Union General Ulysses S. Grant concluded after the Battle at Shiloh on April 6 and 7, 1862, that the Union was in for a long and arduous Civil War. Likewise, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard wired to his superiors in Richmond, “If defeated here we lose the Mississippi Valley, and probably our cause.”
Since two important Southern railroads crossing through Corinth, Mississippi were at stake during the Civil War (the Memphis & Charleston, and the Mobile & Ohio), the railroad intersection made Corinth the most strategic transportation hub for the Western Confederacy.
Leaders of the Confederacy at Shiloh were Albert Sidney Johnston, P.G.T. Beauregard, Sterling Price, and Earl Van Dorn. Union leaders were Ulysses S. Grant, Henry W. Halleck, Don Carlos Buell, and William Rosecrans.
In February 1862, Union General U.S.Grant captured Forts Henry and Donelson, forcing Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston to abandon Kentucky and Middle Tennessee. In order to halt a Union advance into the Mississippi Valley, Johnston assembled his forces at the Corinth railroad hub
In mid-March 1862, Grant steamed up the Tennessee River, disembarking at Pittsburg Landing, about 22 miles northeast of Corinth. Grant awaited Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio marching from Nashville, and prepared for an advance on Corinth.
Day One, Sunday, April 6, 1862
Taking the initiative, Johnston led 44,000 men against Grant at dawn on April 6, 1862. When a federal patrol spotted the confederates, fierce fighting began in the field and forest encampments of Grant’s 40,000 men around the small Shiloh Meeting House. In the afternoon, General Johnston, while still mounted on his horse, was struck below the right knee by a stray minie ball, tearing open an artery, and he bled to death a few minutes later. General Beauregard then assumed the Confederate command.
At the end of the first bloody day of battle, the Confederate Army had pushed Grant’s forces into retreat, and taken hundreds of Union troops captive. Grant’s Army was pushed back to Pittsburg Landing. However, by sundown that first day, Union forces were reinforced by General Buell’s Army of the Ohio crossing the Tennessee at Pittsburg Landing, and protecting Grant’s line with gunboats and artillery. With thousands of fresh troops, Grant prepared for a Union counter-attack the following morning.
Day Two, Monday, April 7, 1862
Outnumbered Confederates resisted the Union counter-attack for six long hours on April 7, 1862 until they could no longer hold their lines. Beauregard ordered a retreat to Corinth in order to save his Army. Battered Union troops did not pursue.
Shiloh’s 23,746 casualties at Shiloh foretold the Civil War would become an extremely bloody and lengthy conflict for both sides.