- Historic Sites
Grant At Shiloh
Surprised and almost overwhelmed, he stubbornly refused to admit defeat. His cool conduct saved his army and his job
February 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 2
The note is interesting for its bearing on the puzzling question: Precisely what had Grant been expecting in the way of enemy action? This morning he was writing, “I have been looking for this”; the afternoon before he had assured Halleck that he anticipated nothing like a general attack on his position. Apparently he did feel that Lew Wallace’s force might be attacked, and he may have taken this morning’s gunfire for confirmation of that suspicion. He had warned both Sherman and W. H. L. Wallace that an attack at Crump’s Landing seemed quite likely and that both men should be prepared to reinforce that spot at a moment’s notice. Saturday night he had had Colonel McPherson-who had become one of his most trusted staff members-stay with W. H. L. Wallace at Pittsburg Landing, the significance of this being that this division was the reserve, held ready to reinforce any trouble spot in case of need. Both Sherman and Prentiss, who had the forward line, sent out patrols very early Sunday morning, to see what might lie in front of them. McPherson wrote that “it was well known that the enemy was approaching our lines,” and on Saturday Grant had notified Halleck that the Confederates in and around Corinth were present in great strength. He believed that Johnston had 80,000 men with him, and he suspected that some of these were arrayed along the line of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, which ran from Corinth up to the recently evacuated Confederate stronghold at Columbus-ideally situated, if his suspicion were correct, to strike the Union flank at Crump’s Landing. Clearly enough, Grant had believed that some sort of fight might soon be thrust upon him; the one thing he had not anticipated was what was actually happening-a massive drive on his front by the entire Confederate army.
The Tigress went up the river, the sound of cannon and musket fire coming in more and more clearly, and somewhere between 7 and 7:30 A.M. the steamer closed in by the bank at Crump’s Landing, next to Lew Wallace’s headquarters boat. Wallace was on deck waiting, and Grant leaned over the railing of his own boat and called out his orders: Wallace was to hold his division ready to march on receipt of orders, and he was also to send patrols out to the west to see whether the Confederates were moving toward him as well as toward the troops around Shiloh Church. Wallace agreed. He was an ambitious man, deeply wanting to win fame as a soldier. What would happen in the next twenty-four hours would put military fame out of his reach, although fame at last would be his: Ben Hur would come out of the brain that could not quite create victory in battle. To the end of his days he would try to explain the baffling things that went wrong on this sixth of April. So far, none of them had gone wrong, and Wallace faced the day with confidence. The Tigress swung away from the bank and went upstream, and at eight o’clock or a little later nosed into the bank at Pittsburg Landing. Grant got on his horse and went ashore, to ride straight into the middle of the great Battle of Shiloh.
At the moment of going ashore, it was evident that an enormous fight was going on and that it was not going well for the Union army.
Off to the southwest—not two miles away, and obviously drawing closer—there was a tremendous noise of battle, continuous racket of rifle fire, heavy thud of artillery, the sound of thousands of men shouting. Smoke was drifting up from the woods, and a dismaying crowd of stragglers, weaponless and winded, was knotting up on the hillside that went from the river to the high ground; panicky men, disorganized and unmanned, who had been shoved unready into their first battle and who had gone for the rear in wild desperation, officers of rank among them. There were hordes of stragglers in the rear of every army in every battle in the Civil War, but Shiloh was the one battle that put them on display: a man running from the battle area here was in effect a man running down a funnel, for even the dullest fugitive could see that the only road to safety was the road to the steamboat landing, and men who in any other fight would be drifting across square miles of open country were packed in a solid mass, cowering under the lee of the bluff above the river. They were beginning to assemble, now, with the day hardly more than begun, and they would continue to assemble all day long, pathetic evidence that troops with inadequate training and no battle experience whatever had been called on to stand up to one of the worst combats of the entire war.