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Hike Report: The Battle for Shiloh Church

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Dan attended this year's anniversary hikes, and as he has done the past couple of years he has been kind enough to provide us with a report of his experiences. Below is Dan's account of the first hike he attended, which was the 7:00 a.m. hike starting at Shiloh Church and led by Dr. Jeff Gentsch. I've included some maps and pictures to go along with Dan's report. The map pictures are screen captures from Bing.com. The first map, shown here, outlines the general area that was covered by this hike, starting at the church and ending at McAllister's Battery on the north side of Review Field...


So at this point I'll let Dan take it away, and tell us about this hike titled "Bloody Sunday: The Battle for Shiloh Church."


Prior to leaving for the hike Dr. Gentsch reviewed several basic premises for any battle.

First, the geography and topography of the area was important in any battle. This was a combination of the terrain and vegetation. Secondly, warfare is based on time. A very important aspect of the battle of Shiloh was the fact that a combination of geography, topography, and the defensive tactics of the Union army delayed the Confederates long enough to allow Grant’s final line to be developed. This also allowed the Union army to be reinforced by Wallace and Buell.

Another factor that influenced the battle was the placement of the Union camps. Ideally, they were supposed to be placed side to side with no gaps in between. Instead, the camp placement was determined by the access to fresh water. The result was that they were placed haphazardly on the high ground above the water sources.

This worked to the advantage and disadvantage of both armies. The haphazard placement of the camps and the resulting gaps were exploited by the Confederate army, and allowed them to outflank Union defensive positions. The fact that these camps were on the high ground also made for a strong defensive position that was costly for the Confederate army to take.

Finally, we were reminded that in 1862 the area was more open, with line of sight ranging from 250 to 400 yards.

At this point we moved to the bottom of the hill below and south of Shiloh church. Here the vegetation is much like it was in 1862, with a lot of brush and vines. Dr. Gentsch stated that at the time of the battle the area was swampy and flooded. The area’s terrain caused a mixing of four Confederate brigades. A total of 10,000 men were bogged down in this area for over 2 ½ hours. That was one-quarter of the Confederate striking force. It was pointed out that Beauregard would really have loved to have that 2 ½ hours back after the collapse of the Hornets Nest on the evening of April 6th.

At this point I looked around. Our intrepid band consisted of about 50 folks. That seemed like a lot of people in that area. It was hard to fathom there being 10,000 men in that area. To top it off, they were under heavy fire, dealing with terrain and vegetation. It is hard to fathom what that must have been like.

Now, we moved to CSA markers 358 & 309. These were the positions of the Washington Artillery and Bankhead’s Battery on the morning of April 6th. [below is a map showing the  location of these two batteries...]


At the time of the battle this area was covered by scrub-oak. This vegetation hindered the view of the gunners, and served to hold the battle smoke in place. Consequently, these batteries were not effective at this location. One was moved. The other was knocked out by Federal gunners in fairly short order.

After leaving the artillery position we followed the path of the 6th Mississippi and 23rd Tennessee in their attack on the 53rd Ohio in Rea Field. The brush here in 1862 was thicker than it is today. Some combatants stated that the brush was so thick you had to cut your way through. The area was also flooded at the time of the battle due to recent heavy rains.

As we approached Shiloh Branch it was apparent that it was a formidable obstacle. Today it was a stream about two feet deep. When the 6th Mississippi and 23rd Tennessee were making this same trek in 1862, Shiloh Branch was a torrent about seven to ten feet deep. [Picture of this same area from the 2008 hike...]


I have personally made this trek before and have always been keenly aware of the position of Waterhouse’s Battery and their associated infantry supports, clearly visible on the left as the Confederates entered Rea Field. As the Confederate troops moved into the camp of the 53rd Ohio, they were silhouetted against the white tents. It can easily be seen why Dr. Gentsch referred to the area as a shooting gallery.


At this point we were in Rea Field. Dr. Gentsch pointed out the field swale that cut through Rea Field. The 13th Tennessee used this swale for protection in their attack on Waterhouse’s Battery.


We crossed Shiloh Branch and proceeded to the 13th Tennessee’s position marker (CSA Marker 305). To our left you could see the position of Waterhouse’s Battery (Marker 37).


From this location you could look around and clearly see the importance that terrain was making in this attack. [photo of this area from the 2008 hike...]


At this point in the battle it was between 9:30 and 10:00. Wood’s Brigade had already found the hole that existed between Waterhouse and Peabody’s Brigade of Prentiss’s Division. Waterhouse was beginning to pull back. The collapse of the Union line had begun. The tide of battle was changing.

 For us it was time for another cross-country hike. We were following the path of Wood’s Brigade from Lost Field to the point where they ultimately captured Burrow’s Battery at position marker 117.


We emerged from the forest in a draw on the southwest edge of Review Field, then immediately moved toward Burrow’s Battery. Dr. Gentsch was pointing out how the Confederates used the terrain for protection in their attack and successful capture of Burrow’s Battery. Terrain features that could easily be seen even today.


My question at this point was whether this use of terrain was by design, or did Wood simply get lucky? Dr. Gentsch’s response was that after the first shot, war is happenstance. Was Wood smart or lucky? I suspect it was a bit of both.

From Burrow’s Battery position we touched on the fighting in Woolf Field. This field saw the heaviest fighting and casualties in the battle.

From here we moved east to McAllister’s Battery at position marker 31. The 4th Tennessee attacked this battery through the wood line on the west side of Review Field, and captured one gun from this battery. Dr. Gentsch pointed out that the vegetation in this area is the most historically accurate of any on the entire battlefield.


[4th Tennessee Marker with McAllister's Battery just above it]...


At this point Dr. Gentsch summarized our hike by stating that the Battle of Shiloh was actually the dawn of modern warfare. At this battle you began to see the ancient tactics begin to change where armies used both geography and topography to effect the outcome of the battle.


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The confederates had sources of intel for the terrain in a number of soldiers from this area BUT there is no evidence that any of these sources were used and in fact there is evidence that they were not used. we know there were at least 12 soldiers at the battle who had very intimate knowledge of the battlefield from having either grown up there or had spent several years farming and hunting on the battlefield land. I guess noone thought to go around and ask about the area. we know that grandpa's g.g.grandfather W.P. Wood was in the area several days before the battle moving his family and his brother Jim's family from the two cabins to shady grove. I think in their haste to attack before Buell joined Grant several sources were overlooked by the confederate leadership and they relied on recon and hasty maps drawn by the engineers.

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The books about the battle cover the civilians little which limits what most of us know but I believe you are entirely correct in that the leaders failed to consult any locals, whether civilians or serving soldiers, concerning the terrain and conditions.  Their large scale maps were decent but any local maps just did not do the job. 

Thanks for your local info


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I want to thank Perry for getting these reports typed in here and also the visual aids..  Those are great..  Without him I would never have gotten these reports posted and forget the visuals..

Mona, Bjorn, and anyone else that was on the hikes jump in here any time..  I have had a tougher time with the reports this year than I have in the past..  That is especially true of the one about McDowell and the 40th Illinois..  Though I totally understood what was going on during the hike getting it on paper has been a bit of a challenge.. Not sure I done it adequately..  Maybe it is because these were subjects we had not studied or read about as much in the past..  For example until Bjorn's hike I never knew where the Owl Creek Bridge was at..  These reports are not perfect so give me all the help you can

Your Obedient Servant


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Dan, Bjorn and Perry,

Very good work by all. Your narrations are very good as it does cover a portion of the battle that has been little discussed.  This illustrates that the Battle of Shiloh was fought in small unit fighting seperated by terrain features, creeks, foliage, and battlefield confusion (smoke).  These small units had to fight their own battle while guarding their own flanks as neighboring units gave way.  McDowell's line gave way when Sherman's division was pushed back and exposed McDowell's flank.  The confusion among both armies only added to the severity of the fighting sometimes not adequately mentioned in histories of the battle. While sufering large casualties, here also occurred a great number of soldiers leaving their units. I estimate the numbers of men absent from their units were on a level as the numbers of killed and wounded. 

Bjorn's descripions of the battle field conditions and fighting is very accurate.  They ceretainly illustrate an area of the battle little known and greatly unappreciated. 

Thanks to all for a very good report on a excellent topic.


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  • 2 weeks later...

The area of shiloh branch discussed in the hike could never have been 7 to 10 foot deep at the time of the battle nor today because of the small area that is drained by this branch. another point if shiloh branch were 7 to 10 feet deep the bridge at snake creek and owl creek would have been under water. water has never cut off the bridge just south of the church and it is approx 5 feet above the branch. the area drained by shiloh branch is approx 635 acres for the water to have been this deep would have required a rain of 20 to 24 inches in the hours from midnight to 5 a.m.

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