Shiloh — Without a Foot Touching the Ground

Water Oaks Pond at Shiloh National Military Park, Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, on April 7, 2019 — the 157th Anniversary of the battle. Infrared photo by Chris E. Heisey

Shiloh National Military is my favorite battlefield for scores of reasons. It’s pristine, preserved condition with fields and woodlots near to what soldiers blue and gray saw and fought across on April 6 and 7, 1862, make it a battlefield worthy of serious ponder.

Nestled up across the Tennessee River, the sacred fields are oft shrouded in fog and mist leaving you with that hushed and haunted feeling that something indeed still abides. Far from any urban sprawl or residential pressure, this southwestern Tennessee battlefield is a photographer’s delight. Though I have many favorite locations at Shiloh like the Hornet’s Nest, Bloody Pond, Sarah Bell’s Peach Orchard and Fraley’s Field to name just some, my most meaningful photographic experiences always occur around the Water Oaks Pond area. The scene of intense fighting on both days of battle, the water was a magnet for hundreds dead and dying soldiers who were desperately seeking water in their last minutes of life.

On writing about Shiloh in his memoirs, Union General Ulysses S. Grant wrote about the clearing next to this pond:

    “I saw on open field in our possession on the second day over which the Confederates had made repeated charges the day before so covered with dead that it would have been possible to walk across the clearing in any direction stepping on dead bodies without a foot touching the ground.”

Arguably why the Confederates charged, and died with such valorous grit, may be traced to Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston’s stirring written flourish to his Army of the Mississippi just days prior to his army’s advance to meet Grant’s unsuspecting army at Shiloh published in its entirety in Shelby Foote’s: The Civil War: A NarrativeFort Sumter to Perryville:

    “I have put you in motion to offer battle to the invaders of your country. With resolution and disciplined valor becoming men fighting as you are for all worth living or dying for, you can but march to a decisive victory over the agrarian mercenaries sent to subjugate and despoil you of your liberties, property and honor…. The eyes and hopes of eight millions of people rest upon you. You are expected to show yourselves worthy of your race and lineage; worthy of the women of the South, whose noble devotion in this war has never been exceeded in any time. With such incentives to brave deeds and with the trust that God is with us, your generals will lead you confidently to the combat, assured of success.”

General Johnston indeed did confidently lead the Confederate’s stalled advance only to be mortally wounded by a Yankee bullet which nicked his femoral artery allowing blood to flow freely into a puddle on this hallowed ground so pristinely preserved for us all to visit.

3 Responses to Shiloh — Without a Foot Touching the Ground

  1. Most people know the Bloody Pond at Shiloh, but the fighting around Water Oak Pond was especially ferocious.

  2. Shiloh Battlefield rewards a visit with many quiet, sobering views in many locations.

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