Tuesday, April 8, 2008

ON THIS DAY: Tuesday, April 8, 1862

“Our Arms Have Been Victorious”

Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant detains a departing steamboat long enough to dash off a reassuring note to Julia: “Again another terrible battle has occurred in which our arms have been victorious…I got through all safe having but one shot which struck my sword but did not touch me.”

He concludes tenderly, “Give my love to all at home. Kiss the children for me. The same for yourself. Good night dear Julia. Ulys.”

The battle had “no equal on this continent,” Grant says, and he is right. In this two-day bedlam of blood and fury, a record 3,482 men have been killed (1,754 Union, 1,1728 Confederate) and 16,420 men wounded (8,408 Union, 8,012 Confederate). The gruesome outcome shocks both Northerners and Southerners. It will remain the costliest two-day battle of the war. Northern exultation over the victory will begin to fade as newspapers begin publishing reports of Grant’s lack of preparedness.

In the meantime, the weary soldiers of both armies try to pull themselves together. The discouraged Confederates stream back to Corinth, Beauregard harboring an unrealistic hope that Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn’s Army of the West, then in Arkansas, will come to his aid. Delayed by his loss to a Union force at Pea Ridge, Van Dorn and his men will not reach Corinth until April 18.

Grant sends a small force of cavalry and infantry to harass the retreating Beauregard, but, having endured a costly battle, he does not attempt a major blow. Nonetheless, this is a significant victory. As James McPherson put it in Battle Cry of Freedom, “Grant made mistakes before the battle…but in the end the Union armies won a strategic success of great importance at Shiloh. They turned back the Confederacy’s supreme bid to regain the initiative in the Mississippi Valley. From then on it was all downhill for the South in the crucial region.”

Today, Grant’s battered army roams the battlefield, looking for lost comrades. Burial parties inter the dead. Because of the heat, it is important to do so quickly. One soldier writes how he dreads having to bury the Rebel dead: “They are swollen and smell so awful bad and terrible many of them. I do not see how I can stand it.” Another soldier explains, “We did holes in the ground, lay them [the Union dead] side by side without any coffin, fire a salute over the grave, and then cover their cold bodies with the Tennessee clay. The Secesh we bury with less ceremony, dig a hole, roll them in and cover them.”

Meanwhile, 130 miles north, Brig. Gen. John Pope and his recently formed Army of the Mississippi were accepting the surrender of the Confederates who had been holding Island No. 10, yet another position that had been blockading Union river traffic on the Mississippi. Over 4,500 soldiers, including their commander were captured, as were 52 big guns and other equipment the Confederate forces needed badly.

In the opinion of Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, Pope had conducted a brilliant campaign. In order to surround the Confederates on three sides, Pope had ordered a 12-mile canal dug around the enemy position. He then sent gunboats and troop carriers through it, and within four days Island No. 10 was surrendered.

At almost exactly the same time, the North had won two smashing victories—Shiloh and Island No. 10. Only a year after secession and the attack on Fort Sumter, the western Confederacy was coming apart. Surely, Northerners thought, the end is near.

About 25 to 30% of the units in Grant’s and Buell’s armies (combined) were from Ohio. Perhaps 10% of Pope’s army was.

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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