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Shiloh, battle of

Shiloh, battle of, Apr. 6–7, 1862, one of the great battles of the American Civil War. The battle took its name from Shiloh Church, a meetinghouse c.3 mi (5 km) SSW of Pittsburg Landing, which was a community in Hardin co., Tenn., 9 mi (14.5 km) S of Savannah on the west bank of the Tennessee River. After the fall of Fort Donelson to the Union army, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant advanced up the Tennessee River and established headquarters for his Army of the Tennessee (some 40,000 men) at Savannah. Five divisions were placed in the vicinity of Pittsburg Landing and one at Crump's Landing, c.5 mi (8 km) north. Meanwhile, General Buell, commanding the Army of the Ohio (35,000 men), was marching W from Nashville to join Grant and crush the Confederate army at Corinth, Miss., a strategic railway point. Gen. A. S. Johnston, about to make a stand after leading the retreat from original Confederate positions in the West, commanded the army at Corinth (40,000 men), with Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard second in command. Johnston's plan was to defeat Grant before Buell could arrive. He moved to attack on Apr. 3, but because of delay in the 20-mi (32-km) advance to the Union front, it was not until early on Apr. 6 that his troops fell upon the enemy near Shiloh Church. Grant's position was unfortified, in spite of orders to the contrary from General Halleck, Union commander in the West. Having offensive plans of his own, Grant expected no attack, and consequently his irregularly placed divisions were thrown back in confusion at the Confederate assault. In the day's fighting the Confederates swept the field, but Johnston was killed. When Beauregard, who assumed command, ceased battle at nightfall, the Union forces had been pushed back over a mile from their first positions but, although hard-pressed, still held Pittsburg Landing, which the Confederates wanted to secure in order to cut off retreat. With 20,000 reinforcements from the division at Crump's Landing and the advance divisions of Buell's army, the Federals took the offensive on Apr. 7. Beauregard, outnumbered and without fresh troops, resisted for about eight hours and then proceeded to withdraw to Corinth; the Union command did not make any effective pursuit. Corinth was abandoned to the Union forces one month later. Ultimately, Shiloh may be considered a Union victory because it led to later successful campaigns in the West. It was one of the bloodiest contests of the war, losses on each side reaching over 10,000, and, with the possible exceptions of Antietam and Gettysburg, it has been the subject of more controversy than any other Civil War battle.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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