Shiloh's Hornet's Nest refers to a nearly six-hundred-yard stretch of what came to be known as the Sunken Road in the center of the battlefield and was the scene of heavy combat on both days of the battle. On the first day, elements of three Union divisions manned the line along a little-used farm road that ran through the J.R. Duncan land. Duncan and his family worked a small cotton field that bordered the road to the south. With its open fields of fire and road cover, there is little wonder that the Duncan plot became one of the most important localities on the battlefield.
This position, atop a small rise and fronting an almost impenetrable undergrowth, became the target of the numerous Confederate attacks on April 6. Heavy fighting raged in the area of the Hornet's Nest on the first day, with no less than eight distinct Confederate attacks turned back by the determined defenders of the Sunken Road. Attesting to the fury in the area, Confederates so named the location because, they said, the enemy's bullets sounded like swarms of angry hornets.
Confederate General Daniel Ruggles, after having witnessed the unsuccessful attacks against the position, formed a line of artillery consisting of as many as 62 guns and concentrated its fire upon the Federal line. With the aid of these cannon, the Confederates were able to form a circle around the Hornet's Nest, surrounding and capturing General Prentiss, with more than 2,200 troops, late in the day on April 6.