Tennessee: Shiloh National Military Park

Excavation of Shiloh Indian Mound A
Excavation of Shiloh Indian Mound A

Courtesy of National Park Service

Shiloh National Military Park not only interprets the battlefield’s historic role during the Civil War, but it is also the site of the pre-Columbian remains left by American Indians who once inhabited the Tennessee Valley. Today, the park’s seven Indian mounds and a dozen houses allow visitors to learn about the history of America’s aboriginal inhabitants and their way of life before European contact changed their world. Shiloh’s Indian mounds survived western colonization and the destruction of the Civil War to remind visitors of the role of the earliest peoples in the nation's history and their continuous influence on American culture.

A pre-Columbian village occupied the eastern edge of Shiloh hill for over 800 years.  Archeologists characterize Shiloh’s American Indians as belonging to a “Chiefdom” society. Within this structure, the Indian community considered the chief the most influential political and religious leader, followed by the council elders and the chief’s family. Villagers not in the council of elders or part of the nobility were mostly farmers who harvested corn, squash, and sunflowers. The people also ate fish and hunted deer, raccoons, rabbits, and squirrels. Other sources of nutrition included wild plant foods, such as hickory nuts and acorns.

Archeological evidence demonstrates that there were other mounds and neighboring chiefdoms near the Shiloh site in present day Alabama, Tennessee, and Mississippi.  Studies of these chiefdoms indicate that although some neighbors were hostile toward the Shiloh society, other chiefdoms exchanged “prestige goods” with it to legitimize political alliances between chiefs. Since 1899, archeological excavations of Shiloh’s Indian mounds have found a number of “prestige goods” or tokens of friendship, among them a significant large stone pipe in the shape of a kneeling man that archeologists believe the Cahokia chiefdom of St. Louis gave to the Shiloh society.

A 1934 excavation uncovered a dozen houses, which visitors can see today at Shiloh. The evidence demonstrates the advanced lifestyle of this pre-Columbian society, whose people had adobe fireplaces in their homes. Shiloh National Military Park is one of the few sites in the United States with visible remnants of pre-Columbian homes. The park honors and interprets these early American Indians while preserving what remains to illustrate their way of life.

Battle of Shiloh or Pittsburg Landing
In February 1862, to protect rail communications along the crossroads of the Memphis & Charleston and the Mobile & Ohio railroads after the Union army’s Tennessee victory at Forts Henry and Donelson, Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston moved to northeast Mississippi and stationed his troops around the small town of Corinth. The following month -- about 22 miles northeast of Corinth -- Union Major General Ulysses S. Grant disembarked with his Army of 40,000 men at Pittsburg Landing, where they established a base of operations on Shiloh Hill.  Grant’s Army of the Tennessee had instructions from Major General Henry W. Halleck to wait for the reinforcements of Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of Ohio before leading an attack against the Confederates stationed at Corinth.

On April 3, having learned of the Federal plans to attack Corinth with the combined forces of Grant and Buell’s armies, General Johnston gathered his troops and advanced toward Pittsburg Landing with hopes of obliterating Grant’s forces before the Army of the Ohio arrived. On the morning of April 6, after heavy rain delayed their advancement to Pittsburg Landing, Johnston and his 44,000 men stormed out of the woods and surrounded the Union camps posted around Shiloh Hill. Surprised by the attack, Grant rallied his troops and soon engaged his Army of the Tennessee in a bitter battle with the Army of the Mississippi. Although the Confederate army made successful advancements during the morning attack, Grant’s troops eventually managed to confine Johnston’s brigades around Shiloh Church.

By mid-afternoon, after Johnston bled to death from a bullet that struck his right leg, General P.G.T. Beauregard assumed command of the Confederate army. At nightfall, the first day of fighting ended as the Union army managed to deter Confederate forces when Grant repositioned his men at a stronger defensive stand west of Pittsburg Landing. At daybreak on April 7, after Buell’s Army of the Ohio arrived the previous night with reinforcements, the combined Union armies attacked Beauregard and forced the Army of the Mississippi back to Shiloh Church. Outnumbered by the Union’s 54,500 troops, Beauregard withdrew his forces and returned to Corinth. When the Federal forces did not follow, the battle of Pittsburg Landing, otherwise known as the battle of Shiloh, had finally ended.

The Battle of Shiloh resulted in a huge number of casualties -- 23,746 men.  The numbers would continue to rise when Halleck, recognizing the strategic significance of Corinth for the control of the railroad crossroads, captured the small town and forced Beauregard and Major General Earl Van Dorn’s armies to abandon the site. Van Dorn would return in the summer and lead an unsuccessful attack against the Union camps stationed at Corinth. After a two-day battle, the Union forces defeated Van Dorn, and weakened the last Confederate army in the Mississippi Valley. The Confederate failure to reclaim Corinth allowed the Union to recover the Mississippi River after Grant captured the “fortress city” of Vicksburg.

Shiloh National Military Park preserves the sites of the significant battles of Pittsburg Landing and Corinth, where visitors can watch battle reenactments, explore the battlefield, and tour the remaining historic structures and monuments. Visitors can view over 180 monuments and historic structures, including Shiloh’s National Cemetery, the War Cabin, the Sunken Road, Earthworks, and the Indian mounds.

Shiloh National Military Park, a unit of the National Park System and a National Historic Landmark, is located at 1055 Pittsburg Landing Road in Shiloh, TN.   Click here for the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places file: textand photos. Shiloh National Military Park has also been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey. The park is open to the public daily from dawn until dusk, except on Christmas Day. There is an admission fee. The visitor center and park bookstore are open daily from 8:00am to 5:00pm. There is no admission fee for the Civil War Interpretive Center, which opens daily from 8:30am to 4:30pm. For more information, visit the National Park Service Shiloh National Military Park website or call 731-689-5275.

Last updated: August 8, 2017