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The Battle of Shiloh: Conflict, Outcome & Generals Involved

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  • 0:07 The Battle of Shiloh
  • 0:34 Civil War in the West
  • 1:52 Pittsburg Landing
  • 3:32 April 6, 1862
  • 6:12 April 7, 1862
  • 7:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Daniel Vermilya
The Battle of Shiloh was fought on April 6 and 7, 1862. Confederate forces launched a surprise attack against Union troops, but Union forces ultimately hung on and won. There were well over 23,000 casualties in the two days of fighting.

The Battle of Shiloh

For the first year of the American Civil War, people all across the country slowly began to realize that victory would not occur in one fell swoop. Armies were formed, and battles were fought, but the terrible realities of war had not yet hit home. In April of 1862, however, in the fields and forests near Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River, all that would change when the Battle of Shiloh was fought.

Civil War in the West

While most historians focus on the Eastern Theater of the Civil War (the fighting around Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania), there was significant action that occurred in the war's Western Theater as well. This included campaigns in Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana.

Confederates in the West had a vast amount of territory to defend, which created many problems. Luckily, they had a trusted general in charge. Confederate President Jefferson Davis placed General Albert Sidney Johnston in command of Confederate forces in the West, trusting him to use the available resources to defend hundreds of miles of territory.

The key to fighting in the West was rivers. Union forces would use them as avenues to advance deep into Confederate territory. This trend began in early 1862 when then Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant led a force consisting both of infantry soldiers and gunboats against two crucial forts in northern Tennessee: Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River. Grant successfully captured these forts, opening up the rivers for Union invasion routes. Grant was promoted to major general and gained the nickname, Unconditional Surrender Grant.

Pittsburg Landing

The next step for Union forces was to move south into Tennessee. Specifically, Union troops were advancing south along the Tennessee River, moving toward Corinth, Mississippi, a crucial rail junction. If Corinth was taken, the Confederacy would have a difficult time moving supplies and men to where they were needed most.

By late March, a large Union force had created a camp north of Corinth in Southern Tennessee along the Tennessee River at a place called Pittsburg Landing. Nearby, there was a very small church with the name of Shiloh. While Grant's Army of the Tennessee was camped along the river, Major General Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio was on its way to reinforce Grant, marching across Tennessee from Nashville.

Just as Union forces were gathering in Tennessee, Albert Sidney Johnston was forming a Confederate army at Corinth to strike back against Grant. Johnston's plan was to catch Grant off guard and attack Union troops before they could advance against Corinth. By early April, Johnston led over 40,000 Confederates on a discreet march north toward Grant's encampment along the Tennessee River.

On the evening of April 5th, a few Union soldiers noticed signs of danger nearby, but their reports went unheeded. The Confederates had successfully moved without detection by Union troops, and on the morning of April 6, 1862, they would launch a surprise attack aimed at destroying the Army of the Tennessee.

April 6, 1862

In the predawn hours of April 6, Confederate forces began advancing into the unsuspecting Federal lines. Union Col. Everett Peabody led a group of men to investigate the suspicion of a Confederate advance and was soon caught in the middle of a terrible fire fight. Soon, more Federals began to realize what was occurring and rallied to defend their camps. For some Federals, the advancing Confederates caught them completely off guard as they were cooking breakfast in camp. It appeared as though the surprise was complete for Johnston's attacking Confederates.

The battle that began early that morning was extremely confusing. Fought among forests and farmer's fields, Union troops quickly rallied to form battle lines and defend their ground. Grant, who was several miles north of the battlefield that morning, quickly made his way to Pittsburgh Landing to gauge the situation. Caught in the action was Brigadier General William Tecumseh Sherman, who quickly rallied his Federal division together to fight the advancing Confederates.

By noon, Confederates had made significant gains, driving Union forces some distance from their original lines and camps. The fighting came to center near a partially sunken road running through the battlefield, a peach orchard, and a pond that would become known as Bloody Pond. Because these were in the center of the battlefield, they saw increasingly heavy fighting.

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