Nathan Bedford Forrest The last Man

The battle at Shiloh was a massive encounter that resulted in more American casualties in two days than had taken place in all other previous American wars combined. Because of the severity of the conflict, General Grant did not want to send Union forces to follow the retreating Confederates. However, he did send General William Tecumseh Sherman down the road of Rebel retreat toward Corinth to give chase to the Confederate forces. Although that march would accomplish little, it did help create a legend involving a Southern cavalry commander that would continue to grow through the course of the war.

Nathan Bedford Forrest was a Southerner of humble origins, who made a fortune in cotton and in buying and selling land and slaves. When the war broke out, he immediately set out to enlist volunteers for a cavalry unit he would command. He outfitted his entire battalion out of his own pocket.


Grant ordered his men forward at 7:00 a.m., and they faced little resistance for their first mile of ground gained. The Confederates had abandoned that territory to plunder the Union camps. Once the Union men reached the full force of Confederates, the fighting resumed to an intensity that soon matched and would even exceed the previous day. But the advantage was in Union hands. Buell's fresh forces moved along the Union left flank and drove the tired Confederates back across the peach orchard. The Rebels then turned and counterattacked, and the fighting soon seesawed over the same ground until the Federals finally broke Confederate resistance and drove them into retreat.

As Beauregard's men retreated from the Shiloh battlefield, it was Forrest's cavalry that provided protection. The Rebel evacuation was slowed due to muddy roads. With Sherman's men closing in, General Forrest turned and ordered a cavalry charge. What happened next became the stuff of Forrest legend, as noted by historian Ward:

Forrest ordered one last charge, swinging his saber and galloping headlong into the Union troops, only to discover that his men were not following him. Caught in a swarm of blue uniforms, Forrest whirled, slashing at the Yankees who tried to stop him, and was hit in the back by a musket ball. Despite the shock and pain, he managed to lean down and haul a trooper across his saddle to serve as a shield as he galloped away. Once out of range, he hurled his terrified protector aside and rode on toward Corinth.

Sherman did not pursue the Confederates any longer and soon returned to the former battlefield, having accomplished almost nothing. As for General Forrest, he recovered from his wound and lived to serve the Confederacy throughout the remainder of the war. He continued to live by his personal motto, remembered by historian Ward: "War means fighting. And fighting means killing."

Pittsburg Landing Glowing Wounds

When additional Union soldiers poured into the area to reinforce their fellow troops at Pittsburg Landing, the Confederate Army began to break apart and lose its ground. Finally ordered to retreat, Rebel forces abandoned the shelters and camps they had seized in the initial surprise attack that started the Battle of Shiloh. Union men returned to these shelters and were able to rest and recover after the fighting had ended (above).

When additional Union soldiers poured into the area to reinforce their fellow troops at Pittsburg Landing, the Confederate Army began to break apart and lose its ground. Finally ordered to retreat, Rebel forces abandoned the shelters and camps they had seized in the initial surprise attack that started the Battle of Shiloh. Union men returned to these shelters and were able to rest and recover after the fighting had ended (above).

Meanwhile, the Rebels were overwhelmed on the Union right flank, where Grant himself led his own army and Wallace's men stood in the forefront. The Confederates lost one field position after another south of Owl Creek. One of their units, led by Major General Braxton Bragg, held its ground stubbornly where the Corinth and Hamburg-Purdy roads crossed along the battlefields center. Here, the action became white hot as Grant and Buell both ordered repeated attacks along Water Oaks Pond. The musket fire was withering. Historian Steven Woodworth notes that the fighting "became so intense that Sherman said it was the heaviest he had ever heard." For five hours, from 7:00 a.m. until around noon, the furious battle raged until Beauregard ordered a general retreat.

As the Federals advanced over ground that had seen battle the previous day, they encountered a terrible sight in the wounded and dead who had spent the night in the field unattended. Bodies were everywhere. Some of the wounded had found one another throughout the long night and huddled in groups for warmth. One Northern soldier would write later, as noted by historian McDonough: "Many had died there, and others were in the last agonies as we passed. . . . Their groans and cries were heart-rending. . . . The gory corpses lying all about us, in every imaginable attitude, and slain by an inconceivable variety of wounds, were shocking to behold."

By 2:00 p.m. or so, nearly the entire Union line had pushed the Confederates back to the place where the previous day's attack had begun. At 2:30, Beauregard's chief of staff offered a question to his commander, recalled by historian Thomas Jordan: "Do you not think our troops are very much in the condition of a lump of sugar thoroughly soaked with water, but yet preserving its original shape, though ready to dissolve? Would it not be judicious to get away with what we have?" Beauregard could only accept the analogy and agree, issuing a final retreat order. Even as the Confederates moved off the field and down the road back toward Corinth, the Union men were not ordered to pursue them. In his memoirs, General Grant addressed the reasons:

After the rain of the night before and the frequent and heavy rains for some days previous, the roads were almost impassable. The enemy, carrying his artillery and supply trains over them in his retreat, made them still worse for troops following. I wanted to pursue, but had not the heart to order the men who had fought desperately for two days, lying in the mud and rain whenever not fighting, and I did not feel disposed positively to order Buell, or any part of his command, to pursue.

As the enemy disappeared down a muddy road toward Corinth, relieved and victorious Union forces simply collapsed, exhausted from the fight, many of them back in the encampments they had surrendered the previous morning. The battle was over.

Just days after this great fight in the woods of western Tennessee, Halleck finally arrived and immediately took command from Grant, the victor of Shiloh. Halleck did not pursue the enemy immediately but waited until Major General John Pope's army came with reinforcements. He then took the combined forces of Grant, Buell, and Pope—a mass of 100,000 men—on a slow campaign toward Corinth. His march took six weeks, since Halleck insisted that his army build elaborate trenches every quarter mile (400 m) or so, to avoid being exposed to an enemy attack. By the time Halleck reached Corinth, Beauregard and his forces were long gone. For many, the now legendary Shiloh campaign ended unsatisfactorily. Union men felt they had lost an opportunity to destroy Beauregard's army, while the Confederates, including President Davis, were sorry the Rebel commander had given up the vital rail center of Corinth without a fight.

What had begun as a seemingly sure Confederate win over Grant's army had ended after a second day as a major Rebel defeat. The first anniversary of the start of the Civil War was just days away, and Shiloh was the largest battle to take place thus far. It was the first engagement of a size that would become commonplace during the next three years of the national conflict. About 20,000 men were killed or wounded at Shiloh, with each side taking about the same number of casualties. This was, as noted by historian James McPherson, "nearly double the 12,000 battle casualties at Manassas, Wilson's Creek, Fort Donelson, and Pea Ridge combined."

Both sides realized that the war in the western theater would be long and even bloodier before it was over. Historian James McPherson notes one Union soldier's prediction prior to Shiloh: "My opinion is that this war will be closed in less than six months." That same Federal observed after Shiloh: "If my life is spared I will continue in my country's service until this rebellion is put down, should it be ten years." Even Grant had thought before Shiloh, as he noted in his Memoirs, that one large-scale Union victory following his capture of Fort Donel-son and Fort Henry might bring the war in the West to an end. After Shiloh, he "gave up all idea of saving the Union except by complete conquest."

The Battle of Shiloh helped strengthen Union positions and an overall Union presence in western Tennessee. Grant would remain in the region and pursue new goals against the Confederates, targeting the Mississippi for Union control. This would lead to his campaign against the last major Confederate stronghold on the great river's course: Vicksburg. These campaigns would preoccupy Grant until the summer of 1863.


Back in the eastern theater of the war, General George McClel-lan was preparing to mount his "On to Richmond" campaign, which he had been planning the previous winter. His strategy called for Union troops to move along the Virginia peninsula, east of the Confederate capital, from Fort Monroe. The eastern flowing rivers would provide cover for their flanks toward Richmond. His army was immense, amounting to 120,000 men

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