Friday, April 18, 2014

The Battle of Shiloh; Short Case Study

The Battle of Shiloh; A Case Study
Map  at The Civil War Trust

In April of 1862, Generals Grant and Sherman marched into Tennessee with the intention of moving into Mississippi to begin the campaign(s) in the west. The over all strategy of the north during the civil war was to disrupt the southern trade by taking the Mississippi river and splitting the western theater and trans-Mississippi theaters of war into separate sections. A plan which would in fact be executed and would prove to be extremely successful.

But at this point in time the union army would disembark at a place called "Pittsburg Landing" near a place called Shiloh Church (Shiloh is a Hebrew word which means place peace). They would establish camp there as the commanders (Grant and Sherman) awaited the arrival of more troops under the command of General Don Carlos Buell

Early on the morning of April 8th. The union troops were rising from sleep, mess cooks were preparing breakfast and soldiers were in the process of cleaning uniforms and shinning their muskets for an anticipated inspection. When suddenly Confederate forces under the command of the famed Albert Sidney Johnston would come screaming the rebel yell out of the nearby woods in a full frontal attack on the center of the union lines. The rebels had achieved somewhat of a surprise, as union troops would scatter in total panic as the union officers would try to organize the troops into lines.  It would however prove to be difficult and union troops would fall back in disorder.

....and that is still commonly believed today is that the Federals had no idea that the enemy was so near. Nothing could be further from the truth. For days before April 6, minor skirmishing took place. Both sides routinely took prisoners in the days leading up to the battle. The rank and file in the Union army knew Confederates were out there — they just did not know in what strength.
-Civil War Trust

As the lines were pushed back, a stiff resistance was mounted under General Benjamin  Prentiss at a place called the hornets nest. But the hornets nest was eventually overrun and Prentiss surrendered what remained of the troops under his command.

There is much debate what happened over the few hours of the battle. The popular story has union troops running tot he rear and cowering under the bluffs at Pittsburg Landing, though officers reports tell varying stories. One thing is clear, that Sherman's brief statement to Grant on the evening of the first days fight was a strong indicator of how things went;

“Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?” . “Yes, lick “em tomorrow, though,” Union General Ulysses S. Grant. Suffering through a rainstorm after the first day’s battle where almost everything went against him, Grant vowed to fight on the next day. Perhaps no other quote better symbolizes Grant’s dogged determination.

It is apparent that both armies were in contact with each other for sometime before the first Confederate assault. However, by many available sources, the magnitude of this battle was a completely new experience for both armies, whereas, there were seasoned officers (though few) on both sides. The ranks were filled with inexperienced soldiers and officers who did not understand their roles.

Intelligence and Situational Awareness;

Both armies (despite previous skirmishes) lacked the badly needed information to coordinate attacks and responses. The information at hand was immediate data and failed to take into account a larger overview or activity in the area. If the Confederate commanders were aware of Buell's pending arrival, then why commence an attack in which the enemy would gain additional superior numbers the following day? Grant most certainly held the upper hand on the second day, not due to new intelligence, but due to the fact that he already knew that reinforcements under Don Carlo Buell would soon be arriving.

Change of Command;
It's obvious that the death of Albert Sidney Johnson played a significant part in changing the course of the battle. When command fell to General Beauregard the change of command at this stage most certainly upset the continuity of command and it's a foregone conclusion that no contingency plan existed for such an event. It is highly probable that the loss of Johnston created confusion in the ranks.

Failure To Act;
After General Beauregard took command, he reported a complete victory and advised that he had Grant where he wanted him, though he planned to wait until the following day to complete the attack. Night battle during this time period were virtually unheard of. So it is easy to establish Beauregard's mind set. Though it is also obvious that the failure to follow through and attempt action despite the late hour was a tactical mistake. Even regrouping and harassing tactics may have better served the Confederates better than no action at all.

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