The Tide Turns
Last Saturday—one day before the Johnston and Beauregard’s Confederates attacked Grant at Pittsburg Landing—Brig Gen. Don Carlos Buell ’s Army of the Ohio arrived at Savannah, which is on the opposite bank, about seven miles downriver, from the battlefield. The weary soldiers, who had marched all the way from Nashville, set up camp and spend the night in peaceful slumber.
Yesterday morning, however, early risers greeting the spring sunshine could hear what one called “a dull, distant sound like the heavy breathing of some great animal below the horizon.” Soon, bugle calls were calling the men to arms.
Ordered by Buell, an advance brigade of three regiments, commanded by Col. Jacob Ammen, an Ohioan, made a forced march, arriving at the riverbank opposite Pittsburg Landing at dusk. They were quickly ferried over and fed into Grant’s defensive line.
Throughout the night, packed steamers shuttle most of the rest of Buell’s men from Savannah to Pittsburg Landing. In addition to Buell’s men, Brig. Gen. Lew Wallace’s division of Grant’s army shows up in this morning, delayed in its march from Crumps Landing by confusion over orders.
The new arrivals tramp past thousands of skulkers, huddled under a river bluff, who taunt them with warnings of disaster. All night long, two Union gunboats keep up a bombardment of Confederate positions. Union field hospitals wor through the night, amputated limbs piling up nearby.
Seeking shelter from the rain, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant goes into one of the surgical tents, but soon leaves, unable to bear the sights and sounds. He spent the rest of the night under a tree.
In the morning, Grant’s reinforced army begins moving across the battlefield. It is a sea of mud, with dead men and horses everywhere, scattered debris—hats, rifles, blankets, knapsacks. Trees have been riddled and shattered by gunfire.
Soon, the Union are attacking, and this time it is the Confederates’ turn to be surprised.
Among the 17,000 men who had marched all the way from Nashville are 5,000 to 6,000 Ohioans, the most from any state in Buell’s army. Lew Wallace’s division adds another 7,500 men to the Federals, and now Grant has 25,000 fresh soldiers, as well as his veterans of yesterday. The Confederates have no reserves to draw upon, having used them yesterday.
Although the Southerners fight bravely, they are driven back and by 2:30 in the afternoon Beauregard is ready to order a retreat. The battered army of Mississippi begins making its way back to Corinth, the promise of early victory shattered.
The Confederates have suffered 24% casualties—killed, wounded or captured—and the Union 22%.With a total of nearly 24,000 men lost, it is the costliest two-day battle of the war. It shocks Northerners and Southerners alike. Grant gives up all hope of ending the war quickly.
Although Shiloh will be greeted at first in the North as a great victory, reports of how Grant was surprised soon prompt demands for his removal. A close friend of Lincoln will spend two hours trying to convince the President to dismiss Grant. Finally, Lincoln will reply, “I can’t spare this man; he fights.”
It will turn out to be one of the most fortunate decisions of the war.
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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