Jump to content
Shiloh Discussion Group
Sign in to follow this  
Perry Cuskey

Prelude to Shiloh

Recommended Posts

Below is an outline of some of the events leading up to the battle of Shiloh. Each event is color-coded. Events relating to the Confederates are listed in Red. Those relating to the Union are in Blue.

Some events may pertain to both sides but are shown in either red or blue. This will usually signify a victory by that side - the Union capture of Fort Henry is described in blue, for example - or to indicate that the event is more closely associated with one side than the other.

The main sources for this timeline are Wiley Sword's Shiloh: Bloody April, Larry J. Daniel's Shiloh: The Battle That Changed the Civil War, Edward Cunningham's Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862, and Series 1, Volume 10 of the Official Records. A few other sources not listed here were also used to try and clarifiy some of the dates as much as possible. Times shown on April 5th are approximate and not meant to be exact.

-------------------------------------------------------

September 1861 - General Albert Sidney Johnston arrives in Nashville, Tennessee, to assume command of Confederate Department #2. The vast command stretches from the Appalachian Mountain range all the way to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi.

Fall/Winter 1861 - Johnston establishes a 400 mile defensive line between the Mississippi and Appalachians. Running mostly through Kentucky, the line is formidable on paper, but quite thin in reality.

November 18th, 1861- Major General Henry W. Halleck is placed in command of the Union's Department of the Missouri. Halleck will be the main player on the Union side in the events leading up to Shiloh.

January 19th, 1862 - Battle of Mill Springs, Kentucky. This northern victory breaks the eastern end of Johnston's defensive line, placing eastern Tennessee in danger of a Union invasion. An invasion that does not materialize.

February 2nd - A combined Union army/navy expedition leaves Cairo, Illinois, bound for Fort Henry on the Tennessee River, just south of the Kentucky border. The fort, along with nearby Fort Donelson on the Cumberland, is considered a weak spot in the Confederate defensive line.

February 5th- General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard arrives in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The "Hero of Fort Sumter" has been sent west as second in command to Albert Sidney Johnston. Johnston, focused on Bowling Green, assigns Beauregard command of the troops between the Tennessee and Mississippi rivers.

February 6th - Fort Henry falls to Union gunboats, piercing Johnston's defensive line. The one-sided battle is over before the supporting Union army under Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant can arrive to take part. The fall of Fort Henry is a major turning point in the campaign leading to Shiloh, and in the war itself.

February 8th - Halleck attempts to replace Grant with Ethan Allen Hitchcock, a retired Army officer. The attempt is unsuccessful.

February 11th- Outflanked by the loss of Fort Henry, Confederate forces begin evacuating Bowling Green, Kentucky. Union troops will occupy the town a few days later.

February 16th - After a siege of several days and a failed breakout attempt, Fort Donelson surrenders to Grant's army. Some 12,000 to 15,000 southern troops are taken prisoner. The victory earns Grant a promotion to major general of volunteers.

February 17th - In response to the growing crisis in Kentucky and Tennessee, the first of several Confederate reinforcements arrive in Corinth, Mississippi from the Gulf Coast.

February 16th - 23rd- Following the loss of Fort Donelson, Albert Sidney Johnston evacuates Nashville and withdraws his troops some forty miles southeast to Murfreesboro. This effectively cuts him off from his forces in western Kentucky and Tennessee, now under Beauregard. For the next several weeks, Beauregard and Johnston will operate independently of each other.

February 25th - The Army of the Ohio, under Brigader General Don Carlos Buell, occupies Nashville for the Union. Commanding the Department of the Ohio, Buell is independent of Halleck. The two are reluctant to cooperate with each other. Buell has been reluctant to move at all, but the fall of Fort Henry soon changes this.

February 28th - Johnston's army heads south from Murfreesboro, on the first leg of a journey that will eventually lead to a junction with Beauregard's forces in Corinth, Mississippi.

March 1st - During a patrol up the Tennessee, Union gunboats shell a small Confederate detachment at Pittsburg Landing, driving it inland. A landing party is sent ashore resulting in a brief firefight.

March 2nd - Columbus, Kentucky is abandoned by southern forces. With the evacuation of Columbus, the withdrawal from Johnston's original defensive line is now complete.

March 4th - Halleck strips Grant of active command by ordering him to remain at Fort Henry. This action is the result of what Halleck considers unprofessional behavior on Grant's part. Historians generally consider it professional jealousy on Halleck's part. Command of Grant's army is turned over to Major General Charles F. Smith.

March 7th - Union troops begin arriving at Savannah, Tennessee, on the east bank of the Tennessee River. With a few exceptions, most of the men will remain on board the transports.

March 11th - Halleck is promoted to command of the newly created Department of the Mississippi, effectively consolidating Union command in the Western Theater. Buell's Army of the Ohio is now subject to Halleck's orders.

March 12th - C.F. Smith skins his leg while climbing into a boat on the Tennessee. Though a seemingly minor injury, a resulting infection will soon incapacitate the highly respected officer.

March 12th/13th - A Union division under Brigader General Lew Wallace crosses the Tennessee from Savannah to Crump's Landing. Initially placed to support a raid on the nearby Mobile & Ohio Railroad, Wallace's division will remain in the vicinity of Crump's Landing until April 6th.

March 13th - As the domino effect from the loss of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson continues, Confederates abandon New Madrid, Missouri, on the Mississippi River. The move isolates the defenders of Island #10, a nearby stronghold located in a large bend of the Mississippi. The island will surrender on April 8th, after which only Fort Pillow will remain between the Union Navy and Memphis to the south.

March 14th - A Union detachment under Brigader General William T. Sherman attempts a raid on the Memphis & Charleston Railroad east of Corinth, Mississippi. The raid is called off the next morning due to heavy rain and torrential flooding.

March 16th - Union troops begin occupying Pittsburg Landing on the west bank of the Tennessee. Sherman eventually sets up his division headquarters a few miles from the landing near a small log building known as Shiloh Meeting House. On this same day, following orders from Halleck, Buell's army leaves Nashville on an overland march of some 120 miles, bound for Savannah and a junction with Grant's army.

March 17th - Grant arrives at Savannah following his reinstatement to active command of the Army of West Tennessee. He establishes his headquarters in Savannah and settles in to await the arrival of Buell's army.

March 20th - The first units of Johnston's army arrive in Corinth, thus forming the all-important junction with Beauregard.

March 23rd- Albert Sidney Johnston arrives in Corinth. On this same day, Johnston orders Earl Van Dorn to bring his army across the Mississippi from Arkansas. Van Dorn will not arrive in time to take part at Shiloh.

March 29th - Johnston designates the combined force at Corinth as the Army of the Mississippi.

April 1st- Johnston receives dispatches from Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his military adviser, Robert E. Lee, urging him to go on the offensive. Although the letters undoubtedly strenghten his resolve, Johnston has already decided to attack. The only question is when.

April 2nd - A defensive move by Lew Wallace west of Crump's Landing is misinterpreted by Johnston & Beauregard as a probable attack on a nearby Confederate outpost. A rapid chain of events soon follows, with the two men agreeing that the time has come to move on Grant at Pittsburg Landing.

April 3rd- Beauregard draws up what will later become a highly controversial plan for the coming attack on the Union army. The plan is approved by Johnston and the advance begins the same day. Johnston himself leaves Corinth the next morning.

April 3rd- With C.F. Smith confined to a sickbed with a tetanus infection, temporary command of his division is given to Brigader General William H. L. Wallace. The forty-year-old volunteer officer has recently been promoted from colonel for his role at Fort Donelson.

April 4th - Poor planning, poor roads, miscommunications and inexperience cause several delays in the Confederate advance. Despite this, Johnston orders the attack to commence the following morning.

April 4th- Reports of enemy activity to the south of Shiloh Church are largely dismissed in the Union camps. Late in the afternoon a pickett post from Sherman's division literally disappears. A patrol sent to investigate unexpectedly clashes with southern troops supported by artillery. News of this encounter causes some concern throughout the landing area, but Sherman - the informal camp commander at Pittsburg Landing - brushes aside any thoughts of being attacked. Unknown to Sherman, the units encountered are the advance force of the Confederate army.

April 5th

2:00 a.m. - Intermittent showers give way to a deluge during the night, turning the roads into quagmires and causing a further delay in the advance. The army is already badly strung out, with some units in line of battle near the Union army and others still miles (and hours) behind schedule. The attack is set for 8:00 a.m.

12:00 p.m. - Still more delays, as many outfits have yet to arrive at their assigned place in line. The attack, already several hours late, shows no signs of beginning anytime soon.

1:00 p.m. - The lead division of Buell's army arrives at Savannah. Brigader General William Nelson, commanding the division, believes Grant's army to be in a precarious position and is anxious to cross his men to Pittsburg Landing. Grant dismisses his concerns and later tells one of Nelson's brigade commanders that transports for crossing the river will be sent later in the week.

2:00 p.m. - As the Confederate battle line slowly begins to take shape, still more problems plague the struggling units to the rear. It will be hours before everything is finally set.

4:00 p.m. - Following a review of his division, Brigadier General Benjamin Prentiss receives a report of southern troops nearby, watching from the woods. He orders out a patrol to investigate.

4:00 p.m. - A regimental commander in Sherman's division becomes alarmed by enemy activity nearby and orders his men into line of battle. Sherman sends a message telling the officer to "take your damned regiment back to Ohio," adding that there is no enemy nearer than Corinth.

5:00 p.m. - Following yet more delays and setbacks, Beauregard actually suggets that the army cancel the attack and return to Corinth. "They will be entrenched up to the eyes," the angry and dejected general says of the Yankees. A surprised Johnston overrules him and orders the attack to take place at daylight the next morning, telling a friend that "I would fight them if they were a million."

7:00 p.m. - The patrol from Prentiss' division returns and reports that a march of three miles has turned up no enemy troops. In truth, the Confederate army is less than two miles away. The exact route taken by this patrol remains something of a mystery, and it appears that the patrol's commander may have filed a misleading report of the distance covered. Prentiss believes the report and is convinced that no danger exists.

8:00 p.m. - During an informal council of war, Beauregard again expresses his concerns that the advance has been detected and that the enemy will be waiting for them. Johnston listens but is not convinced. The attack will go forward as planned.

10:00 p.m. - Hearing of enemy activity just beyond the lines, Colonel Everett Peabody, commanding the First Brigade of Prentiss' Sixth Division, suggests to Prentiss that the division be made ready to receive an attack. Prentiss rejects the idea that the army is in danger and takes no action.

*****

After spending part of the day at Pittsburg Landing, Grant returns to Savannah convinced that the army is safe. That night, he sends a note to Halleck that concludes, "...I have scarcely the faintest idea of an attack (general one) being made upon us, but will be prepared should such a thing take place." As Grant writes these words, some 44,000 Confederate troops are less than two miles from his army, poised for the attack he believes will never come.

  • Like 2

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
Sign in to follow this  

×