I was lucky enough to attend last Thursday’s Battle of Shiloh webinar, hosted by AMU and featuring Professor Steve Woodworth and Civil War Times editor Dana Shoaf. American Military University (AMU) is hosting three webinars this spring, the first on the common Civil War soldier, which I missed live due to technical difficulties, the second being this webinar, and the third on the Battle of Gettysburg scheduled for Tuesday, May 18. Be sure to sign up for the Gettysburg webinar at the link provided.
I was able to take some notes during the webinar, which I present in their original form mainly because it’s late on Mother’s Day and I simply don’t have the time to polish them up!
Dr. Steven Woodworth started the webinar by summarizing the Shiloh Campaign.
Ft. Henry/Donelson struck a blow the Confederates never fully recovered from
Confederates in western and central Tenn retreated to Corinth, a town with many rail lines leading into it
Once the Confederates were gathered in Corinth, their commander A.S. Johnston made the obvious decision to strike Grant before Buell’s AotO could join up with him at Pittsburgh Landing
Halleck’s jealousy towards Grant was discussed after Dana Shoaf asked Professor Woodworth to expound on that. Halleck had a high opinion of himself, and was miffed that Grant’s minor Ft. Henry expedition had blown up into a major success. C.F. Smith was placed in command, but was injured, so Grant had to again be placed in command.
Halleck ordered Grant to encamp at PL and not bring on a general engagement. Woodworth opines that Halleck’s order to hold Grant in place allowed the Confederates to seize the initiative.
Dana Shoaf covered Sherman’s background in the war up to that point, including Bull Run and his nervous breakdown.
Shoaf asked why Sherman wasn’t patrolling more often and why he didn’t react to reports of Confederates in force. Woodworth said this was Sherman’s worst performance of the war. Halleck and Grant had told Sherman there were no Confederate forces in strength and not to bring on combat. As a result, Sherman’s hands were somewhat tied.
The rough, forested, and gently rolling terrain around Pittsburgh Landing, the site of the battle, was discussed.
Woodworth next moved on to P.G.T. Beauregard, his troubles with Jefferson Davis after Bull Run, and his role as A.S. Johnston’s second in command at Shiloh. One fateful task Beauregard was entrusted with were the march orders from Corinth to PL, and the actual battle formations at Shiloh. He failed at both. The attack was delayed several days. Although the front line Union troops knew Confederates were there, they didn’t know in what force and the division and higher commanders did not believe they were in force.
The Battle started on April 6, 1862. Johnston’s maps showed the creeks bounding the battlefield incorrectly. As a result, he thought he would hit the Union left flank. Instead, he hit them head on. Johnston wanted to isolate the remnants of the Union AotT against Owl Creek rather than the Tennessee River. He wanted to avoid the Union gunboats and Buell’s Army of the Ohio. When the Confederates did attack one corps covered the whole wooded front, followed by another, causing massive command problems for the Confederates. A big question of the battle is why Johnston allowed Beauregard’s impractical battle plan to go ahead.
The Sunken Road story is discussed. If you walk the battleground, as I have, you’ll see that the road really wasn’t all that sunken.
The heaviest fighting occurred on the western end of the line, NOT at the Hornet’s Nest. Woodworth mentions that this is backed up by the number of bodies found on that portion of the line. The Hornet’s Nest stand is somewhat of a myth.
Sherman’s Division aligned on Shiloh Church and then fell back to the Hamburg-Purdy Road line. McClernand, says Woodworth, aligned his division poorly and was forced back. He says this area produced quite a bit of fluid, hard fighting over an extended area.
Talk next turned to A.S. Johnston’s wounding and subsequent death near the Peach Orchard. The question becomes, “why was Johnston acting essentially as a brigade/division commander instead of as army commander?” Woodworth mentioned that Johnston had not had his orders carried out several times prior which led to disasters in the Western Theater, and that possibly he had decided to take charge himself to ensure success. Dana Shoaf gave a nice account by one of Johnston’s aides on his wounding and death. Ironically, as Johnston bled to death from a wound in his calf, he had a tourniquet in his pocket which went unused until it was too late. The wound wasn’t discovered until others noticed there was quite a bit of blood coming from Johnston’s boot.
Woodworth disagrees that losing Johnston sealed the Confederates’ fate at Shiloh, though it hurt them greatly.
Dana Shoaf was impressed by Grant’s decision to stay and fight on the second day after what was up to then by far the largest battle of the war to date.
Grant had sprained his ankle badly before the fight, and could only hobble around.
The second day was not discussed as we ran out of time.
After the summary of the first day, the floor was opened to questions by those attending the webinar.
While questions were being collected, Gerald Bigelow III presented a short program on the military history courses offered at AMU.
Dana Shoaf followed with a brief overview of the publications published by The Weider History Group, including Civil War Times and America’s Civil War.
The following questions were asked and answered at the end of the webinar:
Q: What impact did regiments for which Shiloh was the first battle have on the outcome, especially for the Union?
A: Dana Shoaf responded that many of the green Union regiments ran immediately, but Grant also had veterans which put up a much greater fight. Steve Woodworth agreed that the breakup of Prentiss’ Division was largely due to green troops. The difference between rookies and veterans, asserted Woodworth, was that veterans would have reformed before reaching the Tennessee River. Dana and Steve also pointed out the confederate tendency to fall out and plunder the captured Union camps.
Q:Shiloh, Vicksburg, or Gettysburg? Which was the most significant in the Confederate demise?
A: Woodworth says Gettysburg, while dramatic, is the least significant and did not change the course of the war. He believes both Shiloh and Vicksburg did have the potential to change the war, with Vicksburg actually realizing that potential.
Q: Dana set up a question about Lew Wallace’s “Lost” division and his failure to reach the battlefield in a timely manner while Grant’s army was fighting for its life.
A: Woodworth responded that which road he was supposed to take to the battlefield was one of two. His written orders were lost after the war, so we cannot know what those said for sure. Wallace took a road which would take him to Shiloh Church, but he was too late and would have been alone behind Confederate lines. So he backtracked and got back to the proper road to PL. What peeved Grant, said Woodworth, was the slow pace of Wallace’s march on the way to help the rest of Grant’s army. The suspicion is that Wallace was looking to protect his own division from a possible disaster which might have already been in progress. Dana Shoaf pointed out that Wallace regained most of his reputation at Monocacy, helping to slow down Jubal Early’s Valley Army from reaching Washington, D.C. quickly.
Q: Would the Confederates have been better off to wait for more reinforcements, specifically Van Dorn’s army, and await an attack at Corinth?
A: Woodworth said no. Grant had more reinforcements coming to him and would reach a union sooner than the Confederates. The resulting stand at Corinth after Shiloh ended up being a failure.
Note: I ran out of time and had other business to attend to after the question above. I believe several more were answered before the webinar came to an end. AMU has been doing some very interesting things with the webinar format on the Civil War. I encourage readers to sign up for the Gettysburg webinar before it’s too late! Spots are limited and it’s first come, first served.