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Perry Cuskey

Day One Hike Reports, Continued...

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[b:40bd1de485]Hike #3 - On the attack with Albert Sidney Johnston[/b:40bd1de485]

Our third hike of the day begins at 10:00 at tour stop eight, out near Fraley Field and the site of our first hike that morning. We are going to re-trace the movements of the commander of the Confederate army at Shiloh, Albert Sidney Johnston.

Our guide this time is Charles Spearman, he of the fleet-footed march down Reconnoitering Road. This hike will be a bit different from the rest however, and will combine walking with carpooling as we follow Johnston around the battlefield. Given the speed with which our two rangers travel around the park on foot, having a motorized vehicle to follow them with isn’t such a bad idea. Charles begins by giving us some background on Johnston, and the start of his day at Shiloh.

The Confederate commander, an 1826 graduate of West Point, had been having a bad time of it since the loss of forts Henry and Donelson in February, resulting in his abandonment of Kentucky and much of Tennessee. Berated by politicians, the public, and the press, and even doubted by many in his own army, the once popular Johnston was unquestionably at the nadir of his military career. But by April, the opportunity had come to reverse his luck. Shiloh represented his best chance to change, with one mighty blow, the course of the war in the west, and also his own fortunes.

At a meeting the night before the battle began, some of Johnston’s officers, including his second-in-command, expressed doubts on the advisability of going forward with the attack. This in light of the difficulties encountered on the march from Corinth, and the likelihood of Grant’s army having been alerted to the danger. Johnston had replied to these doubts by saying that he would fight the Yankees if they were a million.

As events would prove, the disposition of Johnston’s army at Shiloh would be faulty, and his plan of attack would go astray. As a result of these and other problems, questions would later arise about how well he conducted the battle. But whatever faults Johnston may have exhibited before and during the battle, lack of determination was not on the list. He never wavered in his plan to hit Grant as hard as he possibly could, no matter what. This attitude was reflected in his statement on the night of April 5th, and in his actions during the battle the next day.

[b:40bd1de485]The day begins[/b:40bd1de485]

Johnston had been up early on April 6th, and heard the opening shots of the battle off in Fraley Field. It was about this time that he spoke what would become his most famous words: "Tonight we will water our horses in the Tennessee River." Moving forward with his army, the southern commander witnessed the opening attack on Sherman’s division before moving off toward the right and the fighting around Spain Field, on Prentiss’ front.

After listening to Charles describe Johnston’s early morning activities, we return to our vehicles and head off toward Spain Field as well, on the trail of the fast-moving southern general. Arriving at our destination we gather around the mortuary monument to Confederate General Adley H. Gladden, killed near this spot on the battle’s first day. Charles waits for everyone to show up, and then begins to talk about Johnston’s arrival near where we’re now standing.


As he starts to talk, Charles suddenly pauses and looks down the road. Turning around to look as well, the rest of us catch sight of lots and lots more people moving toward us from a seemingly endless line of cars parked along the road. Sounding a little surprised, Charles says, “they’re still coming.” They sure are.

My guess is that of all ten hikes over the weekend, this one will probably have the largest number of folks along. I don’t know the exact number but my wild guess would put the figure at around 70 or 80. Possibly more. When it comes to Shiloh, quite a few people are still interested in Albert Sidney Johnston. Charles waits for everyone to get within hearing range, then continues. (This is something that the rangers were always very good about - waiting until the stragglers, usually including me, managed to catch up with the main group before starting their talk.) Shortly thereafter we head off into Spain Field on foot, toward the camp of the 18th Wisconsin.

[b:40bd1de485]A little something in the air[/b:40bd1de485]

It’s on this walk that I have my first serious encounter with what I come to call leaf dust. As we walk through the woods to east of Spain Field, dozens of feet swishing through the carpet of dead leaves on the ground kicks up a wafer-thin layer of dust that quickly has several of us coughing and sneezing with gusto. This nearly invisible enemy will launch numerous such attacks over the weekend each time we trudge through the woods around the park. At one time or another virtually everyone becomes a victim, although some are apparently hit worse, and more often, than others. The best defense short of allergy pills or a dust mask seems to be a handy bottle of drinking water. It isn’t always 100% effective, but it does seem to help wash away whatever nasty stuff is causing the trouble.

We manage to fight our way through the attacking dust particles and arrive at the camp of the 18th Wisconsin, one of the Union regiments in Benjamin Prentiss’ Sixth Division. Five years short of a century-and-a-half earlier, Albert Sidney Johnston had arrived at this same spot on this same date, following his army’s destruction of Prentiss’ defensive line in and around Spain Field. While in this area, a couple of important events took place that had an impact on both the battle and on Johnston’s own life.

First, Johnston instructed his personal physician to help the nearby wounded from the Spain Field fight, including a number of badly hurt Yankees. The doctor agreed on the condition that Johnston would let him know when he moved off, so that the doctor could accompany him. Johnston consented to this, but apparently forgot as other matters pressed for attention. This seemingly minor event would have major ramifications later in the day.

Second, Johnston received a report of an unexpected enemy division out beyond his right, in position to hit him in the flank. The reported “division” was in fact only an undersized brigade that was far more interested in defending than attacking. But Johnston did not know this.

He responded by withdrawing two brigades from near the Peach Orchard, where a fight was developing against the new Union line in that area, and sending them off on a long march toward the far right, to deal with this new threat. He also sent instructions to have his reserve division follow. As a result, fighting around the Peach Orchard died down for a time, allowing the defenders time to catch their breath and adjust their lines.

While in the camp of the 18th Wisconsin, Johnston also upbraided a soldier he saw emerging from a captured Yankee tent, bearing an armload of goodies. “None of that sir,” he lectured, “We are not here for plunder.” Perhaps feeling the criticism had been a little too harsh, Johnston relented a bit by picking up a small tin cup and proclaiming, “Let this be my share of the spoils today.”

Recounting this story on nearly the same spot that it had taken place in 1862, Charles Spearman, our ranger-hiking guide, produces a small tin cup of his own, one that looks appropriately Civil Warish, and holds it up for all to see. It is a great idea, and an effective prop. One he will return to later.

After a time, Johnston leaves the captured Union camp and moves off toward the right-front, off toward the area of the Peach Orchard. One hundred forty five years later, nearly to the hour, we swish our way back through the leaf dust, across Spain Field, hop in our cars parked on Peabody Road, and start out after him.

[b:40bd1de485]Leading the charge[/b:40bd1de485]

One left turn and one right turn later, we arrive on the south side of the Peach Orchard and Sara Bell’s cotton field. By the time Steve, Dan, and I arrive and exit the car, Charles is already well on his way toward our next gathering spot, out in a corner of the old cotton field. We head out after him and arrive in time to hear about the last event-filled hours of Sidney Johnston’s life.

By the early part of the afternoon the Confederate advance on the far right had stalled out, and Johnston worked to get things moving once more. The plan was as simple as it was brutal - an all-out charge against the Yankees defending the Peach Orchard. No maneuvering and no finesse - just stand up, run toward those guys in blue over there, and knock them backwards.

The apparent reluctance of at least one regiment to do this caused Johnston to take a personal role in putting the charge together, and even leading it forward. Charles holds up his tin cup once more as he describes this moment, telling us how Johnston rode along the line touching each man's bayonet with his tin cup. The message was clear enough - if bullets would not move these Yankees, cold steel would have to do it. The decision to lead this attack was yet another example of Johnston's determination to do whatever it took to win this battle.


Just how far he did that leading may be a bit uncertain, but he clearly got close enough, as four wounds would later attest. Three of Johnston’s wounds were not serious, and one of these had only clipped his shoe and not struck his person. But that other wound…

Charles motions across the nearby Hamburg-Savannah Road, and off we head, toward what will be the final destination of our current hike, and, many years earlier, of Albert Sidney Johnston’s life.

[b:40bd1de485]Dueling ravines[/b:40bd1de485]

We arrive at what is almost certainly the most famous of the five mortuary monuments scattered around the park at Shiloh. Each one denotes the spot near which a high-ranking officer had been killed or mortally wounded in the battle. This one bears the name of the man we have been following around and learning about on this hike.

Sometime after 2:00 p.m. the day of the battle, Isham Harris, governor of Tennessee and currently an aide to General Johnston, had found the general reeling in the saddle, a short time after the attack on the Peach Orchard. When Johnston responded to Harris’ worried questioning by indicating that he was seriously hurt, the Tennessee Governor led Johnston’s horse to a nearby ravine where the general was gently lowered to the ground, and where a frantic search quickly ensued to locate the wound.

Many years later, we follow along behind, descending into the ravine to witness the final moments of Albert Sidney Johnston’s life.

In the ravine on that far distant April day, the worried group of men gathered round the southern commander either did not notice the prime culprit - a badly bleeding wound behind Johnston’s right knee where a bullet had clipped a major artery - or did not think it serious enough to be the problem. A tourniquet in Johnston’s pocket could have stemmed the bleeding and possibly saved his life, but went unused, and probably unnoticed until it was too late. Johnston's personal doctor had been left behind in the camp of the 18th Wisconsin, and was not present at this crucial moment. Somewhere around 2:30, all efforts to revive him having failed, Albert Sidney Johnston slipped into unconsciousness, and quietly died as those around him looked on in stunned disbelief.

As we gather near the tablet that describes these events, someone brings up Wiley Sword.

The author of what has long been my favorite book on Shiloh, Wiley Sword was and apparently still is firm in his belief that the site of Johnston’s death is marked incorrectly in the park. In his book on Shiloh, Sword claims that Johnston was found wounded, and died soon after, farther north on the battlefield than where the respective monument and marker indicate.

I’ve never known the exact location he claims for either site, but many years back I had tried to figure it out on my own, without success, during a visit to the park. As best as I could tell the most likely candidates would have been either right on top of, or possibly even behind, the Union lines at the time. I could never quite make sense of it and finally just gave up. I decided that Sword was probably right, and that I just couldn’t figure out the right location.

Besides, it wasn’t really that important, as even Sword admitted in his book. Except that he apparently does believe it’s important, or at least important enough that, as we are told, he continues to campaign to have the ‘correct’ sites properly marked. It is apparently something of a minor controversy, at least with Sword.

But when someone asks Charles about Sword’s theory regarding where Johnston died, it’s clear that our hike leader sees no controversy at all. The sites as marked, he tells us, are almost certainly correct. As for the two sites that Sword favors, Charles says that they would have placed Johnston behind the Union lines when he died, making them impossible options.

I instantly think back to my brief stint as an amateur battlefield detective years before, when I reached a similar conclusion and then brushed it off. I gaze over at the marker describing how Johnston came to die in this ravine, and suddenly feel a bit foolish. For all those years I had thought this marker was in the wrong spot, and had therefore paid it little attention. I was paying attention now.

Johnston’s death may or may not have altered the outcome of the battle - the odds and the evidence are pretty strong that it did not - but it most assuredly affected the rest of the war in the West following Shiloh. The mystery lies in knowing exactly how. But for me, it is not a question of how Johnston’s death changed the war in the West so much as a firm belief that it did, in some manner. In a sense, then, the location of this red and silver tablet describing the end of a man’s life in this nameless ravine is of little importance. And in another sense, it is of an importance that can never be known, or measured.

For as long as men and women study and ponder on the American Civil War, Albert Sidney Johnston will remain primarily what he has remained since that long-ago April day: a question in search of an answer. Marked correctly or not, that is the legacy of this silent, solitary tablet at the bottom of this quiet ravine.

But for those of us on this hike-and-ride around the park, the search for that answer will have to wait for another day. For now, it is time for us to leave the mysteries of the 19th Century behind and return to the 21st Century once more. It’s now 11:30 in the morning, and we be hungry hikers. Along with virtually everyone else, Steve, Dan, and I head off in search of a chuckwagon. After a quick lunch we will return for the first of our three afternoon hikes, where we will discover that another mystery awaits us. The mystery of Shiloh’s forgotten crossroads, and the enduring influence of a gentleman named David Wilson Reed.

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Man, this was a great post.. I pulled out my ever trusty and unforgetting tape recorder and could not find a thing you missed.. On top of being informative it was well written.. A great combination. Good Job Perry

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Hi folks,

Sorry for the long delay between these hike posts. As they say, life happens. I‘m sure you can all relate. :) I’ll try to get the rest of these posts finished before it’s time for next year’s hikes. But at this rate, I can’t promise. In any case, on we go…

[b:4bfbf647b6]Hike #4 - Retreat and Attack at The Crossroads[/b:4bfbf647b6]

Following hike #3, Dan, Steve, and I have a quick lunch at Ed Shaw’s, a combination restaurant/gift shop just south of the park, then head back for our 12:30 hike. This fourth hike is going to focus on the fighting around an area known as The Crossroads - the intersection of the Main Corinth and Hamburg-Purdy roads on the west side of the battlefield. Before this hike is finished, we will tramp through areas that most visitors to the park will never see, and hear about a part of the battle that even long-time students of Shiloh sometimes neglect. And we will begin to realize that where the history of this battle is concerned, a transformation is in the making.


We gather near Water Oaks Pond for this, our first afternoon jaunt, and give a listen to Bjorn Skaptason. Right off the bat, Bjorn grabs our attention by pointing out that we are standing on what might be the most important part of the battlefield.

To a lot of folks familiar with Shiloh, this will come as quite a surprise. For just down the road from where we stand is a patch of ground that has gained a bit of attention over the years - The Hornets’ Nest. A name that resides among the legendary names of American history. For many people in fact, The Hornets‘ Nest [i:4bfbf647b6]is[/i:4bfbf647b6] Shiloh, in the same way that Pickett’s Charge is Gettysburg, or Omaha Beach is D-Day. The defining moment of a defining event. And it has become so because, as we are so often told, it is the place where the outcome of one of the most important battles in America’s bloodiest war was finally decided.

And now Bjorn has just told us that it ain’t necessarily so, by implying that someplace other than The Hornets’ Nest might be the most important part of the battlefield.

But how can this be? What happened around this little-known area that could rank with one of the most famous spots in American military history?

[b:4bfbf647b6]Disaster in the making[/b:4bfbf647b6]

Following the collapse of his Shiloh Church line about mid-morning on April 6th, Sherman and what remained of his division fell back toward the Hamburg-Purdy Road, to the west of that road’s intersection with the Main Corinth Road. To their left was the three-brigade division of Major-General John A. McClernand, a veteran outfit about to see their first action at Shiloh. Camped to the rear of Sherman’s division when the battle began, McClernand’s First Division was too strung out to offer quick support. The brigade camped nearest to Sherman was that of Colonel Julius Raith (pronounced [i:4bfbf647b6]Right[/i:4bfbf647b6]), who found out just that morning that an unusual series of events had elevated him to command of the brigade.

As the fighting raged around Shiloh Church, Raith’s brigade deployed somewhat behind Sherman’s left flank, but did not become heavily engaged until after Sherman fell back. As Sherman’s men withdrew, McClernand ordered Raith’s brigade to redeploy around the Crossroads intersection, and brought the rest of his division in line to the east of that position. The line stretched off roughly down the Main Corinth Road, a few hundred yards short of Duncan Field. All told, Sherman and McClernand had around 12,000 men on this new line, with artillery support. It wasn’t long before the Rebels would test it.

When the test finally came, it was ferocious, bloody, and over surprisingly fast. Losses on both sides were tremendous as the Confederates slammed into the Yankee line. Though relatively brief, the fighting here was some of the most intense of the day. Colonel C. C. Marsh, one of McClernand’s brigade commanders, claimed that his brigade lost more men killed and wounded in the first five minutes of fighting here than in the rest of the battle put together. Before long what had appeared to be a fairly strong defensive line was shattered, with the Yankees in dead-run retreat. It was a stunning Confederate victory, one that portended disaster for Grant’s army.

[b:4bfbf647b6]Cannon Confusion[/b:4bfbf647b6]

One hundred forty five years later, we follow Bjorn around this same ground and listen as he describes the events that unfolded here. As Bjorn explains, the Confederate attack in this area actually went against the overall plan of battle, which was to hit the Union army on the left flank and drive it away from Pittsburg Landing. But as the battle evolved that morning the Rebs had shifted most of their strength to the opposite flank, against Sherman and McClernand on the Union right. As a result, their victory against the Union position around The Crossroads, though important, actually helped push the Union troops [i:4bfbf647b6]toward[/i:4bfbf647b6] Pittsburg Landing instead of away from it. Victory was still possible, but the Confederate advance was moving forward on the wrong flank.

When the Union troops fell back from the Hamburg-Purdy Road line, most of them headed off toward the northeast, with the Rebels hot on their heels. On this chilly April afternoon many years later we follow along behind, as Bjorn leads us down what is now called Sherman Road.


Along the way we stop at what Bjorn describes as one of his favorite spots on the battlefield, near the intersection of Sherman and McClernand roads. At this spot are two sets of cannons - one Union and one Confederate - only a few yards apart and facing back-to-back.(Unfortunately I don’t have a picture, but here are two links from the NPS site -)

Union cannons

Confederate cannons

At first glance it appears that they were situated here at the same time, firing behind each other. In truth of course that was not the case. The Union cannons took up position here shortly after 11:00, during the retreat from the Hamburg-Purdy Road. A few minutes after they withdrew (minus four cannons that were captured), the Rebel battery moved into position on almost the same exact spot, and began firing on the Union troops in nearby Jones Field. But the confusing picture that is presented, of Yank and Reb cannons back-to-back, is a wonderful representation of the chaotic confusion that was the battle of Shiloh.

About this time, and reinforcing that theme, Bjorn also tells us the story of a Union regiment that was caught behind Confederate lines during the retreat. Thanks to a bad memory I can’t recall the exact unit - hopefully Bjorn will fill in the details - but as I recall Bjorn telling the story, this regiment was one of a few that held its ground as most of the units around it fell back from the Hamburg-Purdy Road. By the time their commander finally ordered them back, most of the Rebel army was between them and the rest of their division.

Apparently gambling that the chaotic situation would work in his favor, he formed his men in a column and literally marched them down the road right past the southerners, and re-joined the Union army. It could be that the sight of blue-clad troops nonchalantly marching down the road from [i:4bfbf647b6]behind[/i:4bfbf647b6] them was a bit puzzling for the southerners, which may explain why the regiment was able to escape unharmed. Such uncertainty about unit identification was a common theme throughout the battle.


After our brief halt at the back-to-back cannons, we resume our march down Sherman Road, in pursuit of the retreating Union army. A short time later we arrive at what may be the most important piece of unknown ground in the entire park - Jones Field. It was here that Sherman and McClernand managed to stem the retreat, and reform their troops. The Confederate pursuit had finally died out - as Bjorn has told us, you can only run full-speed for so long and so far before you’ve just flat gotta stop - and this allowed the equally winded Yankees to catch their breath and collect their wits. (In addition to being winded, many southerners had stopped to pillage the Union camps they had overrun, possibly thinking the battle was over.)

It was also here that a crucial decision was made. At some point after arriving in Jones Field, McClernand and Sherman had a brief meeting. Bjorn describes the moment by saying that nothing much was discussed about what to do, what course of action to take, etc. Apparently very little was said - it was more of an understanding of what needed to be done. And as Bjorn phrased it, the understanding went something like this - “Let’s go.”

It is another vivid image, as Bjorn paints a word picture of this brief but surprisingly overlooked moment in the battle. Had McClernand and Sherman decided at this time to continue the retreat back to the landing, there is no telling what course the battle might have taken. Perhaps different commanders would have done just that, but whatever faults these two controversial men may have had, lack of determination wasn’t on the list. To be sure, these two men would never be mistaken for best friends. They did not care for each other, and that fact would become clear enough long before the war was over. But on this day, at this moment, in this field, they were of one mind - [i:4bfbf647b6]attack[/i:4bfbf647b6].

Up and down the line the order went to move out. In short order, troops that had been in full-scale retreat only a brief time before were now on the attack toward the unsuspecting Rebels. After our own brief stay in Jones Field we hightail after them, plunging back down Sherman Road toward the unsuspecting monuments and markers ahead.

A short ways down the road we turn off to our right, down a path that’s different than the way we had come. As we walk along we come to a Union monument. A short distance later we come across another. Then another. As Bjorn tells us, these monuments represent the Union regiments that peeled off from the main advance. They did so in response to Confederate troops moving in the opposite direction on the far side of a ravine. Confederate troops that, after sighting the Union troops themselves, moved in to make their own attack.

The result was a vicious firefight that drained manpower away from the main Union attack along Sherman Road while at the same time protecting the flank from being clobbered. But as each unit veered off, the main attack up the road lost hitting power, and it finally ground to a halt some distance short of The Crossroads.

Initially caught by surprise by the unexpected assault, the Confederates had quickly fallen back, only to reform and stabilize their lines. By 1:00, the Union advance was over and the Confederates began to regain the initiative, pushing the Union troops back to Jones Field. This time however, the Yankees fell back slowly, contesting every foot of ground.

The counterattack and the stubborn retreat that followed would prove to be an important moment in the battle. By pushing back the Confederates on this flank, albeit temporarily, the Yankee troops had helped to disrupt the southern army’s all-important timetable. Although they probably did not know it, the Confederates had to win this battle on the first day if they were to win it at all, thanks to Union reinforcements that would arrive by nightfall. Anything that delayed the southern advance would make it that much harder for them to win before it was too late. Time was indeed of the essence.

The breakthrough at The Crossroads had given tangible hope that victory was a very real possibility. But the necessity of dealing with the subsequent counterattack had eaten away precious time, in spite of their eventual success in pushing the Union troops back. It was the latest in a series of delays that would eventually combine to make Confederate victory on this day all but impossible.

During our hike along the path that paralleled the Union counterattack, we came across one of the five known Confederate burial trenches around the park. Of the five, this one might be the most remote and least visited. Bjorn makes the point that all five trenches are on the west side of the park - the scene of incredibly intense fighting, and yet where most visitors to the park only rarely visit. (This isn’t really the fault of visitors to the park - Shiloh’s historical emphasis has long been on the fighting at the Hornets’ Nest.) He adds that more trenches are known to exist although they have not yet been found, and that several of these are undoubtedly on the eastern side of the park.

But the fact remains that the ground across which we have walked saw some of the worst fighting of the battle - more so perhaps than any other part of the battlefield - and represented a vital moment in the battle as a whole. Yet it generally garners little attention.

As we arrive back in Woolf Field, near where we started, Bjorn relays one final story. As General Grant rode across the battlefield after the fighting ended, he came across a scene that he apparently never forgot. Writing about the moment in his memoirs more than twenty years later, the Union commander described what he saw thus:

[i:4bfbf647b6]I saw an open field, in our possession on the second day, over which the Confederates had made repeated charges the day before, so covered with dead that it would have been possible to walk across the clearing, in any direction, stepping on dead bodies, without a foot touching the ground.[/i:4bfbf647b6]

For years, Bjorn tells us, historians had thought the field that Grant described was located elsewhere in the park. The Peach Orchard perhaps, or maybe Duncan Field, near the famous Hornets’ Nest. They were wrong. “It was [i:4bfbf647b6]this[/i:4bfbf647b6] field,” he tells us.


Through my mind flashes a famous picture - the Sunken Road at Antietam. A stark image of dead bodies stretching off into the distance, piled so closely together that one could seemingly, quite literally, walk across them without touching the ground. Imagination transfers the image from my mind to the field before me.

Before today, many of us on this hike had perhaps given The Crossroads, Jones Field, or Woolf Field little thought, or even knew their names. After today, it is doubtful that most of us will ever forget them.

As the hike comes to an end and everyone’s about to head off toward our next tramping adventure, Dan turns and poses me a question - Doesn’t this new emphasis on the fighting around The Crossroads stand our understanding of the battle on its head?

Given the staring role that the Hornets‘ Nest has always played in the story of Shiloh, it’s not a question that should catch me off-guard, but it does. I mumble something about how the fighting out here has gotten attention before, but it’s not a very good answer.

It isn’t until later that I really begin to sort out my own understanding of what on the surface seems like a very straightforward issue. The issue being that Dan was right - our understanding of Shiloh is indeed stood on its head by anything that does not emphasize the Hornets’ Nest as the crucial moment in the battle. But it took me a while to realize that my own head-standing moment had taken place over a number of years, courtesy of at least three different historians. But that's for another hike report, assuming I ever get another one written.


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This is a pretty good summary of the program, Perry.

What we did on April 6th was an expansion of a half-hour program that is on the regular summer schedule at the Shiloh NMP. That is opposed to the 53rd Ohio program which I developed specially for the 2007 anniversary. Hopefully if the Park continues to offer the program it will contribute to greater public understanding of the changing interpretation of the battle.

The normal title is "Disaster at the Crossroads: Attack and Counterattack." It is a nice title because it begs the question, "A disaster for who?" Answering that questions is, in my opinion, crucial to understanding how this engagement affects the outcome of the battle.

It is a disaster for the Union army because two of their divisions are shredded, and eventually driven to the final line in a state of confusion.

It is a humanitarian disaster, of course, because this is some of the bloodiest fighting of the war, and the deadliest part of it occurs during the course of a few minutes.

But mostly, and ironically, the Confederate victory at the Crossroads represents a disaster for Johnston's battle plan because the Confederates alter their plan by attacking the wrong flank of the Union army. I don't know if the the Crossroads represents a decision that changes the battle, but I think it represents the execution of such a decision. Once the mistake goes into effect I don't think there is any chance of the Confederates getting back to the original plan. Something might have happened to permit them to achieve victory, but not with Johnston's plan intact.

It is possible that after the Crossroads the Confederate chances for victory relied not on their own initiative, but on the possibility of more Union mistakes. Perhaps at some point Grant might have chosen to retreat. Nothing in Grant's behavior suggests that possibility.

There are a few minor points I might make about your description of the program, but I will try to do that in another post.

Thanks again!


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In the first paragraph of the section called "Disaster in the Making" you mention that Raith's brigade "did not become heavily engaged" in support of Sherman's Shiloh Church line. I feel that three of Raith's regiments (43, 29, & 17 IL) did engage in fierce fighting on a line to the rear of the 57th Ohio camp. See the marker for Englemann's 43rd Illinois here


Also note that Raith's Brigade as such did not advance, since the 49th Illinois did not get their orders and remained in camp almost until they were attacked. Raith advanced with three regiments, and then fell back to the Crossroads.

It is worth mentioning that there is not agreement on the pronunciation of the Third Brigade commander's name. German speakers I have met seem unanimous that my pronunciation "right" is dead wrong. Also, most English speakers wrestle out something that sounds like "wraith." My pronunciation is based on Raith's obituary as it appeared in the Chicago Tribune. That newspaper made the effort, through a parenthetical comment, to say that the name is pronounced as though it were spelled "Wright." To me an obit writer who feels so confident as to note pronunciation in print knows something about the individual. I think the obit is as close as we can get to actually asking Julius Raith how he pronounced his name. If it is bad German, well, Raith would not be the first person with a foreign-sounding name who patiently accepted his name being anglicized by English speaking neighbors in his new country.


Bjorn "Skuftison" Skaptason

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Hi Bjorn,

Yes, good point about Raith's brigade. I should have stated that they became engaged before they moved to the Crossroads intersection, since they were 'helped along' by the Rebels, so to speak.

On Raith's name, I used to pronounce it 'Raith' until Larry Daniel said in his book that 'Right' was right. I don't remember that he explained how he discovered that or not but figured he must have researched it. "Wraith" is easier since that's the way it's spelled.

"Skuftison" huh? :) I can relate to some extent, since my last name has gotten mangled more than once. It doesn't look that hard to pronounce to me, but then I'm used to it. The original family name was "Bialkowski." My g-g-g-grandfather, John Bialkowski, fought for the Union during the war and ran into serious trouble with that name. His first commander had such a hard time with the name the first time he tried to pronounce it, he said that from now on your name is John Smith. Apparently, he actually went by both names during the war as a result, and when he tried to claim his pension years later it caused he and his family some major problems.

Back to the battle - good point about the multiple meaning of 'disaster' at the Crossroads. It certainly was a disaster on more than one level. I hope the park does continue to include the program as it does help expand the understanding of how the battle unfolded. You did a great job on that hike. Even if, once again, I could not keep up with the column. <g>

I think you're right about Grant - I really don't believe he would have retreated short of being physically driven into the river, unless perhaps he thought his army was about to be destroyed. He seems to have regarded the whole idea of retreating as a fate only slightly better than death. Not just at Shiloh but in general. I know it's claimed that Grant acted the way he did at Shiloh because he knew he had reenforcements on the way, and that's a good point. But, I suspect that even if his army had been entirely on its own, without the possibility of outside help, I think Grant would probably have stayed put and fought it out as long as possible. It seems to have been his nature.


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