by Daniel McClory
Early in 1862, Maj. Gen. U.S. Grant, in command of the 48,000 man Federal Army of the Tennessee, took Forts Henry and Donaldson along the Tennessee River. At about the same time, Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell (pictured above) and his Army of the Ohio (including the 41st Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment) were advancing through Kentucky toward Nashville, which was occupied by Confederate General Albert S. Johnson's Army of Tennessee. Johnson, sensing that Nashville had become indefensible in the face of this dual advance (plus Federal activities in his rear along the Mississippi River), chose to abandon the city and turn to the offensive, instead. His plan was to attack and destroy one of the two advancing Federal armies before they could link up. He chose to attack General Grant.
Grant had advanced his army to a place called Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, on the banks of the Tennessee River. Nearby was a small chapel with the name of Shiloh. Buell's Army of the Ohio was moving to link up with Grant, however they were still on the opposite (eastern) side of the Tennessee. Though it had been nearly a year since the war began at Fort Sumter, there had been no major battles in the western theatre, and neither side had much battle experience. In particular, the commanders on both sides had the Napoleonic opinion that defensive structures like rifle pits and trenches were unnecessary and demoralizing to the troops. As a result, the Federal encampment at Pittsburg Landing had no defenses other than troops on picket duty, and very few of those. In addition, the generals in the Federal command staff were convinced that Johnson and his army were bottled up in Corinth, Mississippi, demoralized and weak. Grant was confident enough about the safety of his position that he left the camp and headed upriver for a meeting with Gen. Buell. Unknown to the relaxing Federals, by late April 5th, Johnson had moved his army within two miles of Grant's forces, and was preparing for a surprise attack. The rebel force was close enough that they could clearly hear the drums of the Union Army beating tattoo, and Yankee bands playing in the evening.
"We will water our horses in the Tennessee tonight" ~ Gen'l Johnson
At the appearance of faint predawn light on April 6th, Johnson's 42,000 men charged screaming from the woods around Pittsburg Landing, driving the sleepy pickets back in confusion on the Federal camp. Federal units rallied here and there to attempt to hold back the attack, but many of the green troops simply fled the field, gathering by the river in frightened groups. Some even waded into the river in an attempt to escape the fighting. Units engaged in the fighting on both sides had little organization, and few combat skills, resulting in a fight that many described as something like a fierce, bloody riot. Despite (or perhaps because of) this confusion, the Union forces were able to hold back the Confederate assaults long enough for Grant to return, and to establish a defensive line along the river. In the afternoon of the 6th, Johnson was wounded in the leg while leading his men, ignored the wound, and later died of blood loss. Command of the Confederate army passed to P.G.T. Beauregard. Gen. Beauregard halted the attack near evening as reinforcements from the Army of the Ohio began to land, backed up by fire from Federal gunboats.
By the end of the day, in addition to Johnson, more than 10,000 casualties of both sides lay on the battlefield. Many of the wounded would die without receiving any treatment, due to an inadequate medical organization. Some would die when the surrounding woodlands caught fire, a horrific scene that would be repeated in other battles in following years. Both sides were learning some hard lessons. As the sun set, the Confederates had failed to achieve their objective of driving the Union force into the river, but it appeared that they would be able to make short work of their shattered foes the next morning, April 7.
During the night, Gen. Buell and the Army of the Ohio continued to land, further reinforcing Grant's forces. Eventually, roughly 20,000 additional troops would land, bringing Grant's total forces to around 60,000. Throughout the night, Union gunboats used their heavy guns to bombard the Confederate positions, keeping them from fully reorganizing or fortifying. With these additional troops, General Grant used the dawn to go over to the offensive, attacking Beauregard's force. Now, it was the turn of the Confederates to stage the desperate defense. Outnumbered and overwhelmed, the Confederates retreated back across the ground they gained April 6. Again, the fighting was intense, and again, a determined defense was able to stall the attack. As night fell, Gen. Beauregard used the darkness to retreat back to Corinth. The overall casualty count had now risen to around 23,000 men of both sides.
After the battle, Grant sent forces under Brig. Gen. William T. Sherman to pursue Beauregard's army, but they were stopped by Beauregard's rear guard, under the command of the brilliant Confederate cavalry officer, Nathan Bedford Forrest. Sherman was forced to return to Pittsburg Landing. After the battle of Shiloh, Gen. Grant was roundly criticized in the press for being surprised at Pittsburg Landing, but President Lincoln chose to keep him on, saying "I can't spare this man; he fights".
The 41st OVI was part of the 4th Division, 19th Brigade, within the Army of the Ohio. The order of battle for the unit looked like so:
Army of the Ohio, Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell
4th Division, Brig. Gen. William Nelson
19th Brigade, Col. William B. Hazen (of the 41st Ohio)
A complete order of battle for both Federal and Confederate forces at Shiloh can be found at the United States Civil War Center web site.
For most of April 6th, General "Bull" Nelson's 4th Division cooled their heels eight miles from Pittsburg Landing, on the opposite bank of the Tennessee, listening to the guns and wondering if it was a full scale battle, or simply a small engagement. They were the vanguard of the Army of the Ohio, and the best hope of turning the tide at Shiloh. Swampy wilderness lay between them and Pittsburg Landing, and the guides they had been promised had never arrived. In addition, Generals Buell and Grant were having significant disagreements about how their armies should cooperate, leading to confusing (or missing) orders. Eventually, the 3rd Indiana Cavalry were sent forward to scout a route. After running several horses to death, they returned, reporting that a route was available, but the wagons and artillery would never make it through the swampy ground. At about the same time, a local man volunteered to act as a guide (much of the area was pro-Union). At 1 P.M. orders to advance were received, accompanied by the cheers of the soldiers. Colonel Ammen with the 10th Brigade lead the way, Colonel Bruce's 22nd (mostly Kentucky men) was next, and the 19th Brigade (with the 41st OVI) brought up the rear. The men fought their way through the swampy ground, over what could only called a road in most generous terms. All along the path of march, Col. Ammen received messages from Pittsburg Landing, urging him to hurry or all would be lost.
During the course of the afternoon, the Division became strung out over the line of march, due to the difficulty of moving large numbers of men along a narrow track through the swamp. By 5 P.M., the lead elements of the Division with Col. Ammen arrived at the east bank of the Tennessee, across from Pittsburg Landing. At that point, chaos ruled on the western bank. Roughly 10,000 to 15,000 skulkers roamed the banks, trying to find a way to escape. The main body of the army was attempting to establish a defensive line along the river bank, and extending westward away from the river. Pioneers from the 4th Division began building a roadway down the muddy embankment to allow the Division to load transports and cross. However, no transports were to be had. General Nelson, who had arrived earlier by steamboat, pressed a sutler's craft into duty to begin shuttling men across the river. Meantime, elements of the Division emerged from the swamp, and began stacking up on the east bank. By 6 P.M., when Gen. Beauregard launched his final attack of the day, only about a third of Ammen's brigade (around 550 men) had managed to make it into position on the west bank.
As night fell, the remainder of the 4th Division was shuttled across the river. By the light of torches, Bruce's and Hazen's brigade crossed over and joined Ammen's brigade in line near the riverbank. Another division (Crittenden's) of the Army of the Ohio arrived via transports, managing to escape the difficult overland crossing. This brought Buell's forces up to about 8,000 men. A driving rain began to fall, and the men settled into their places, without blankets or tents, trying to get some rest out of what remained of a miserable night. Periodically, the 8 inch cannon on the gunboats would flash and roar, and their shells would scream out overhead toward the Confederate positions. At 3 A.M., the rain tapered off, and the officers began to prepare for the dawn attack.
Soon after 5 A.M., the order to advance was given. Col. Hazen's Brigade formed the right of the Division's line. Due to inexperience and rough ground, the troops had to pause frequently to adjust their alignment. They crossed over Dill's creek, and began to come across corpses from the previous day's fighting. They advanced cautiously through the underbrush to the edge of Cloud Field, near a set of ancient Indian mounds. The division soon came upon Confederate pickets, drove them back, and at about 6 A.M., began to come under artillery fire. The division halted while Federal artillery was brought up to support them. The 19th Brigade, under Col. Hazen, then charged the Confederate batteries across an open field (Wicker's and Sarah Bell's fields), taking heavy losses. It was now around 9 A.M. Upon reaching the enemy guns, the Confederate forces counterattacked with infantry and drove the 19th Brigade back across the fields. Captain Terrel's Fifth Artillery, having just landed at Pittsburg Landing, was rushed forward to support the hard pressed 4th Division. The Fifth Artillery placed their guns in a favorable, though exposed position, and began an accurate fire into the enemy's flanks. The Confederate attack faltered under this new bombardment. Captain Terrel's guns, however, attracted the attention of the Confederate troops, and were soon forced to withdraw.
About noon, the 4th Division gains reinforcements in the form of a Regiment from another division, and attacked once again (in cooperation with Gen. Crittenden's Division), forcing the Confederates out of their positions, overrunning several batteries and capturing their guns.
Over the course of the day, nearly half of the 41st OVI becomes a casualty (24 men killed, 110 wounded, and 1 missing in action). And this was only their first major engagement.
Summary of the Battle of Shiloh by the Civil War Network
Battle Summary, including Gen. Buell's After Action Report, from "Shotgun's" Civil War Home Page
Brig. Gen. McCook's After Action Report, from The Univ. of Virginia's History 403 class notes
The National Park Service's information on the Shiloh Battlefield, and a map of the park
A overview of the battle, including a map drawn by Gen. MacClernan, by "gpg"
Microsoft Encarta's short description of the battle
An outline of the battlecreated by a student in the Nantucket schools
Another battle summary by MSU student Lee Bruce
US Army Military History Center Overview of the 1862 Campaigns,including a map of the Shiloh battlefield
Shiloh, the Battle That Changed the Civil War by Larry J. Daniel, Simon & Schuster, N.Y., 1997
War in Kentucky, From Shiloh to Perryville by James Lee McDonough, Univ. Of Tenn. Press, Knoxville, 1994
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Date last updated 08/12/98