The anniversary for the Battle of Shiloh is coming up later this week. In your opinion, what was the most important moment or location in that fight?
My top three, in order:
1. The exchange between Sherman and Grant where Grant says he’ll “lick ’em tomorrow.”
2. The mortal wounding of A.S. Johnston.
3. The actions around Pittsburg Landing and Grant’s final line, including the arrival of Lew Wallace and Buell.
I agree with Chris. The most important location at Shiloh was Pittsburg Landing.
Easily the mortal wounding/death of Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston.
Peabody’s patrol. It at least gave Sherman and Prentiss a few minutes to get into position.
Johnston’s awful attack plan, exacerbated by his decision to play brigade commander. Two ‘unforced errors” that, among other things, simply ignored the terrain and allowed a thoroughly surprised Grant to gain time and gain time again.
Grant’s Last Line, which was commenced about 2:30 on Sunday afternoon, and occupied the heights extending west from Pittsburg Landing, facing south, overlooking Dill Branch (ravine). Where this line approached Tilghman Branch (another ravine, not quite as imposing as Dill Branch) it turned abruptly to the north-northwest and extended towards Wallace Bridge (the crossing used later that evening by Lew Wallace and his Third Division.) The eastern portion of the line consisted of all of the artillery and infantry that managed to be saved during the course of the fighting on April 6th, and was under the direction of Brigadier General Stephen Hurlbut. The NNW extension of the line consisted of the artillery and infantry that Brigadier General William T. Sherman and Major General John McClernand managed to save. As Lew Wallace’s Division arrived, it connected with Sherman’s troops; and as Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio arrived, it bolstered that portion of the line closest to Pittsburg Landing.
Grant’s Last Line proved to be too strong, and too well-positioned for Confederate forces to overcome. And about sundown, General Beauregard called a halt to offensive operations for the night.
And the creation of Grant’s Last Line was made possible because of the dogged determination of troops operating under command of Brigadier General WHL Wallace, Brigadier General Benjamin Prentiss, Brigadier General Hurlbut (until 4 pm) and Colonel David Stuart (until 3:30 pm). The position of this Federal force acted as a magnet, drawing substantial Rebel forces to attack it, beginning about 9:30 am and continuing until the position (sometimes called the Sunken Road or Hornet’s Nest or Hell’s Hollow) finally was overcome at 5:30 pm. (And with sunset at 6:25, there just was not enough time, or available ammunition, or opportunity for the Rebels to press north and engage Grant’s Last Line in a concerted manner.)
The critical moment was the arrival of Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio. They saved General Grant, but he gave them no credit. Grant would have been pushed into the river without them although Grant later lied and said in his memoirs that he was was in a good shape. Yeah right, with his back to the river and his men terrified!
I’m not sure how Grant would have simply been “pushed into the river” that evening. Anybody who looks at the terrain of the Pittsburg Landing line (the Dill branch ravine) and who considers the disorganization of the A of Tennessee (partly due to Johnston’s inept tactics) will not cavalierly state that Buell “saved” Grant.. Only one brigade from Buell’s army was put in position at that point, and Lew Wallace’s division had arrived. By the way, nobody seems to mention Buell’s false claim that he made the decision to mass artillery at PL. He didn’t. And the men who held the PL line were far from “terrified”.
Two interesting aspects concerning Grant’s Last Line: Major General Grant ordered Colonel Webster to commence that defensive line AFTER Grant met personally with Major General Buell (Buell arrived at Pittsburg Landing aboard a steamer in company with a handful of aides about 2 pm.) And, Grant’s Last Line can best be described as “a work in progress” that steadily accumulated artillery and infantry, and gained strength over the course of many hours, during which command of the line was passed to LtCol Oscar Malmborg (who led his men to safety after his position collapsed about 3 pm), and then to BGen Stephen Hurlbut (who conducted a controlled withdrawal of his Fourth Division an hour after Stuart and Malmborg were forced to withdraw.
In summary, the Confederates would have had a better chance of success had they attacked Grant’s Last Line at 3 pm (vice 6 pm); and a better chance of success via coordinated, organized attack at 6 pm (vice any time afterwards, as that line only grew stronger and stronger, thanks to additions of Lew Wallace’s Third Division (commenced arriving about sunset) and Buell’s Army of the Ohio (Jacob Ammen’s Brigade began crossing the Tennessee River shortly after 5 pm.)
I’m kinda partial to the actions and exploits of the USS Lexington and USS Tyler on the first day and night of the battle.
Yes, The Navy did good work again for Grant with of course little credit. They got two lines in his report.
“…And the men who held the PL line were far from “terrified”.”
Yes, they did calm down and stopped jumping into the river when they realized The Army of the Ohio was close by.
Not hardly, Pilgrim. The only thing to be “terrified” of was knowing that the reinforcements were commanded by the likes of Buell, Nelson, McCook, and Crittenden. That would stiffen anybody’s resolve.
I seriously doubt that Prentiss’ failure to fall back is what made the creation of the last line possible. Grant had begun setting up the line hours before Prentiss surrendered. And Buell’s army played no key part on the first day and certainly did’t save anyone. Grant didn’t need saving. He had his missing division back and he had a strong defensible line.
I think the key to the first day of battle is the “lick ’em tomorrow” comment referenced above. While many federal soldiers may have thought things were going badly during the first day, the confederates failed to convince Grant that he was being defeated.
I think your implicit point about the Hornets Nest line is consistent with modern views of the fighting there (see Tim Smith, for example). David Reed got the story rolling in the late 19th century as the first “Superintendent” equivalent for the Park and his official version of events was colored by his service in one of the Iowa regiments that served with Prentiss. The Park Service retained that view for a long time. In addition, the line there was held at least as much by Will Wallace’s division. The “lick ’em tomorrow” quote seems to accurately reflect Grant’s attitude but whether he actually said it is uncertain. The first accessible version of it surfaced after Sherman’s death and referred back to an alleged story in a Washington paper c. 1877 which hasn’t ever been located so far as I know. Sherman made no mention of it in his Memoirs.
McClernand’s and Sherman’s decision to counter-attack out of Jones Field at noon on April 6. That attack both disrupted the coalescing Confederate concentration on Hurlbut and Wallace, and diverted sizable Confederate reinforcements away from the critical Confederate right. The net effect was a delay of at least 3 hours in Confederate progress towards the landing. It probably delayed the collapse of the hornets nest until late in the day, and it certainly provided hours of time for Webster to organize the final line. Had McClernand elected to hold in Jones Field, Wallace’s right would have been turned much, much earlier. McClernand gets very little recognition for his performance at Shiloh, but I am of the opinion that his division did the best fighting of any of Grant’s forces on April 6.
I’m going to echo two comments by other folks:
1. Peabody’s patrol (Andy Papen)
2. The Sherman-McClernand attack out of Jones Field (Dave Powell)
The Park needs to make more of the latter, IMO.
An excellent point.
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