After the losses at Forts Henry and Donelson, Confederate forces retreated south to Corinth, Mississippi, located near the Tennessee border.
Why was Corinth important? Two important railroads, the Mobile and Ohio, and Memphis and Charleston, crossed each other there. These railroads were vital transportation resources for the Confederacy.
After capturing Nashville, the Union commander Major General Henry W. Halleck decided to attack these railroad lines. He sent Ulysses S. Grant and his troops towards the railroads, and ordered Don Carlos Buell to join Grant with more troops.
Confederates burned bridges that Buell and his men needed to cross, and this slowed them. Grant and his army reached Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, near Corinth before Buell’s troops could join them.
Early in the morning on April 6, 1862, the ominous sound of cannon fire broke the stillness. The Confederates led by General Albert Sidney Johnston had caught the Union soldiers by surprise near a little church called the Shiloh Meeting House.
After Buell learned of the attack, he rushed his men by transport (boats) to Pittsburg Landing to help Grant, landing at night. Brutal fighting raged the next day as Union forces, now outnumbering the Confederate forces, pushed back. (Ambrose Bierce’s description of battle)
Over the next two days almost 24,000 Confederate and Union soldiers were captured, wounded, killed, or missing, including Johnston who was killed the first day. The Confederates, now under the command of Gen. P.G. T. Beauregard , withdrew from the battlefield leaving victory to the Union.
The large number of casualties at Shiloh was shocking to people in the North and the South. Historian Larry Daniels concluded: “in two days, more men had been made casualties than in all the rest of America’s wars added together up to that time! Romantic innocence had vanished; the war at last had turned vicious.” Shiloh signaled that the Civil War was a new kind of war that would claim many lives and last a long time.
For more information about the battle, go to the official battle field site.
- Color print of Shiloh battle scene, copyright 1888 by L. Prang and Co. in Boston. Tennessee State Museum (TSM) Collection, 82.120.1
- Drawings from Harper’s Weekly’s “History of the Great Rebellion” showing three scenes from Shiloh: the Shiloh Meeting House, Pittsburg Landing, and “General Buell Crossing Duck River at Columbia to re-enforce Grant.” TSM Collection, 82.31
- Print of drawing showing the “Recapture of artillery by Gen. Rosseau’s command” during the battle at Shiloh. Artist is identified as Alonzo Chappel. The image was used in History of the War for the Union, 1861-1865, by Johnson, Fry & Company, New York. New York Public Library, Digital Gallery
- Engraving after an artwork by J.O. Davidson, published in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War. It shows six transports at Pittsburg Landing after the Battle of Shiloh. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph
- A drawing by Thure de Thulstrap showing Union troops under the command of Gen. Don Carlos Buell landing at Pittsburg Landing at night during a thunderstorm. TSM Collection, 88.145.2
- Colored lithograph on the front cover of music sheets showing a battle scene from Shiloh, titled “The Battle of Shiloh or Pittsburg Landing, Musically Photographed by Charles Grobe.” TSM Collection, 81.225
- Photograph of tents, probably Union, at Shiloh after the battle. Photographer was L.C. Handy. New York Public Library Digital Gallery
Civil War and Reconstruction >> Civil War >> Battles >> Shiloh