As you may have guessed I have finished my series of posts on the the critical decisions of the Shiloh campaign. Some things that surprised me; there was very little done on the second day that can be termed critical. In fact there are not many critical decisions made during the battle. Most of the critical decisions are made prior to the battle. Also the Union tends to make few bad decisions while the Confederates seem to make few good decisions. Some of this is dumb luck and I really hate to make a blanket statement that the Union just had more good commanders, but at Shiloh this seems to be the case. Confederates who will eventually have pretty good careers tend to have off days at Shiloh, while the Union gets some good days out of commanders who end up with lackluster careers.
I found this exercise quite helpful in examining a battle and will probably do it again down the road. The trap of studying a battle, or the war, is that you let your 21st century ideas influence your opinions of an event. Distances, minutes and miles, seem much shorter now. When a general or unit takes awhile to do something we are often quick to criticise and blame. But often if you can look at what they did with what was available you will come to a different conclusion, not always but this is often the case. Eventually I think I would like to try this approach on Perryville, that is a battle that has recently caught my attention after two visits this past year. It is a battlefield I want to study in depth and then take a long trip there to really get the feel of the land.
Also with hindsight we can see that a decision someone agonized over wasn't as important as they feared. We now know Beauregard didn't have the vast army that Halleck was afraid of in May 1862 as he closed in on Corinth, but if we study what Halleck knew and what he had to work with we might come to a different conclusion. I can cut Halleck some slack because he was worried about the possibility of another high casualty battle like Shiloh was. I am more critical of his decision after Corinth to stop the advance and be content with what was gained, I realize he had a ton of new territory to defend, but he had so many men that some sort of advance was possible. That of course though is a discussion for another day.
This is not my final Shiloh post, just the last post in the Critical Decisions of Shiloh series. I'm sure I will post about Shiloh again in the future, maybe soon, maybe not for awhile.
Gettysburg’s Jacob Weikert Farm
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