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Ron

The Crossroads

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Dan suggested we discuss the fighting at the crossroads as the next topic. I believe this to be an excellent topic, of much importance to the armies during the battle. This area of the battle has not been given its proper place in the battle by some authors, therefore it is not understood by the reading public.

First, the crossroads has to be defined by area, events, units and time. The crossroads is where the Hamburg -Purdy road bisects the Western Corinth road just below where the Western Corinth road makes a right angle turn to the east, towards the landing. These roads are above the Shiloh Church plateau by only about 300 yards. The terrain is fairly flat farm land with trees and thick underbrush northwest of the crossroads. Southeast of the crossroads is the north bank of a depression which leads to the Rea springs. This depression is not obvious because heavy thickets and scattered trees cover the terrain here.

The union line on the Shiloh Church plateau fell apart about 10:00 after a long defense of three hours, in heavy fighting and many casualties. Sherman's division retreated up the Western Corinth road and took a position west of the crossroads with Hildebrand and Buckland's brigades. Together, with the 13th Missouri, they totaled 2,500 men with Behr's battery of 6 guns and Schwartz's battery of 3 guns. McDowell's brigade was loosely on the right flank but was moving northeast, a move that was taking them away from the fight. McClernand's division arrived and took position on Sherman's left. Raith's brigade was at the crossroads and Marsh's brigade was put in position to the east, with Veatch's brigade behind Marsh. Hare's brigade was further east along the Western Corinth road, close to the Review field. The union artillery in support of McClernand's division was Dresser and Burrow's batteries to the east of Marsh's brigade, both were 6 gun batteries. McAllister's battery of 4 guns was in the northwest corner of the Review field.

This line had six brigades plus the 13th Missouri and five batteries of 25 guns. Sherman had seen heavy fighting but McClernand's division was fresh. Together, they stood in line shoulder to shoulder, so to speak.

Looking to the south, is the approaching rebel army, most of their brigades had suffered many casualties. They have eight brigades, eight batteries and a single gun from Polk's battery for a total of 44 guns.

After fighting for 3 hours before giving ground, the new union position at the crossroads, with greater strength, was lost in 30 minutes. The question is why????

The set-up for the rebels is Pond's brigade on the far left flank following McDowell's union brigade to the northeast. Trabue is next, on the left of Anderson's brigade which was moving through the Howell field, west of the crossroads. Johnson's and Russell's brigades moved up the Western Corinth road to the crossroads, with Stewart's brigade in the woods to the east of the crossroads. Next was Woods' brigade also in the woods and the 4th Tennessee attacking in the Review field. Shaver's brigade was on the right in the Review field. The eight batteries were Brynes (7 guns) in the Howell field. On the Shiloh Church plateau was Hubbard's, Hodgson's, Bankhead's, Trigg's and Calvert's rebel batteries of 24 guns. Finally, Stanford's battery (6) was in the Lost field and Sweet's battery (6 guns) on the east side of the Review field.

OK, what is your plan or thoughts of why a union position of two divisions and 25 guns fell apart in 30 minutes after defending for 3 hours on the plateau??

Hurry with your answer, the enemy is coming up the road.

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AAA HAA! Sherman is overheard to say"It appears the rebels are pondering. Captain Behr, give them shot and shell. This delay gives us the opportunity to send for ammunition and reinforcements. Now maybe we can restore our :!: confidence because they delay".

Meanwhile, the confederate firebrands are waving their swords and motioning the men forward shouting "Forward while they ponder".

The great guru of generals looks down and mumbles "Oh My and its a time for swift action" :!: :?:

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Behr's Battery. Correct me if I am wrong but somewhere in my readings I think he and his battery just got to the crossroads where Behr was killed and several more of his unit was wounded.. His men abandoned that battery without firing a shot.

I just found it in Cunninghams book page 223.

Unless somebody else manned that battery that reduces the number of Federal guns by five..

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Ron's question of earlier in the week was why did the Crossroads line fall in 30 minute while the same units (minus McClernands) had held the Shiloh Church line for almost three hours.

In my own humble and non-binding opinion when compared to the Shiloh Church line the Crossorads line was not much of a line. First, there were no steep hills for the rebels to attack up. Which the Union held the crest of. Likewise there were no thickets, marshy ground and not to mention the Shiloh Branch for the Rebels to fight there way through to get to the Yankees. Then there was the matter of Buckland's salient position which was able to fire into the flanks of the attacking Confederates.

Now, I am going to work from memory here. Where the second line formed on the road did not the ravines and hills to the south come fairly close to that line. The rebels were able to use this natural terrain to provide cover until they broke out a short distance from the Union position. I am trying to recall the terrain here but I think this would have been more of an advantage for the troops attacking east of Sherman HQ and west of Review Field than the ones attacking behind the Shiloh Church.. In contrast, the Union troops were formed basically along an open road with little or no cover..

The other problem I saw was that Shermans part of the line formed up immediatly after the collapse of the Shiloh Church line. The Rebels were in hot pursuit. I think Sword put them six to eight minutes behind. Withdrawals under fire are usually messy and I doubt this one was the exception. I can imagine that saying that Sherman's units were in a state of confusion was an understatement. They had little time to organize before the rebels hit them....

Now, before I get hit with a blast of canister I want to point out that I am not including McClernand's men in this statement. They initially formed on the road and had time to organize before meeting the enemy..

Finally, last but not least there was almost a simultaneous breech of the Union line at the Crossroads when Raith's Brigade was driven back on the west and Burrows Battery was captured to the east. Burrow's battery was actually in the center of the Union line. When this part of the line collapsed the rest could not be held..

In summary I feel the Shiloh Chruch line held 2.5 hours longer than the Crossroads line for the following reasons:

1) In the attack on the Shiloh Church line terrain favored the Union defenders. During the attack on the Crossroads Line these natural defenses did not exist or favored the Confederate attackers.

2) On the Shiloh Church line Sherman's men had a considerable amount of time to prepare their defense. They withdrew from this line under fire with the rebels in hot pursuit. When trying to form at the Crossroads they had little time to organize and were probably under some fire from rebel skirmishers. The result had to have been a confused and weak line..

3) It appears to me that the almost simultaneous capture of Burrows Battery and the driving back of Raith's Brigade was the beginning of the end for Shermans part of the line. When these events occured it seemed like other units on each side of that line started to fall back almost immediatly.. With Sherman's part of the line gone McClernand had to follow..

That's my take on the situation. I am anxious to hear what you guys have to say..

Your Obedient Servant

Dan

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Ron, that is a great post. Sword would be proud. :)

Dan, if you're asking me, that's an excellent answer, and probably about as good an explanation as any I've seen. I think Larry Daniel reaches a similar conclusion in his book, something about a combination of factors, much as you outline, being the probable reason why the line broke so quickly.

The Union line around the Crossroads really isn't bad, and on paper looks pretty darn strong. But, as you point out, the terrain was not as favorable as it had been around the church, and Sherman's men had just finished a three-hour bloodbath that saw them falling back under pressure.

It's usually pointed out that McClernand's men were Donelson veterans, but in all honesty I don't know as that mattered much. They had been forced to retreat at Donelson when they were hit by a surprise attack, and I don't know that having seen combat there was going to help them in the situation they faced on the morning of the 6th at Shiloh. Of course, had they repelled the Confederate assault right there, I'd have to give a different answer. :) Maybe it's evidence fitting the theory. But still, it makes me wonder how valuable that experience was, or rather wasn't. Sherman's men were mostly green as grass, and they gave a very good account of themselves around Shiloh Church. Even accounting for the advantages they had.

In any case, yes, this subject deserves more attention. The whole western side of the battlefield does so, for that matter. Only thing I might point out, to folks following along, is that what Ron correctly describes as the Western Corinth Road is often called the Corinth Road, or Main Corinth Road. Or sometimes the Corinth-Pittsburg Landing Road. And, from what I've read, it was also sometimes called the Western Corinth Road. All referring to the same road.

We've had a brief discussion before about the name confusion of the various roads around the battlefield. Maybe we'll have to revisit that at some point, because the whole thing can leave a person scratching their head.

Perry

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Well, after a long period of pondering (8 years), I believe that Dan and Perry were correct in their analysis of the tactual situation of the fighting at the Crossroads.  This fighting soon led to the federal troops withdrawing under a heavy volume of rebel muskets and cannon.  McDowell's brigade pulled back from the vicinity of the Howell field, on the Purdy/Hamburg road in a northeast direction.  McDowell's brigade effectively were out of action as they moved northeast into the Crescent field while Sherman's brigade moved north into the Jones field.  McClernand's division retreated northeast into the heavy woods in the bottomlands west of the Tilghman Branch ravine.  The soldiers of both sides disengaged from the fighting for awhile but were soon involved again in more heavy fighting near the Wolf field and pond.  McClernand returned to the fighting only with elements of his brigades, to fight west of the Review field, followed by a quick withdrawal northeast into the Tilghman Ravine area.  

This illustrates more of the heavy fighting that occurred at the Crossroads, Review field and along the Tilghman ravine.  There was heavy fighting here with large losses followed by Pond's rebel brigade entering the fight by attacking the Cavalry field on the east bank of the Tilghman Branch Ravine.  Again, heavy losses were suffered by the attackers (Pond) because of a lack of recon on the union positions.  This heavy fighting is not understood by many because they are not aware of it.   

Now, you may take sometime to ponder the very bad tactical situation, but not another 8 years please.       

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I think that the previous posters have correctly explained the federal failure to hold the Hamburg-Purdy Road position: the disorganization of Sherman's men in their retreat from the first line; the dissolution and rout of Hildebrand's brigade (with the fleeing men disorganizing Buckland's regiments); the movement of Behr's five guns down the road (further disorganizing Buckland's regiments); Sherman's ill-fated decision to have Behr unlimber near the crossroads; the lack of defensible terrain; the appearance of Confederate skirmishers on Buckland's heels; the flanking presence of Pond's Confederate brigade; and the withdrawal of McDowell's brigade.

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Or how about the fact that, flying completely in the face of the principal of economy of force, Gen. A.S. Johnston overcommitted to his left, ordering five brigades (Wood's, Shaver's, Stewart's, Stephens's and Gibson's) to left wheel once Prentiss's division has been routed, its camps taken and (according to D.W. Reed's Battle of Shiloh and Organizations Engaged on pg. 16) following the commencement of the withdrawal of Sherman's division from its Shiloh Church ridge line to the Hamburg-Purdy Road line and the capture of several of Waterhouse's guns? Additionally you've got elements of (I think) Bushrod Johnson's brigade, Patton Anderson's brigade, Robert Russell's brigade and the remnant of Pat Cleburne's brigade all closing in on Sherman's battered division and McClernand's division. I think they just overwhelmed them (but clearly this was made much easier by the lack of good defensive terrain in the Hamburg-Purdy Road line and the lack of time available in falling back to it as well as the disorganization resulting from the difficult fighting retreat from the Shiloh Church line). 

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