Tuesday, June 16, 2009


While waiting at Red Bay, Alabama, for annual work to be done on the RV, we took a pretty hour's drive to Shiloh, TN, crossing from Alabama to Mississippi to Tennessee. We always start our battlefield tours at the Visitors' Center and watch whatever film about the place is offered. What is perplexing is the difference in quality of the film from place to place. One was really professionally done with narration by Richard Dreyfus. This was old and grainy. Nevertheless, that does not diminish the importance of the battle here at Shiloh. Like the Battle of Chattanooga, it was all about the railroads. I think these days we lose sight of the importance of the railroads in days past. The rail lines were the communication links and the means of supply. No modern highways with big rigs; no FedEx or UPS; no internet. The railroads were it!!

U.S. Grant came down the Tennessee River with his Army of the Tennessee and waited as ordered for Gen. Buell to arrive with his Army of the Ohio. The Confederate side was led by General Albert Johnston who decided to attack Grant before Buell got there. The attack on April 6, 1862, surprised Grant and caused great disarray. Bitter fighting ensued with the Federals gradually giving way. Some of the fiercest fighting was at the Hornet's Nest where Federal troops were implored to hold their ground at all cost. For most of the day, they did suffering great loss. At day's end, the Confederates stormed the line and took the survivors prisoner. Johnston's element of surprise helped the success of the battle, but soon the Confederate Army was as disorganized as the Federal Army. This was acerbated by the death of Johnston. Johnston was shot in the leg: the bullet severed a major artery and he bled to death. His command was taken over by General Beauregard.

The 2nd day saw more fierce fighting. Grant's Federal troops had been joined overnight by Buell's and totalled some 54,500 men. The Confederates were depleted to 34,000. The battle seesawed back and forth with the Confederates withdrawing to Shiloh Church and then to Corinth, TN. The Federals did not pursue them. At the end over 23,000 from both sides were killed, wounded or missing. At one point, the wounded of both sides made their way to a pond at the Peach Orchard where the water turned red from their blood. After the battle, Beauregard asked Grant for permission, under a flag of truce, to send out people to take the Confederate dead from the battlefield. Grant's reply was that he would but that, due to the heat, he had already buried them. There are 5 mass graves for the Confederate troops. The Federal troops were taken and buried at the National Cemetery at the park.

Both armies proceed on to Corinth, TN. There was no great battle here, but, when the Confederate Army withdrew the rail line of east-west communications to the western part of the Confederacy was severed. Battle loses here and in Kentucky and Virginia paved the way for U.S. Grant's assault on Vicksburg and control of the Mississippi. And, ultimately, the end of the war. In the midst of this is the present day Shiloh Church and Cemetery, both still active. Kind of a reminder that life & death go on, I guess.

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