Twenty-three years ago the banks of the Tennessee
witnessed a remarkable occurrence.
There was a wage of battle.
Heavy blows were given and received, and the challenger failed to make his cause good.
But there were peculiar circumstances which distinguished the combat from other trials of strength in the rebellion: An army comprising 70 regiments of
infantry, 20 batteries of artillery, and a sufficiency of cavalry, lay for two weeks and more in isolated camps, with a river in its rear and a hostile army claimed to be superior in numbers 20 miles distant in its front, while the commander made his headquarters and passed his nights 9 miles away on the opposite side of the river.
It had no line or order of battle, no defensive works of any sort, no outposts, properly speaking, to give warning, or check the advance of an enemy, and no recognized head during the absence of the regular commander.
On a Saturday the hostile force arrived and formed in order of battle, without detection or hindrance, within a mile and a half of the unguarded army, advanced upon it the next morning, penetrated its disconnected lines, assaulted its camps in front and flank, drove its disjointed members successively from position to position, capturing some and routing others, in spite of much heroic individual resistance, and steadily drew near the landing and depot of its supplies in the pocket between the river and an impassable creek.
At the moment near the close of the day when the remnant of the retrograding army was driven to refuge in the midst of its magazines, with the triumphant enemy at half-gunshot distance, the advance division of a reinforcing army arrived on the opposite bank of the river, crossed, and took position under fire at the point of attack; the attacking force was checked, and the battle ceased for the day. The next morning at dawn the reinforcing army and a fresh division belonging to the defeated force advanced against the assailants, followed or accompanied by such of the broken columns of the previous day as had not lost all cohesion, and after ten hours of conflict drove the enemy from the captured camps and the field.
Such are the salient points in the popular conception and historical record of the battle of Shiloh
Scarcely less remarkable than the facts themselves are the means by which the responsible actors in the critical drama have endeavored to counteract them.
At society reunions and festive entertainments, in newspaper interviews and dispatches, in letters and contributions to periodicals, afterthought official reports, biographies, memoirs, and other popular sketches, the subject of Shiloh
, from the first hour of the battle to the present time, has been invaded by pretensions and exculpatory statements which revive the discussion only to confirm the memory of the grave faults that brought an army into imminent peril.
These defenses and assumptions, starting first, apparently half suggested, in the zeal of official attendants and other partisans, were soon taken up more or less directly by the persons in whose behalf they were put forward; and now it is virtually declared by the principals themselves, that the Army of the Ohio was an unnecessary intruder in the battle, and that the blood of more than two thousand of its members shed on that field was a gratuitous sacrifice.
With the origin of the animadversions that were current at the time upon the conduct of the battle, the Army of the Ohio had little to do, and it has not generally taken a willing part in the subsequent discussion.
They commenced in the ranks of the victims, and during all the years that have given unwonted influence to the names which they affected, the witnesses of the first reports have without show of prejudice or much reiteration firmly adhered to their earlier testimony.
It does not impair the value of that testimony if extreme examples were cited to illustrate the general fact; nor constitute a defense that such examples were not the general rule.
I have myself, though many years ago, made answer to the more formal pleas that
Pittsburg Landing, viewed from the ferry Landing on the opposite shore.
From a photograph taken in 1885.|
From a photograph taken a few days after the battle.
Of the six transports, the one farthest up stream, on the right, is the Tycoon, which was dispatched.
by the Cincinnati Branch of the Sanitary Commission with stores for the wounded.. The next steamer is the Tigress, which was General Grant's headquarters boat during the Shiloh campaign.
On the opposite side of the river is seen the gun-boat Tyler.|
concerned the army which I commanded, and I am now called upon in the same cause to review the circumstances of my connection with the battle, and investigate its condition when it was taken up by the Army of the Ohio.
When by the separate or concurrent operations of the forces of the Department of the Missouri, commanded by General Halleck
, and of the Department of the Ohio, commanded by myself, the Confederate
line had been broken, first at Mill Springs
by General Thomas
, and afterward at Fort Henry
and at Fort Donelson
by General Grant
and the navy, and Nashville
and Middle Tennessee
were occupied by the Army of the Ohio, the shattered forces of the enemy fell back for the formation of a new line, and the Union
armies prepared to follow for a fresh attack.
It was apparent in advance that the Memphis and Charleston railroad between Memphis
would constitute the new line, and Corinth
, the point of intersection of the Memphis
road running east and west, and the Mobile
road running north and south, soon developed as the main point of concentration.
While this new defense of the enemy and the means of assailing it by the Union
forces were maturing, General Halleck
's troops, for the moment under
the immediate command of General C. F. Smith
, were transported up the Tennessee
by water to operate on the enemy's railroad communications.
It was purely an expeditionary service, not intended for the selection of a rendezvous or depot for future operations.
After some attempts to debark at other points farther up the river, Pittsburg Landing
was finally chosen as the most eligible for the temporary object; but when the concentration of the enemy at Corinth
made that the objective point of a deliberate campaign, and the cooperation of General Halleck
's troops and mine was arranged, Savannah
, on the east bank of the river, was designated by Halleck
as the point of rendezvous.
This, though not as advisable a point as Florence
, or some point between Florence
, was in a general sense proper.
It placed the concentration under the shelter of the river and the gun-boats, and left the combined force at liberty to choose its point of crossing and line of attack.
On the restoration of General Grant
to the immediate command of the troops, and his arrival at Savannah
on the 17th of March, he converted the expeditionary encampment at Pittsburg Landing
into the point of rendezvous of the two armies, by placing his whole force on the west side of the river, apparently on the advice of General Sherman
, who, with his division, was already there.
Nothing can be said upon any rule of military art or common expediency to justify that arrangement.
An invading army may, indeed, as a preliminary step, throw an inferior force in advance upon the enemy's coast or across an intervening river to secure a harbor or other necessary foothold; but in such a case the first duty of the advanced force is to make itself secure by suitable works.
was in no sense a point of such necessity or desirability as to require any risk, or any great expenditure of means for its occupation.
If the force established there was not safe alone, it had no business there; but having been placed there, still less can any justification be found for the neglect of all proper means to make it secure against a superior adversary.
continued his headquarters at Savannah
, leaving General Sherman
with a sort of control at Pittsburg Landing
The Landing at Savannah, nine miles below (North of) Pittsburg Landing.
General Grant's headquarters were in the Cherry mansion, on the right; the portico has since been added.
The building on the left is a new hotel.
The town lies about a quarter of a mile back from the bluff, and is much changed since the war.-editors.|
rank did not allow him the command, but he was authorized to assign the arriving regiments to brigades and divisions as he might think best, and designate the camping-grounds.
In these and other ways he exercised an important influence upon the fate of the army.
The movement of the Army of the Ohio from Nashville
(which I had occupied on February 25th) for the appointed junction was commenced on the night of the 15th of March by a rapid march of cavalry to secure the bridges in advance, which were then still guarded by the enemy.
It was followed on the 16th and successive days by the infantry divisions, McCook
being in advance with instructions to move steadily forward; to ford the streams where they were fordable, and when it was necessary to make repairs on the roads, such as building bridges over streams which were liable to frequent interruption by high water, to leave only a sufficient working party and guard for that purpose; to use all possible industry and energy, so as to move forward steadily and as rapidly as possible without forcing the march or straggling; and to send
forward at once to communicate with General Smith
, and learn his situation.
When the cavalry reached Columbia
the bridge over Duck River
was found in flames, and the river at flood stage.