National Park Service black bar with arrowhead logo
NPS History E-Library
 
 

Civil War Series

The Battle of Shiloh

   

THE CONFEDERATE ADVANCE

Sidney Johnston worked frantically to mold his growing army, but on the night of April 2 time ran out. Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Cheatham, commanding a Confederate division positioned twenty-five miles north of Corinth, at Bethel Station and Purdy, Tennessee, reported that Lew Wallace's division was moving west in force—perhaps to make another raid on the Mobile & Ohio Railroad. In truth, Wallace was only overreacting to an earlier reconnaissance by Cheatham's cavalry. Coupled with this intelligence came troubling news that Buell's army was at last beyond the Duck River. Beauregard advised Johnston: "Now is the moment to advance and strike the enemy at Pittsburg Landing."

Johnston directed Beauregard to formulate the attack order. The resulting directive has often been called a formula for disaster. The Louisiana general planned for an attack in successive waves, with each corps being in a parallel line behind the other. It was Johnston's stated objective to maneuver his Confederate army so as to turn Grant's left, cutting Federal retreat to the river, and then drive the enemy back into the flooded Owl Creek bottoms. To accomplish such a maneuver, however, more combat strength would be required on the Confederate right. Beauregard's plan instead placed equal strength across the entire front. In postwar years, Sidney Johnston's supporters claimed that this was not his original plan but that he was forced to accept Beauregard's proposals because of the pressure of time. This claim is dubious. The commanding general had been in Corinth for ten days, adequate time to formulate his own written plans. As it was, Johnston approved and accepted Beauregard's complex plan.

A WARTIME SKETCH OF PITTSBURG LANDING. (HP)

Beauregard's rigid marching timetable also quickly fell apart. Not all the troops were concentrated at Corinth, and the Confederate plans required a coordinated movement by thousands of men scattered across a thirty-mile-wide area to converge by various country roads to the selected point of concentration, an important intersection on the Ridge Road fourteen miles north of Corinth. That point, known by a nearby local farmhouse called "Michie's" (spelled Mickey's in Confederate reports), lay eight miles southwest of Pittsburg Landing. The movement of an inexperienced army twenty miles in a single day simply proved impossible. For complicated reasons that would be debated long after the war, General Hardee's corps, spearheading the march, held up the advance until 3 P.M. on April 3. Horrid roads, poor guides, and green troops caused further chaos. By Friday morning, April 4, as a spring storm sent rain falling in torrents, both Hardee's and Bragg's corps were twelve hours behind schedule. In fact, Breckinridge's Reserve Corps, stationed at Burnsville, Mississippi, did not move northward until the afternoon of the fourth.

A grim Johnston rescheduled the attack for Saturday morning, April 5, but that night the heavy rain continued to fall. "As we stood there, troops tramped by in the mud and rain, and darkness," revealed a Tennessean. "To us who were simply standing in line in the rain it was bad enough, but those men who were going by were wading, stumbling and plunging through mud and water a foot deep."


(click on image for a PDF version)
CONFEDERATE APPROACH, APRIL 3-5: UNION REINFORCEMENTS, APRIL 6-7
Johnston decides late April 2 to attack Grant at Pittsburg Landing before Buell arrives. To assemble for battle, the dispersed Confederates march on Michie's. From Corinth, Hardee and Polk (Clark's division) move up Ridge Road while Bragg advances through Monterey. Cheatham's division (Polk's corps) marches from Purdy and Breckinridge moves from Burnsville to join Bragg's route. Heavy rain, bad roads, and delays prevent assembly beyond Michie's until nightfall, April 5. At dawn, April 6, battle begins. At 8 A.M., Nelson (Buell's advance), who reached Savannah on the 5th, receives Grant's orders to march to the river opposite Pittsburg Landing to be ferried across. Nelson does not depart until 1:30 P.M., and reaches the river at 5 P.M. Lew Wallace receives Grant's orders to march at 11:30 A.M. Wallace advances on the Shunpike road until notified that the Confederates hold the Owl Creek bridge west of Shiloh Church. Wallace countermarches to the River road and arrives on the battlefield at 7 P.M. That night, into April 7, three more of Buell's divisions—Crittenden, McCook, and Wood—move by boat from Savannah to Pittsburg Landing.

More maddening delays occurred on the fifth, as the rain continued until early afternoon. All of Hardee's men were deployed by midmorning, but Bragg's corps was still not ready by noon. Somehow the general had lost an entire division! Johnston uncharacteristically exploded and went in search of the missing troops. He found them on the road, miles in the rear, blocked by a confusing traffic snarl involving Polk's wagons and artillery at the Michie's intersection. It was 4 P.M. before the clogged intersection was cleared and Bragg's missing division could tramp four miles eastward to its final attack positions. For a second time since leaving Corinth, the attack had to be postponed.

That night Johnston's army stood poised with General Hardee's forward line of battle positioned a mile south of the front-line Federal camps. The only challenge received by Confederates along the entire line of march came from a solitary mounted stranger who demanded to know who was advancing. "This is Hardee's corps," came the reply. The stranger asked for the password. When told that he was holding up an entire corps, he finally said: "I suppose you can go on; but its agin' orders." Despite warnings to keep silent, many of the men had carelessly discharged their wet weapons to see if they would fire. On the afternoon of April 5, Johnston, Beauregard, and Bragg, with their staffs, rode along the line, receiving rousing cheers from the men, despite efforts to silence them.

MAJOR GENERAL WILLIAM J. HARDEE (LC)

MAJOR GENERAL LEONIDAS POLK (VM)

In a meeting of Confederate generals that evening, Beauregard openly expressed his concern. The enemy surely had been alerted to their presence, he argued, since several skirmishes had been fought between the Confederate advance and Federal pickets. He warned that the element of surprise had been lost. Also, the men were exhausted from their three-day march and some had used up all their rations. In Beauregard's opinion, the army should retire to Corinth. Bragg concurred in the assessment. Johnston, perhaps sensing his great hour was at hand, reasoned that the Federals could have no greater front between the two creeks than his army. "I would fight them if they were a million," he resolutely declared. The attack would begin at dawn as planned.

That night young George Jones of Stanford's Mississippi Battery jotted in his diary: "I have the shakes badly. Well, I am not alone—in fact, we all look like shaking Quakers. Scared? Oh, no; only an old fashioned rigor . . . . I do pray that our Heavenly Father will shield and protect every one of us." Years later a Louisiana soldier recalled that he shivered that night (no fires were allowed) as he listened to a Yankee band in the distance play "Home Sweet Home."

By Saturday evening, April 5, the Federals were aware that a Southern army was concentrating at Corinth; Grant placed enemy strength between 60,000 and 80,000. Confederate cavalry patrols had become bold, advancing up to the very edge of the Union encampment. Despite this knowledge, a business-as-usual atmosphere prevailed in the Northern camps. No earthworks had been constructed, and only a light picket line extended forward of the camp.

An incident occurred on April 4, that foreshadowed trouble. About 2:30 P.M., sharp firing was heard at one of Sherman's picket posts. When Col. Ralph P. Buckland, commanding the Fourth Brigade of Sherman's division, went to investigate, he found that all seven pickets had been captured. Two companies of the 72nd Ohio Infantry pursued but quickly bumped into the 1st Alabama Cavalry. In the midst of a near blinding rainstorm, a Federal battalion of the 5th Ohio Cavalry came to the rescue. The carbine-toting Buckeyes scattered the Rebel troopers and chased them for a quarter of a mile. Cresting a knoll, the Federals uncovered a long line of Confederate infantry, backed by artillery. Fired on by what they determined to be a superior force, the blue horsemen hastily withdrew to the main line. Sherman angrily chided Colonel Buckland for almost bringing on a general engagement. Although he reported the incident to Grant, Sherman dismissed the action as nothing more than an enemy reconnaissance. What his men had actually encountered were the advanced elements of Hardee's corps.

THE CONFEDERATE COUNCIL OF WAR, APRIL 5, 1862. SHOWN (L—R) ARE BEAUREGARD, POLK, BRECKINRIDGE, JOHNSTON, BRAGG, AND MAJOR J. F. GILMER. (LC)

BRIGADIER GENERAL WILLIAM T. SHERMAN (LC)

Several sizable detachments of Confederates were spotted on April 5. When Col. Jesse J. Appler of the 53rd Ohio heard distant shots, he had the long roll sounded, calling the men to arms. Sherman reacted with a stinging rebuke: "Take your damned regiment back to Ohio. There is no enemy nearer than Corinth." That night a conference was held at division headquarters, in which Sherman grew angry at the suggestion that the enemy might attack. "General Sherman's positive manner of uttering his opinions had the effect to quiet apprehensions of some of the officers present," remembered one colonel who was present.

Why did Sherman remain so adamant in his position? In defense of his inaction, he later commented: "For weeks old women had reported that Beauregard was coming, sometimes with 100,000, sometimes with 300,000." His attitude, to a degree, was also based on his contempt for militia officers and volunteer soldiers. Recently accused by the press of being insane, for making what many Federal authorities considered were irrational reports of Confederate movements and intentions, perhaps the nervous Sherman compensated by acting overly confident and in control.

Grant, likewise, missed the warning signs. On the dark rainy night of April 4 he severely injured his ankle in a fall from a horse at Pittsburg Landing. Although now on crutches, he visited the front the next day. Apprised of enemy activity by Sherman, Grant remained confident his front was secure. That night, as he sat in the Cherry home awaiting the arrival of Buell's army, Grant penned a note to Halleck: "I have scarcely the faintest idea of an attack (general one) being made upon us, but will be prepared should such a thing take place."

Not everyone in the Northern camps remained confident. Col. Everett Peabody, commanding the First Brigade of General Prentiss's division, suspected the Confederates were nearby in force. On the night of April 5, he went to his contentious division commander Prentiss and suggested the troops be placed in readiness to receive an attack. Prentiss quickly dismissed the suggestion. Peabody, nonetheless, did not intend to be caught unprepared. In the early morning hours of April 6, he organized a patrol of five infantry companies under Maj. James E. Powell. Totally on his own authority, Peabody directed Powell, an experienced Old Army officer, to march down the Seay Field road and seek out the enemy. Quietly the Federals filed off into the darkness.

Previous Top Next


 

History and Culture