Friday, April 11, 2008

On this day: Friday, April 11, 1862

“I am forced into prominence”

It took four days after the battle at Pittsburg Landing Tennessee, (“Shiloh”) but finally Brig. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, sits down to write his wife, Ellen. Emotionally fractured by the pressure of his duties only a few months before, Sherman now sounds positively jaunty.

Last Sunday morning he was caught off-guard by a surprise Confederate attack that never should been a surprise, but Sherman didn't waver in his duty. Many of his men, including officers, fled in panic, but Sherman boldly galloped back and forth across the battlefield, waving his sword and rallying his remaining troops. The Confederates’ attack was overwhelming, but, under Sherman’s direction, his remaining 5th Division men fought stubbornly, giving up ground reluctantly and slowing down the Confederate advance.

“Well we have had a big battle where they shot real bullets and I am safe, except for a buckshot wound in my hand and a bruised shoulder from a spent ball,” Sherman writes, adopting a slightly ironic tone. He admits he had some close calls: three horses were shot out from under him and his orderly and bodyguard, an Illinoisan named Thomas D. Holliday, was killed by his side.

Despite his studied casualness about it all, Sherman admits the battle was a hard struggle. “I won’t attempt to give an account of the battle [Ellen is advised to read the newspapers and “cut out paragraphs with my name”] but they say that I accomplished some important results and Gen. Grant makes special mention of me in his report which he shew me.”

In fact, Sherman and Grant were becoming closely acquainted, with Sherman undoubtedly impressed by Grant’s calm resolve during the battle. Cump is feeling confident enough to accept the possibility of playing an important role in the war to come. “I have worked hard to keep down but somehow I am forced into prominence and might as well submit,” he tells Ellen, reversing his previous resolve to stay in the background and let others be the leaders.

Elsewhere at Pittsburg Landing, something momentous is happening. Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck has arrived from his St. Louis headquarters to take over command, relegating Grant to a meaningless secondary position. Halleck has never commanded more than a platoon in the field. Soon, Pope’s Army of the Mississippi, fresh from its victory at Island No. 10, will join the forces already at Pittsburg Landing, and then, under Halleck’s direction, perhaps the slowest and most ponderous advances of any army in the Civil War will begin.

ELSEWHERE IN THE CIVIL WAR: This afternoon, Fort Pulaski, a Confederate emplacement guarding the channel to Savannah, Georgia, surrenders. Union cannon on nearby Tybee Island had fired over 5,000 projectiles against the fort, blasting two holes through its brick wall. Capturing the fort expands the Union naval blockade of the Confederacy.

In Alabama, Union forces under Brig. Gen. Ormsby McKnight Mitchel, an Ohio professor of science known as the “Astronomer-Soldier," occupies Huntsville, an important center for Confederate rail and river transportation.

IT’S COMING SOONER THAN YOU THINK: April 12, 2011—scarcely 3 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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