Saturday, August 11, 2012

Day 9: Shiloh

I was a little disappointed to find that our route to Shiloh took us through northern Mississippi, rather than across Tennessee, but it was at least a relatively short drive to the battlefield.
Visitors Center at Shiloh National Military Park
The visitor center and bookstore were separate, and the visitor center featured a small exhibit with a couple of neat features, including a set of reproduction Union and Confederate uniforms, child-sized, for kids to put on, and a mirror to look at themselves. The rest of the exhibits were fairly standard. The orientation video, however, was the best we've seen yet, flawlessly integrating first-person stories (as at Manassas) with big-picture quotes from generals and animated battlefield maps to pull the whole story together.
Kids' uniforms at Shiloh
It helps that Shiloh was a basic down-and-back; the Union arrived via riverboat fleet, began to spread out in the hopes of advancing on and seizing the railroad depot in Corinth, MS, and engaged with the Army of the Mississippi under Albert Sidney Johnston. Johnston's army engaged Grant before Grant's second wing had yet arrived, and pushed the Union troops back so effectively that at the end of the first day a message was sent back to Jefferson Davis announcing that the battle was a resounding victory.
Massed Confederate artillery pointed at Union positions within the Hornets Nest
Grant was reinforced by Buell overnight, and used his fresh men to smash the Confederate right, then reinforced his own right to smash the Confederate left, fighting back and regaining the same ground they'd lost the day before and sending the Confederates back to entrench around Corinth. Shiloh was the first battle where Grant began testing out his total war strategy, and was one of the bloodiest of the entire war – the first to really put horrific casualty numbers on newspaper front pages back east.
Shiloh Church, passed twice by the line of battle
The battlefield itself was quite good, and it was easy to pick out major points of engagement (Fraley's Field and the Hornet's Nest among them) and benefited – as did Antietam – from having a fairly simple trajectory over a fairly short period of time.
Fraley's Field, where the battle began at 5am
Looking out and down to Pittsburg Landing, where Union reinforcements under Buell arrived to turn the tide of battle on the second day.
After Shiloh, we pushed on east – through northern Alabama this time, still not through Tennessee – to camp at the foot of Lookout Mountain, on the Tennessee-Georgia border, just outside Chattanooga.

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