Meeting of March 26, 2013

Bob Hubbs on “Was General Grant Really Surprised at Shiloh?”

Battle of Shiloh by Thure de Thulstrup (Wikipedia)

Bob addressed a few provocative questions about this famous battle:

  • Shiloh – the horrible experience during which Grant became a general and Lincoln is elevated to Commander-In–Chief – How so?
  • Grant and his trial by fire – What happened to him?
  • Shiloh, the never expected, the least understood, and the most painful experience of the American Civil War – Why?
  • Shiloh – the battle with more myths and less facts than any major killing of American soldiers – How can this be?

Tom Roza provided the following meeting summary.

Events Prior to the Battle

After Grant’s military successes early in 1862, he continued to be out of favor with General Halleck who thought Grant was a drunk and unfit for command. In the period leading up to the Battle of Shiloh, Grant was temporarily removed from command and General C.F. Smith led Grant’s troops up the Tennessee River into southwestern Tennessee. Halleck restored Grant to command after receiving inquiries from Pres. Lincoln about the reasons for his relief.

Reaching the vicinity of Savannah, Tennessee, Grant was ordered to halt his advance and wait to link up with the Army of the Ohio, commanded by Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell. Once the two armies were combined, Halleck intended to advance against the Confederates at the critical rail junction of Corinth, Mississippi. While Grant waited, he figured that General Albert Sidney Johnston in command of the Confederate forces would make a move against him to prevent further penetration into the south. Grant thought the attack would occur near a location called Crumps Landing and not the Pittsburgh Landing area. Johnston also did not expect to attack Grant at Pittsburgh Landing, so the actual location of the battle at Shiloh was more accidental then planned. An interesting side note about the Union commanders at Shiloh was that the only formally trained Union commanders were Grant and Sherman—all the others were political appointees.

The Battle

The Battle of Shiloh was fought on April 6–7, 1862. A total of 110,053 soldiers, North and South, participated in the battle. On the morning of April 6, contrary to popular belief, General Sherman’s troops were actually ready for any Confederate attack. The thrust of the Rebel attack was actually on Sherman’s left flank against Union General Prentiss who was not prepared and his troops fell back quickly in retreat.

In the area known as the Hornet’s Nest, where the fiercest fighting to date on American soil took place, the Confederates made 12 separate attacks against the Union line which eventually gave way and retreated. As darkness fell over the field, the fighting abated, Sherman found Grant sitting under a tree and in the aftermath of the day’s fighting made this famous quote: “Well Grant, we have had the Devil’s own day”.

There was some misconceptions about General Lew Wallace and his role at the Battle of Shiloh. Wallace had approximately 7,000-8,000 troops under his command as he marched them from the north towards the Pittsburgh Landing area. The main misconception about Wallace is that he got lost on his way to the battlefield. The reality was that he was following an old order and never received Grant’s updated order on where to go until much later on April 7.


There were a total of 23,476 casualties for both sides at the Battle of Shiloh. For years, even until today, many historians believed that Grant was surprised at Shiloh. In reality, he was not really surprised and his ability to prevent a crushing defeat is evidence of that. Years later, Grant characterized the public perception of the Battle of Shiloh by calling it the most misunderstood battle of the Civil War.


Meeting Minutes March 2013