The Battle of Shiloh

The Battle of Shiloh (also known as the Battle of Pittsburgh Landing), was known to be a major battle in the American Civil War. It was fought on April 6 and April 7, 1862 in southwestern Tennessee, where forces under Confederate Generals Albert Sidney Johnston and P. G. T. Beauregard staged a surprise attack against the Union Army troops of Major General Ulysses S. Grant and almost defeated his military units. The Battle of Shiloh was also regarded as the costliest military engagement within the American Civil War.

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The American Civil War stemmed from the convoluted issues of slavery and clashing perspectives on federalism, party politics, expansionism, sectionalism, economics and modernization during the Antebellum Period, or the turbulent years prior to the American Civil War. The Antebellum Period saw the emergence of the Industrial Revolution in America. Much of the nation’s growth was brought about by technological advancements, a large British demand for cotton and a wave of Midwestern settlement that created opportunities for regional specialization and trade.

However, the Industrial Revolution in America also institutionalized black slavery. Large cotton plantations were labor-intensive, creating a huge need for slave workers. At the height of cotton production in the United States, about 40% of the Southern population consisted of black slaves. The percentage of slaves rose as high as 64% in South Carolina in 1720 and 55% in Mississippi in 1810 and 1860. All in all, more than 36% of all the New World slaves in 1825 were in the southern United States.
These slaves were subjected to abysmal working and living conditions such as starvation, poor housing inadequate clothing allowances, overwork and physical and sexual abuse from their masters. Many Northerners, especially the leaders of the Republican Party (established in 1854), considered slavery a grave social ill and believed that owners of large Southern plantations were responsible for its promotion. But Southerners were instead worried about the relative political decline of their region because the North was more progressive in terms of population and industrial output.
As the North and the South’s societies diverged, so did their regional identities. The North enjoyed a rapidly growing economy brought about by family farms, industry, mining, commerce and transportation, with a fast-growing urban population (fed by a high birth rate and large numbers of European immigrants) and no slavery outside the Border States. Meanwhile, the South was dominated by the settled plantation system operated through slavery, with a rapid population growth based on high birth rates and low immigration from Europe.
Overall, the Northern population grew much more quickly than the Southern population, which made it increasingly difficult for the South to continue its dominance of the national government. Although slave owners controlled the region’s politics and economics, two-thirds of the Southern whites who were elected into public office did not own slaves and were usually engaged in subsistence agriculture. Hence, it was unclear if they would support the plantation owners in perpetuating slavery.
Both the North and the South were influenced by the ideas of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence. The South emphasized the states’ rights (from the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions) and the right of revolution (from the Declaration of Independence), while the North emphasized Jefferson’s declaration that all men are created equal. However, the coexistence of a slave-owning South with an increasingly anti-slavery North made conflict unavoidable.
The Compromise of 1850 was enacted as an attempt to resolve the territorial and slavery controversies arising from the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). Although the Compromise of 1850 admitted California as a free state (a state in the antebellum United States where slavery was either prohibited or eliminated over time) due to the California Gold Rush of 1849, it ruled that the status of the rest of the territories acquired from the Mexican-American War (Utah, Nevada, Texas and parts of Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona) will be determined through popular sovereignty.
Hence, debates over sectionalism and the Fugitive Slave Laws (at set of laws passed by the United States Congress in 1793 and 1850 to provide for the return of slaves who escaped from one state into another or into a public territory) became prevalent. In 1845, the Kansas-Nebraska Act dictated that each new state of the Union will decide its stance on slavery. This proved to be disastrous for Kansas, as it was home to both pro- and anti-slavery factions, with the former emerging victorious on the slavery debate.
The tension between the two parties had already escalated to the point that the admission of Kansas into the Union in 1861 led to the surfacing of numerous anti-abolitionist movements that espouse racist sentiments that are still prevalent up to this day. Abraham Lincoln, an outspoken opponent of slavery in the United States, was elected president in 1860. After he assumed the presidency, 11 Southern states seceded from the Union between late 1860 and 1861 and established a rebel government, the Confederate States of America, on February 9, 1861.
On April 12, 1861, Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard opened fire upon Fort Sumter in South Carolina, marking the start of the American Civil War. However, with the loss of Forts Henry and Donelson in February 1862, Johnston disengaged his demoralized Confederate forces into west Tennessee, northern Mississippi and Alabama to reorganize. As a response, Grant transported his 58,000-strong Army of West Tennessee into southwest Tennessee from March 1 to April 5, 1862. He then settled at Pittsburgh Landing and waited for Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio from Nashville.
According to instructions from Union Major General Henry W. Halleck, Grant and Buell’s forces will merge in a joint offensive to seize the Memphis-Charleston Railroad. It was the Confederacy’s most reliable supply route, linking the lower Mississippi Valley to cities on the Confederacy’s east coast. In order to defend the Memphis-Charleston Railroad, Johnston and Beauregard transported 55,000 Confederates to Corinth as early as March 1, 1862. Corinth was the western Confederacy’s most important rail junction, as it was strategically located where the Memphis-Charleston crossed the Mobile-Ohio Railroad.
Realizing that Buell would soon reinforce Grant, Johnston advanced towards Pittsburg Landing on April 3, 1862 with his newly-christened Army of the Mississippi. However, rain and bad roads delayed his advance. Johnston launched a surprise attack on the Federals on the dawn of April 6, 1862. Being unfortified, the Federals were easily surrounded. By mid-morning, the Confederates managed to overrun one frontline Union division and capture its camp. But Johnston’s brigade met stiff resistance from the Federal right, which resulted in a savage fight around Shiloh Church.
Johnston’s army battered the Federal right all throughout the day. Although the Federal right did not give in, numerous casualties ensued. Johnston died at mid-afternoon after he was struck down by a stray bullet while directing the action on the Confederate right. Meanwhile, Johnston’s contiguous assault was mired in front of Sarah Bell’s peach orchard and the dense oak thicket the Confederates labeled as the “Hornet’s Nest. ” For seven crucial hours, Grant’s left border endured Confederate attacks before being forced to yield ground later in the afternoon.
The Confederates only drove Grant towards the river, instead of away from it, despite inflicting heavy casualties and seizing ground. By dusk, the Federal survivors have established a solid front before Pittsburgh Landing and revolted the last Confederate charge. The Union finally got the upper hand on April 7, 1862. The night before, General Buell’s Federal Army of the Ohio reached Pittsburgh Landing and positioned itself on the Union left. The Federal Army of Ohio joined forces with a reserve division from Grant’s army, led by Major General Lewis Wallace. This merger added over 22,500 reinforcements into the Union lines.
Despite being caught unprepared, Beauregard still managed to rally 30,000 of his badly-disorganized Confederates and stage an obstinate defense. Although Beauregard’s troops temporarily halted the determined Union advance, strength in numbers provided Grant with a decisive advantage. As waves of fresh Federal troops swept forward by mid-afternoon, the exhausted Confederates were pressed back to Shiloh Church. Realizing the peril his army was facing, Beauregard ordered a retreat. The greatly disorganized Confederates withdrew to their fortified stronghold at Corinth. But the Federals still succeeded in conquering Corinth.
The Battle of Shiloh led to the defeat of the Confederate Army and the failure of Johnston’s plans to prevent the joining of the two Union armies in Tennessee. Union casualties were estimated to have reached 13,047 (1,754 killed, 8,408 wounded, and 2,885 missing); Grant’s army alone led to 1,513 killed, 6,601 wounded, and 2,830 missing or captured soldiers. On the Confederates’ side, casualties reached up to 10,699 (1,728 killed, 8,012 wounded, and 959 missing or captured). This total of 23,746 fatalities was estimated to be greater than those of the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Mexican-American War combined.
The Battle of Shiloh was very crucial to the American Civil War in the sense that it secured the Unionists’ position on the Western front. After winning the Battle of Shiloh, Grant was able to continue his drive towards Corinth and take control of the Memphis-Charleston Railroad. The Union takeover of the Memphis-Charleston Railroad paved the way for their victory in the American Civil War. However, this victory came after three more years of bloodshed and eight larger and bloodier battles. The Battle of Shiloh also influenced the Civil War and the way it was fought in the years to come.
It imparted that weighing the accomplishments of the victors equally with the lost opportunities of the defeated was an important part of any criteria for military decisiveness. Simply put, what makes a battle decisive is not only what historically happened, but also what became historically unfeasible as a result of the event. For instance, the Battle of Antietam (fought on September 17, 1862, near Sharpsburg, Maryland, and Antietam Creek, as part of the Maryland Campaign) was significant not only because it led to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
Rather, it was also because Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s forces did not remain outside Virginia long enough to affect the elections in the North or to relieve the draining manpower reserves there. Furthermore, the outcome of the 1862 Maryland Campaign failed to elicit support for an independent Southern Confederacy from politically-conscious countries such as Britain and France. In the succeeding campaigns, the Unionist soldiers applied a tactic that was very useful in the Battle of Shiloh – the seizure of locations that are indispensable to the Confederates.
In the Siege of Vicksburg (May 18 – July 4, 1863), Grant and his Army of the Tennessee attacked souther forces at Jackson, where Vicksburg’s reinforcements were located. As a result, the Confederacy gave the Union total control of the Mississippi River, except for the western states (Arkansas, Los Angeles and Texas). In the Atlanta Campaign (May 1864 – September 1864), Grant and Major General William Tecumseh Sherman defeated the Confederates by destroying their strategic, economic, and psychological capacity for warfare.
They then ordered the Union troops to burn crops, kill livestock, consume supplies, and destroy civilian infrastructure along their path. The Atlanta Campaign eventually led to the hastening of the end of the American Civil War in 1864. What is saddening about the Battle of Shiloh is that it is a war that could have been prevented in the first place. In fact, the entire American Civil War was a war that could have been prevented in the first place. But then, they both happened due to oppression, or the philosophy that a person can subjugate another because of race, creed or social status.
Out of profit and a misplaced sense of racial supremacy, the whites enslaved the blacks. The end result was the American Civil War, a hostility that claimed millions of innocent lives at its wake. But what is more saddening is that people never seem to learn the mistakes of the past. Nowadays, despite advances in education and reason, discrimination and racism are still very rampant. People are still persecuted due to their beliefs, the color of their skin or their religion. Those who promote the status quo are called “freedom fighters,” while those who deviate from it are labeled “terrorists.”
But they just end up waging senseless wars that kill millions of innocent people and turn the oppressed of today into the tyrants of tomorrow. Indeed, those who do not study the past are bound to repeat it.
Works Cited
“Slavery. ” 2007. Encyclopedia Britannica’s Guide to Black History. 20 December 2007 <http://www. britannica. com/blackhistory/article-24158>.
“The Battle of Shiloh, 1862. ” 2004. EyeWitness to History. 20 December 2007 <http://www. eyewitnesstohistory. com/shiloh. htm>.
” The Battle of Shiloh Official Records and Battle Description. 20 December 2003 <http://www. civilwarhome. com/shilohdescription. htm>. “Timeline of the Battle of Shiloh (Pittsburg Landing).
” The Battle of Shiloh Official Records and Battle Description. 20 December 2003 <http://www. civilwarhome. com/shilohdescription. htm>.
Beason, W. Keith. “Understanding Shiloh: The Death Knell of the Confederacy (Part 3). ” 1999. KeithStuff Homepage. 20 December 2007 <http://www. angelfire. com/ga/wkb/shiloh3. html>.

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