THE BATTLE OF SHILOH
In February 22, 1862, Confederate president Jefferson Davis was
officially inaugurated in Richmond, Virginiahis previous swearing
in had been only provisional. Washington's Birthday was a chilly day; by
midafternoon a steady rain fell. The dismal weather provided an
appropriate backdrop for the gloom that prevailed in the Southern
capital. News from Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston's western Department No.
2, an area stretching from the Appalachians to the Ozarks, proved most
disturbing. Rumors of a great military disaster at Fort Donelson,
seventy miles northwest of Nashville, Tennessee, added to the gloom.
While not mentioning any specifics, Davis conceded in his inaugural
address that "the tide for the moment is against us."
A series of Southern setbacks in the West had begun a month earlier.
On January 19, 1862, Maj. Gen. George B. Crittenden's division had been
routed at Mill Springs, Kentucky. This defeat exposed Johnston's right
flank. East Tennessee, a pro-Union region, was vulnerable to invasion by
way of the Cumberland Gap. During the first week of February a joint
Federal army-navy expedition, commanded by Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant
and Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote, entered northern Tennessee and on
February 6 attacked Fort Henry on the Tennessee River. The Confederate
fort fell after a two-hour naval bombardment. The Tennessee River, a
vital transportation artery, now lay open to Federal invasion all the
way to Florence, Alabama. Hysteria seized many Southern citizens as
Union gunboats raided upriver into northern Mississippi and Alabama.
By February 12 Fort Donelson, located twelve miles east of Fort Henry
on the Cumberland River, had been invested by the Northern army. After a
series of incredible blunders by Confederate generals John B. Floyd and
Gideon J. Pillow, the garrison surrendered on the sixteenth. More than
just a defeat for the Confederacy, the fall of Fort Donelson was a
catastrophe. About one-third of Johnston's forces east of the
Mississippi River, almost 15,000 men, had been captured. The vital
Confederate heartland of Middle Tennessee and northern Alabama had been
pierced. Nashville fell and the Mississippi River stronghold of
Columbus, Kentucky, had to be abandoned. All across Middle and West
Tennessee, Johnston's forces were reeling south in disorder.
U.S. GUNBOATS ATTACK FORT HENRY, FEBRUARY 6, 1862. (BL)|
GENERAL ALBERT SIDNEY JOHNSTON (NA)|
Born and raised in Kentucky and an 1826 graduate of the United States
Military Academy at West Point, Albert Sidney Johnston had become one of
the country's most dedicated soldiers. "Standing slightly over six feet
in height, massively built, with broad shoulders and a large
square-jawed head," the fifty-nine-year-old Texan weighed nearly two
hundred pounds. Possessing a commanding presence and a magnetic
personality, Johnston demonstrated high moral character and great
dignity. His initial military service included garrison duty and the
Black Hawk War, before he resigned in 1834 to return to Kentucky because
of his wife's health. When she died the following year, he attempted
farming in Missouri but failed. Placing his two young children with a
grandmother in Kentucky, Johnston turned to soldiering, this time as a
private in the Texas army during the revolution of 1836. Within a year,
he was appointed senior brigadier general commanding the army and later
served as first secretary of war for the Republic of Texas until 1840.
Having remarried, Johnston settled his family in Texas. After brief
service in the Mexican War, experiencing his only combat at Monterey,
Johnston reenlisted in the regular army, performing several lackluster
frontier assignments, including paymaster duties on the West Texas
frontier during the 1850s. Commissioned colonel of the new 2nd United
States Cavalry in 1855, Johnston was given one of the most coveted and
important field commands in the old army. Serving in the regiment with
Johnston, were Lieut. Col. Robert E. Lee (second in command) and Majors
William J. Hardee and George H. Thomas. Partly responsible for granting
Johnston this choice assignment was Jefferson Davis, secretary of war in
the Franklin Pierce administration. Davis had been a close friend and a
great admirer of Sidney Johnston since they attended college together at
Transylvania University and studied as cadets at West Point. After
commanding the Army Department of Texas (1856) and the Utah Expedition
against the Mormons (1858-60), Johnston rose to the rank of brevet
brigadier general and commanded the Department of the Pacific when civil
war erupted in April 1861.
Johnston's reputation in the United States Army was now at its
zenith; superior and subordinate alike looked upon him as the foremost
and ablest officer in the service. When Texas chose secession however,
Johnston submitted his resignation. Making a perilous overland journey
from California to Virginia, Johnston met with President Davis and cast
his lot with the South. Davis rewarded his friend by appointing him a
full general with rank second only to Confederate adjutant and inspector
general Samuel Cooper, who served in an administrative capacity from the
Richmond War Department. As commander of Department No. 2, Sidney
Johnston assumed responsibility for a huge area of the western
Confederacy, including all or portions of seven states stretching from
the Appalachian Mountains westward across the Mississippi River into the
GENERAL PIERRE GUSTAVE TOUTANT BEAUREGARD (NA)|
Johnston's six-month tenure commanding in the West had not been
successful, and now, following the disastrous loss of Forts Henry and
Donelson, along with evacuation of Columbus, Bowling Green, and
Nashville, the western commander was bitterly criticized. A confused and
angry Southern public demanded that Johnston be replaced. With one
exception, the entire Tennessee congressional delegation petitioned
Davis for Johnston's removal. The Southern press was particularly
brutal. "Tennessee under Sidney Johnston is likely to fall [yet] Mr.
Davis retains him," commented one editor. The president's confidence
remained unshaken, however, and he replied to his critics: "If Sidney
Johnston is not a general, the Confederacy has none to give you."
Had Davis responded promptly to Johnston's earlier pleas for
reinforcements, the disastrous chain of events in early February 1862
might not have occurred. As it was, the Confederate president, now
gravely concerned about the Tennessee River route of Union invasion into
the Southern heartland, belatedly attempted to repair the damage. Under
his orders, the Confederate War Department ordered 5,000 Southern troops
under Brig. Gen. Daniel Ruggles from New Orleans and a 10,000-man corps
from Maj. Gen. Braxton Bragg's Department of Alabama and West Florida to
reinforce Johnston in the north. Though this national concentration of
Confederate manpower was unprecedented in scope, Davis might have done
more. Thousands of armed men still sat idle in Florida, along the
Atlantic Coast, and in Texas. Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn's 20,000-man army
in Arkansas was not ordered to Johnston's assistance until late March
1862. Van Dorn, recently defeated by a numerically inferior Federal
force at Pea Ridge, did eventually receive orders from Johnston on March
29 (sent on the twenty-third) to cross to the east bank of the
Mississippi River. A shortage of transportation for both overland and
water travel slowed attempts to shuttle Van Dorn's western soldiers to
the Memphis railhead. But if Johnston succeeded in getting Van Dorn's
men and cannon into West Tennessee to join the thousands of
reinforcements gathering to hold the Tennessee Valley, he would make
good the loss of over 12,000 Confederates captured at Fort Donelson and
amass the largest army yet organized in the South.
Besides more troops and equipment, President Davis also sent Johnston
another generalPierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, the popular hero
of the South for his prominent role at both Fort Sumter and First
Manassas (known also as First Bull Run). A native Creole from Louisiana
Beauregard had graduated second in his class of forty-five cadets at
West Point. The bright young officer served in the Mexican War on Gen.
Winfield Scott's staff, winning two brevets and being twice wounded.
Attaining the rank of brevet major in the Old Army by the start of the
Civil War, Beauregard possessed excellent credentials as an
administrator and engineer officer of high quality. By the winter of
1861-62, however, there was bad blood between Davis and Beauregard and
some in Confederate service believed that the general was being
vindictively exiled. Although there is no evidence to indicate the
Confederate president was working to undercut his success, Beauregard
would forever believe otherwise. Davis was, however, clearly glad to
get the politically motivated, anti-administration, and vain Louisiana
general out of Virginia.
Unfortunately, Beauregard arrived in the West just as Johnston's
Kentucky defensive line collapsed. Alarmed by the unorganized and the
weak state of Confederate armed forces in the West, Johnston's talented
new second in command was pessimistic about the worsening situation and
even considered returning to Virginia. Still critically ill, having had
throat surgery before leaving Richmond, Beauregard would be plagued for
several months in 1862 by a chronic bronchial infection and high fever
which greatly impaired his military effectiveness.
One serious problem was brought about by the fall of Fort Henry; the
wide Tennessee River now separated Johnston's immediate field army into
two wings. Beauregard was ordered by Johnston to take command of Maj.
Gen. Leonidas Polk's corps, stationed in western Kentucky and Tennessee,
while Johnston himself retreated southward through Middle Tennessee with
Maj. Gen. William J. Hardee's corps, along with General Crittenden's
shattered division from East Tennessee.
With Federal forces poised to ascend the Tennessee River and carry
the war southward into North Alabama and Mississippi, both Johnston and
Beauregard saw the critical need to concentrate their divided forces . .
With Federal forces poised to ascend the Tennessee River and carry
the war southward into North Alabama and Mississippi, both Johnston and
Beauregard saw the critical need to concentrate their divided forces and
defend the important Memphis & Charleston Railroad. A vital artery
of commerce, the railroad was the only all-weather east-west road in the
South that linked the Mississippi River to the Atlantic seaboard. The
location selected by the Confederates to collect and organize their
converging forces was the strategic railroad junction of Corinth, a
small town of about 1,200 inhabitants located in northeast Mississippi.
There the north-south Mobile & Ohio Railroad, linking Kentucky with
the Gulf, crossed the Memphis & Charleston's east-west axis. Using
the steam-powered technology of the modern industrial age, the
Confederates transported thousands of soldiers and tons of equipment,
both on land and water, from every corner of the western Confederacy to
Corinth. By the end of March about 45,000 men, present for duty (a total
of about 56,000 men, rank and file, were recorded on the army muster
rolls), had been amassed in northern Mississippi and southwest
Tennessee. The arriving Confederate forces were reorganized into a new
and somewhat unwieldy four-corps structure called the Army of the
Mississippi. Major General Polk commanded the First Corps; Bragg, the
Second; Hardee, the Third; and Brig. Gen. John C. Breckinridge was given
command of Crittenden's division, now designated the Reserve Corps.
RAILWAY STATION AND TISHOMINGO HOTEL AT CROSSROADS OF MEMPHIS AND
CHARLESTON RAILROAD AND MOBILE AND OHIO RAILROAD, CORINTH, MISSISSIPPI.
THIS PHOTO OF THE NINTH MISSISSIPPI WAS TAKEN SHORTLY BEFORE THE
ENGAGEMENT AT SHILOH. NOTE THE LACK OF UNIFORMS ON THE MEN. (LC)|
Johnston's decision to concentrate was hazardous, and even some of
his own officers believed that it might not work. For nearly two hundred
miles his right flank would be exposed to Federal attack. Fortunately,
the Federal army occupying Nashville did not aggressively pursue
Johnston's retreating forces in Middle Tennessee. Nonetheless, a Union
raid in mid-March on the important Memphis & Charleston Railroad in
northeast Mississippi came too close for comfort. Only the wretched
weather and a late winter flood kept Union cavalry from cutting the
vital east-west rail link.
The Southern army at Corinth bore a hodgepodge appearance. Major
General Bragg, the strict disciplinarian, contemptuously referred to it
as a "mob." A young Louisiana soldier noted the varied dress of the
different commandssome wore uniforms, some half uniforms, some no
uniforms at all, wearing the civilian dress they brought from home. In
addition, several different kinds of battle flags were carried among the
four corps. The most serious problem in Johnston's western army, however,
was the lack of proper firearms. Perhaps less than 10,000 modern
rifled muskets were in use. General Johnston had arranged for the
shipment of several thousand British Enfields, which had reached
Southern ports through the Federal naval blockade, but mostly a motley
collection of old smoothbores, flintlocks, squirrel rifles, and shotguns
could be found among the army. Morale, nonetheless, was generally high
in the Southern army. Upon these untested men now rested the hope of
restoring Confederate fortunes in the West.
The news of the western victories electrified the North. The New
York Tribune printed an extra: "Freedom! Fort Donelson Taken!" A gun
salute was fired on Bunker Hill in Boston. Business stopped on the
Chicago Merchant's Exchange and the "Star Spangled Banner" was sung. In
Washington, D.C., the news was greeted with wild cheering in both houses
of Congress. Many believed that the war would be over by the end of the
yearperhaps the Fourth of July!
Taking credit for the Union success was forty-seven-year-old Maj.
Gen. Henry Wager Halleck, commander of the Department of the Missouri.
He served as an assistant professor while still an undergraduate at the
Military Academy, and his widely recognized academic brilliance and
career accomplishments won him the nick name "Old Brains." One of the
nation's leading military theorists, Halleck was well suited for the
administrative responsibilities of his vast department, which stretched
west from the Cumberland River into Kansas. Though widely respected in
the Old Army, he was essentially a desk general and not a bold and
inspiring field commander. Rarely did he venture from his headquarters
in the Planter's House Hotel in St. Louis. Aloof and stern, he sought
complete autonomy for himself. In early 1862, Halleck and Department of
the Ohio commander Brig. Gen. Don Carlos Buell were in virtual
competition for overall command in the West.
MAJOR GENERAL HENRY W. HALLECK (LC)|
MAJOR GENERAL ULYSSESS S. GRANT (USAMHI)|
Although intense pressure from the White House had been necessary to
get Halleck to move, the St. Louis commander had seen the Cumberland and
Tennessee Rivers as the true point of penetration in the middle South.
With the twin victories of Forts Henry and Donelson under his belt, he
boldly requested a merged western department, with himself at the
The individual most responsible for the greatest Northern victory in
the war to date was a relative unknownthirty-nine-year-old Maj.
Gen. Ulysses Simpson Grant. Before the war, the West Point graduate
(class of 1843) had been clerking in a leather goods store owned by his
two brothers in Galena, Illinois. A combat veteran of 4th United States
Infantry, "Sam" Grant discharged his duties as a company line officer
and as regimental quartermaster in the Mexican War with great ability,
winning brevets of first lieutenant and captain. Stationed in isolated
frontier posts on the Pacific Coast after the war, however, Captain
Grant did not enjoy being cut off from his young wife and children. The
lonely and bored young officer developed a reputation for hard drinking.
Warned by his commanding officer, he faced damaging charges of
drunkenness and neglect of duty, Grant resigned his commission in 1854.
After returning to his family, the next six years saw Grant fail
repeatedly in several farming and business pursuits in Missouri and
Illinois. Appointed colonel of the 21st Illinois Infantry in June 1861,
within two months, much to the disdain of some Old Army officers, Grant
obtained a brigadier's commission largely through political association
with Illinois congressman Elihu Washburne. Short in height and plain in
appearance, U. S. Grant did not look the part of a dashing army
MAJOR GENERAL CHARLES E. SMITH (BL)|
General Grant's victory on the Cumberland capturing Fort Donelson and
most of its garrison, won him overnight acclaim, and ten thousand
congratulatory cigars were sent to him, causing him to take up the habit
(he had formerly been a pipe smoker). President Abraham Lincoln had
never met the general, and the administration was somewhat taken aback
that such an unknown had gained so significant a victory. The Senate
quickly confirmed upon him the rank of major general of volunteers.
Grant's success at Donelson was really only partly his own; inept
Confederate leadership within the Southern fort had greatly contributed.
During the operation, Grant had not entrenched his men at Fort Donelson,
nor was he present on the field when the Confederates launched a
surprise attack on the morning of February 15failings that would
recur in the near future. But in Grant the North had a bold fighter at a
time when one was desperately needed.
An event with potentially far-reaching effects now for a brief time
made a virtual mess of Federal communications. In late February, while
Grant was preparing his army for a projected expedition up the Tennessee
River, the Union telegraph operator at Cairo, Illinois, later discovered
to be a Rebel sympathizer, purposely withheld many of Grant's dispatches
to department headquarters in St. Louis. By early March, sitting in his
headquarters several hundred miles away from the front, an increasingly
frustrated, and by now perhaps envious, General Halleck was not
receiving daily reports or answers to his formal inquiries from Grant in
the field. Halleck angrily demanded that General in Chief George B.
McClellan remove Grant from command. In addition to several unofficial
charges of neglect of duty and insubordination, Halleck passed on to
McClellan an unconfirmed rumor that Grant had resumed his "former
habits," a veiled reference to his drinking. McClellan informed Halleck
that if it was necessary for the good of the service, he had the
authority to relieve Grant of command. Although not officially relieved,
for a full week in early March, a stunned Grant was instructed by
Halleck to turn over command of the proposed Tennessee expedition to
Brig. Gen. Charles F. Smith (promoted to major general on March 21) and
remain at Fort Henry. "Why do you not obey my orders to report strength
and positions of your command?" chided an enraged Halleck. Virtually
under house arrest, a depressed and confused Grant desperately attempted
to provide answers to Halleck's damaging official charges. Eventually
President Lincoln became involved and the Union War Department demanded
that facts, not rumors, be forthcoming on the Grant matter. Faced with
such opposition, Halleck backed down when reports from Grant provided
the tardy information.