The Battle of Shiloh-Background

This entry is part 3 of 10 in the series The Western Theater Part Two

The Battle of Shiloh-Background

The Battle of Shiloh, often referred to as Pittsburg Landing, was to set the stage for Union successes in the Western Theater. After the losses of Fort Henry, Fort Donelson and the clearing of eastern Kentucky by the Army of the Ohio, the Confederate Army of Mississippi, under the command of General Albert Sidney Johnston, withdrew into western Tennessee, northern Mississippi and Alabama.

The Army of the Tennessee once more under the command of Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, moved south to fill the vacuum. They were followed by the Army of the Ohio, under Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell, which followed them to provide support.

General Albert Sidney JohnstonGeneral Johnston had the distinction of having held the rank of general in three different armies: Texas, the United States and the Confederate States. Born in Kentucky, Johnston lived most of his early life in Texas. He graduated from West Point in 1826, 8 out of 41 cadets. Resigning his commission in 1834, he returned to Texas after his wife died of tuberculosis.

In Texas, Johnston farmed but in 1836 joined the Texas Army of Independence. By January 1837, he was promoted to brigadier general. After an unsuccessful duel with another general, he resigned from the army but the second president of Texas named him Secretary of War in December 1838. Johnston resigned in 1840 but rejoined the Texas Army during the Mexican War.

After the war, Johnston stayed in the United States Army until the start of the Civil War when he resigned once again. He was appointed the second highest ranking Confederate general (after the little-known Samuel Cooper) as commander of the Western Department.

Johnston raised the Army of Mississippi to defend the western region of the Confederacy. His command stretched from the Mississippi River to the Allegheny Mountains. Before the Battle of Shiloh, General P.G.T. Beauregard was sent west to assist Johnston.Johnston had concentrated his army of 44,700 men to the south of the Union camps at Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River.

Johnston’s Army of Mississippi was formed into four corps. The First Corps under Maj. Gen. Leonidas Polk, had two divisions under Brig. Gen. Charles Clark and Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Cheatham. The Second Corps under Maj. Gen. Braxton Bragg, had two divisions under Brig. Gens. Daniel Ruggles and Jones M. Withers.

The Third Corps under Maj. Gen. William J. Hardee, had three brigades under Brig. Gens. Thomas C. HindmanPatrick Cleburne, and Sterling A. M. Wood. The Fourth Corps under Brig. Gen. John C. Breckinridge, was his reserve force, with three brigades under Cols. Robert Trabue and Winfield S. Statham, and Brig. Gen.John S. Bowen, and attached cavalry.

Grant’s Army of the Tennessee had 48,894 men in six divisions, led by Maj. Gens. John A. McClernand and Lew Wallace, and Brig. Gens. W. H. L. General Ulysses GrantWallace (replacing Charles Ferguson Smith, disabled by a leg injury),Stephen A. HurlbutWilliam T. Sherman, and Benjamin M. Prentiss. The divisions were camped on the western side of the Tennessee River. Grant had developed a lack of concern for the enemy’s plans. He was more concerned with his own plans.

His army was spread out in bivouac style, many around the small log church named Shiloh (the Hebrew word that means “place of peace”). They spent their time for Buell’s Army of the Ohio, with drills for his many raw troops, without entrenchments or other awareness of defensive measures.

Sherman, for example, believed that Johnston’s Confederates were in the Corinth, Mississippi area, right up until the time that they almost overwhelmed his division.

On the eve of battle, April 5, the first of Buell’s divisions, under the command of Brig. Gen. William “Bull” Nelson, reached Savannah, Tennessee.  Grant instructed him to encamp there rather than cross the river immediately. The rest of Buell’s army was still marching toward Savannah.

Only portions of four of his divisions, totaling 17,918 men, would reach the area in time to have any role in the battle, almost entirely on the second day. The other three divisions were led by Brig. Gens. Alexander M. McCookThomas L. Crittenden, and Thomas J. Wood, but Wood’s division appeared too late even to be of much service on the second day.

The Confederate troops had very little combat experience and many were poorly armed with antique weapons, including shotguns, hunting rifles, pistols, flintlock muskets, and even a few pikes. However, two of their regiments did have Enfield rifles.

At least half of Grant’s army, 32 out of 62 infantry regiments, were combat veterans of the fight at Fort Donelson. At least half of his artillery batteries and almost all of his cavalry had similar experience. This experience would be very important in the first hours of the Battle of Shiloh when the Confederates caught them by surprise.






Series Navigation<< The Army of the Ohio in KentuckyThe Battle of Shiloh-The Morning of Day One >>

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