made his move across the Rapidan with 100,000 men, Lee was well aware of Grant’s position. Using the terrain to his advantage, Lee had to keep the mountains and woods to his rear as Grant easily outnumbered him. With only 62,000 men, Lee would decide the place of battle … this time.

The first day of the Battle of the Wilderness could best described as chaos. Because of the thickets, rain, and overall mesh of trees and men. Lee wrote of the first day of battle at 11 p.m.:

The enemy crossed the Rapidan yesterday at Ely’s and Germanna Fords. Two corps of this,army moved to oppose him Ewell’s, by the old turnpike, and Hill’s, by the plank road. They arrived this morning in close proximity to the enemy’s line of march. A strong attack was made upon Ewell, who repulsed it, capturing many prisoners and four pieces of artillery. The enemy subsequently concentrated upon General Hill, who, with Heth’s and Wilcox’s divisions, successfully resisted repeated and desperate assaults. A large force of cavalry and artillery on our right flank was driven back by Rosser’s brigade. By the blessing of God we maintained our position against every effort until night, when the contest closed. We have to mourn the loss of many brave officers and men. The gallant Brig. Gen. J. M. Jones was killed, and Brig. Gen. L. A. Stafford, I fear, mortally wounded while leading his command with conspicuous valor.

For the Union, they did not know what was happening. Friendly fire killed many amidst the chaos. Up on the down the Orange Turnpike, the Confederates knowing the land, held the distinct advantage. Wilderness Battlefield Park Historian Dan Pfanz explains what happened near the turnpike:

Saunders Field courtesy of the NPS

Saunders Field courtesy of the NPS

Saunders Field was a 50-acre field that straddled the Orange Turnpike (modern Route 20). It was one of very few clearings in the otherwise gloomy forest. When Richard Ewell approached the Army of the Potomac on May 5th, he had orders from Lee to engage the enemy and stop their progress through the Wilderness, but to avoid a general engagement until Longstreet’s corps arrived the following day.Ewell encountered the Army of the Potomac at Saunders Field and immediately began deploying his corps across the turnpike along the higher, western edge of the field, where his troops could enjoy a clear field of fire.Grant, eager to engage the Confederates on any terms, obligingly attacked Ewell at Saunders Field at 1 p.m. on May 5, initiating the battle, and continued to hammer away at Ewell’s line well into the night. Despite achieving a momentary breakthrough south of the turnpike, Grant’s forces were repulsed with heavy casualties.

On the morning of the May 6, Grant resumed the attack. Arriving in what appeared to be a huge lift for the Confederacy was James Longstreet – ironically, he was a longtime friend of Grant as well. Longstreet’s morning attack forced a short retreat by the Union behind some cover. As Longstreet was preparing the final attack which could have culminated in a rout, Longstreet was accidentally shot by his own men. The resulting delay in an attack allowed the Union forces under Hancock to prepare defensive positions.

Lee wrote of the events of the day:

Early this morning as the divisions of General Hill, engaged yesterday, were being relieved, the enemy advanced and created some confusion. The ground lost was recovered as soon as the fresh troops got into position and the enemy driven back to his original line. Afterward we turned the left of his front line and drove it from the field, leaving a large number of dead and wounded in our hands, among them General Wadsworth. A subsequent attack forced the enemy into his intrenched lines on the Brock road, extending from Wilderness Tavern, on the right, to Trigg’s Mill. Every advance on his part, thanks to a merciful God, has been repulsed. Our loss in killed is not large, but we have many wounded; most of them slightly, artillery being little used on either side. I grieve to announce that Lieutenant-General Longstreet was severely wounded and General Jenkins killed. General Pegram was badly wounded yesterday. General Stafford, it is hoped, will recover.

Grant saw things in this manner:

I believed then, and see no reason to change that opinion now, that if the country had been such that Hancock and his command could have seen the confusion and panic in the lines of the enemy, it would have been taken advantage of so effectually that Lee would not have made another stand outside of his Richmond defences.

On May 6, Lee attacked Union positions. It did not go well. The terrain that had lead to victories in previous years for the Confederates was their undoing this day as the Union held the field. In a strange but an extremely important turn of events, Grant ordered Meade to withdraw after night fall on May 7. But this time, the Union was not retreating back from whence they came, but rather, they were going to Spotsylvania Court House and heading towards Richmond. The resulting orders to advance turned the morale of the Army of the Potomac into enthusiasm.

Grant’s Orders to Meade:

Commanding A. P.
Make all preparations during the day for a night march to take position at Spottsylvania C. H. with one army corps, at Todd’s Tavern with one, and another near the intersection of the Piney Branch and Spottsylvania road with the road from Alsop’s to Old Court House. If this move is made the trains should be thrown forward early in the morning to the Ny River.
I think it would be advisable in making the change to leave Hancock where he is until Warren passes him. He could then follow and become the right of the new line. Burnside will move to Piney Branch Church. Sedgwick can move along the pike to Chancellorsville and on to his destination. Burnside will move on the plank road to the intersection of it with the Orange and Fredericksburg plank road, then follow Sedgwick to his place of destination.
All vehicles should be got out of hearing of the enemy before the troops move, and then move off quietly.
It is more than probable that the enemy concentrate for a heavy attack on Hancock this afternoon. In case they do we must be prepared to resist them, and follow up any success we may gain, with our whole force. Such a result would necessarily modify these instructions.
All the hospitals should be moved to-day to Chancellorsville.

What militarily was a draw turned into a psychological victory for Grant and the Union. Where Meade, Hooker, McClellan, and Burnside had failed, Grant became the man in whom the Union army believed in. In was now up to Lee to chase him. With 80,000+ men in tow, Grant would resupply while Lee had to fight with what he had left, around 50,000. Those numbers would continue to shrink for Lee while Grant would just resupply himself much to the chagrin of some in the press in the coming months.

Diorama by Greg Aronowitz

Diorama by Greg Aronowitz

US Grant Personal Memoirs
Ordeal by Fire by James MacPherson

Robert E. Lee Reports:

The Civil War: Valley of the Shadow of Death


The Siege of Vicksburg – Cutting the Confederacy in Two

I feel relieved when I think of how easy Americans have it in today’s modern world. We have easy access to food,

RT Johnson at Grant's HQ in Vicksburg

RT Johnson at Grant’s HQ in Vicksburg

entertainment, transportation, and communication. It was not always so. In 1863, General Ulysses S. Grant put a stranglehold on the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi. The siege was something not seen since the Middle Ages. Grant’s strangulation of the town was part of a grander plan to cut the Confederacy in half. Vicksburg was the last major Confederate city along the Mississippi River. The capitulation of the city was never in doubt. Just how long the city could hold out was. For 47 days, the citizens held out longer than anyone thought they could.

When most people think of sieges, they tend to think of catapults, barrels of tar, ladders, moats, and battering rams. A specialty of Roman and Medieval warfare, the siege had lost its usefulness in the Napoleonic era. Armies, before the Civil War, met in large numbers of over 100,000 out in the fields of Europe. But the United States was not Europe. If anything, the Confederacy was geographically the opposite of Europe. In climate, it was hot and humid in the summer. In terrain, it was heavily forested and mountainous in the Eastern Theater. Warfare was changing and the technology along with it created for massive casualties in the Civil War. For Union General Ulysses S. Grant, the siege was more an act of desperation to take Vicksburg.

Throughout 1962, Grant had victory after victory with the Army of the Tennessee in Tennessee and northeastern Mississippi. However, those victories came with questions and concerns about the high loss of life. Grant had been given the moniker, “Grant the Butcher.” Allusions were made to his drinking habits, his manhood questioned, but not by President Lincoln. Lincoln proclaimed, “I cannot spare this man, he fights.” More importantly, Grant won in 1862 – something that was not happening in the eastern theater of war.

For Grant, this was not his first siege. At Corinth in northeastern Mississippi, Grant had his army taken away from him for a while by Henry Halleck. Halleck employed the siege strategy in part because the previous battle at Shiloh had been so bloody. In addition, Corinth was not a large town. In little over a month in April and May of 1862, the Union forced the town to surrender and the Union had taken one of the few railroad junctions in the South. After the victory, Halleck went back east, Grant was given back the Army of the Tennessee, but only with 46,000 men.

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant

Now for Grant, his sole objective was to take Vicksburg. The problem was everybody in the south knew Grant was going to go there. As a result, getting there was easier said than done.
Grant said this of the city on the bluff:

The Mississippi flows through a low alluvial bottom many miles in width; and is very tortuous in its course, running to all points of the compass, sometimes within a few miles. This valley is bounded on the east side by a range of high land rising in some places more than two hundred feet above the bottom. At points the river runs up to the bluffs, washing their base. Vicksburg is built on the first high land on the eastern bank below Memphis, and four hundred miles from that place by the windings of the river.

The winter of 1862-63 was unprecedented for continuous high water in the Mississippi, and months were spent in ineffectual efforts to reach high land above Vicksburg from which we could operate against that stronghold, and in making artificial waterways through which a fleet might pass, avoiding the batteries to the south of the town, in case the other efforts should fail.

[…] The ground about Vicksburg is admirable for defense. On the north it is about two hundred feet above the Mississippi River at the highest point, and very much cut up by the washing rains the ravines were grown up I with cane and underbrush, while the sides and tops were covered with a dense forest. Farther south the ground flattens out somewhat, and was in cultivation. But here, too, it was cut by ravines and small streams. The enemy’s line of defense followed the crest of a ridge, from the river north of the city, eastward, then southerly around to the Jackson road, full three miles back of the city ; thence in a south-westerly direction to the river. Deep ravines of the description given lay in front of these defenses.

Even President Lincoln felt it was the most important city at the time:

“See what a lot of land these fellows hold, of which Vicksburg is the key. The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket. We can take all the northern ports of the Confederacy, and they can defy us from Vicksburg. It means hog and hominy without limit, fresh troops from all the states of the far South, and a cotton country where they can raise the staple without interference. I am acquainted with that region and know what I am talking about, and, as valuable as New Orleans will be to us, Vicksburg will be more so.”

Beginning in December of 1862, Grant tried to take the city several times. The problem was that the city was too well defended from its high bluffs. But that spring, heavy rains made it possible for Grant, teamed with General William Tecumseh Sherman, to use the flooded river in April to boat past the city and land south of the town and surround it that way. Grant and 12 vessels made the run with Grant crossing into Mississippi at Bruinsburg nine miles south of Vicksburg. Grant said,

I was now in the enemy’s country, with a vast river and the stronghold of Vicksburg between me and my base of supplies. I had with me the Thirteenth Corps, General McClernand commanding, and two brigades of Logan’s

Battle_at_Vicksburgdivision of the Seventeenth Corps, General McPherson commanding; in all not more than twenty thousand men to commence the campaign with. These were soon [reinforced] by the remaining brigade of Logan’s division and by Crocker’s division of the Seventeenth Corps. On the 7th of May I was further [reinforced] by Sherman with two divisions of his, the Fifteenth Corps.

My total force was then about thirty-three thousand men. The enemy occupied Grand Gulf, Vicksburg, Haynes’s Bluff, and Jackson, with a force of nearly sixty thousand men. My first problem was to capture Grand Gulf to use as a base, and then if possible beat the enemy in detail outside the fortifications of Vicksburg. Jackson is fifty miles east of Vicksburg, and was connected with it by a railroad. Haynes’s Bluff is eleven miles north, and on the Yazoo River, which empties into the Mississippi some miles above the town.

Once on land, Grant had to fight his way to the town during April. Instead of marching north, Grant headed east and took Port  Gibson, then Jackson, and worked his way back to Vicksburg along the Southern Railroad. Skirmishes at Champion Hill and Big Black River Bridge did not deter Grant. Grant arrived east of Vicksburg on May 18. The siege had begun. For the next 47 days, life would become a living hell inside the city.


At the entrance to the Vicksburg National Military Park, this marker explains the military positions. This picture was taken in 2005.

In addition to the constant shelling from Grant’s forces on land, gunboats on the river also provided Union support. The citizens turned to making caves in the soft ground. Vicksburg resident Mary Loughborough stated:

“Our policy in building had been to face directly away from the river. All caves were prepared, as near as possible, in this manner. As the fragments of shells continued with the same impetus after the explosion, in but one direction, onward, they were not likely to reach us, fronting in this manner with their course. On one occasion, I was reading in safety, I imagined, when the unmistakable whirring of Parrott shells told us that the battery we so much feared had opened from the entrenchments. I ran to the entrance to call the servants in; and immediately after they entered, a shell struck the earth a few feet from the entrance, burying itself without exploding. I ran to the little dressing room, and could hear them striking around us on all sides. One fell near the cave entrance, and a servant boy grabbed it and threw it outside; it never exploded.”

In addition to the constant shelling, the weather did not help. Mississippi in early to July is extremely warm and humid. But the unbearable aspect for most involved in the siege was the fact that the spring rains and flooding created a plethora of mosquitoes.

Confederate Lines - Picture Taken in 2005

Confederate Lines – Picture Taken in 2005

After about 2 weeks, the city began to run out of supplies. The residents turned tree bark into soup. Rats became a delicacy. Confederate soldiers only received “four ounces each of bacon, flour, or meal, the rest comprising peas, rice, and sugar. It was less than half the rations normally issued and led, some believed, to sharply increased sickness among the debilitated troops.” By June 12, there was no meat left. Yet, the troops held on for three more weeks. 

An antebellum home in Vicksburg in 2005.

An antebellum home in Vicksburg in 2005.

The citizens also survived on cowpeas (black eyed peas) that were turned into everything from bread to a meat like substance. Mule even became a staple for the soldiers and citizens. The old Napoleonic adage that an army marches on stomach could be easily adapted to Vicksburg. Confederate General Pemberton began to lose soldiers who deserted for food. On june 28, he received the following letter:

“Our rations have been cut down to one biscuit and a small bit of bacon per day, not enough scarcely to keep soul and body together, much less to stand the hardships we are called upon to stand. If you can’t feed us, you had better surrender us, horrible as the idea is . . . This army is now ripe to mutiny unless it can be fed.”

On July 4, 1863, Pemberton surrendered to Grant. Over 29,000 Confederate soldiers surrendered and they were made to sign loyalty oaths.

Loyalty Oath

Loyalty Oath

All Confederate weapons were seized including guns and artillery. Strikingly surprising was the condition of the Confederate weaponry. Grant said of the seizure of Weapons:

At Vicksburg 31,600 prisoners were surrendered, together with 172 cannon, about 60,000 muskets, and a large amount of ammunition. The small-arms of the enemy were far superior to the bulk of ours. Up to this time our troops at the west had been limited to the old United States flint-lock muskets changed into percussion, or the Belgian musket imported early in the war almost as dangerous to the per son firing it as to the one aimed at – and a few new and improved arms. These were of many different calibers a fact, that caused much trouble in distributing ammunition during an engagement.

The enemy had generally new arms, which had run the blockade and were of uniform caliber. After the surrender I authorized all colonels, whose regiments were armed with inferior muskets, to place them in the stack of captured arms, and replace them with the latter. A large number of arms, turned in to the ordnance department as captured, were these arms that had really been used by the Union army in the capture of Vicksburg.

The Confederacy had been cut in half. The Mississippi River now was totally controlled by the Union. The Anaconda Plan, conceived by Winfield Scott, was working in the West. The US Army stationed 5,000 colored troops to patrol and defend Vicksburg after the siege. They last would leave in 1877.


For Teaching about Vicksburg

This first site has a great image and artifact gallery

This second site has great quotes (some used above) about the conditions in the city during the siege.

For Further Reading
Starving the South by Andrew F. Smith

Vicksburg – Cutting off the South from Itself

Within two days of July in 1863, the Confederate States of America suffered two crushing defeats. The Army of Northern Virginia was repelled at Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. Any hopes of Robert E. Lee crushing the North via an invasion were dashed over three days in July. Any hopes of gaining recognition and aid from Great Britain or some other foreign power vanished. But for some historians, like me, the more crushing blow to the South’s hopes happened the next day, July 4, when the City of Vicksburg, Mississippi was taken over Union forces after a short but debilitating siege. Vicksburg was the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi. The fall of the city would cut the Confederacy in two – no longer could trade, supplies, or railroads flow freely through the South.

Grant liked to attack things head on. As Lincoln said of his talents, “I can’t spare this man, he fights!” Vicksburg was someplace he would not be able to do so. Geographically, Vicksburg sits high above the Mississippi River. Its rolling hills and cliff make it the perfect place to defend. A bend in the Mississippi River makes it almost impossible to travel down the river unnoticed. But in the spring of 1863, the weather and floods changed all that.

Grant, as the head of the Army of the Tennessee (River) had started off in Cairo, Illinois in 1862 and had worked his way down through Kentucky and Tennessee. Taking Forts Donelson and Henry, Shiloh, and Corinth, Grant and his army had almost cut the Confederacy in half per Winfield Scott’s Anaconda Plan. Admiral Farragut had taken New Orleans in early 1862. The only holdouts in the spring of 1863 were Vicksburg and the lowly Port Hudson. However, Grant’s success was not met with plaudits and parades. The northern press had chastised his tactics for the loss of life, while others intimated at his taste for the finer beverages of the day.

If Grant had his way, he would have taken Vicksburg by land. In fact, as early as December of 1862, Grant tried to take Vicksburg. The city held strong. Under the command of John Pemberton, a 30,000 strong force held the heights. A ball was held to celebrate the Confederate successes in holding off Grant. That same night, Grant used recent flooding to make a break and take his 40,000 strong force through bends. The Army of the Tennessee mad eland south of Vicksburg and then made its way up to Jackson (the capital) and then across over to Vicksburg. The defenses around Vicksburg, along with the Geography, made it impossible for Grant to take the city by force. Instead, Grant decided to take advantage of his supply lines being in tact along with control of nearby rail and river traffic. Beginning on May 19, 1863, the Siege of Vicksburg was under way.

Siege warfare is not a new tactic. Greeks, Persians, Romans, and Medieval armies used it to perfection. Grant knew it was only a matter of time. The city’s only hope was rescue from another Confederate Army. Pemberton could not break out for that would leave the city unguarded. In addition, the city had no way to get food in. In a 12 mile loop, Grant’s Army had the Confederates surrounded. Citizens ate whatever they could eat during the 46 day siege. In addition, the Union guns, on land and on the river, kept up a barrage to drive home the terror of this war. This diary entry by Dora Miller describes the terror she faced:

June 25th. – A horrible day. The most horrible yet to me, because I’ve lost my nerve. We were all in the cellar, when a shell came tearing through the roof, burst upstairs, tore up that room, and the pieces coming through both floors down into the cellar. One of them tore open the leg of H_’s pantaloons. This was tangible proof the cellar was no place of protection from them. On the heels of them came Mr. J_ , to tell us that the young Mrs. P_ had had her thigh-bone crushed. When Martha went for the milk she came back horror-stricken to tell us the black girl there had her arm taken off by a shell. For the first time I quailed. I do not think people who are physically brave deserve much credit for it; it is a matter of nerves. In this way I am constitutionally brave, and seldom think of danger till it is over; and death has not the terrors for me it has for some others. Every night I had lain down expecting death, and every morning rose to the same prospect, without being unnerved. It was for H_ I trembled. But now I first seemed to realize that something worse than death might come; I might be crippled, and not be killed. Life, without all one’s powers and limbs, was a thought that broke down my courage. I said to H_, “You must get me out of this horrible place; I cannot stay; I know I shall be crippled.” Now the regret comes that I lost control, because H_ is worried, and has lost his composure, because my coolness has broken down.

On July 3, Gettysburg ended. No one was going to come to the rescue. No Union troops were going to go east and leave Vicksburg by itself as Robert E. Lee once pined. No, this was it. On July 4, the Confederate forces under Pemberton surrendered. The Confederates were not taken prisoner. There were just too many of them! While casualties were low for the siege, there was no way for Grant to feed and house the vast numbers. Originally, Grant had wanted unconditional surrender but was talked out of it by logistical horror stories from his commanders. On July 4, 1863, Union forces took control of the city. It would be a long time before the city would celebrate the holiday. The Confederate soldiers agreed to not take up arms against the Union.

After the siege, Grant would head east into Chattanooga and eastern Tennessee. By the end of the year, his victories resulted in his promotion to being in charge of all Union forces. With Vicksburg in Union hands, river and rail traffic within the Confederacy stopped. It was the high water mark for the Confederacy. From here on out, the South would be running on fumes. It could not keep up with industry and the population of the north.

In 2005, my lovely wife and I toured the National Military Park in Vicksburg. It was the first week in June and the temperature was 90 degrees and humid. I can only imagine the conditions the soldiers and citizens endured that summer.

The Union Battery Lines

The Big Muddy

The view from Union Lines

One of hundreds of monuments to those who served

The Cemetery overlooking the river

The Battle of Shiloh: Johnston’s Gambit

When people think of the Civil War, they think of different things from slavery to Abraham Lincoln to the battles to women serving in combat. I, as a history teacher, tend to think of the massive loss of life. Some 600,000 men and women perished, more than any American conflict. In 1861, the Battle of Bull Run (1st Manassas) showed that the war would not won in a single battle. Rather, it was going to be a long drawn out affair. The Battle of Shiloh (Pittsburg Landing) showed just how bloody this war was going to be.

The fact that battle took place in south east Tennessee was not where Grant wanted his next battle to take place. Grant’s objective was 20 miles away at a railroad junction in Corinth, Mississippi. As part of the Anaconda Plan, Grant was trying to cut the Confederacy in half by capturing railroads and the Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers that connected the Confederacy. Corinth contained a railroad junction. Capturing the junction would be a coup for Grant. Grant and the Army of the Tennessee made their way down the Tennessee River and began disembarking near Pittsburg Landing, about 2 miles from the Shiloh church. AT Pittsburg Landing, Grant was to hook up with Buell’s Army of the Ohio and then reek havoc on the South. Upon receiving word of Grant’s arrival in SE Tennessee, General Albert Sidney Johnston began organizing a complex plan to drive Grant from his positions and all the way back to the Snake Creek, and thus destroying the Army of the Tennessee before Grant and Buell could combine forces. Things did not go as planned, for either side.

April 6, 1862
The Confederates, stationed at Corinth, surprised the Army of the Tennessee at 6 a.m. Grant did not think the Confederates would dare leave Corinth. As a result, the Union had no defensive positions established. On the other hand, the Confederate attack, although 44,000 strong did not dispel the Army of the Tennessee from the grounds near the Shiloh Church. Ironically, Shiloh is a Hebrew word meaning Peace. The battle this day, and the next, would be anything but peaceful.

Throughout the 6th, Johnston attempted to push Grant’s forces back into the river and nearby Snake Creek. The Union took up a defensive position in what has become known as the legendary “Hornet’s Nest” for which the battle is also known. Throughout the day, the Confederates sent wave after wave of soldiers at the Union entrenchment. They all failed. Johnston was mortally wounded that afternoon. PGT Beauregard took command. Rather than bypassing the “Hornet’s Nest” and focusing on the Union forces at Pittsburg Landing, Beauregard kept hammering away at  a futile position, much to the chagrin and detriment of his troops. Eventually, the Hornet’s Nest fell. The Union fell back to even more defensible positions around Pittsburg Landing.

Even southern newspapers of the day had all but declared victory after April 6

Both sides had suffered heavy casualties on the first day, an estimated 8,000 plus . As night began to fall, the Confederates believed they would be victorious come morning. The night proved to be decisive. A thunderstorm battered the Confederate positions. Along with constant shelling by Union gunboats along the Tennessee and nearby creeks, the Confederates were left in tatters by the morning. What had been a force of 44,000, some estimate that only 20,000-28,000 were left come the morning of the 7th. Grant, meanwhile, had been reinforced by the Army of the Ohio. The second day of fighting would bring a greater number of killed and wounded.

April 7
The day began with what the Confederates saw as a surprising Union advance. The whole day became surprising for Beauregard as Grant, Buell, and Sherman attacked the Confederates at every opportunity. By the afternoon, Beauregard had left the territory he had only gained the day before. His men, tired, hungry, and disheveled, gave up the battlefield that night and straggled back into Mississippi. Over 23,000 casualties showed that this war, this Civil War, would be anything but Civil. The aftermath of the battle saw Grant chastised in the Press for his command and inability to command the battlefield the first day despite being four miles away on crutches when the battle began. Grant was also criticized for his failure to properly set up a defensive position upon his arrival in south east Tennessee. Grant had instead chose to drill his young army. Despite calls to sack Grant, Lincoln paid no heed. “I can’t spare this man, he fights.” The victory to Lincoln was still a victory. In the east, the Army of the Potomac had yet to taste it. Lincoln knew Grant would taste it yet again. It would be at Corinth after a long siege.

A cartoon of the day lampoons the Confederate retreat


Although Grant was attacked by surprise, Shiloh was only the beginning of a year of hell for Confederate forces opposing him. Grant, rather than attack head on in the next year, did so sparingly. He used the tactics of siege warfare not only at Corinth but again at Vicksburg, both times to success.

In 2005, my wife and I traveled to Shiloh. Here are some pictures of the hallowed scene.

Pittsburg Landing along the Tennessee River where Grant made his camp on the night of the 6th

The Shiloh Church for which the battle is named. It is a replica.

The Bloody Pond where dehydrated soldiers attempted to drink and clean wounds

The Hornet's Nest where most of the fighting took place on April 6