The Battle of Shiloh or Pittsburg Landing--April 6, 1862


The Army of the Tennessee, under the command of U. S. Grant, had made its way up the Tennessee River (south) to Pittsburg Landing. The plan was to march overland 22 miles to attack Corinth, MS which was a key strategic railroad center. Grant’s Commander Halleck, the commander of the West, ordered him to wait before attacking for the additional support of Don Carlos Buell, commanding 55,000 men called the Army of the Ohio. Buell’s men had been occupying Bowling Green, KY and marched to Nashville, TN and then on to join Grant’s troops at Pittsburgh Landing. During the wait for the Army of the Ohio, Grant made plans for future campaigns and left his men in the charge of William T. Sherman, whose headquarters were in the one room Shiloh Church four miles south of Pittsburg Landing.

Many of the men which Sherman was commanding had not seen combat. The site seemed easy to defend since it was bounded by the Tennessee River and three creeks. It was surrounded by heavy woods and steep gullies which would seem to deter an attack and no defensive breastworks were prepared. Pickets were only one hundred yards from the camp.

By April 2 Buell’s troops were close to Savannah, TN and the Confederate commander Albert Sidney Johnson recognized that he needed to destroy Grant’s forces before Buell arrived. He ordered 4 corps under the command of Hardee, Polk, Bragg and John C. Breckinridge to advance on Shiloh and attack the following day. General P.G. T. Beauregard, second in command, wanted to also advance troops on parallel roads, delaying the arrival of the troops by one day. The spring weather turned wet and cold and the last of the Confederate troops did not leave Corinth, MS until April 5. The Confederates advanced to within 2 miles of the Union camp. The green Rebel troops were warned to keep quiet but they made considerable noise, even shooting game. Union troops heard and saw the rebels and some light fighting occurred. Federal skirmishers were sent out to find Confederates before dawn on April 6 and when they ran into Hardee’s advancing troops, the battle began. The Confederates set up two very long battle lines with Breckinridge’s troops held in reserve. These battle lines were so long it was not possible for commanders to control their corps during the battle. Hardee’s men led the assault and routed many Yankees in their camps. By 8 a.m. enough Union troops had resisted to prevent the Confederates from breaking their line. The Confederate attack was fierce for 2 to 3 hours but then lost momentum when southern troops plundered the food in Federal camps, where breakfast had been cooking, as most Confederate troops had not eaten in days.

Union commander Prentiss placed 1,000 men in an excellent position in a wood behind a brush obstructed fence at the edge of a sunken wagon road. The Confederates had to advance over open fields to attack the superior position. Prentiss was reinforced by two fresh Federal divisions commanded by Hurlbut and Wallace. Grant, several miles away at Savannah, heard the fighting and sent General Lew Wallace, commanding a division, six miles south toward Shiloh Church. The sunken road was attacked throughout the afternoon by as many as 17,000 Rebel forces in many waves with never more than 4,000 troops attempting to advance at a time. The firing from the Union position came so furiously that the Confederates called it the Hornet’s Nest. At around 4 p.m. Confederate General Daniel Ruggles brought in 62 cannon and concentrated the heaviest bombardment ever seen in American history, using hundreds of rounds of grape and canister shots into the Hornet’s Nest.

By evening many of the Federal troops had withdrawn to a new battle line at Pittsburgh Landing. Two regiments were forced to surrender. Fighting tapered off until morning but throughout the night Federal troops reinforced their position. Confederate General Beauregard felt he had won the battle and intended to finish off the Union army in the morning. The fighting had been so fierce that thousands of men lay wounded on the field, many badly burned by the heavy use of artillery. Rain fell through the night and it was described as “A Night in Hell”. There was no fresh water and many soldiers fell ill from drinking contaminated water. Gangrene set in on untended wounds. It is no wonder that Shiloh stands as one of the bloodiest battles of the civil war. At dawn the fighting began again as fresh union troops attacked the ground which Confederates had taken the day before. The Confederate position was around Shiloh Church and they resisted stubbornly throughout the morning but by mid afternoon Confederates retreated, taking as many as 5,000 wounded men back to Corinth, MS. 18,000 men became ill from drinking contaminated water. Information gleaned about local troops fighting at the Battle of Shiloh includes these troops:

66th Illinois Infantry Regiment, also known as Birge’s Western Sharpshooters. 31 of the men in Company I of this regiment mustered in with a Wabash County post office address, mostly from Friendsville and Lancaster, including William Penn Beesley, referred to in an earlier article in this series.

48th Illinois Infantry Regiment lost over half of its men killed or wounded at Shiloh. This was the regiment which had a company formed by Theodore S. Bowers, the editor of the Mt. Carmel Register newspaper. He was still with his unit at this time but later in the month of April was detached from the regiment and assigned as aide de camp to General U. S. Grant.

The 49th Illinois Infantry Regiment lost 17 men killed and 99 wounded including their Lieutenant Colonel Pease, the commander of the Regiment, and Major Bishop.

40th Illinois Infantry Regiment lost one commissioned officer killed and three wounded; 42 men killed and 148 wounded. From the History of the 40th Illinois Volunteer Infantry written by Sgt. E. J. Hart: “Col. Hicks, in the thickest of the fight, was in the front, urging his men on, directing their fire into a Rebel battery close in our front, from which we succeeded in driving its gunners, when his horse was shot from under him. As soon as the colonel recovered his feet again, a ball struck him in the left shoulder, rendering him almost helpless.” He was moved back to the river to receive treatment and the regiment was ordered to retreat. “After retreating some distance, Major Smith ordered a halt and succeeded in getting the thinned ranks in order again”. The men lay down to rest and stay out of the fire of enemy shells. A passing general’s aid inquired what regiment it was and asked why they were not moving forward. He was told all their cartridges had been expended. The aid indicated that they should fix bayonets and be ready for the next renewed enemy advance. They did so but were ordered back to the river about 4 p.m. to support a line of heavy siege guns there. The regiment spent the night there with no food and little sleep, “remaining in line and under arms all night”. The following morning of April 7 they were furnished with ample rations and placed under command of General Nelson, part of Buell’s army, to operate as a reserve unit to the fighting on the left. The enemy was engaged and steadily pushed back with little damage to the unit, with only one man being killed at that time. Eventually the enemy retreated, falling back past their own tents. The unit stayed there until evening and was then ordered back a mile and a half where they did picket duty throughout the night. A heavy rain fell with no shelter while they remained on duty and the men many years later said that night of picket duty on Monday of Shiloh was the most disagreeable night they ever spent in the army.

Tuesday the 8th they moved to the camps of the 71st Ohio Volunteer Infantry where they were ordered to remain and bury the dead near that place. They had helped themselves to the rations at that camp but the returning 71st complained heartily. After burying the dead, the regiment rested at that place the following night and then returned to their own camp on Wednesday the 9th. They found their own camp had been destroyed by the enemy and all their possessions left behind, such as knapsacks, had been robbed of their clothing and mementos such as miniature photos of their loved ones which had been destroyed by being ground into the soil by the enemy. The remaining stay in the camp was very sorrowful and unpleasant because everyone had some calamity to mourn, from losing their comrades to the loss of their mementos from home. Captain Hicks returned home to Salem, IL to recover from his wound. When his health returned, he rejoined the regiment on July 18, 1862.

The 18th Illinois Infantry Regiment was under the command of Major Eaton, acting Colonel, and Colonel Lawler at the battle of Shiloh. They were ordered to the front and marched towards Corinth, MS and engaged the rebels about a mile from camp. The line of battle was formed and the fight became fast and furious. Major Eaton was pierced by a ball and was taken from the field with Captain Brush taking command. The battle went on without ceasing and about 1 p.m. Captain Brush was wounded twice, compelling him to leave the field of battle. Captain Anderson was next to take command and remained in command through the remainder of the engagement. Of the 435 officers and men in the regiment, 10 were killed, 63 wounded and 2 went missing. The three color bearers were all killed in the first day’s battle. Major Eaton had resigned on April 1st but the notice of the acceptance did not reach him before the battle. He died of his wounds after commanding the Regiment in the Battle of Shiloh.

The 32nd Illinois Infantry Regiment went into action at the Battle of Shiloh at 8:30 a.m. and withstood three severe charges with slight loss. They were then ordered to the extreme left of Hulburt’s Division which was hard pressed by Breckinridge. The rebels made repeated desperate assaults and General Albert Sidney Johnson, the rebel commander was killed there. The 32nd Illinois held their position until about 3 p.m. being at short pistol range most of the time. When all their ammunition was exhausted and they were forced to use the cartridges in the boxes of the dead and wounded, the regiment retreated with fixed bayonets under terrible enemy fire. By the end of the day the regiment lost 44 killed and 212 wounded or taken prisoner. This was more than 50% of the men of the regiment.

A glance at Union muster rolls shows many who were discharged with a disabled status in June of 1862, shortly after Shiloh when sufficient time had passed to see that they would not mend or come back to fight. Shiloh remains one of the most remembered battles of the civil war for the number of men lost.