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The most secret battle of the US Civil War

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Concerning Lew Wallace. Don't be too harsh in your criticism of his conduct on the 6th. He had been ordered to come up on the right of the army but had not been told that Sherman had fallen back. His choice to take the Shunpike was quite logical. Wallace's division had been exposed while at Adamsville/Stoney Lonesome/Crump's Landing. Lew Wallace and W.H.L. Wallace had come up with a contingency plan if Lew Wallace was attacked. The Hamburg-Savannagh Road was nearly impassable from the rising floodwaters of the Tennessee and an alternate route had been selected that would lead across Owl Creek and up the Shunpike to bring reenforcements to Lew Wallace's aid. When Lew recieved ordres to come down to the Pittburg Landing camps he used the prearranged plan only in reverse. He was far down the Shunpike when he recieved information concerning the course of the battle and the need to retrace his advance and arrive via the Hamburg-Savannah Road.

A few years ago several members of the Shiloh staff set out to retrace Wallace's march. Wearing comfortable shoes and carrying light day packs they were hard pressed to match the time it took for the Third Division to reach the battlefield. If it was a challenge for eight people imagine the scene with three brigades and two batteries of artillery.

Wallace's performance on the 7th, however, was certainly less than could have been expected.  The Third Division was opposed by the remnants of Ponds' Brigade and Ketchum's Alabama Battery. At 6:30 am Thompson's Indiana Battery opened fire on Ketchum and Pond's brigade fell back to the south side of Jones Field. For an incredible 2 1/2 hours Wallace was held in place by a single battery until the arrival of Wood's brigade of infantry. The rest of the day was more of the same: a division held back by a battered brigade and patchwork lines. Wallace was afraid he would be cut off from the rest of the army and his performance was very disappointing. He passed up opportunities to inflict damage to the Confederate right and allowed himself to be checked by vastly inferior numbers.


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Thanks for the overview. What do you think about the whole controversy involving Grant's order to Lew Wallace on the 6th, about whether or not it specified the route to take? That's a pretty tangled web.

It's interesting that the plan between the two Wallace's doesn't seem to have gotten a lot of attention. I think Stacy Allen wrote about it in an article on Lew Wallace, but offhand I don't remember if Wallace himself really made a point of it when defending himself. In fact, I've always thought he probably hurt his own cause some in the way he defended himself against the charge of getting lost on April 6th. Even now it seems to be the prevailing idea, that he took the wrong road and got lost on the way to the battle.

Where I usually faulted him wasn't so much for taking the Shunpike, which I always thought was basically an honest mistake, but for the way he conducted his counter-march. But I remember you telling us a couple of years ago, on one of the anniversary hikes, about the result of that group re-tracing Wallace's route to the battle. That surprised me, that the times were so close together. Within something like 15 minutes?

But then again, I think Larry Daniel reached a similar conclusion in his book on Shiloh. I don't have it handy, but I think in one of the end notes, he compared the distance and travel time of Wallace's division with that of Nelson's division from Buell's army, and concluded that their respective marching speeds were very close together. That surprised me as well, and in fact I think at first I doubted that he was right. But, his point, if I remember right, was that Wallace has been unnecessarily criticized for a slow march on April 6th. Either that or that Nelson has gotten a pass and is due for the same sort of criticism. If it fits the one, it fits the other, as it were.

Were you part of the group that re-traced Wallace's route? I seem to remember that you were. How well were you able to adhere to Wallace's original route?


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