The battle of Shiloh took place on April 6-7, 1862 in Hardin County, Tennessee between the Union Army of the Tennessee & the Army of the Ohio and the Army of the Mississippi. After several decisive victories, Union forces had largely driven the Confederates out of Kentucky and central Tennessee. However, Confederates regrouped under General Albert Sidney Johnston and they launched a major offensive on April 6 that caught Union forces by surprise. The first day of fighting left thousands of casualties on both sides, including General Johnston, who was mortally wounded. The following day General Johnston’s second in command, General P. G. T. Beauregard, ordered another attack, but he did not know that General Ulysses S. Grant’s depleted forces had been reinforced overnight by General Don Carlos Buell. Eventually General Beauregard decided to withdraw his forces from the battle. On April 8 General Grant sent General William T. Sherman in pursuit of General Beauregard’s troops.
The National Park Service website has several resources that both students and teachers might find useful, including a detailed map, a historic pamphlet, and a short essay about the battle. Anyone planning a field trip to this site should check out this page, which provides important information on the park’s policy for waiving entrance fees for school groups as well as an overview of the various places to visit. Another interesting resource is an animated battle map from Civilwaranimated.com, which also offers animated maps on other key battles like Gettysburg and Vicksburg. The Official Records also published a number of documents related to this battle, including a report by General John A. McClernand. (A full list of reports related to this engagement starts on page 93 of Series 1 – Volume 10 (Part 1)). Union officers like General McClernand immediately recognized that their victory had been a critical one. “Had our army been captured or destroyed…, the rebellion would have rolled back over Tennessee, Kentucky, and Missouri before another army could have been raised and equipped adequate to retrieve the disaster,” as McClernand noted in his report. As for General Grant, this battle completely changed his perspective on what conditions were necessary for the Union to win the Civil War. Grant explained in his Personal Memoirs (1885-1886) that:
“Up to the battle of Shiloh, I, as well as thousands of other citizens, believed that the rebellion against the government would collapse suddenly and soon if a decisive victory could be gained over any of its armies. Donelson and Henry were such victories. An army of more than twenty one thousand men was captured or destroyed….. But when Confederate armies were collected which not only attempted to hold a line farther south, from Memphis to Chattanooga, Knoxville, and on to the Atlantic , but assumed the offensive and made such a gallant effort to regain what had been lost, then, indeed, I gave up all idea of saving the Union except by complete conquest.”