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Civil War Series

The Battle of Shiloh

   

THE PURSUIT

On the morning of April 8, pursuant to Grant's instructions, the Federals conducted a reconnaissance in force. The objective was to ascertain if the Confederates had retreated or if they threatened to resume their attacks. General Sherman, with two infantry brigades of his division, along with two battalions of cavalry, advanced slowly south from his camps on the Corinth road. Near the forks of the Bark and Corinth roads, Sherman met Brig. Gen. Thomas Wood's division of Buell's army. Up to this point, having passed through the abandoned Southern camps and several Confederate field hospitals, neither Union column had encountered resistance. From the junction, both columns continued on, with Wood moving south along the Corinth road, while Sherman headed west on the Bark road.

FINAL ACTION ON THE FIELD BEFORE SHERMAN'S CAMPS AND SHILOH MEETING HOUSE. (PRINT COLLECTION, MIRIAM AND IRA D. WALLACH, THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY)

UNION SOLDIERS WAIT TO BE EXAMINED BY AN ARMY SURGEON ON THE BATTLEFIELD. THE TENT FIELD HOSPITALS ESTABLISHED AT SHILOH WERE AMONG THE FIRST TO BE USED ON A BATTLEFIELD. (BL)

Critics have always charged that Grant missed a major opportunity to further damage, if not destroy, the retreating Confederate army with a vigorous pursuit after the battle. Many years after the war Grant claimed that he "wanted to pursue, but had not the heart to order the men who had fought desperately for two days, lying in the mud and rain whenever not fighting, and I did not feel disposed to positively order Buell, or any part of his command to pursue." An incensed Buell later replied: "If General Grant meant to imply that I was responsible that the pursuit was not made, I might perhaps answer that it is always to be expected that the chief [senior] officer in command will determine the course to be pursued."


(click on image for a PDF version)
BEAUREGARD COUNTERATTACKS AND RETREATS, APRIL 7-NOON-DARK
To hold the Corinth road, Beauregard leads a succession of counterattacks from Shiloh Church. From noon to 2 P.M., Sherman, Rousseau, Kirk, and Gibson are hammered by these assaults at Water Oaks Pond. Reinforced by Tuttle, Crittenden seizes the Eastern Corinth and Hamburg-Purdy road Junction and drives the Confederates into Prentiss's old camps. Nelson resumes his advance, and by late afternoon seizes the heights overlooking Locust Grove Branch. As Wood's division reinforces Crittenden, Grant moves Veatch forward to flank Beauregard's final counterattack. Beauregard orders retreat, placing Breckinridge in charge of the rear guard. To discourage further Union advance, Confederate batteries are massed at Shiloh Church and on the ridge south of Shiloh Branch. A 4:00 sortie under Looney protects the final withdrawal across Shiloh Branch. The Federals recover Sherman's and Prentiss's old camps, but do not pursue. Wallace advances beyond Shiloh Branch, but unsupported, he halts at dark and retires to Sherman's camps. The battle ends.

In reality, Grant found himself severely limited by Halleck's standing orders not to engage the Confederates except in defense. He informed Buell on the night of April 7 that these orders still applied. Grant added that he desired they "feel on in the morning with all the troops on the outer lines." But he cautioned Buell that, based on Halleck's instructions to avoid battle, they could not advance beyond Monterey or to some point that could be reached and returned from in a day. Grant's critics, among them General Buell himself, say that the lack of a vigorous pursuit was the last great blunder of the battle. Although Buell, by rank, was junior to Grant, both generals answered directly and separately to Halleck. Grant might have felt constrained to give Buell a direct order to carry out a pursuit. Buell's men, along with Lew Wallace's division of Grant's force, were the most fresh. Again, critics say that at the very least, Grant should have sent forward as many of these fresh forces as could possibly be reorganized. It appears all of the Federals were simply exhausted and content that the bloodletting was over.

THE MAJORITY OF THE 8,012 CONFEDERATES REPORTED WOUNDED AT SHILOH WERE EVACUATED BY WAGONS AND AMBULANCES TO THE CORINTH RAILHEAD. (BL)

Even if Grant had not been constrained to obey Halleck's cautious standing orders and instead had the freedom to attempt a vigorous pursuit, several stark tactical realities challenged the success of such an operation. Both Union armies lacked large organized cavalry commands of brigade or division strength, which would have been useful for pursuing the retreating Confederates. They might have pursued with infantry, but a shortage of horses (hundreds were killed and many more wounded or broken down during the battle) to move supplies and pull artillery did not permit a major Union movement south from the battlefield. Difficult, naturally defensible terrain covered the pursuit corridors to the Lick Creek bottoms, providing the Confederates with ample and excellent opportunities to deploy and ambush pursuing columns. Once the Confederates crossed the flooded Lick Creek bottoms, they could easily post and defend the crossing and punish any Federal attempt to cross the swampy valley.

Grant's critics believe, however, that had a serious attempt at pursuit been made between April 7 and 9, hundreds of straggling Confederates could have been captured. During the early morning of April 8 Bragg notified Beauregard: "Our condition is horrible. Troops utterly disorganized and demoralized. Roads almost impassable. No provisions and no forage, consequently everything is feeble . . . . Our artillery is being left all along the roads by its officers; indeed, I find but few officers with their men." Some 200 cavalrymen were dismounted and their horses used to bring in the abandoned guns. In contradiction to these observations, however, Bragg's report of the battle, filed three weeks later, made no mention of the "horrible" condition of the army during the retreat. Instead, Bragg labeled the retreat south as "orderly," stating that "under the circumstances, it was as creditable to the troops as any part of the brilliant advance they had made." In addition, Breckinridge, who supervised the rear guard at Michie's (Mickey's), eight miles southwest of Pittsburg, reported that afternoon that although the road to Corinth was "much obstructed by artillery and [etc.]," the large number of Confederate "stragglers are nearly all gone by here (Michie's)." If General Breckinridge's observations were correct, the vast majority of the Southern forces were already south of the protection provided by the broad muddy valley of Lick Creek.

THIS CURRIER AND IVES LITHOGRAPH SHOWS (L-R) GENERALS CRITTENDEN, WALLACE, BUELL, SHERMAN, AND GRANT AT THE BATTLE OF PITTSBURG, TENNESSEE. (LC)

Meanwhile, having directed Wood to march south on the Corinth road, Sherman cautiously tramped west on the Bark road with his infantry and two battalions of the 4th Illinois Cavalry under Col. T. Lyle Dickey. At a point six miles southwest of Pittsburg Landing, Sherman noticed a clear field through which the road passed and immediately beyond a space of some two hundred yards of fallen timber. Beyond this, posted on the opposite ridge, was an extensive camp, where could be seen a Confederate field hospital, protected by a force of Southern cavalry.

The cavalry was a mixed group of 300 troopers, consisting of 220 of Col. John Wharton's Texas Rangers commanded by Maj. Thomas Harrison, a company of Wirt Adams's Mississippi cavalry regiment, and about forty of Colonel Forrest's Tennesseans. Forrest, as the senior officer on the field, commanded.

Sherman cautiously advanced a skirmish line consisting of the 77th Ohio Infantry. Noticing that the Federal skirmishers were having difficulty clearing the fallen timber, Forrest ordered a charge. The scene quickly became a wild melee as the Southern troopers bore down on the Buckeyes, firing shotguns and revolvers and brandishing sabers. Dickey's Illinois horse soldiers likewise got caught up in the confusion, firing their single-shot carbines much too quickly. Now unloaded, the Union troopers were forced to flee to the rear. Sherman himself was nearly captured in the confusion.

The panicked Federals sought shelter behind Jesse Hildebrand's brigade, which formed in line of battle across a cotton field. Forrest was so far in advance of the Southern troopers, many of whom were now beginning to retreat at the sight of the strong Union battle line, that he came to within a few yards of the Federals before realizing he was all alone. Hundreds of Yankees yelled out: "Kill him! Kill him and his horse!" A Federal shoved his musket into Forrest's side and pulled the trigger. The bullet struck the colonel above the hip, penetrating to the spine. Although seriously wounded, Forrest proceeded to pull an unlucky Federal soldier up by his collar onto the back of his horse and use him as a shield to protect his escape. The wounded Confederate colonel retired to Corinth subsequently went home to Memphis to recuperate. Twenty-one days later, still carrying the bullet lodged against his spine, he returned to Corinth and resumed his duties.

DEAD HORSES ARE BURNED ON THE BATTLEFIELD NEAR THE PEACH ORCHARD. (LC)

Sherman lost at least ninety men (most of them captured in the charge) while Harrison reported two killed and seven wounded from his command but could not account for other Southern casualties except that Forrest had been wounded at "Fallen Timbers," as it became known. With the Confederates having retired, Sherman advanced and captured the field hospital with about 250 wounded (among them 50 wounded Union soldiers who had fallen into Confederate hands). Dickey's Illinois troopers pushed on for another mile, where they encountered Breckinridge's infantry rear guard, supported by artillery, just east of Michie's farmhouse. All signs pointed to a Rebel retreat, so Dickey probed no farther. Pursuant to Grant's instructions and having found the area south of Pittsburg Landing clean of all but minor enemy formations for seven miles out to the Lick Creek watershed, Sherman and Wood returned that evening to the grisly Shiloh battlefield. The battle was over.

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