The Battle of Shiloh was the first of the “major” battles of the Civil War. Though the casualty figures would soon be eclipsed by other battles, the large number of wounded and killed on both sides was a shock to the nation and the world. Shiloh was the first indication that the Civil War would be a very bloody affair indeed. The Shiloh National Military Park commemorates this battle, as well as the impact it had on the war.
In early April of 1862, Union General Ulysses S. Grant led an army down the Tennessee River to Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee with the intention of attacking the nearby Confederate at Corinth, Tennessee. Rather than wait to be attacked, Confederate General Albert Sydney Johnston chose to attack first, before all of Grant’s army was on hand. His surprise attack, launched on April 6th, was a tremendous success. Only the valiant defense of a copse of woods now known as The Hornet’s Nest prevented the total rout of the Federal army.
Johnston himself didn’t live long enough to see his triumph through to the end, as he was killed in battle by mid-afternoon. His successor, General P.G.T. Beauregard, chose to re-organize his forces rather than press the Union army after night fell. During the night, the rest of Grant’s army arrived. Thus reinforced, Grant led his forces in a counter-attack that swept the outnumbered Confederate army from the field.
Though technically a Union victory, the Battle of Shiloh was really a draw. Union casualties were worse than the those of the Confederates, but the loss of the popular General Johnston was a blow to to southern morale. The most significant reaction, however, was to the carnage. The numbers of dead and wounded, around 13,000 on the Union side and nearly 11,000 on the Confederate made Shiloh the most bloody battle in American history to date, a distinction it would hold for only four months until it was eclipsed by the Second Battle of Bull Run in August of 1862.
Shiloh National Military Park is unusually well equipped among the Civil War battlefields. It has, of course, a visitor’s center with a number of artifacts from the battle, descriptions of the battle, and a short film about it. Beyond that, it is also home to Shiloh National Cemetery and the USS Cairo Museum. This last is an excellent addition, as it allows visitors to tour the remains of the USS Cairo, an Union gunboat that was sunk during the war by a mine. The museum also includes a number of artifacts from the ship, as well as a description of the war as it was fought on the rivers.
Food and lodging are available in nearby Crump, Tennessee or across the river in Savannah, Tennessee.
Entrance to the Shiloh National Military Park cost 3.00 for an individual or $5.00 for a single car. An Annual Park Pass is available for $10.00, and as always, the best deal remains the Lifetime Senior Pass, which allows a U.S. citizen aged 62+ and those traveling with him or her entry to all National Parks for only $10, and lasts as long as the senior is alive.
Map to Shiloh National Military Park.