Shiloh National Military Park

The Battle of Shiloh: Dividing the Heart of Tennessee

When the smoke cleared, the hard-won Union victory had produced more than 23,000 casualties, more than the battles of the American Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Mexican-American War combined.
Blue and green woodcut illustration of a young soldier brandishing a rifle
John Clem (1851-1937), 10 years old at Shiloh, later served at Chattanooga and is sometimes called "The Drummer Boy of Chickamauga."
National Park Service

The year was 1862. The state's population was divided politically, with East Tennessee solidly in the pro-Union camp, West Tennessee committed to secession, and Middle Tennessee split between both camps. Most residents of Pittsburg Landing, on the imaginary dividing line between western and middle Tennessee, didn't own slaves. The majority voted in early 1861 to remain with the Union-but passions had shifted dramatically by later that year, tipping the balance to secession.

The area around Pittsburgh Landing (perhaps better identified with the small log chapel called Shiloh) was in Confederate hands early in 1862. Then, in April, General Grant moved his army into the area, poised for an attack on the Confederate forces in and around Corinth, Mississippi. Grant enlisted the eager assistance of several pro-Union sympathizers in the area as guides for his scouting parties.

Unbeknownst to Grant, the Confederates were moving to attack him, which they did on April 6. The South gained the upper hand despite the loss of their great leader, General Johnston. But the Union army counter-attacked on April 7 and overwhelmed the Confederates with fresh troops.

When the smoke cleared, the hard-won Union victory had produced more than 23,000 casualties, more than the battles of the American Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Mexican-American War combined.

In Pittsburg Landing, the battle had pitted neighbor against neighbor. The devastation left deep scars on the community, both physical and ideological. Guerrilla bands, made up mostly of deserters from both sides, preyed on the local residents, causing further polarization of the factions in the area.

After the war was over, the community returned to its rural way of life--but the scars remained, as did the thousands of dead buried and memorialized in Shiloh National Cemetery and Shiloh National Military Park.