Shiloh National Cemetery (ca. 1866)

Shiloh National Military Park, TN

The spring of 1862 found the war going very badly for the Confederacy in the west. Kentucky had been lost to the Union Army, Fort Henry on the Tennessee River had fallen opening the interior south to federal gunboats, and most disastrously Fort Donelson had surrendered on February 12th along with one-third of the Confederate forces between the Mississippi and the Appalachians. The interior south seemed wide open for invasion by the northern hordes.

The general tasked with the defense of these southern states was General Albert Sidney Johnson, a former U.S. soldier considered by many to be one of its most promising future officers. Johnson's allegiance was firmly with the south, however, and in his mind at this crucial juncture it was critical to maintain the only remaining communications and supply link between east and west, the Memphis & Charleston Railroad. His widely scattered forces also would need to be concentrated if he were to have any hope of threatening the Union army. To accomplish these tasks he set up his base of operations in Corinth, Mississippi. During March of that year scattered units of his army converged on Corinth as well as reinforcements from wherever they could be spared. By the end of March, General Johnson had around 45,000 soldiers ready to stand against whatever next move the Union Army might make.

Moving against Johnson was the supremely confident 48,000-man force under Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant. After the capture of Fort Donelson Grant quickly pushed south and invested the Tennessee capitol of Nashville. From there it was his intent to keep pushing south through the Mississippi Valley with the goal of splitting the Confederacy in two and, if possible, bringing Johnson's army to a decisive battle in the process. Learning that Johnson was concentrating at Corinth Grant moved his army south along the Tennessee River to a ford known as Pittsburg Landing. Setting up camp on the west bank of the river, Grant intended to gather the rest of his forces in the region before advancing further. He was quite confident that in the interim Johnson's Confederates would stay safely behind their defenses at Corinth.

General Johnson wasn't planning on playing by Grant's rules. First off he could do the math. By the end of March he had near parity in numbers with Grant, but he knew that wouldn't last as Grant had more reinforcements on the way. Also, he regarded Grant's choice of camp sites, with the river at his back, as a serious blunder. Therefore it was Johnson's intent not to wait for Grant but to make the first move and catch the Union Army unawares. His plan was simple, catch the Union Army by surprise with overwhelming force driving against the enemy's left flank and cutting off his route of supply and escape across the river. Thus cut off Grant would be virtually surrounded and forced to surrender. Such was the plan...

The Confederate Army began the 20-mile march north from Corinth on April 3rd. The march quickly deteriorated into an almost comical mess. Weather hampered the movement of men and artillery, green troops tired easily and slowed the march, and believe it or not one whole division got off track and went missing for the better part of a day! The attack that should have commenced the morning of the 4th had now been pushed back to the morning of the 6th. Johnson was sure his most crucial advantage, the element of surprise, had been lost.

He should have been right. Though General Grant and most of his subordinates confidently stated that the Confederates were still camped at Corinth, the 4th and 5th of April had brought numerous reports of minor skirmishes and cavalry raids to the south. One battalion of Ohio cavalry on April 4, in hot pursuit of Confederate raiders, crested a hill and were astounded to see long lines of Confederate infantry backed by artillery and immediately came under heavy fire. When this information was brought to General Sherman he dismissed what the cavalry had seen as a Confederate reconnaissance mission. A good glimpse into the mindset of the Union high command can be seen in a missive sent from General Grant to his superior General Halleck on April 5th when he stated, "I have scarcely the faintest idea of an attack (general one) being made upon us, but will be prepared should such a thing take place." Unfortunately, these preparations didn't include building any earthworks or strengthening picket lines. As the light faded on April the 5th, 1862 Johnson's 45,000-man army, despite two days of delay, were about to collide with a Union Army which didn't think there was a Confederate soldier within 20-miles. Over the next two days a titanic struggle the likes of which the nation had never seen before would bring into startling clarity that the war had entered a new and much bloodier stage...


Battle Statistics


United States of America

Armies Engaged: Army of the Tennessee, Army of the Ohio

Commanding Officer: Major General Ulysses S. Grant

Strength: 66,812

Casualties: 13,047 or 19.5% (1,754 killed, 8,408 wounded, 2,885 captured/missing)


Confederate States

Armies Engaged: Army of the Mississippi

Commanding Officer: General Albert Sidney Johnston (killed), General P.G.T. Beauregard

Strength: 44,699

Casualties: 10,699 or 23.9% (1,728 killed, 8,012 wounded, 959 captured/missing)


  • kw

    on August 21, 2014

    Humbling...... Beautifully put together and 'walking us through' these two days from a very difficult time in the history of our country! D & K