Benjamin Prentiss Library of conference

The fight of Shiloh, i m sorry took place on April 6-7, 1862, is among the polite War’s many momentous fights, but perhaps among the least understood. The standard story that the engagement reads the Union troops were surprised in your camps in ~ dawn ~ above April 6. Defeat appeared certain, however Union Brigadier general Benjamin M. Prentiss conserved the day by holding a sunken road some 3 feet deep. Thanks to the tenacious fighting in the area, it came to be known together the Hornet’s Nest.

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Prentiss ultimately capitulated, leave Rebel commander basic Albert Sidney Johnston in a position to drive on to victory. Basic Johnston, however, was soon mortally wounded and replaced by general P.G.T. Beauregard, which cost the Confederates an essential momentum. Beauregard make the inept decision to speak to off the Confederate attacks, and the next day Union counterattacks handle Rebel hopes a crushing blow.

This standard account that Shiloh, however, is an ext myth than fact. No much less an authority than Ulysses S. Grant, the Union command at the fight, created after the battle that Shiloh ‘has been perhaps less understood, or, to state the case much more accurately, much more persistently misunderstood, than any other engagement…during the whole rebellion. Preeminent Shiloh authority and also historian David W. Reed, the first superintendent that the battlefield park, created in 1912 the occasionally…some one thinks the his unaided memory of the occasions of 50 years ago is exceptional to the main reports of police officers which to be made at time the the battle. The seems hard for them to realize the oft-repeated campfire stories, added to and also enlarged, become impressed on the storage as actual facts.

Unfortunately, such misunderstandings and oft-repeated campfire stories have over the years come to be for plenty of the truth about Shiloh, distortion the yes, really facts and also painting an altered snapshot of the momentous occasions of those April days. One needs to look no additional than the legend that Johnny Clem, the an alleged Drummer boy of Shiloh, come realize the tall story surround the battle. Clem’s 22nd Michigan Infantry was not also organized till after Shiloh took place. Similarly, the infamous Bloody Pond, this day a battlefield landmark, might be myth. Over there is no contemporary evidence that indicates the pond became bloodstained. In fact, over there is no contemporary evidence the there was also a pond ~ above the spot. The sole account come from a regional citizen who years later on told of wade by a pond a couple of days after the battle and also seeing that stained through blood.


The "Bloody Pond" ~ above the Shiloh Battlefield. Current research has actually failed to find evidence the the pond was bloodstained. rob Shenk


The long-held belief that give arrived in ~ Pittsburg Landing only to it is in greeted through thousands upon thousands of Union stragglers is additionally a myth. The frontline divisions of Prentiss and also Brig. Gen. William T. Sherman did no break till after 9 a.m., the latest time that Grant might have arrived at the landing. The is difficult to imagine Prentiss’ troops to run over 2 miles in less than 30 seconds, also though, by every accounts, they to be pretty scared.

Cynicism aside, there is a real need to correct together errors. A newspaper columnist recently criticized the Shiloh National army Park because that removing the rotten and also crumbling tree under i m sorry Johnston supposedly died, saying, therefore what if Johnston wasn’t specifically at that exact tree. Such an ambivalent attitude toward facts, continued and perpetuated v the years, not only produces false background but also diminishes the record of what actually happened. The many boring fact is always worth more than the most glamorous myth. In an initiative to correct historical errors and analyze the myths, here is a brief analysis of numerous myths about the fight of Shiloh.

Myth: The opened Confederate strike caught the Union totally by surprise

The issue of surprised is a major topic of discussion amongst military historians and enthusiasts. It is among the contemporary American Army’s nine values of war that overview military plans, movements and also actions. That course, most army tactics are typical sense. Once fighting either a bully or an army, that would not want to sneak up on one opponent and get in the very first punch?

One of the most well known of all surprises in military background is Pearl Harbor, wherein Japanese planes attacked the U.S. Pacific Fleet based in Hawaii. The strike on December 7, 1941, was certainly a surprise, with bombs dropping the end of a clear blue sky. Shiloh is another well-known example of a supposed surprise attack. Top top the morning that April 6, 1862, the Confederate military of the Mississippi under Johnston launched an attack on Maj. Gen. Grant’s army of the Tennessee close to Pittsburg Landing. One author has also gone so far as to call it the Pearl port of the polite War. In actuality, Shiloh was not all that much of a surprise.

The delinquent of surprise came at first from modern newspaper columns that defined Union soldiers being bayoneted in their tents together they slept. The most famous account come from Whitelaw Reid, a newspaper correspondent for the Cincinnati Gazette. However Reid was nowhere close to Shiloh as soon as the Confederates attacked, and also he in reality penned his practically 15,000-word opus from mile away.

The idea the Reid perpetuated and also that is tho commonly thought today is the the Federals had no idea the the enemy was so near. Nothing could be additional from the truth. Because that days before April 6, boy skirmishing take it place. Both sides routinely took detainees in the job leading up to the battle. The rank and document in the Union military knew Confederates were out there — they just did not recognize in what strength.

Ulysses S. Grant Library of conference

The difficulty lay with the federal commanders. Ordered not to lug on an engagement and also convinced lock would have to march come Corinth, Miss., come fight the bulk of the Confederate army, the Union management did not effectively utilize the intelligence acquired from the typical soldiers top top the prior lines. Approve was not about to go in search of a struggle in at an early stage April, definitely not before reinforcements arrived from Nashville in the form of the army of the Ohio, and also certainly not without orders indigenous his superior, Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck.

Thus approve ordered his frontline department commanders Sherman and also Prentiss no to spark a fight, and also they made certain their soldiers taken that directive. They sent orders reinforcing Grant’s concern down the line and refused to act on knowledge coming up with the ranks.

As a result, not wanting to prematurely begin a battle, commonwealth skirmishers and also pickets continually withdrew together the Confederates probed forward. Maybe Sherman claimed it best when he provided in his report, top top Saturday the enemy’s cavalry was again very bold, coming well under to ours front, yet i did not think that he designed anything however a strong demonstration.

The reduced echelon management was not all that encouraged the fight would certainly take location at Corinth, however. For days, brigade and regimental leaders had experienced Confederates near their camps. Several patrols also went forward, but no significant Confederate systems were encountered.

Finally, top top the night the April 5, one Union brigade commander took matters right into his own hands. Sending out out a patrol there is no authorization, Colonel Everett Peabody located the Confederate army at dawn top top April 6. His small reconnaissance uncovered the breakthrough skirmishers that the Southern force less 보다 a mile native the Union front. The Confederates timeless attacked, and the battle of Shiloh began.

Because of Peabody’s patrol, however, the Confederate development was unmasked earlier than intended and also farther the end from the Union camps 보다 projected. The resulting hold-up in the Confederate attack on the Union camps allowed the army of the Tennessee come mobilize. Because of the warning, every solitary Union unit on the ar met the Confederate assault coming native Corinth south, or in development of, your camps. Peabody’s patrol warned the army and also thus prevented complete tactical surprised at Shiloh.

Myth: Benjamin Prentiss to be the hero that Shiloh

For years after the battle, Prentiss was hailed together the commonwealth officer that took it upon himself to send the end a patrol that ultimately uncovered the Confederate development and gave early warning of the attack. Likewise, Prentiss was viewed as the command who, bespeak by approve to organize at every hazards, protected the Sunken Road and also Hornet’s Nest against numerous Confederate assaults. Prentiss withdrew only after the Confederates carried up 62 pieces of pho that were arranged as Ruggles’ Battery. Finding himself surrounded, however, Prentiss surrendered the noble and also brave remnants the his division. Before modern scholarship began to watch at new sources and also examine the facts, Prentiss’ reputation flourished until the reached icon status.

Prentiss’ after-action report to be glowing in terms of his very own accomplishments. Chroniclers through the year then embraced that report at challenge value, one also labeling a photograph of Prentiss as the Hero of Shiloh. Shiloh National army Park’s long-running film Shiloh: Portrait of a Battle dramatically paints Prentiss as the chief defender the Union military had on April 6.

In actuality, Prentiss was not as associated as legend has it. He did not send the end the patrol on the morning that April 6. As discussed earlier, among his brigade commanders, Colonel Peabody, did therefore in defiance the Prentiss’ orders. Prentiss rode to Peabody’s headquarters when he heard the firing and demanded to understand what Peabody had actually done. As soon as he uncovered out, Prentiss said his subordinate he would organize him personally responsible because that bringing top top a battle and also rode turn off in a huff.

Likewise, Prentiss was no the an essential defender the the Hornet’s Nest, as the area surrounding to the Sunken Road came to be called. His department began the work with about 5,400 men, only to dwindle to 500 through 9:45 that morning. As soon as Prentiss took his position in the Sunken Road, his numbers were almost doubled by an getting here regiment, the 23rd Missouri. Prentiss had actually lost nearly his entire division, and could not have actually held his 2nd line without the veteran brigades of Brig. Gen. W.H.L. Wallace’s division. It was primarily Wallace’s troops who hosted the Hornet’s Nest.

Prentiss remained in an beneficial position to end up being a hero after the battle, however. Return he stayed a sinner for 6 months, he was able to tell his story. Peabody and also Wallace to be both dead indigenous wounds received at Shiloh. For this reason Prentiss took credit for your actions and also became the hero of the fight. Prentiss never even mentioned Peabody in his report, other than to say the he commanded one of his brigades. Likewise, Wallace to be not approximately to collection the record straight as to whose troops actually safeguarded the Sunken Road and also Hornet’s Nest. Prentiss, the just Federal officer who could get his very own record out, hence benefited native public exposure. In the process, he came to be the hero that Shiloh.

Myth: significant General Don Carlos Buell’s arrival saved give from defeat on April 6

Many historians have said that Grant’s beaten military was saved just by the timely come of Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell’s military of the Ohio near sundown ~ above April 6. The usual conception is that Grant’s men had been driven ago to the landing and also were around to be defeated when the lead aspects of Buell’s military arrived, deployed in line and repelled the last Confederate assaults of the day.

major General Don Carlos Buell Library of congress

The veterans the the various militaries vehemently argued their situations after the war. Members that the culture of the military of the Tennessee kept that they had the battle under manage at nightfall that first day, while your counterparts in the society of the military of the Cumberland (the successor to Buell’s army of the Ohio) said with equal vigor that they had saved the day. Even Grant and Buell entered the fight once they created opposing posts for Century magazine in the 1880s.

Grant asserted his military was in a solid position with hefty lines of infantry sustaining massed artillery. His effort to trade space for time transparent the day of April 6 had worked; approve had spent so lot time in successive protective positions that daylight to be fading by the time the critical Confederate assaults began, and he was encouraged that his army could manage those attacks.

Buell, ~ above the other hand, painted a picture of a dilapidated military of the Tennessee ~ above the brink that defeat. Only his arrival v fresh columns of military of the Ohio troops won the day. The command brigade, commanded by Colonel Jacob Ammen, deployed on the ridge south of the landing and also met the Confederate advance. In Buell’s mind, Grant’s troops could not have actually held there is no his army.

In reality, the Confederates more than likely had small hope of break Grant’s last line. Positioned on a tall ridge overlooking streams known as the Dill and Tilghman branches, Grant’s forces, battered though they were, tho had sufficient fight in them to host their extremely solid position, especially since they had actually over 50 pieces of artillery in line. Likewise, the troops to be massed in compact positions. Great interior present of defense additionally helped, and two federal gunboats fired ~ above the Confederates native the river. Approve poured heavy fire right into the Confederates native the front, flank and rear.

The Confederates never actually struck the federal line, more damaging Buell’s assertion. Only facets of four disorganized and also exhausted Confederate brigades overcome the backwater in the Dill Branch ravine as gunboat shells flew through the air. Only two of those brigades embarked on an assault, one without ammunition. The Confederates topped the rise and also faced a withering fire. They were convinced. Orders native Beauregard to withdraw did not have to be repeated.

In fact, only 12 companies of Buell’s army crossed over time to deploy and also become engaged. Grant had the case well under control and could have fended off much bigger numbers than he actually encountered. When Buell’s arrival did provide a morale boost and permitted Grant to take it the offensive the next morning, grant had the fight situation under regulate by the moment Buell arrived.


Pittsburg Landing Shiloh National army Park

Myth: The south would have won had actually Beauregard not dubbed off the assaults

For many years ~ the battle, former Confederates castigated basic Beauregard because that his actions at Shiloh. Their key complaint was the the military commander, having taken charge of the Confederate forces after Johnston’s death, called off the final Confederate strikes on the evening of April 6. Many said that the Confederates had victory within their grasp and needed only one last initiative to ruin Grant’s army. Beauregard, however, dubbed off his southerly boys and thus threw away a victory. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

as soon as hailed as the hero of fort Sumter, P. G. T. Beauregard commanded the troops defending Petersburg in June 1864. nationwide Archives

The controversy had its beginnings while the battle still raged. Corps leaders Maj. Gens. Wilhelm J. Hardee and also Braxton Bragg later on pounced ~ above Beauregard because that calling turn off the attacks, even though their instant post-battle correspondence said nothing derogatory about their commander. ~ the battle ended, Southerners began to argue that being outnumbered and outproduced industrially were factors for your defeat, and additionally blamed the fight deaths that leaders choose Johnston and also Stonewall Jackson. Another crucial element in your argument, however, was bad leadership top top the part of specific generals such together James Longstreet in ~ Gettysburg (of course it go not assist that Longstreet turned his earlier on the solidly democratic South and also went Republican ~ the war) and also Beauregard in ~ Shiloh. The sum of all those parts came to be known as the lost Cause.

Hardee, Bragg and thousands that other former Confederates argued after the war that Beauregard threw far the victory. Beauregard does bear part blame, however not because that making the not correct decision to end the attacks. He made the ideal decision, yet for all the dorn reasons. The basic made his decision much behind his front lines, an area totally awash with stragglers and also wounded. No wonder Beauregard said that his military was so disorganized that he essential to call a halt.

Similarly, Beauregard acted on faulty intelligence. He got word that Buell’s reinforcements were not arriving at Pittsburg Landing. One of Buell’s divisions was in Alabama, yet unfortunately for Beauregard, five were in reality en route to Pittsburg Landing. Based on such spotty intelligence, Beauregard assumed he can finish approve the following morning.

In the end, the decision to contact a halt was the best thing to do. Taking into account the terrain, Union reinforcements and also Confederate tactical capacity at the time, the Confederates probably would not have broken Grant’s final line that defense, lot less damaged the Union army. The castigated creole did no throw away a victory, he just put self in a place to it is in blamed because that the defeat already transpiring.

Myth: The southern would have actually won the battle had Johnston lived

Another Lost reason myth the Shiloh is that Johnston would have been victorious had actually not a stray bullet clipped one artery in his leg and also caused him come bleed come death. According to legend, Johnston’s fatality caused a lull in the fight on the critical Confederate right, which slowed progression toward Pittsburg Landing. Just as important, Johnston’s death placed Beauregard in command, that ultimately called off the attacks. The an outcome of both cause and also effect cases led to Confederate defeat. To journey the allude home, the united Daughters that the Confederacy placed sophisticated memorial in ~ Shiloh in 1917, through Johnston as the centerpiece and death symbolically acquisition the laurel wreath of victory away indigenous the South. Even modern-day scholars have actually sometimes bring away this heat of reasoning. Johnston biographer Charles Roland has argued in 2 different publications that Johnston would have succeeded and also won the fight had the lived. Roland cases that just since Beauregard failed go not median Johnston would certainly have. His superior leadership qualities, Roland concludes, can have enabled Johnston to spur the worn down Confederate troops onward come victory.

Albert Sidney Johnston Monument at Shiloh rob Shenk

Such a theory of particular victory stops working to take countless factors into account. First, there was no lull in the battle on the Confederate right because Johnston fell. A continuous rate of fire was no sustainable for numerous reasons, largely logistics; ordnance departments can not save thousands the soldiers provided to fire constantly. Many Civil war battles were stop-and-go actions, with assaults, retreats and counterattacks.

Shiloh’s wooded terrain and also choppy hills and valleys provided the soldiers lot of of cover come re-form currently of fight out the the enemy’s sight. The result was the the fighting in ~ Shiloh did no rage repeatedly for hrs at any one time or place. Rather it was a complicated series of numerous different actions transparent the work at many different points.

There were numerous lulls ~ above the battlefield, part for as much as an hour’s duration. Some historians point out that a lull developed when Johnston died, however that was much more a result of the natural flow of the battle than Johnston’s death.

Second, the debate that Johnston would have won once Beauregard did no is additionally faulty. Johnston can probably have actually pressed the strike no quicker than the making it through Confederate commanders on the best did.

In every likelihood, Johnston would additionally have been preoccupied with catching the Hornet’s Nest, as taken place after his death. For this reason Johnston at ideal would not have remained in a place to strike near Pittsburg Landing until hrs after provide had stabilized his last heat of defense. As proclaimed above, the hefty guns, currently of infantry, gunboats, exhaustion, disorganization, terrain and arriving reinforcements all were factors — some an ext than others — in defeating the last Confederate attempts of the day.

The myth the the Confederates would certainly have absolutely won the battle had Johnston live is for this reason false. Through 6 p.m., that is highly doubtful Shiloh could have been a Confederate victory also with Napoleon Bonaparte in command.

Myth: The Sunken road was, in fact, sunken

Coupled through the Hornet’s Nest, the Sunken roadway has become the major emphasis of the fighting at Shiloh. Tourists want to watch the Sunken Road and Hornet’s Nest more than any type of other attraction in ~ the park. When some important fighting did take place at the Sunken Road, the entire story is predicated on the myth of the roadway being worn listed below the surrounding terrain and thus offering a natural defensive trench for the commonwealth soldiers. In fact, over there is no contemporary evidence that the Sunken road was sunken in ~ all.

The road was no a significant avenue that travel. The two significant routes in the area to be the Corinth-Pittsburg Landing Road and the eastern Corinth Road. What became known as the Sunken roadway was a mere farm road provided by Joseph Duncan to get to miscellaneous points on his property. As it had minimal use, the roadway would not have been worn down as many world believe. At most, it could have had actually ruts number of inches deep at miscellaneous times throughout wet seasons. Post-battle picture of the road present a only path, not a sunken trace.

Not one solitary report in the official Records mentions the roadway as gift sunken. Likewise, no soldiers’ letters or diaries exist that describe it as sunken. Plenty of buffs quote thomas Chinn Robertson the the fourth Louisiana in Colonel Randall L. Gibson’s Brigade together describing the roadway as 3 feet deep. In reality, the soldier remained in no place to view the road. Gibson’s Brigade never ever reached the Sunken Road and fell ago in confusion. Robertson explained a tangle of undergrowth the blocked his view, and also even remarked that corps commander Bragg stated he would certainly lead them to whereby they might see the enemy. The unit thereafter moved forward come the right, hence never enabling the quoted soldier to view just how deep the road actually was. In every likelihood, the Louisianan was describing the eastern Corinth roadway or possibly also the key Corinth Road, both of i m sorry were heavily traveled thoroughfares and thus would have actually been eroded. Federal regiments were aligned on both roads at times during the battle.


Sunken road at Shiloh rob Shenk


Although the Hornet’s swarm was a wartime term, the expression Sunken roadway did not appear until the 1881 publication of Manning Force’s From ft Henry come Corinth. Thereafter, veterans began to embellish the story. The Iowa devices manning the position formed a veterans company that emphasized the Sunken Road. As soon as the nationwide park was created in 1894, the Sunken Road became a major tourist attraction together the park commission began to highlight specific areas to tempt attention and visitation. In ~ the very same time, the proliferation the veterans memoirs in the 1890s and early 1900s keyed ~ above the growing popularity the this location, which thrived deeper v each happen volume, eventually reaching a depth of number of feet. Together time pass and an ext publications appeared, the myth became reality. Today it is just one of the best known polite War symbols that never existed.

Over the years, a variety of myths and legends about the fight have crept into American culture, and also today are viewed by many as the truth. Several components account for these falsehoods. The veterans did not develop the park until 30 year after the battle. By that time, memories had come to be clouded and events shrouded in uncertainty.

Likewise, the initial Shiloh National army Park commission the initially arisen the interpretation of the website may have actually let pride influence its documentation the the Shiloh story. One of the best examples is the heightened prominence of the Hornet’s Nest, i m sorry was promoted by first park historian David Reed, who had combated in the 12th Iowa in the Hornet’s Nest. Finally, the Lost cause mentality so widespread in the postwar south provoked antagonism versus Beauregard and also laments because that Johnston’s death, as well as the idea that the Confederates were merely outnumbered.

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Buffs and even some historians who are not very knowledgeable around Shiloh’s background have perpetuated rumors and stories that are not actually based on fact. It is regrettable the over the years the truth about the fight has end up being distorted. Fortunately, however, today’s historians are looking in ~ the battle from a different perspective. Hopefully, as an ext research is published, the oft-repeated campfire stories will certainly be phased out and replaced by the fact of Shiloh, i m sorry in itself is lot grander and an ext honorable than any of the myths that have grown up around the battle. After ~ all, fact is often stranger than fiction.