After the bloody fighting ended around Pittsburg Landing on April 6, 1862, Gen. Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, recently appointed commander of the Army of the Mississippi following Albert Sidney Johnston’s death earlier that day, took stock of his army’s hard fought successes throughout that deadly Sunday. He telegraphed to Richmond that his army “gained a complete victory, driving the enemy from every position.”
As Beauregard looked at the battlefield proper, he had reasons to be optimistic about further success the next day. With one exception, the Confederates did drive the Federals from “every position.” Additionally, Beauregard believed that the Confederate plan to defeat the two Union armies in Tennessee–Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee and Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio–before they united also worked brilliantly. On the night of April 6, a dispatch addressed to Johnston reached Beauregard’s headquarters in the field. Thomas Jordan, a member of Beauregard’s staff, paraphrased its contents years later. “Scouts employed in observing General Buell’s movements reported him to be marching not toward a junction with Grant, but in the direction of Decatur, North Alabama,” Jordan wrote. Beauregard then dictated his “complete victory” note to Richmond with this intelligence tidbit in hand.
Confederate disorganization and unpreparedness on the morning of April 7 when Grant’s and Buell’s armies struck back was evident. Armed with hindsight, it is easy to lay this lack of preparation at Beauregard’s feet. Actually, even without hindsight, that can be done easily. However, the purpose of this post is not to get into all of that (check out pages 247-250 in Timothy Smith’s Shiloh: Conquer or Perish if you want more information). Instead, this vignette is illustrative of a larger point about the amount of information Civil War commanders had to digest and handle when it came to making critical decisions in a short amount of time, and often under a lot of stress and with the fog of war clouding their judgement.
As visitors to Civil War battlefields today, it is easy for us, myself included, to get hemmed in by a park’s boundaries and forget that marching armies, intelligence, and even battle action occurred beyond land owned by any public entities such as federal or state organizations. For army commanders, who were obviously humans and thus liable to misinterpretation of facts, battle fatigue, disagreements, and the fog of war, the sphere of influence that affected their decision-making processes extended well beyond the battlefield proper, as the case cited above demonstrates.
Beauregard was present on the Shiloh battlefield all day on April 6. His overconfidence and unpreparedness for action the next day though stemmed partially from information that originated near Athens, Tennessee, roughly 280 miles away from Pittsburg Landing! This is not a defense of Beauregard. Instead, it serves as an important reminder of the large and wide-ranging events that influenced army commanders on a relatively small battlefield in the midst of a larger theater of operations. Being a successful commander was about much more than just ordering troops where to go on a battlefield.