Friday, July 30, 2010

Buell's Advance to Pittsburg Landing

I'm always excited to see the newest issue of Tennessee Historical Quarterly appear in my mailbox. There tends to always be at least one Civil War article, sometimes the whole issue is Civil War themed. Also it seems that the past few years have seen quite a few Shiloh articles. This past Wednesday I received the latest issue and there were two Civil War articles and one of them was Shiloh themed.

Donald A. Clark wrote a pretty good piece on the Army of the Ohio's advance from
Nashville to Savannah, arriving in time to see combat on April 7th, with advance units reaching the Shiloh battlefield as the first day's fight was winding down. The article nearly gives a day by day account of the march across middle Tennessee with highlights from soldiers' diaries and letters. I especially liked this as it now seems like I could retrace Buell's route pretty closely.

There are things I wish the author had expanded on. He says that its now clear that Grant's army would have prevailed in the battle even without the assistance from Buell. I'm not 100% in agreement. I think the second day would have gone for the Union and that the Confederates would have retreated back to Corinth. But I think that it would have taken longer for the Union to reclaim its old camps and while in reality Grant did not use April 8th to make it a horrible disaster for the Confederacy that opportunity likely would not have even been possible if Buell had never arrived.

William "Bull" Nelson comes off quite well in the article, a conclusion I too agree with. If he had lived through the war I think he would have made some nice contributions to the Union cause. Clark has written a biography of Nelson that will be coming out this winter from Southern Illinois University.

I do think though that some of Clark's article was clumsy. When he talked about battle sequences he jumbled them up a bit. The article makes it sound like once the Peach Orchard line collapsed Grant started to bring up the siege guns to anchor a line of artillery near the landing. In reality those siege guns had started moving into position earlier in the morning, they are just too heavy for rapid movement. This might just be an editing oversight, if that paragraph had been moved up a few paragraphs it would be in the right order and make perfect sense.

Clark also revealed more about how much Grant and Buell were communicating with each other, something I had not really given much thought. But Grant sent two officers (presumably with some sort of escort) to find Buell as he marched across the state. Clark refers to one as Grant's best scout, which made me wonder how things might have been different if this scout had been available on the morning of April 6 to lead Lew Wallace into position. That is just one of the little things that perhaps changed part of the battle.

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