Thursday, May 31, 2007
Peabody did not have to send out the expedition, in fact he was violating orders when he did so. Prentiss had told him during the day not to send out an expedition or to even get his brigade ready for a morning attack.
Peabody's men held the Confederate advance back about an hour which allowed Prentiss' other brigade to be alerted. If there had been no warning the initial Confederate attack on Prentiss' division may have been more catastrophic. Also the Confederates might have been able to get troops everywhere along the front before the warning was raised. This might have meant a quicker fall to Stuart’s camp and allowed the Confederates to gain the Peach Orchard before Hurlbut’s division came up.
Verdict: Peabody provided the first warning of battle. Eventually someone else would have raised the warning but the Confederacy might have been in a better position at that time. A more unified opening attack would have been a great advantage for the Confederates so this qualifies as a critical decision.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Johnston could have easily sent orders withdrawing those engaged units and returning to Corinth. There are other examples in the war of battles barely starting before the attacker realizes the odds against them and withdraws, the Mine Creek Expedition in Virginia probably being the best known. A retreat to Corinth means that April 6 would have been known for just another small encounter between pickets of both armies and not the start of the battle of Shiloh.
Also it should be pointed out that while Johnston could have ordered his men to withdraw this would have actually been difficult to do. An interesting what-if to think about is if there had been a withdrawal what might Sherman and Grant have done. Would they have realized the opportunity in front of them? Would they have decided to wait an attack and made preparations for an assault once Buell's army arrived? I don't like to delve to deeply into what-ifs but sometimes they can be used to illuminate the options various commanders had. I don't know what Grant would have done. In 1863-4 he probably would have attacked but was his army the fine tool in 1862 that it was a year later? And did he realize this?
This is a very critical decision because a retreat means that there never would have been a battle of Shiloh.
This is one of those decisions that I've changed my opinion on many times and probably will again. The chief Confederate re-enforcement I'm concerned with here is Van Dorn's army in Arkansas.
In early March Beauregard began lobbying Van Dorn to come to Corinth as part of the concentration there. Beauregard did not have the authority to command him to do it. Van Dorn hemmed about the decision until about mid March when A.S. Johnston finally ordered Van Dorn to Corinth. In the meantime Van Dorn had attacked the Union army near Pea Ridge and had lost that battle.
Van Dorn arrived after the battle but had Johnston ordered him a couple of weeks earlier Van Dorn may have made it in time. If Johnston had ordered Van Dorn's army to Corinth earlier he would have had another 15,000 men and that may have been enough to swing the battle. Of course the Union might have also been able to transfer men in time to Grant to offset Van Dorn.
While it is difficult to determine what the alternative situation would have been had Van Dorn arrived, it is clear that his arrival would have effected the battle in some respect. The overall result may have been the same but the battle would have been fought differently. The war in Arkansas in 1862 would have been much different with Van Dorn’s army out of the state.
I am reluctant though to call this a critical decision because this exercise could continue with every battle before Shiloh. For every unit that was not at Shiloh but could have been it could be asked what if they had been there. The other big group of men who missed Shiloh but might have been there were the men Floyd-Pillow-Buckner surrendered at Fort Donelson. Then we could examine the decisions they made that prevented them from escaping before Grant encircled Fort Donelson. Like I said this exercise could continue ad naseum.
If Van Dorn's troops had been engaged on the first day it seems difficult to think that they would not have made a difference, perhaps they would have been enough to win the battle before Buell's army arrived.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
It would have been easy for Grant to have ordered a reconnaissance with enough strength in infantry and cavalry to find out what was in front of them. A point made at the presentation was that this area is not good for cavalry operations, the forests are just too thick. On the battlefield this is correct but for scouting operations it might have made the cavalry's job easier. The Union cavalry would have been mainly confined to the roads, but so was the Confederate army. The Confederates would not have been hiding off in the woods and by the afternoon of April 4 there were too many Confederates to hide.
Depending on the day this reconnaissance was made they may have learned very little or a lot about what was in front of them. Maybe the battle would have started earlier, but for the most part it seems safe to assume the Grant's army would have been better prepared for a battle.
The lack of a proper reconnaissance prior to the battle has disastrous consequences at the beginning of the battle. Good information would have probably meant a more prepared Union army. Some of the information Sherman received was good, it was just ignored. This was a critical decision and mistake.
Monday, May 28, 2007
The soldier's last tattoo;
No more on Life's parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On fame's eternal camping ground
Their silent tents to spread,
And glory guards, with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.
No rumor of the foe's advance
Now swells upon the wind;
Nor troubled thought at midnight haunts
Of loved ones left behind;
No vision of the morrow's strife
The warrior's dreams alarms;
No braying horn or screaming fife
At dawn shall call to arms.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Grant could have moved his headquarters to the landing anytime but he chose to remain at Savannah. There is a wide held belief that Grant kept his headquarters at Savannah so Sherman would regain his confidence by being the man in charge at the landing.
Grant's influence on the battle if he had been at the landing from the beginning is debatable. There is a chance that the army would have been better prepared for the Confederate attack. Sherman did not tell Grant of every alarm his colonels reported but if Grant was at the landing he may have been better informed of the local situation.
There is probably very little Grant could have done to effect the course of the battle if he had awoken at the landing so this is not a critical decision.
Saturday, May 26, 2007
There was a belief among some in the Union high command that entrenching ruined the offensive capabilities of the army. This belief would be completely gone by 1864. There was also a belief among the Union commanders that they would have to go to Corinth for the next battle, that the Confederates did not have the capability to attack them. It is unclear how the decision not to entrench was made. There is evidence that some Union regimental commanders did ask for shovels and axes to construct entrenchments but they were rejected. Whether this rejection was based due to a lack of such implements or because the high command wanted no entrenchments built is unclear.
There were good engineers with Grant's army and it would have been easy to make entrenchments, assuming there were adequate tools on hand. If Grant had decided to entrench it probably would not have taken long to obtain such tools as he had roughly 100-120 boats moving men and supplies on the Tennessee River.
If the Confederates had attacked a well entrenched Union foe it may have been a much shorter battle. Even if the Confederates broke that line they may have lost too many men to allow them to assault a secondary defensive line.
Having entrenchments probably would have assured the Union of a victory on April 6. Not erecting them was a critical decision. But to be fair entrenching in 1862 would have been viewed as an unique decision.
The Union could have reorganized at any time in the weeks before the battle or not reorganized at all. There would have been less confusion on the Union side during day one. Whether this would have had a great impact remains to be seen.
Verdict: This probably does not qualify as a critical decision because it is unclear how much impact this had on the course of the battle. This is one of those decisions that I flip flop a bit on. Overall I don't think this had much effect but its timing happened to be very poor and if it hadn't happened the cavalry might have been a tad more effective, especially in scouting operations on April 4th and 5th. A tough call but for now not a critical decision.
Friday, May 25, 2007
As discussed in the last post one of the big early decisions by the Union was deciding that Corinth was the next target. To do this they needed a camp somewhere in the Savannah area. This would give them access to supplies from the 100 plus boats running between Cairo and Savannah along the Tennessee River and also put them as close as possible to Corinth.
Once Pittsburg Landing was selected as the driest camp area the next task was laying out the camps. The army was growing every day so camp sites had to be selected that also allowed more camps to be placed as the troops arrived.
The plateau at Pittsburg Landing was a good location to camp. The flanks were protected to some degree by creeks, Lick, Owl and Snake. As noted previously this was a very wet spring, the Tennessee River was very high, which made these creeks even better protection as they were very swampy. There was plenty of room between the creeks to encamp several divisions. The high ground on the southwest portion of the camp between the rivers was narrow enough that troops could have been placed to effectively block it. This high ground between Lick and Owl Creeks was also cut by Shiloh Branch. Shiloh Branch was a very small creek but it also was swampy and had steep banks which would aid the defense. Sherman's troops were among the first to encamp at Pittsburg Landing. Sherman's initial overall deployment was good in that he chose to cover the two bridges across the creeks and then put his other troops covering the main road from Corinth, with Shiloh Branch in his front so that he could make use of the steep ravines along it. This did leave one brigade separated from the rest of the division by about 2 miles but this was probably better than leaving an unprotected flank. Within his deployment though there were problems as some units were at angles to each other and were separated so that his units would have camp sites with a better water supply rather than showing a continuous front.
As the other divisions arrived they filled in the plateau half-hazardly and no one ever attempted to completely close off the high ground on the southwest portion of the camp or to make a complete connection between Sherman's scattered forces. Prentiss's division was the last to arrive, as it was made of newly created units who formed the division day by day in camp. This division was placed on the south edge of the camp and partially filled the gap between Sherman and his separated brigade, Stuart's.
There are a variety of different ways the Union could have placed its camps. Probably the best solution would have been to have a continuous front, rather than have a gaps between Sherman, Prentiss and Stuart. It probably would also have made sense to have Stuart's brigade brought over to Sherman's front so that the division could fight together.
If the Union had presented a solid front they would not have been forced from their initial line as quickly. This may have allowed the reserve divisions to re-enforce that line and prevented the Confederates from advancing nearly as far as they did.
The gaps in the Union's front lines was an important factor in how quickly that line fell. The way the camps were laid out then qualifies as an important decision.
Once the Union decides to make a campaign for Corinth they need to select some place along the Tennessee River to begin this campaign. The Union could have picked a few other places along the Tennessee River for their camps, most notably Savannah. The high water at the time limited the places where the Union could encamp an army. The main options were Pittsburg Landing, Crump's Landing and Savannah. Most of the other landing areas up river, such as Eastport, were pretty much flooded. Once the Union was ready to advance against Corinth if they were starting from Savannah the Confederates could have tried to contest the crossing of the river. Being on the west side of the river would allow the Union an easy start but left them open to attack. Grant and CF Smith did not think the Confederates would come attack them so it did not matter to them which side of the river the army was camped on.
If the Union had chosen Savannah there would have been no battle at Pittsburg Landing. The Confederates could have attacked an army positioned at Crump's Landing because it was on the west side of the Tennessee River. To attack Savannah the Confederates would have had to cross the river which would have been very difficult due to their lack of a naval presence in the area. The Union navy would have been able to disrupt the crossing of men and supplies before the battle and been in a position to wreck havoc with any retreat.
These are critical decisions in a very simple way, the location of the battlefield is very critical to the course of the battle. A battle fought at Crump's Landing or Adamsville would certainly have been fought differently than Shiloh was. Other Peach Orchards and (slightly) Sunken Roads would have become famous. But the Union has also made a big decision here in what their objectives will be for the foreseeable future. They could have gone after Chattanooga next and sent Grant to help Buell. They could have gone straight into Alabama. Instead the Union decides that control of the Mississippi River is very important. They also decide that rather than attack Memphis from the river they will force its fall by taking Corinth first. There will be a naval battle at Memphis but that's more of a last ditch effort to save their city, there as little doubt that Memphis would fall now.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
The flagpole from the Tigress survived the war and was returned to Cairo, Illinois, afterwards. Apparently many of the crew were from Cairo and wanted to preserve part of their history. I found the flagpole in the Custom House Museum there and the staff allowed me to take a few pictures. The museum is quite interesting and I would recommend it if you're ever in the area.
This was Grant's desk while he was in Cairo. The desk is nothing special but I love the little plastic wheels on the bottom. That's how you know its Grant's desk and not McClellan's. Grant was always ready for action, so much so that he had plastic wheels installed on his desk. :)
The first critical decision made in the campaign was a big one. It was the Confederate decision to concentrate at Corinth. As the spring campaign began in 1862 the Confederacy was still of the mindset that they had to defend every point. They had large numbers of men in various ports of the Gulf coast and had variously sized "armies" along the front in Kentucky. The Union shadowed these dispositions in Kentucky but they had more men at each place. For the Confederacy to do something against these forces they would mostly likely need to concentrate and attack before the Union could react. After the fall of Fort Donelson in mid-February Beauregard pushed for such a concentration and was able to have his plan approved. Soon men from New Orleans and Florida came north to Corinth to join the various elements from Kentucky that were also concentrating there. In the days after the fall of Donelson Johnston told Beauregard to go to Columbus, Kentucky, and command the "army" that was west of the Tennessee River while Johnston would command the army that was east of the river. If this dual army situation had continued it probably would have turned out badly for the Confederacy.
The Confederacy basically had two options. They could have concentrated elsewhere or not at all. If they don't concentrate at Corinth the Union has an open road to the strategic rail junction. Corinth was the only place in the Confederacy that a large north-south railroad and a large east-west railroad crossed. Keeping Corinth in the Confederacy would aid their war efforts in the theater by making transport of men and supplies much easier. Corinth would certainly have been the Union’s next goal and thus the Confederates would likely have put a large force here to stop them. If the Confederates hadn't tried to hold Corinth the Union would have likely gone there, destroyed the rails and then focused its attention on the closest Confederate army. What makes it a critical decision is that troops from many areas of the Confederacy were concentrated here. This was a large shift in Confederate policy at the time. Prior to this they were trying to defend everything but after the fall of Fort Donelson they pulled troops out of many areas in hopes of winning a major battle that would restore the lost territory.
The shift in overall strategy makes it a critical decision. Concentrating at Corinth was needed but the way it was done is critical to the course of the campaign. The Confederacy was now gambling on their future by defending key points and not trying to defend everything. Once the shift in strategy is decided upon Corinth is the obvious place to concentrate.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
My presentation grew out of a presentation my friend Matt made to the RMCWRT on the critical decisions of the Gettysburg campaign. He encouraged me to start a similar project on Shiloh and read it a couple of times along the way to help fine tune it. When determining if a decision was a critical decision effecting the course of the campaign and battle I took into account the following two questions:
1) What were other possible decisions to be made at that moment?
2) What would have been likely course of action if this decision had not been made?
There were hundreds of decisions made in early April 1862, not all of them were critical to the course of the campaign and battle. I have tried to limit critical decisions to those actions that changed the course of the battle as it was at that moment. Or if the decision kept the battle from making a change that seemed certain. Or a decision that would have greatly changed the battle but was not made. In other words if the decision had or hadn't been made the story of Shiloh would be very different.
There are decisions that are important but that didn't have a huge impact on the way the battle was fought. For instance the Union gunboats may have played a key part in repulsing the final Confederate attack but if Grant had decided to deploy them differently it would not have effected the battle too differently. Another example is that A.S. Johnston exposed himself to rifle fire once too often, but if he had decided to stay in the rear the battle would have unfolded probably much the same, except for his own life of course.
For many decisions there are no hard answers that this was or was not critical. There are decisions that my opinion of has changed several times and will probably change again. And when I write about those decisions I will also try to explain how my thinking has changed.
I've studied Shiloh extensively for several years and could never attempt to give a complete bibliography here. But a few of my favorites for this discussion are:
- Shiloh: the Battle that Changed the Civil War by Larry Daniel
- Shiloh: Bloody April by Wiley Sword
- Struggle for the Heartland by Stephen Engle
- Shiloh: In Hell before Night by James Lee McDonough
- Seeing the Elephant: Raw Recruits at Shiloh by Joseph Allan frank & George A. Reaves
I haven't read Tim Smith and Gary Joiner's edited version of Edward Cunningham's dissertation, Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862. But I have read Cunningham's original and it was good, a little hard to read because my copy is a xerox of the copy I got from the library. I'm hoping to get my copy of Smith and Joiner this week.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
These cannons are in the Confederate rear at the Sunken Road. The Piper Orchard is just over the crest. A ranger said that these guns are probably the closest to the spot that Longstreet's staff operated a battery at, but this isn't the spot. Matt, who often acted as our guide, (and a better guide would be hard to find as Matt is always challenging us to think beyond what hindsight tells us, "put yourselves in their shoes and judge the decisions by what they knew when") pointed out that these guns are silhouetted. This is actually a very bad placement for artillery. They provide too good of a target for the attacking infantry. I pointed out that while that is true in their current placement they provide a wonderful sunset shot.
Mike and I got this shot before the group arrived. The rays were breaking through the clouds perfectly. A little crimson can be seen on the horizon. We stayed a bit longer and it never improved beyond this. But I think this is still a pretty nice shot.
This is Ray and I walking through a corn field near the tower. I am on the right.
Here is Mike with his camera rig. The harness is designed to minimize vibration and make everything look smooth. The headphones he's wearing were connected to a wireless mic that I wore. It probably took the group a day and a half before they realized I had on a mic.
Here the group is looking towards the right flank of the Union attack on the Sunken Road. A moment before everyone was pointing but I just missed that shot. From right to left its: Jim, just the front part of Bob, Larry, Matt, Ned (behind Matt), Dave, Craig (in the yellow hat) and Ray.
The group trudges down a path along the final attack trail. From right to left its: Ray, Gary, Bob, Wayne, Larry and Matt.
And our group picture taken at Burnside's Bridge. Back row, right to left: Wayne, Jim, Ian, Dave, Bob, Ray, Larry and Gary (my dad). Kneeling, right to left: Nick (me), Mike, Ned, Matt and Craig. A great bunch of guys.
Monday, May 21, 2007
This one is on the 20th New York's monument near the Visitor's Center and shows the regiment entering combat. They were known as the Turner Rifles, obviously a German name, and there is a second monument to the regiment in the national cemetery.
The Burnside's Bridge area has the largest concentration of these reliefs. This on shows the 11th Connecticut fighting for the bridge.
This one shows the 16th Connecticut crossing the bridge.
And here is the 51st Pennsylvania attacking the bridge.
I think this one is fascinating because it shows two cannon right at Burnside's Bridge. Certainly there were cannon in the area that were part of the fighting but there was never any cannon that close to the bridge, at least I don't recall reading of that. But this way it seems more heroic or a tougher feat to capture the bridge since those cannon were right next to the bridge. The other reliefs I don;t know enough about to say if they contain more inaccuracies. I do find it interesting that everyone in a panel seems to wear the exact same hat.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Saturday, May 19, 2007
And this monument, to the 124th Pennsylvania, I just liked. The soldier is in great condition, the pose and outfit are great and the background was cool too. That's Mike sitting on the left side of the monument. I guess he was kinda worn out with his big camera rig.
On the walls of the library was the town crest. I thought it was pretty interesting.
Friday, May 18, 2007
This tablet is near the Hawkins Zouave monument and features an old drawing of Burnside's attack, and just how close to Sharpsburg they got.
Due to the heavy number of trees that view is no longer possible but here is the view from the tablet. A few of the buildings can be seen towards the right side of the picture.
The next two pictures actually form a panorama. The top picture is the right side and the bottom is the left. This would be the view Hill had in the area that they came upon the Harper's Ferry Road from the Millers Sawmill Road. The 12th Ohio's monument can be barely seen in the top (right) picture and a few of the monuments along Branch Avenue can also be seen.
And this is the 8th Connecticut's monument. It, and the nearby monument for Hawkins' Zouaves, mark the farthest Union advance. The day was getting late and the clouds were starting to look pretty neat. After this Mike and I would go back near the Sunken Road and get some great sunset shots, though we didn't stay til dark.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
In any respect the following pictures were taken along Branch Avenue, which is generally the area of Burnside's farthest advance (some units didn't get this far, a few got even closer to town). The first one is looking out towards the area Burnside's men advanced across. The cannon marks a Confederate position. The bridge is generally over the rise on the left side of the picture.
Here's the view on Burnside's left flank. There are two monuments in this picture. The second is left of center on the ridge line.
A few monuments along the road. Just liked the scene. Mike's in the picture which adds or detracts based on your feelings about Mike. (Just kidding, Mike, I still like the shot.)
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Now on the same level as the bridge but still on the Confederate side. The 51st New York monument can be seen at the end of the bridge.
Looking towards the Confederate side from the stonewall the 51st Pennsylvania used for protection during their assault.
From the Union side showing how narrow the bridge is. We lined up a row of guys and a column of four is about the best that could be done. We had 6 guys across but that was perfectly tight, no movement allowed. So to move across 4 is as wide as the formation could be.
The view from near the 11th Connecticut's monument. Some clearing of trees has been done in this area. On my previous trip I don't remember being able to see this monument but it was quite visible this time and was the reason I wandered over there.
A deviation this morning from my normal posts but saw this and had to report on it. When I visit a battlefield I wander off the path, going to markers or places where I think I might see something unique. Sometimes I don't see much from my new place and sometimes I find some neat stuff. A few days ago at Vicksburg a park ranger found a dead body (actually just the remains as its apparently quite old but not 144 years old). Hopefully I never have such a discovery in my wanderings, though having been to Vicksburg its quite obvious how a body could be hidden in that tangle of underbrush for quite awhile. Complete story here.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
On the northern part of the battlefield is the Upper Bridge. Hooker used the Upper Bridge to cross his corps the night before the battle, and I'm pretty sure Mansfield used it too. Sumner crossed at a ford farther downstream. This bridge still stands though it clearly has had some modern alterations, like a paved road for one. We drove over this bridge a few times and luckily there was no traffic coming the other way. The locals probably thought we were crazy to be walking on it and taking pictures but they should get used to that sort of thing. Ray lost his hat at this bridge, which turned into a running joke on where Ray might recover his hat. I'm not sure how much he lamented the loss but since he got a Iron Brigade hat in the VC to replace it I was happy.
In about the middle of the battlefield sits Middle Bridge. Except the original bridge has been replaced with, gasp, a modern structure. Mike and I got some nice footage of the creek from below the bridge. The modern intrusion can be seen in the distance, its the only picture I have of the modern bridge because who really needs a picture of a modern bridge. The creek looked high, deep and fast that day. A few days later the rain poured down and Ray reported that it looked two feet higher. When I got home I checked the gauging station near Burnside's Bridge and Ray was right, the creek had risen nearly two feet over night due to that heavy rain. For a city boy from Chicago Ray sure knows his creeks.
The Lower Bridge is also an original but that is for tomorrow.
Monday, May 14, 2007
This is the Wisconsin section. As Craig, a Wisconsin native, put it, "Wisconsin, section 10 in the cemetery but first in your hearts." I don't have an ancestors buried here, in fact I don't think I have any ancestors who fought at Antietam but I tend to visit the Wisconsin section in any national cemetery I visit. From the Wisconsin section I could see a huge patriotic arrangement through the trees so made a detour over there. Here is the final resting place of Patrick Howard Roy, who was killed in the attack on the USS Cole. I had forgotten he was buried here but once I saw it I remembered the story. Roy was a Sharpsburg native who was allowed to buried here even though the cemetery has been closed to new burials since 1953. Very touching to see the display his friends and family had left behind.
Just south of the national cemetery is a great view of the southern half of the battlefield. Lee used this high ground during the battle and once you see the view from outside the walls its clear why he did so.