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(2007) CSA Intelligence at Shiloh

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I have always wondered about but saw very little written about the pre battle intelligance used by the Confederate forces to plan the attack on the Union Forces at Shiloh. There had to be some kind of intelligance to tell where the camps were at.. what the sizes of the forces were.. What units were camped at Shiloh.. How they were supplied.. After all, you don't drag an army of 40,000 men 20+ miles over mud roads to attack another army of 40,000 men without having some idea of where you are going and what you are going to do when you get there..

Now, we do know that their was a lot of problems with the intelligance they had.. For example, it is now generally accepted that Pittsburg Landing was not where ASJ thought it was.. Another example is it appears the Confederates hit the center of the Union line rather than the left flank as they intended. From these examples and others we can also assume that this intelligance was at best incomplete and at worse faulty..

With all of this said I am trying to start a discussion about the intelligance gathering at Shiloh.. Particularily on the CSA side. How they did it.. What was right, What was wrong and what impact it had on the battle...

Now, somebody grab this ball and start to run with it..

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The story of rebel intelligence activities is told in the several books and the Official Records concerning the Battle of Shiloh. It is told in fragments and must be pieced together by the reader to get a comprehensive understanding of their efforts. Cavalry was used chiefly to scout the union positions and also they were used in picket duty near the federal camps. The local citizens also provided some info to a lesser degree. All of the Shiloh books mention cavalry and scout operations again in an unconnected manner. I found the Official Records to be a better source of info.

Both armies knew where the other was but the confederates had a more complete picture of the union camps. You are right in that the intelligence acquired by both armies was imperfect and flawed. Untrained scouts and cavalry can mis-identify the numbers of a army unit as happened by Capt. Lockert when he called Stuart's brigade a division. Information coming from local civilians could have been flawed by untrained observers.

The terrain and the roads caused the confederate to attack on the union right center of the battlefield (Shiloh Church plateau) but the attack Quickly spread east to the Spain field, Sarah Bell cottonfield and the McCuller field. Terrain helped to channel the forces into certain areas of the field while also concealing other troops. The confederate attack did seem to lose direction, going to the center and not the union left flank as planned. The role of General Albert Johnston to redirect the rebel direction of attack is little understood and appreciated. He contributed much to push the attack. The attack launched at 2:00 pm by Johnston was directed and led by him up the River road against Stuart's men east of the River road and McArthur's brigade and Hurlbut's division in the peach orchard. This attack was going up the River road actually as planned in prebattle planning but his death caused a slowing of the attack and then the rebels got diverted to the west of the River road, Wicker field area.

The last comment is that some intel was faulty at the worst.

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Good discussion guys. The long and short of it seems to be that information about the enemy was spotty at best for both sides. Shiloh took place so early in the war for most of these troops, and their leaders, that I think it was something of a training ground for many of them on what to do next time, and also on what not to do. Intelligence gathering was probably on that list, mainly on the side of how not do to it.

I've never looked at the intelligence aspect of Shiloh in any great detail - it would make for an interesting study though - but the sense I always get about the Confederate attempts is one of on-the-fly haphazardness. Sort of figure it out as you go. The efforts of Grant's army weren't any better, and I think a lot of that had to do with the mindset pervading the army that the Rebs would never actually attack them in their camps. That and Halleck's standing order not to bring on a battle.

The role of General Albert Johnston to redirect the rebel direction of attack is little understood and appreciated. He contributed much to push the attack. The attack launched at 2:00 pm by Johnston was directed and led by him up the River road against Stuart's men east of the River road and McArthur's brigade and Hurlbut's division in the peach orchard. This attack was going up the River road actually as planned in prebattle planning but his death caused a slowing of the attack and then the rebels got diverted to the west of the River road, Wicker field area.

The last comment is that some intel was faulty at the worst.[/quote:5320758c85]

That's a great point about Johnston. I do think he was trying to return to the original battel plan once he realized that he had not hit Grant's left flank as originally planned. No way to really know of course, but I do think his actions suggest that this is what he was doing. Larry Daniel says in his book that this was inadvertent on Johnston's part, but while I have a great deal of respect for Daniel I just don't see it the same way. (I doubt he'd lose any sleep over that. :)

I used to think, as Sword and I think also Daniel say in their respective books, that Johnston's death did cause a lull in the attack on the right. But anymore I'm not as sure that this was the case. One point that was made during the anniversary hikes is that Civil War battles tended to be stop-and-go affairs. Men needing to rest a bit and reform after a charge or retreat, running low on ammunition, etc. You see this happening at Shiloh as well, as one of the rangers pointed out. (Unfortunately I can't remember who. I think it was Bjorn, but I'm just not sure.) A lull, or pause, did take place after Johnston's death, but this may well have been due more to the natural ebb and flow of the battle.

I also tend to think that had Johnston lived, the course of the battle from the Confederate standpoint would have proceeded much as it did in reality after he died. That the Confederate right, instead of plowing straight ahead for the landing and a large sweeping move around Grant's left flank and rear, would have turned and hit the remaining defenders in the Hornets' Nest. That doesn't really have to do with intelligence gathering though. But in any case, I used to believe that Johnston may well have tried to get behind the bulk of Grant's army instead of refocusing on what remained of the center. But somewhere along the line my thinking on that started to change, and I now tend to think he would not have done so. Another one of those mysteries that can never really be solved, I guess.

Perry

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Perry;

You mention a delay in the confederate attack after the death of General Johnston. Please consider this. The attack I referred to was the attack that began at 2:00 pm and was led by Johnston, Gov. Harris, Gen. Breckinridge, Gen Withers and the brigade commanders. I have noticed and contend that any civil war attack took, on average, about 30 minutes from the time the soldiers stepped out to the time the fragments ran back. This attack started at 2 pm and was over by 2:30. Johnston was mortally wounded at the time the attack was over. The troops retired to places of safety and a lull occurred. This lull was a natural pause because of the fizzled attack but many have considered this lull in the fighting to be the result of Johnston's death. This was not the case. It was the natural result of a failed attack. I have studied the battle action and in this area, no pause or lull occurred for greater than 30 minutes and by this time Bragg had arrived and was organizing a further advance. By 3:30, the rebels of Chalmers', Jackson's, Bowen's, Statham's and Stephen's brigades were attacking and pushing Hurlbut's division back through the Wicker field.

[b:0f022c4fbf] The 30 minute delay that I find in the attack was caused by the death of Johnston and Bragg's need to organize for a renewed attack.

I'm interested in your thoughts.

Ron[/b:0f022c4fbf]

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Hi Ron,

I don't know as I think it was a failed attack really - it didn't break the Union line but it did drive it back and exposed Prentiss' flank. As for the delay and what caused it, I think you're probably right - it was probably going to be that way no matter what.

It really seems to come down to two questions. First, assuming an uninjured Johnston is still alive and running the show, would the delay, or lull, have still taken place? And second, how would the rest of the battle on that flank have differed from reality with Johnston in command?

There's no way to answer either question with 100% certainty, but heck, that's never stopped us before!

I think there will probably still be a delay with Johnston around, pretty much for the reasons I think you bring up. Basically just the way it usually was in a Civil War battle. Attack, reorgainize, then move on to whatever the next step seems to be.

The tougher question might be what will Johnston do differently after Hurlbut's line gets knocked back? In my young and foolish days I used to think he'd probably seize the opportunity and try to spear straight through to the landing. But now, in my older and foolisher days, I think he probably does about the same thing as actually happened - turn and hit the flank of the Hornets' Nest line.

This seems to fit the pattern from early in the battle, when most of the army turned toward Sherman and McClernand after Prentiss got clobbered. Plus, it fits with the original battle plan - shatter the left and then sweep what remains back away from the landing.

What do you think? And what am I possibly overlooking here? It's a really interesting subject.

Perry

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I may be missing something here but are you talking about bypassing Prentiss and charging on to the landing?? I have heard this idea before but was it not against the conventional military wisdom of the time to leave a hostile force in your rear for any reason??

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The confederate attacks in this sector had been a series of reoccurring attacks, attack (30 minutes) fall back, regroup and another attack (30 minutes for the attack), etc. Note the attacks in McCuller's field against Stuart. Attacks against McDowell and repeat attacks against Hurlbut. Notice the pattern, attack, fall back, regroup, next attack. Confederates had the initiative and kept up the pressure.

I believe that the confederates had to attack after Hurlbut fell back, They had to follow the union retreat to keep pressure on as they did do (Wicker field) no matter who was in command, Bragg or Johnston. The problem was not to be diverted west to the Hornets nest area, as it did happen. This caused the lull in the confederate attack, when Chalmers and Jackson were turned west. Bragg was diverted west but if Johnston would have been turned? The evidence based on the actual style of attacks and fighting, in my opinon, is that Johnston woul;d have turned west as Bragg did because the temption to go after the enemy would be too strong.

It seems my thoughts mirror yours, so its settled, but the next interesting question if Johnston lived. Beauregard could not call off the attack at 6:00pm as he did, but what would Johnston do at the Dill creek ravine, attack or fall back??

Regards

Ron

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Dan:

It would have been possible to push on towards the Dill Creek and Pittsburg Landing by leaving about two brigades (Bowen and Statham) to cover against the federal troops present, and attack up the road with Chalmers and Jackson. Actually this did happen but Withers' division was delayed by the plunder and surrenders of union soldiers. Bragg should have sent Wither forward at least 30 minutes before they actually moved up. But know is another problem, Webster's artillery on the north rim of the Dill Branch ravine. The confederates never would have broke that line. Two brigades attacking 50 plus cannon and one of the brigades was out of ammunition.

Regards

Ron

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Good Morning Ron:

I have heard the story of Beauregard calling off the attack too early. If he had not called it off could the rebels have won with just one more charge??

I am going to wander into some pretty deep water here by stating that the confederates could not have won the Battle of Shiloh at this juncture regardless who was in command. I am going to go into even deeper water by making that statement and assume that Grant's last line had only half the number of cannon they actually had.

First, the CSA forces that crossed Dill Branch were not in a condition to fight. As you pointed out one of the brigades was out of ammunition. Why they even went over there was beyond me..

Secondly, they had no artillery support to speak of. If I recall correctly one battery attempted to support that charge across Dill Branch. Again if I recall it got it's nose bloodied really quickly and withdrew..

But let's assume for a moment that they had pulled all this together, sunk those pesky gunboats, resupplied with ammo and made it across Dill Branch Ravine and attacked. What was going to happen then?? Desperate times call for desperate measures and the federal forces would have been in a desperate spot.. My thought is that the federals would have fought desperately. Again, if I recall correctly, there was 15,000+ souls on that landing.. Granted many of them were non combatants but, a lot of them were.. Beauregard could barely muster 20,000 across the entire battlefield for the next second day and that was the next morning when at least a least a little bit of reorganization had taken place. Even if the war gods were smiling on whoever was in command that day the CSA could not have physically pulled together enough men to contend with all the folks at the landing.. Finally, there was Mr Sherman sitting in Jones Field in not the best of moods.. Does anyone want to speculate what he would be doing while an attack was taking place across Dill Branch?

Rereading this I think I put the explanation down before I answered your question.. In my opinion, Johnson would have withdrew just like Bory did. there was no other viable option.. He would also had the same intelligance that Bory had stating that Buell was in Decatur Alabama instead of across the river .. If this had been correct there would have been no overwhelming reason to attack that nite.. The federals could have been dispatched the next day..

With all this being said in my humble opinion the Battle of Shiloh was lost before the collapse of the Union Right at the Peach Orchard. I guess since I am into this up to my neck anyway I am going to ask the following question:

Assuming the Battle was lost before the collapse of the Union right at the Peach Orchard at what point was it lost??

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It seems my thoughts mirror yours, so its settled, but the next interesting question if Johnston lived. Beauregard could not call off the attack at 6:00pm as he did, but what would Johnston do at the Dill creek ravine, attack or fall back??

Regards

Ron[/quote:0454af7570]

Good analysis Ron, as always. I'd have to agree that the Confederates probably do turn and hit the Hornets' Nest even with Johnston still in command.

As to what he would have done in Beauregard's place at the end of the day, really good question. I'm tempted to say he would have pressed the attack, as this was his mindset all day. But's that a difficult call. His troops were worn out and totally disorganized, it was growing dark, the terrain they had to cross was awful, and the Union defensive line was pretty stout. With the possible exception of the line he had to attack, Johnston could have assessed all this the same way Beauregard did and decide to wait and finish the job in the morning, especially since word had been received that Buell would not arrive in time to help Grant.

One of the rangers at the park, I think Charles Spearman, had an interesting thought though. Someone asked him at one point what he thought Johnston might have done differently than Beauregard. His answer, if I remember right, was to the effect that Johnston might have decided to retreat sooner once he knew that Buell was on the field. I can't remember what he might have said one way or the other about Johnston possibly attacking Grant's final defensive line.

Interesting though, in that a lot of mythology surrounding Shiloh centers on how Beauregard lost the battle by calling off the attack on April 6th. The Confederate Monument at the park practically shouts this. I wonder what the difference might be if it were Johnston who called off the attack instead of Beauregard.

Perry

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Assuming the Battle was lost before the collapse of the Union right at the Peach Orchard at what point was it lost??[/quote:e863c43142]

Great question Dan. At what point was the battle actually lost?

Like you I really don't think the Confederates had any real chance of breaking Grant's Last Line. Too many factors working against them. Time, terrain, the condition of the southern troops, and the strength of the Union defensive line. Anyone who's walked the ground, the way we did the other week, has seen first-hand what the terrain was like. That all by itself was a major obstacle to overcome. Then when you combine it with the other factors, I just think it would have been too much.

It's ironic, because the tradition of the battle, or maybe mythology of the battle, holds that Grant's army avoided destruction when Beauregard called off the final assault. In reality though it could be just the opposite is true. Maybe Beauregard's army would not have been destroyed, but it could have been seriously wrecked, if a full-scale assault had been tried on that final line.

Well, I kind of wandered away from your question there. I have a habit of viewing the first day's battle as an open window sliding shut, from the Confederate perspective. At the start of the day the 'window' is fully open, and it will be fully closed no later than sunset. They have that long to win the battle. So goes my thinking at least.

I think the 'window' had closed no later than the final collapse of the Hornets' Nest, around 5:30 to 6:00. But at what exact point, I'm not certain. I just know that I don't think they had a chance to win after that point.

One quick question though. You place Sherman in Jones Field as the Confederates launch a final assault across Dill Branch. So that would mean the attack hits before Sherman and McClernand pulled back from Jones Field and form part of Grant's final defensive line?

You make a good point about the large group, or maybe mob might be a better term, milling around the landing. Assuming the Rebels break through and reach that area though, I don't think those badly scared folks would have posed a major threat. From what I understand, most of them were not very interested in fighting. Some of them might very well have been willing and would have attempted to put up some kind of a defense, but I don't know how successful it could have been.

Interesting to speculate about, even though I don't think, given the reality of the situation late on April 6th, the Confederates ever had a chance to get there.

Perry

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Hello Dan,

Do I understand correctly that there are two Rons contributing on this subject?

The placement of Sherman in Jones field while the confederates attack Dill Creek ravine is not correct. Sherman's and McClernand's attack moving out of Jones field and the woods west of the Tilghman Branch ravine started about 12:30 and the fighting near the Woolf field was about 1:00 pm. The attack broke up near 1:30 and the federal units retired from the field. Sherman moved back through the Jones field and then east to take a position on the west bank of the Tilghman ravine. This position did not last long as Sherman moved back across the creek to the east bank of the ravine. . This east bank position was abandoned as Sherman retired back through the Mulberry field and was joined by parts of McClernand's division in yet another position along the River (Hamburg-Savannah) road. McClernand's retreat took him back east below the Jones and Cavalry fields. His men retired back across the Tilghman Branch ravine to the River road and linked up with Sherman. Here they were attacked by rebels moving up from the area of the Stacy field. This threatened their left flank and the troops fell back to the Final line. The movements and fighting in the Tilghman Branch Ravine was 3:30 to 4:30 in the afternoon.

The attack to cross the Dill Creek ravine occurred at 6:00, so this attack was definately after the Jones and Mulberry fields fighting. Sherman and McClernand were, at this time, reforming and resting their men after 5:00. Webster's final line was formed and was beginning to fire on the advancing rebel troops in the Cloud field.

What do you think?

Ron

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What do I think??

I think this is a classic case of someone who overstated his case without closely checking all the facts :oops:

Your Humble Servant

Dan

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Dan

Firstly, The basic question about the timing of these attacks is that the Jones field fighting was about 12:00 to a little after 1:00 while the Dill Creek ravine fighting was about 5:30 to dark, so the two were not related. I have added a little longer time frame to adjust for starting and ending times. Dark means Jackson's and Chalmers troops trapped in the ravine unable to move until the darkness covered their movements out of the ravine.

Secondly, you seem to be questioning some facts but without stating which ones. It would help if you could provide information. You may question particulars in my post but in general, it protrays an accurate chain of events in regards to Sherman's and McClernand's retrograde movements back from the area of the Jones field to the Final Line position.

Ron

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I had thought it was a hypothetical question, supposing the Confederates broke through on the Union left and across Dill Branch during the afternoon, possibly before Sherman and McClernand pulled back across Tilghman Branch.

Perry

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This has been a real busy week at work and I have not had time to properly respond to this little self inflicted shot in the foot..

First, Ron is 100% correct with his outline as to where Sherman was at when the Dill Branch attack took place. As far as I know (being a lot more careful now :? ) his description of how Sherman got there is correct.

This was sort of a hypothetical question. I could not conceive of a scenario where at this point and time the confederates could have won. Sherman's aggressivness was one factor that had to be dealt with. I skidded that statement out there to make that point and to be somewhat cute. Unfortunately, I put him in the wrong place. If you are going to be cute you had better be right.........................

I really want to get back to the question of where the batle was lost for the Confederates. I just saw that Perry has reposted the question in the Battle of Shiloh section. Also, a great title for the topic!! While I limp back across Dill Branch Ravine in an effort to save myself why don't we move back to that question in the new thread..

Your Obedient and Humble Servant

Dan

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Sorry to dredge up this old topic, but I think I have some fuel for the fire. Back in 2004 I spent some time walking the field and had a preconception that Johnston/Beauregard really had little information on where they were going, how they were going to get there, and what they expected to find when they got there.

Once saw a reproduction of the map Johnston had of the Pittsburg Landing area. With that map, it would have been difficult enough to find Tennessee, let alone a specific landing on it. I doubt he could have found the landing if the entire Union Army was still in Savannah and Crump's Landing.

Now for the kicker. On that trip, it seemed that the Rangers were all standing around with nothing to do, so we did get to spend quite some time talking to one. (Yes, I do remember who it was.)

He theorized that Johnston/Beauregard visualized the Union Army as lining up, north to south, facing Owl Creek. Why he thought that they thought this escapes me--it was a theory--but it does explain why it was thought that a drive up the Corinth Road would put them between the Union Army and the Tennessee River.

It might also explain the lateness of the hour when Johnston had to take Breckinridge's reserve to the right--where they made much of Stuart's Brigade decamp swiftly to the rear. That is, Prentiss wasn't supposed to be where he was.

Just a thought to keep this thread going.

ole

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Welcome to the board ole, and no problem at all about 'dredging up' old topics. Especially when they're still worth discussing.

Was Stacy Allen the ranger you spoke with at Shiloh, by any chance? He's the park historian, and is the one who I believe came up with the theory regarding Johnston's faulty understanding of how Grant's army was aligned, and the area around the landing. Bjorn could give a beter read on this than I can, as he's more familiar with it I'm sure. But this is what I remember of it.

As I recall, it has to do with that map that Johnston et al were relying on. The map had the landing area situated more in a east-west direction instead of northeast-to-southwest. As a result, Johnston and his officers apparently assumed that Grant's army was aligned facing mostly to the west, as you point out, when in fact they were facing mostly southwest. This might help explain why, when his army shattered Prentiss' division, Johnston apparently believed he had broken through Grant's left flank, when in fact he had hit the center, and only the center of the outer portion of the army. The Yanks weren't aligned the way he thought they were, and his attack was not moving in quite the direction he thought it was.

Once Prentiss' division was defeated, the bulk of the Confederate attack fell on Sherman, who came under attack from both the front and left flank. In reality this concentration against Sherman threw the original battle plan for a loop, as it shifted the bulk of the army toward the Union right. But, if Johnston thought he had [i:2f745a98d3]already[/i:2f745a98d3] taken care of the [i:2f745a98d3]left[/i:2f745a98d3] when he hit Prentiss, it makes more sense - he was (so he thought) following through on the original plan, and sweeping the Yankees away from the landing.

At some point though, perhaps when he learned of Stuart's phantom division out beyond his right flank after defeating Prentiss, I think Johnston began to realize that things were not as he had originally thought, and that something had gone amiss with the plan to drive the Union army away from the river. He may have been attempting to correct this when he was mortally wounded in the afternoon.

It's mostly speculation though. The terrain around the landing can be confusing even today, and even with a good map handy. With a bad one, and with his never having visited the area before, it's hard to say just what Johnston thought was happening at any given point. But he does seem to have spent the majority of his time on the Confederate right, and eventually attempted to concentrate a large number of troops in that sector for what I'm sure he hoped was a knock-out blow. So I think he reasoned it out, for the most part, even if he did not have a totally clear grasp of the true situation. Or at least that's my best wild guess.

Perry

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At some point though, perhaps when he learned of Stuart's phantom division out beyond his right flank after defeating Prentiss, I think Johnston began to realize that things were not as he had originally thought, and that something had gone amiss with the plan to drive the Union army away from the river. He may have been attempting to correct this when he was mortally wounded in the afternoon. [/quote:6c4d843d4a]Now I'm gonna have to check the timelines. I was under the impression that Johnston never saw the roundup of Prentice, et al. -- that he was in the process of driving Stuart when he met up with Hurlbut.

I've been wrong before.

ole

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Hi Ole,

Sorry about the confusion. Johnston was on hand, in front of Miller's brigade, when Prentiss' initial line was overrun around 9:00 in the morning. That's actually the "defeat of Prentiss" that I was referring to, rather than the Hornet's Nest surrender. Johnston was in a captured camp of one of Prentiss' regiments (18th Wisconsin) that morning when he received word of the "division" out beyond his right, which of course was Stuart's brigade and not a full division. But Johnston had no way of knowing that.

Stuart's brigade actually more or less held on until about mid-afternoon, when Johnston launched the 2:00 assault against the Union left. When Hurlbut and McArthur were forced to pull back as a result, Stuart's right flank was turned. That's when what remained of the already small brigade decided they'd be better off a bit closer to the landing and began to fall back. They got clobbered in the process, and were effectively out of the battle after that.

Perry

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