Jump to content
Shiloh Discussion Group

Geographic Factors of the Hornets Nest and Union Center

Recommended Posts

The final hike of the first day was led by Dr Jeff Gentsch. The title of this hike was the Geographic Factors of the Hornets Nest and Union Center.

The group met at the Arkansas Monument near the intersection of the Sunken Road and Eastern Corinth Road. As most serious students of the battle are aware in 1862 the Sunken Road was simply a dirt lane between farm fields. It was not sunken and was of little military importance. It was simply a good place for troops to rally.

Our first stop was just a few feet away at Marker 107 on your Shiloh Battlefield Map. It was in this area where much of the artillery was placed. Hickenlooper and Munch's batteries or remnants thereof (as you recall these batteries took a pretty serious mauling in Spain Field) were stationed along the Sunken Road.  Richardson's and Stone's Batteries were placed a little farther north along the Eastern Corinth Road. The Union forces coming out of the camps from the north had the advantage of being able to choose the ground on which to fight. The ground on which these batteries were placed was chosen well.. All were placed in commanding positions that proved quite devastating to the CSA troops attacking the Hornets Nest..

Our next stop was just a few feet away. This time it was along the point where the Sunken Road borders Duncan Field. Here Jeff shattered another myth about the Hornets Nest. Contrary to popular belief Union troops were not lined up behind the split rail fence along the Sunken Road. Instead the troops were sheltered in a ravine that ran behind the Sunken Road in this area.  When the Confederate forces attacked across Duncan Field  Union troops would simply rise above the crest of the ravine to fire. They would then drop back into the relative safety of the ravine to reload.

Jeff also pointed out that this ravine also provided natural cover during the Ruggles Battery Cannonade. Other than causing a lot of noise, smoke, and confusion the bombardment was not real effective. This ravine and the cover it provided was one of the reasons. The other reason was because of "field swale" the rebel gunners could not see their targets. The fire from Ruggles Battery did not become real effective until after the flanks collapsed and Union troops started withdrawing toward Cloud Field.

At this point Jeff explained field swale. Basically, this is the natural valleys, ridges and dips present in all fields and is caused by drainage of the fields. These features provides natural cover for troops.  Swale is present in all fields to varying degrees. Field swale is very pronounced in Rhea, Duncan and Jones Fields,  It is not nearly as prevalent in fields such as Woolf and Review Fields. Personally, once Jeff made me aware of its presence and the effect it had on the battle I started looking for it in each field we came to.

Our next stop was in the Davis Wheat Field.  It was from this area that the attacks on the Hornets Nest was launched. Our trusty band of forty or so hikers lined up to recreate the charge on the Sunken Road. I must admit our effort was pretty pathetic. Our lines broke up up within a few minutes of entering the woods. In fact, I am not even sure we lasted that long. Our leader finally told us to charge the Sunken Road as best we could. Probably a good thing Braxton Bragg was not there.. He would have had the whole lot of us shot..

I could immediately see the problems the confederates had in attacking this position. We crossed two creeks. On the day of our hike there were really muddy. On the day of the battle they were full of water. Brush and vines also created a big problem. This ws compounded by the fact that most if not all the trees in the area had been blown down or topped by shell fire. This made the area akin to charging through a wet and muddy brush pile. The attacking forces constantly had to watch their feet to keep from tripping. This not only slowed them down but made it difficult to watch for Union troops.

As we approached the Sunken Road I kept watching for it. I finally saw the top of one of the plaques and one of the monument appear. At this point I started counting my steps. About 35 yards from the point I first saw the monuments I was standing in the Sunken  Road.  Can you imagine going through the woods and brush and have a blue line of Union troops suddenly raise up 35 yards away and fire a volley.  As a confederate you would have no idea where they were.. You would have known they were there someplace but not where..  You also would not have had the monuments and plaques to mark the Sunken Road.  Fighting under these conditions would have been devastating..

At this point we were back at our cars. The end of another informative hike..


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites


Excellent report.  It clearifys a lot.  You also have stated nicely and shortly what I have long felt was the conditions facing the confederate troops and the effectiveness of Ruggles' artillery fire.  Good description of field swale, I understand it but did not know what to call it.  The information of the ravine behind the sunken road at the Duncan field is new information and explains the defensive capacity of the union sunken road position.  I know about a ravine behind the sunken road above the Davis Wheat field.  Is this the same ravine you mentioned? 

I long felt the rebel gunners could not see their targets across the Duncan field because of the field swale as you describe but in addition, the distance was about 800 yards which was at extreme battlefield effective range.  This means they were firing widely.  The union positions held until the flanks collasped.  Your description and notes highlights why the sunken road was important.  It held up the confederate advance.  Also shows the importance of the flank attacks.  General Bragg, Did you understand this last comment?

I enjoyed your description of the "attack" up through the Davis Wheat field.  Very good report and thanks.  This may make you the Earnie Pyle of the civil war. 


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the kind words Ron.. they are very much appreciated.. 

The battlefield hikes that was led by Jeff in particular had a strong emphasis on the terrain and how it affected the battle.. Even the hikes led by Bjorn mentioned terrain. It was obvious the two had talked..  I am not saying this in a negative way either.. Not by a long shot..  The hikes this year were really eye opening..  I have studied this battle for several years..  I knew where a lot of these lines were and what happened there.. But in a lot of cases I could not figure out why..  During these hikes I realized that "It's the terrain stupid". By the end of the first day I was beginning to look for these features and the position markers..  It was real apparent that the two were related..  This knowledge will be a big help in future battle studies..

I cannot visualise a ravine behind the Sunken Rd in front of Davis Wheat Field.. The one I am referring to would run behind the Sunken Rd where it borders the Duncan Field all the way to Corinth Rd.. The only ravine I can visualise in the area you are talking about it one that runs perpendicular to the Sunken Rd.. The ravine I am referring to parallels the Sunken Rd and Eastern border of Duncan Field..

Be sure and read Perry's most recent post on the battle in the ravines.. It is excellent.  Bjorn really done a good job in explaining how the terrain affected the battle in this area as well..

Your Servant


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Like your reportvery much.  I got to Shiloh on the 6th and got to go to the Hornet's Nest and the Sunk Road. Just walking through the the under brush carrying a back pack was some what difficult (at least for this senior citizen) ca'y imagine carrying  all the tuff a Civil War soldier had to carry and to top it off having people shooting at you. It was great just seeing  the places I have only read about before.


Jim G 

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now