Thoughts on the Battle of Shiloh: Preparation
The Road to Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee
Following the smashing Union victory at Fort Donelson, Grant had several daunting tasks before him.
- After accepting the surrender of an entire Confederate army, Grant had to accommodate almost 15,000 prisoners.
- Grant and his staff also had to re-organize his victorious army and prepare it to move further South.
- Grant was ordered to return 5,000 troops he had been ‘loaned’ from Buell’s army for the Donelson campaign.
- Grant had to move his 25,000 man army to Pittsburg Landing as ordered. And, once there, await the arrival of General Buell’s army coming from Nashville, Tennessee.
Once at Pittsburg Landing, did Grant and his commanders properly protect his army from attack? The Union camp was established between two bodies of water. Thousands of white Sibly tents were set up on the dry strip of land between them.
Had a defensive line been ordered at the southern end of that land, that position would have been nearly impregnable. Using ditches, embrasures, artillery batteries, abates with cleared fields of fire an attack from that direction would have been foolish. But none of that defensive work was ordered.
When asked, after the attack Grant and Sherman said that they decided to use the time for drill instead of constructing a defensive position. Even the overall commander General Halleck had suggested that constructing defensive positions might send a message of fear to the Union troops.
To make matters worse, when reports of suspicious enemy activity from the South was given to Sherman and his staff, he castigated the officers reporting. When such reports continued to be made, he threatened to arrest those giving the reports.
Meanwhile, General Grant was residing down river a few miles at the Cherry mansion. On the Sunday morning of April 6th, he had just sat down to breakfast when the sound of Confederate artillery was heard. He put his coffee cup down and left immediately for his command ship, the Tigress for the two hour trip upstream for Pittsburg Landing.
Subsequent to the battle, a Northern news report claimed that he was drunk when the battle began. This was a claim that he and members of his staff denied. But, his commander, General Halleck believed the news report.
Years later, Mrs. Cherry, mistress of the Cherry Mansion and a Confederate sympathizer, who was present at breakfast with Grant the morning of April 6, 1862 replied to a question on this subject. She wrote,
You letter of inquiry concerning ‘Gen. Grant’s physical condition on the morning of the battle of Shiloh began, is received. You will please accept my assurance, gladly given, that on the date mentioned I believe Gen. Grant was thoroughly sober. He was at my breakfast table when he heard the report from a cannon. Holding, untasted, a cup of coffee, he paused in conversation to listen a moment at the report of another cannon. He hastily arose, saying to his staff officer, “Gentlemen, the ball is in motion, let’s be off.”
The lack of defensive preparations and the discounting of enemy activity reports made it possible for Confederate forces to surprise the Union forces at Pittsburg Landing. The element of surprise only added to the effectiveness of the surprise attack that inflicted horrendous causalities during the initial few hours of the battle.
Next: The Shiloh Battle