Monday, March 31, 2008

ON THIS DAY: Monday, March 31, 1862

A Gathering of Hosts

Across the continent, east and west, major armies are poised for action. There is no serious fighting anywhere, however. It is as if a hush has fallen over the land, Federals and Confederates alike waiting with breathless anticipation.

Slowly, pieces are falling into place for a cataclysmic event in southwestern Tennessee. Arrayed near the Tennessee River, both sides are expecting something to happen, and soon, but neither has any idea how terrible that something will be.

Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant is consolidating his forces at Pittsburg Landing. Originally scattered along six or seven miles of the Tennessee River, from Savannah to Pittsburg Landing, most of the troops are settling down on together at Pittsburg Landing. Today, he announces that his headquarters will move from Savannah to Pittsburg Landing (although he will return to Savannah by his personal packet boat each night, where he has established his personal billet in the Cherry mansion).

Camped on the river’s west bank and spread across Pittsburg Landing’s nine-square-mile plateau of rolling brushland and small farms, are 34,500 men, plus 7,500 noncombatants, such as teamsters and cooks. The troops include Brig. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s 5th Division of about 8,500, mostly from Ohio and mostly untested; Brig. Gen. Stephen A. Hurlbut’s 4th Division of 6,500, largely from Illinois; Maj. Gen. Charles F. Smith’s—but, very soon, due to Smith’s sickness—Brig. Gen. W. H. L. Wallace’s 2nd Division of 8,500, largely from Iowa, IIlinois, and Missouri.

About two miles inland from the river, Sherman’s men were arrayed near the small, crude meeting house called Shiloh (pictured above), and Sherman’s own tent is only a short distance from it.

Also here are Maj. Gen. John A. McClernand’s 5th Division of 7,000 veterans, drawn almost entirely from Illinois and battle-tested at Fort Donelson, and Brig. Gen. Benjamin M. Prentiss’s newly created 6th Division of 4,000 men drawn from eight different states. Over the next few days, still more troops will arrive, swelling the force at Pittsburg Landing to 45,000.

Brig. Gen.Lew Wallace’s 3rd Division of largely Ohio men, however, remains isolated at Crump’s Landing, diagonally across the river from Savannah and about five miles downriver from Pittsburg Landing.

Meanwhile, twenty-two miles southwest, also west of the river, and across the state line in Mississippi, the Confederacy’s Army of Mississippi is assembling. It counts about 40,000 men, and is divided into three crops, plus one “reserve.” Commanding the four are, respectively, Maj. Gen. Leonidas Polk (who is also an Episcopal bishop), Maj. Gen. Braxton Bragg (so toxic a personality that his own soldiers had tried to kill him during the Mexican War), Maj. Gen. William J. Hardee (known through the pre-war army for his book on tactics), and Maj. Gen. George B. Crittenden (who will be replaced within a few days by Maj. Gen. John C. Breckenridge, formerly a U.S. senator and vice president). In overall command is Maj. Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston, a favorite of CSA President Jefferson Davis. Johnston, however, is currently the object of scorn from many Confederates for his withdrawal from Nashville without fighting.

Next to Johnston in overall authority is Maj. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard (“The Little Creole”). It is thought that much of the actual decision making at Corinth is Beauregard’s.

Large numbers of soldiers on both sides are sick, thanks to dirty water and poor sanitation. Those who are well pass the time brushing off the buzzing flies while reading or playing cards. Meanwhile, Grant is waiting for Buell’s reinforcement to arrive before attacking Corinth. Unbeknownst to him, the Confederates are hoping to strike a fatal blow before Buell arrives. The peach trees are blossoming and all is calm.

IT’S COMING SOONER THAN YOU THINK: April 12, 2011—less than 3½ years from now!—will be the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1861, April 12 was the day Confederates opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.

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