Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary
Civil War Era National Cemeteries: Honoring Those Who Served
The ten acres of Shiloh National Cemetery in Shiloh, Tennessee contain the remains of 3,584 Union soldiers, more than 2,300 of which are unknown. The soldiers died in the battlefields of Shiloh and other engagements along the Tennessee River. The Federal Government established the national cemetery in 1866. Today the Shiloh Battlefield and National Cemetery form the Shiloh National Military Park, a National Park Service unit dedicated to preserving the battlefield and interpreting the battle and its aftermath in the greater picture of the Civil War. The park’s visitor center features exhibits and films on the battle, and ranger-led programs provide in-depth interpretations of the important battle. Shiloh National Cemetery is today one of 14 national cemeteries managed by the National Park Service.
On April 6 and 7, 1862, Confederate troops under the command of General Albert Sydney Johnson launched an attack on the Union forces of General Ulysses S. Grant. Months prior, Grant’s more than 48,000 men successfully routed Confederate forces at Fort Donelson and Fort Henry, securing Tennessee’s Cumberland River for the Union. Determined to win back western Tennessee, Johnson planned to force Grant out of the Shiloh area and back toward the east.
Johnson’s initial attack on April 6 came as a surprise to Union troops. Confederate troops overcame a Union battle line and forced Grant to fall back to a defensive position at Pittsburg Landing, just north of Shiloh on the Tennessee River. On the second day of fighting, Union troops from the Army of the Ohio reinforced Grant’s men. Greatly outnumbered, Confederate troops retreated to their base of operations at Corinth, Mississippi. Two days of fierce fighting took a heavy toll on both sides. More than 100,000 men engaged in the conflict, and nearly 3,500 died on the battlefield or from their wounds. Union losses amounted to 1,750 killed and 8,400 wounded.
In 1866, the War Department established a national cemetery on the Shiloh Battlefield to serve as an appropriate final resting place for Union soldiers killed at Shiloh and other engagements in southwestern Tennessee. Work began in the fall of 1866 to transfer remains from the battlefield and 500 other locations along the Tennessee River. The cemetery holds 3,586 remains of Union soldiers, a vast majority of which are unknown.
The cemetery lies along a bluff above the Tennessee River. The location on the western bank of the river is near Grant’s secondary defensive line at Pittsburg Landing. The cemetery is roughly T-shaped with a large section following the course of the river joined with another section stretching west toward the cemetery’s entrance. Neatly graded avenues and walks divide the cemetery into sections. During interment in the cemetery, great care was taken to rejoin comrades into sections with their fellow soldiers, and 29 sections contain the remains of regimental groups.
A memorial to the Wisconsin Color Guard is located at the eastern edge of the cemetery overlooking the Tennessee River. The graves of six soldiers lie in a semi-circle; behind the graves is a cannon aimed toward the river. The six Wisconsin soldiers were killed as they carried their regimental flags into the intense battle.
Numerous other memorials and monuments stand in the cemetery, including a pyramid of 32-pound cannon balls marking the site where General Ulysses S. Grant held his headquarters on the night of April 6.
In addition to the Union soldiers buried at the Shiloh National Cemetery, there are a small number of interments of veterans from other wars, ranging from the Revolutionary War to the Vietnam War. With the exception of two graves within the national cemetery, most of the Confederate dead from the Battle of Shiloh remain interred in mass graves on the battlefield. Although as many as a dozen mass graves may be on the battlefield, only five have been located and properly marked. One of the largest mass graves is included as a stop on the tour of the battlefield.