Shiloh 150 years later

Yesterday, April 6, and today mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh in southwestern Tennessee. This battle is significant in several ways, some which are explored in a New York Times article published yesterday. One of my buddies and fellow reenactor attended one of the 150th events last weekend and there is a buzz about them on one of the major reenacting forums. However, this battle is still one that is popular for people to read about and study, though not to the level of Gettysburg, but one of the most studied in the Western Theater.

The battle that began near Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River, near a small church called Shiloh, which meant place of peace, came to symbolize the carnage that characterized the Civil War. The Union forces were pushing down the Tennessee River towards the rail junction of Corinth, Mississippi. Having achieved two important victories in February against Forts Henry and Donelson, the Union was beginning to take the war to the South, under the leadership of Ulysses S. Grant. It was part of the larger strategy to gain control of the major inland waterways to cut the Confederacy in two. Confederate forces were hopeful of thwarting the Union strategy by delivering a major blow in the West, which reflected the state of the war in the East that was going in the South’s favor.

On April 6, General Ulysses S. Grant had established his camp on the bank of the Tennessee River, at Pittsburg Landing, the night before and was not prepared for General Albert Sydney Johnston’s Confederate army, which was encamped nearby. The Confederates launched a surprise attack on the Union camp that morning, which sought to drive the Union away and back up the river. Though initially caught off guard, Union troops rallied and fought a bitter fight against the Confederates along a line extending from the river for over a mile to Owl Creek. Part of the Union line engaged in heavy fighting, which became known as the Hornet’s Nest, where Union forces held firm. Fighting raged all along the line, with hundreds falling, including General Johnston, who was wounded in the back of the knee and bled to death. Johnston was the highest ranking officer killed on either side during the war.

After the first hard day of battle, a storm raged, with lightning flashing, showing hogs among the dead. Wounded soldiers came to a small pond to drink and bathe their wounds, dying the water pink, earning the small body the name “Bloody Pond”. William Tecumseh Sherman approached Grant under a tree, sheltering during the storm after the first day, and said, “Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?” Grant replied, “Yes, lick ‘em tomorrow, though.”

The second day, April 7 brought bad luck for the Confederates. The Union army was reinforced by General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio, which arrived the previous night. Further, the Confederates were disorganized by the loss of Johnston, which placed P.G.T. Beauregard in command, who did not realize he was outnumbered. In addition, Confederate command was rife with problems revolving around personality conflicts and subordinates not following Beauregard well. Facing a Union counterattack, Confederates were forced back from their gains the previous day and withdrew from the field, eventually back to Corinth.

The battle was the bloodiest in American history up to that time, and some claimed more casualties were suffered than all American wars combined to that time. Union casualties were 13,047 (1,754 killed, 8,408 wounded, and 2,885 missing), while Confederate losses were 10,699 (1,728 killed, 8,012 wounded, and 959 missing or captured). In addition to Johnston, Union general W.H.L. Wallace was also killed. Though initially vilified for his handling of the battle and the cost, Grant’s career was cemented by this victory. Though rumors circulated that he was drunk and calls for his job were made, Lincoln retained him, saying “I can’t spare this man; he fights.” Sherman also emerged a hero, and was a trusted subordinate and friend of Grant. This battle is quite important for the course of the war in the West and there are several great books on it, including:

Grimsley, Mark, and Steven E. Woodworth. Shiloh: A Battlefield Guide. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006.

Sword, Wiley. Shiloh: Bloody April. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1992.

Woodworth, Steven E., Ed. The Shiloh Campaign. Carbondale, IL:  Southern Illinois University Press, 2009.

Another exhibit in the New York City area

Here’s another great exhibit in the New York City area that was sent to me by Timothy Wroten of the New York Historical Society.

We have a great Civil War show at New-York Historical Society called “Grant and Lee in War and Peace”. It is running through March 29 and I’m sure any of your readers living in or visiting the New York area would love it. An online version is available for those who cannot physically attend:
https://www.nyhistory.org/web/grantandlee/

Also, we have “Abraham Lincoln in His Own Words: An Intimate Portrait of Our Greatest President,” a smaller but rich exhibition of original documents on display through July. Here’s information about that exhibition:
https://www.nyhistory.org/web/default.php?section=exhibits_collections&page=exhibit_detail&id=4888575

On another note, I will be hopefully reviewing a new independent film on the Civil War this evening and will let you know more about that tonight.

Grant moves South-again

According to CivilWarriors, the U. S. Grant Association and collection has been removed from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIUC) and is now on the campus of Mississippi State University. The new executive director, John Marszalek, who works at MSU has taken over from the late John Simon, former SIUC history professor who passed away in June. This is somewhat sad for me being from Illinois and never having the chance to visit the collection. While I wish the new director the best, I do hope that the Association will find a repository in Illinois for the materials.

On another note, we at Civil War History would like to wish you all a Happy New Year. As we enter another year here at CWH, we would like you to consider joining the fun of Civil War blogging, create a free WordPress account, and join us in writing. Please do not hesitate to use the contact page to let us know of your interest.

Considering John McCain and U.S. Grant

I could not help but smile as I watched the Republican National Convention on television this evening and saw a Lincoln reenactor in the audience. It made me ponder for a moment if John McCain could be a modern equivalent of President Grant should he be elected. Keeping McCain’s views and Grant’s unfortunate corruption laden administration out of the comparison, I feel that there are many similarities between the two men. Both men served their country honorably. The wars that each served in deeply divided the nation. Like Grant, McCain could be propelled into office by way of his military service, especially in a time of war. While Grant’s war was over, there was still much work to be done in the South. The fact that Grant faced a nation in Reconstruction and McCain faces a nation divided somewhat sectionally over many different issues is something that historians can not ignore. What will be truly interesting is how, if it happens, a McCain presidency would look compared to the Grant administration.

With regard to that, I hope that McCain does not face the same fate as Grant when it comes to corruption. It is unfortunate that Grant’s presidential record was tarnished by this, as one could imagine that he had the potential to be as successful a president as he was a general. Just as some on the Right made comparisons between President Bush and Lincoln and some on the Left compare Obama to Jesus (figuratively), one wonders if the historical community will, given the similarities, consider McCain to be a modern version of Grant.

The events of the past two weeks will ultimately make history, whichever ticket wins. We may either have the first African-American president, or elect the oldest man ever for president along with the first woman vice-president. It is interesting to consider that it has been twenty years since we elected a veteran president (George H. W. Bush in 1988). Like the nation in 1868, we may choose a war hero again to face our troubled times in 2008.