Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Myths of the Battle of Shiloh

This is the summary of an article about the battle of Shiloh by Timothy B. Smith.  The entire article is here:
The basic story of Shiloh is that the Confederates surprised the Union forces, pushed them back, and then only through the heroism of Benjamin Prentiss and his division saved Grant's army at the sunken road and the Hornet's Nest.  Even so Grant was pushed back, but the untimely death of Albert Sidney Johnston, the blunders of his predecessor and the timely arrival of Union reinforcements in the person of General Buell was Grant kept from complete destruction.  This article makes the following points:
1. The Union was not totally surprised by the Confederate Attack.  However they were surprised as to the number of Confederates involved, and the Union leaders were convinced the big battle would not take place shortly.  Colonel Everett Peabody, against orders (orders were not to precipitate and engagement) sent reconnaissance forward and found the Confederate skirmishers less than a mile to his front.  This was April 5, and resulted in the start of the battle which began in earnest the next day. 
2. General Benjamin Prentiss is credited with being the hero of Shiloh.  However he was not alone.  However, of the generals at the sunken road, he was the only who survived and was able to tell his story.  By the time the were pushed back to the sunken road in front of the "hornet's nest" most of Prentiss' were out of action by this time.  It was General W.H.L. Wallace and his men responsible for most of the defense.  However Wallace was killed.
3.  The arrival of General Don Carlos Buell saved Grant's army.  Each of the generals described this differently, Buell saying he saved the day, while Grant insisted he had the situation well at hand.  At any rate on a small part of Buell's forces arrived.  Grants forces were well entrenched, and close to Pittsburg Landing were protected by fun boats on the river.
4.  Beuregard's decision to call off the attacks is why the North won.  This too is likely not true.  As mentioned, Union forces were well situated, and had the protection of the gun boats.  In fact the next morning attacks continued, but were not successful. 
5.  The South would have won had Johnston lived.  This again does not appear to be true.  The Confederates were undermanned, and did not have the big cannon of the gunboats.
6.  The sunken road was sunken.  In fact there was not sunken road, but a trail only.  It was only called this many years later.  However, the area in front of the "sunken" road was known as the Hornet's Nest because of the great bloodshed.  Grant said the bodies were so thick a person could walk across the field, stepping from body to body without ever having to touch the ground.

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