With the fall of Fort Donelson. the South became vulnerable. Grant was eager to move on up the Cumberland and take Nashville. If he and other Union commanders could “keep the ball moving as lively as possible,” pushing south into enemy territory, the Northern spearhead would cut the South’s east-west railroad lines, which Jefferson Davis called “the vertebrae of the Confederacy.” Unless the Confederate Army blocked the coming offensive, the way would be open for Union columns to march down to the Gulf of Mexico. The South could be split in two.
It became a race against time. Albert Sidney Johnston, the general entrusted by Jefferson Davis to organize the Confederate defense in the Western theater, was a handsome mustachioed West Pointer who had been a cadet with Robert E. Lee and Joseph E. Johnston. At the age of fifty-eight he was the South’s oldest general, admired by his contemporaries and his troops. He had formed an east-to-west defensive line that Grant had now fractured. After Fort Donelson fell, Johnston’s headquarters at Bowling Green, Kentucky, to the northeast, was in danger of being cut off from Confederate territory and armies to the south; Johnston abandoned Bowling Green and was managing to bring his troops, many of them sick from the winter weather, safely south in a difficult circuitous retreat, picking up additional brigades and regiments along the way until he had seventeen thousand men with him.
The Confederacy was throwing in its reserves. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Joseph E. Johnston continued as leaders in the Eastern theater of war, but Jefferson Davis sent Beauregard from Virginia to be Albert Sidney Johnston’s second in command. General Braxton Bragg was coming up from Mobile, Alabama, with ten thousand men, Leonidas K. Polk was retreating from Kentucky with another ten thousand, and five thousand were on the way from New Orleans. General John C. Breckinridge reported in to Johnston; William J. Hardee was already serving with him. There was a chance that as many as twenty thousand Confederate soldiers could come from Arkansas to join Johnston.
The potential number of Southern defenders was large, but Johnston knew that Grant could have as many as forty thousand men, confident after taking Forts Henry and Donelson, and Don Carlos Buell was marching slowly from Kentucky with more than twenty-five thousand. There would be an epic collision, somewhere. Speaking of the white population of the South, Johnston proclaimed to his soldiers that “the eyes and hopes of eight millions of people rest upon you.” In the days to come, as more units from across the South rallied to him, Johnston decided to gather his forces at the important railway center of Corinth in northeastern Mississippi, just below the Tennessee border. The South could ill afford to lose this hub, which was a true railway crossroads: the Memphis and Charleston Railroad line, coming from Memphis eighty miles to the west, passed through Corinth going east to Decatur and Huntsville in Alabama, and on to Chattanooga; the north-south Mobile, and Ohio line also ran through there, connecting trains moving to and from the Gulf of Mexico. If the Union Army seized Corinth, a critical portion of the South’s railway system would fall under Northern control.
In times of peace, one of the ways that goods reached Corinth from the Tennessee River was by way of a road from Pittsburg Landing, a steamboat wharf twenty miles to the northeast. Three miles in from the high bluff above the wharf, on a ridge in the woods, stood a one-room Methodist church, a log meetinghouse with the biblical name of Shiloh—“Place of Peace.”
As days passed and Johnston’s force at Corinth grew, he had no idea of how much time he had to organize a defense, or whether he might possibly have enough time to prepare his green but eager troops to launch an offensive. It appeared that time was not on Johnston’s side. If Grant could keep his momentum and take Tennessee’s virtually undefended capital of Nashville, his next step would be to move his victorious army swiftly over from the Cumberland River to the Tennessee. If Grant could then steam up to Pittsburg Landing to attack and defeat Johnston’s army at Corinth, and there might be no limit to how much farther federal columns could then penetrate the South.
Grant’s superior General Henry Halleck gave Albert Sidney Johnston the time he needed. At a time of success, a time when Grant should indeed have been allowed to “keep the ball moving,” Halleck hesitated to authorize Grant to do just that, partly for fear that Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard might be able to cut north and retake either Fort Henry or Paducah, Kentucky; he even went so far as to call this doubtful threat “the crisis of the war in the west.” As for the intellectual underpinnings of this caution, Halleck was following concepts he had put forth in his book The Elements of Military Art and Science, ideas based on those of the French military theorist Antoine Henri Jomini and others who believed that victories could best be won by maneuver and mass, rather than by aggressive frontal attacks. Halleck’s ambition worked in tandem with his caution; intent on his vision of the war and his central place in it, Halleck felt he could delay any Union offensive long enough to bargain with Washington for the supreme command in the West.
In contrast to Halleck, Grant, who after Fort Donelson immediately sent naval and then land forces up the Cumberland to take unopposed possession of Clarksville, Tennessee, forty-five miles from Nashville, wired Halleck’s headquarters for permission to go on, saying that he could “have Nashville” within ten days. To his surprise, Halleck shot back a telegram ordering him not to advance with his reorganized victorious army, which now numbered thirty-six thousand men, including twelve thousand just sent up to him by Sherman.
This was all difficult to fathom for men of action like Grant and Commodore Foote, but they were unaware of the extent to which Halleck’s ambition was controlling the situation. Halleck apparently felt that he could dictate his terms for advancement and sent the Union general in chief McClellan a message saying that “I must have top command of the [Western] armies,” adding that “hesitation and delay are losing us this golden opportunity,” when in fact the only “hesitation and delay” were his own. He finished this with a peremptory, “Lay this before the President and Secretary of War. May I assume command? Answer quickly.”
As Grant waited, McClellan refused to give Halleck what he wanted and refused to draw Lincoln and Stanton into the decision, but McClellan’s reason for doing this showed yet another aspect to the game of military politics. McClellan, who at the time was giving lavish dinner parties in Washington while allowing the Confederates time to fortify and reinforce their positions in northern Virginia, and who was issuing few orders that would start a Union offensive in any theater of operations, wanted no rivals for his position as general in chief. In turning down Halleck, McClellan pointed out that Buell, who had replaced Sherman at Louisville and held equal rank with Halleck, was marching toward the scene of impending action. There was no reason to place Halleck above him.
Thwarted by McClellan, Halleck bypassed him, going out of the chain of command and approaching Secretary of War Stanton directly with a message that said, “One whole week has been lost by hesitation and delay. There was, and I think there still is, a golden opportunity to strike a fatal blow, but I can’t do it unless I control Buell’s army.” When Stanton replied flatly, “The President does not think any change in the organization of the army or the military departments advisable,” Halleck turned back to matters that were his to control and continued to hold Grant at Clarksville. (Writing to Halleck’s chief of staff Brigadier General George W. Cullum, Grant said, “It is my impression that by following up our success Nashville would be an easy conquest,” but he did not express the frustration shown by Commodore Foote, who wrote his wife that “I am disgusted that we were kept from going up and taking Nashville. It was jealousy on the part of McClellan and Halleck.”)
While keeping Grant from seizing Nashville, Halleck continued to rehabilitate Sherman. Always mindful of Sherman’s powerful connections in Washington and impressed by the job that he had done since his return from his breakdown and forced twenty-day leave, first in training thousands of troops and then in supporting Grant’s efforts, Halleck told Sherman that he could start organizing various regiments into a division of his own, to lead in future battles.
Sherman went to work. As he wrote Ellen, “Learning some days past that the Confederates are simply abandoning Columbus [Kentucky, across the Mississippi River from Belmont, Missouri, the scene of Grant’s first battle] I sent a party of cavalry to go as near as possible.” In addition to this, Sherman embarked a regiment of nine hundred men on a large steamboat at Paducah and took them down there. At Columbus he encountered another example of Halleck’s failure to take advantage of opportunities. Not only was the place empty, but Sherman found that the Confederates had been given so much time that “they carried off nearly all their [artillery] guns, and materials, burned their huts and some corn and provisions.”
Landing and leaving troops to establish a garrison there, Sherman returned to Paducah. In one sense, it had been a venture with little military result, but for the first time in months he had been in active command of troops away from a headquarters, had planned the entire amphibious operation, and had executed it with precision. The man who had begged Lincoln to keep him always in a subordinate position had succeeded in an independent command, entirely on his own. Back at Paducah he continued to assemble his division, which soon numbered nine thousand men.
Earlier, tethered though Grant was, forty-five miles short of Nashville and with no idea of the reasons for being held there, he once again saw an opportunity to move Union troops forward. Don Carlos Buell had dispatched a division from Kentucky to support Grant at the time he was moving to attack Fort Donelson; now, as they arrived aboard a large fleet of paddle-wheelers a week after the battle, Grant realized that these thousands of men were not under Halleck’s control. Telling their commander, Brigadier General William Nelson, not to bring his regiments ashore, he ordered him to proceed on with them and take Nashville, which they did, quickly and without bloodshed.
As a result of his quick thinking, Grant now had two commanders angry with him. Buell, who soon arrived at Nashville with the rest of his army, felt that Grant had commandeered some of his forces with an unauthorized order, robbing him of the chance to enter the city at the head of his troops. Halleck felt that Grant had broken the spirit if not the law of his own orders to stay where he was.
Next came a serious breakdown in communications between Grant and Halleck. This began when Grant, who had no orders to do so and normally should have stayed with his army, went to Nashville briefly to confer with Buell. Unknown to Grant or Halleck, the civilian telegraph operator at the Union headquarters in Cairo, Illinois, was certainly a Confederate sympathizer and possibly an active spy; in any event, the man threw away the messages and reports from Grant that were to be sent on to Halleck in St. Louis. As a result, Halleck heard nothing from Grant for a week and did not know how much of that time Grant spent in Nashville, away from his command.
With no response to several requests that Grant send him various types of information, Halleck dispatched a complaining report of this to McClellan. Halleck said in part, “It is hard to censure a successful general immediately after a victory, but I think he richly deserves it … Satisfied with his victory, he sits down and enjoys it without any regard to the future. I am worn-out and tired with this neglect and inefficiency.”
This time Halleck had McClellan on his side. Perhaps for a moment thinking of Grant only as the captain who had been on one of his “sprees” while outfitting McClellan’s expedition to explore the Cascade Range in the Oregon Territory in 1853, and possibly with an eye to keeping in check a fast-rising potential rival, the general in chief replied the next day. “The future success of our cause demands that proceedings such as Grant’s should at once be checked.” McClellan told Halleck. “Generals must observe discipline as well as private soldiers. Do not hesitate to arrest him at once if the good of the service requires it.” McClellan added that if Grant were removed, his replacement should be General Charles F. Smith, whose brave leadership storming a slope at Fort Donelson had done so much to win that day.
Halleck was still angry with Grant and thought that McClellan might have memories of the old army gossip about Grant’s drinking. The next day, still delaying meaningful action fifteen days after the fall of Fort Donelson, Halleck spent still more time writing to McClellan: “A rumor has just reached me that since the taking of Fort Donelson General Grant has resumed his former bad habits. If so, it will account for his neglect of my oft-repeated orders. I do not deem it advisable to arrest him at present, but I have placed General Smith in command of the expedition up the Tennessee.” Halleck was not replacing Grant, but leaving him in command in the rear while Smith, whom Grant greatly admired, was to come back down the Cumberland River where Fort Donelson stood and lead a portion of Grant’s forces on amphibious raids up the Tennessee.
Until Grant received the order from Halleck spelling this out, he had no idea that Halleck was, as Sherman observed, “working himself into a passion” about his subordinate’s seemingly defiant disregard of orders and command authority. He quickly replied to Halleck that he was sending Smith up the Tennessee as ordered and added that, based on intelligence reports, “Forces going … must go prepared to meet a force of 20,000 men. This will take all of my available troops.” That last comment was an effort to regain lost momentum through others. Even though now tied by Halleck’s order to his own rear headquarters, Grant was attempting to change the concept of a small raiding force into a major movement by his entire command. Then, addressing Halleck’s overall complaint, he told Halleck, “I am not aware of ever having disobeyed any order from Head Quarters, and certainly never intended such a thing.”
This exchange of communications between Halleck and Grant continued, with Halleck criticizing Grant while Grant forthrightly justified himself. As letters and telegrams moved back and forth, Grant told Halleck three times that if Halleck thought he was not doing his job properly, he should be allowed to resign his command. Grant was learning a bit about military politics himself: at one point he or his staff telegraphed a copy of one of Halleck’s complaints, and Grant’s answer, to Congressman Washburne in Washington. Washburne promptly went over to the White House and placed the matter before President Lincoln. This resulted in a message from Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas to Halleck, informing him that the president was taking a personal interest in these allegations and requesting Halleck to spell out any charges of malfeasance and insubordination he had to make against Grant.
As this was going on, Sherman received the order to take his division up the Tennessee River as part of the expedition, led by General Smith, that Grant was being held back from commanding. On March 12 he wrote Ellen from Savannah, Tennessee, nine miles short of Pittsburg Landing on the opposite side of the Tennessee River.
Here we are up the Tennessee, near the Line [the South’s railroad corridor from Memphis to Chattanooga] with about 50 boat loads of soldiers. I have the fifth Division composed mostly of Ohio Soldiers about 9000—but they are raw & Green … The object of the expedition is to cut the Line … along which are distributed the Enemy’s forces.
Let what occur that may[,] you may rest assured that the devotion & affection you have exhibited in the past winter has endeared you more than ever, and that if it should so happen that I can regain my position and Self respect and should Peace ever be restored I will labor hard for you and for our children.
I am still of the opinion that although the blow at Fort Donelson was a terrible one to the Confederates they are still far from being defeated, and being in their own country they have great advantage … Today we shall move further up the river.
Despite the energetic and determined efforts made by Sherman and his men to cut the railway line east of Corinth, they were literally drowned out by rains that raised the Tennessee River fifteen feet in a single day. Sherman fell back down the river to Pittsburg Landing and began to prepare a vast encampment for the Union divisions that were to arrive there by ship and by road. At the moment, both Grant and Sherman thought of the place purely in terms of being a staging area for a march south to attack Corinth.
In the dispute between Grant and Halleck, by the time Halleck received the request from Lorenzo Thomas that he enumerate any formal charges he had to make against Grant, the entire high command of the Union Army had changed. Lincoln had vacated the position of general in chief by assigning McClellan to take active field command of the Eastern army, the Army of the Potomac. Although Lincoln was frustrated by McClellan’s delay in mounting a major offensive into Virginia, and some in Washington were referring to McClellan as the Great American Tortoise, at this time there was no official censure of McClellan; “Little Mac” was simply being removed from overall command of the Union Army so that he could devote himself entirely to winning the war on the front south of Washington.
With this reorganization, Halleck was given what he wanted: command of all the forces in the Western theater, in a new entity called the Department of the Mississippi. Halleck was now equal to McClellan, with Buell as his subordinate; no Union officer stood higher than he. Rejoicing in his elevation and eager to dispose of what now seemed to him a minor matter involving Grant, Halleck took the position that the whole thing had been a misunderstanding. He had no intention of losing the services of his most successful subordinate and sent Grant a telegram assuring him that “instead of relieving you, I wish you, as soon as your new army is in the field, to assume the immediate command and lead it on to new victories.”
Grant headed upstream on March 16 to take active field command of what was named the Army of the Tennessee. A month had passed since Fort Donelson fell and the South had begun scrambling to repair its strategic position. Johnston would soon have forty thousand men at Corinth, with more trying to get there, and the Confederacy’s leaders were in close touch with him. From the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, Jefferson Davis wrote, “You have done wonderfully well, and now I can breathe easier.” An equally encouraging but more specific message came from Johnston’s old West Point classmate and friend Robert E. Lee, who knew that, in addition to the Union force under Sherman that was by this time ashore at Pittsburg Landing, and some other divisions coming up the river, Don Carlos Buell was slowly marching his army across country from Nashville to add to Grant’s command. Lee wrote Johnston: “No one has sympathized with you in the troubles with which you are surrounded more sincerely than myself. I have watched your every movement, and know the difficulties with which you have had to contend … I need not urge you, when your army is united, to deal a blow at the enemy in your front, if possible before his rear gets up from Nashville. You have him divided, keep him so if you can.”
When Grant took over the forces gathering at Pittsburg Landing, where Sherman had arrived with his division, he also became the superior officer of General Charles Smith, the hero of Fort Donelson, who had badly scraped his leg getting into a small boat; while still with the expedition he had led up the river, Smith was suffering from an infection that would cause his death five weeks later. Grant soon inspected the place where Sherman was continuing to prepare the encampment for the rapidly arriving Union divisions. Stretching inland from the wharf and seveny-foot-high bluff on the Tennessee River at Pittsburg Landing, the slightly rolling area combined dense woods and some open fields and orchards, with a number of streams running through it. Laid out like a huge triangle encompassing eighteen square miles, the river formed its eastern side, while the southern side had sentry posts facing in the direction of the enemy, twenty miles away at Corinth. The arriving regiments placed their tents along this line. The final leg of the triangle, nearly six miles long, led back from the inland corner of the encampment to the wharf and wooden warehouses at the landing.
Sherman’s headquarters and sleeping tent stood next to the seldom-used Shiloh Church, at the triangle’s inland corner, in the woods beyond a field serving as a parade ground. In a written report to Grant, who set up his headquarters nine miles downstream to the north at Savannah, Sherman described the camp as being located on a “magnificent plain for camping and drilling, and a military point of great strength.” Confederate cavalry patrols often came up from Corinth, approaching the camp through the woods, and there had been clashes with them.
Even though Halleck had given Grant the day-to-day command of these divisions, Halleck’s slow, cautious nature constantly affected this situation. From hundreds of miles away, he ordered Grant “not to advance” until Buell’s army joined him. Reverting to the philosophy of Jomini, who saw a campaign as being more of a chess game than an all-out attack, Halleck told Grant that “we must strike no blow till we arc strong enough to admit no doubt of defeat” and added that until that time, no one was to bring on “an engagement.” This stricture not only inhibited the Union responses to the increasingly frequent Confederate cavalry probes, but also created worries about what degree of response to any provocation might bring on “an engagement.”
Although Grant wanted to move against Johnston’s army at Corinth, he also wished to avoid another dispute with the ever-bureaucratic Halleck. (An example of Halleck’s overzealous attention to detail was a rebuke to Grant on March 24 for allegedly having as his departmental medical director a doctor who was not also an army officer. Halleck ordered Grant “to discharge him.”) Confident after his victories at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, Grant felt that in any case he held the initiative in the area. He was prepared to obey Halleck and wait for Buell’s large reinforcements before marching the twenty miles to attack Corinth, but he wrote General Smith that “I am clearly of the opinion that the enemy are gathering strength at Corinth quite as rapidly as we are here, and the sooner we attack, the easier will be the task of taking the place.” Still sure that it was he who would bring on the battle, Grant, who later said that he “had no expectation of needing fortifications” at Pittsburg Landing, built no earthworks.
Grant’s letters to Julia reflected both his confidence and his certainty that his army would soon be in a major battle. He told her, “When you will hear of another great and important strike I can[’]t tell you but it will be a big lick as far as numbers engaged is concerned. I have no misgivings myself as to the result and you must not feel the slightest alarm.” In a later letter to her written on March 29, he mentioned that he had been suffering from what he spelled “Diaoreah” (as had Sherman and many others), and added that he thought the impending battle “will be the last in the West. This is all the time supposing that we will be successful which I never doubt for a moment.” A few days later, referring to Halleck’s long-distance restraint upon him, he told Julia, “Soon I hope to be permitted to move from here and when I do there will probably be the greatest battle fought of the War. I do not feel that there is the slightest doubt about the result … Knowing however that a terrible sacrifice of life must take place I feel conserned [sic] for my army and their friends at home.”
While Grant felt in control of events, Sherman had a few moments of uncertainty. On one occasion, when he admitted to visiting war correspondents that the huge camp was vulnerable and they asked why he did not speak up about it, Sherman replied with a shrug, “Oh, they’d call me crazy again,” but most of the time he thought as Grant did. Writing Ellen of the frequent sightings of enemy patrols in the woods just south of the encampment, Sherman told her, “We are constantly in the presence of the enemy’s pickets, but I am satisfied that they will await our coming at Corinth.”
The Confederates at Corinth had no intention of letting Grant decide the time and place of attack. While Grant waited for Buell’s army to join him, Albert Sidney Johnston knew that his friend Robert E. Lee was right: he had to attack Grant before Buell reached Pittsburg Landing. At ten o’clock on the evening of Wednesday, April 2, 1862, Johnston’s second in command, P.G.T. Beauregard, received an intelligence report telling him that the first regiments of Buell’s column of twenty thousand or more men would reach Grant’s army within the next few days. Beauregard immediately sent an orderly to Johnston’s nearby headquarters, carrying this penciled message: “Now is the moment to advance and strike the enemy at Pittsburg Landing.” By midnight, commanders throughout the forty-four-thousand-man Confederate camp started receiving orders: the army had to set out at dawn, march twenty miles during the day, and make a surprise attack on Grant’s unfortified camp early on the following morning of Friday, April 4.
Johnston and his experienced Confederate generals liked the fact that forty thousand federal troops were packed into the triangle by the river at Pittsburg Landing. There were no defensive entrenchments; the hundreds of rows of tents placed just behind the picket line would hinder any swift effort to assemble and face the enemy, when the defenders finally saw thousands of Confederate infantrymen rush at them from the woods. After weeks of this strange situation—two opposing armies, twenty miles apart, spending most of their time carrying out the routine activities of camp life—Johnston’s men had the chance to overrun the camp and drive Grant’s army into the swamps away from Pittsburg Landing.
It was one thing to plan a swift march toward the enemy, and another to execute it. In what proved to be an unwise decision, Johnston decided to lead the march, while Beauregard would for the time being remain at the rear, directing the complicated sequence in which he wanted the different divisions to leave Corinth and move up to Pittsburg Landing. Beauregard told his corps commanders to start the march while his adjutant colonel, Thomas Jordan, began preparing written orders for the movement, but Confederate general William J. Hardee refused to start off before he had his orders in writing. Because Hardee’s corps was the first major column in Beauregard’s planned line of march, no large force left camp until past noon that day, April 3, and Beauregard postponed the attack from the morning of April 4 until sunrise on Saturday, April 5. On Friday night, a heavy cold rain began to fall on Johnston’s army as his men tried to hurry forward to be ready for the dawn attack. The same kind of downpour that had raised the Tennessee River fifteen feet in a day now turned roads into bogs in which the Confederate artillery pieces and supply wagons sank to their axles. It became clear that no surprise attack could be made the next morning.
This same rain was also falling that night farther to the north, severely slowing Buell’s effort to reach and support Grant. As for Grant, there had been so many minor skirmishes during the past two days that he did not go down the river by boat to spend the night at his headquarters at Savannah “until an hour when I felt there would be no further danger before the morning.” Riding through the dark to learn more about a clash with some Confederate cavalry that had been reported to him in a quickly written report from Sherman, Grant had trouble.
The night was one of impenetrable darkness, with rain pouring down in torrents; nothing was visible to the eye except as revealed by the frequent flashes of lightning. Under these circumstances I had to trust the horse, without guidance, to keep the road … On the way back to the boat my horse’s feet slipped from under him, and he fell with my leg under his body. The extreme softness of the ground, from the excessive rains … no doubt saved me from a severe injury and protracted lameness. As it was, my ankle was very much injured, so much so that my boot had to be cut off. For two or three days thereafter I was unable to walk except with crutches.
The next day, Saturday, April 5, able to be lifted onto a horse and with a crutch strapped to his saddle, Grant sent one of his now-frequent reports to Halleck. Not mentioning his injury, he told Halleck that the first division of Buell’s column had arrived in the area of his headquarters downriver from Pittsburg Landing at Savannah, with the additional divisions expected “to-morrow and the next day.” He continued, “I have scarsely [sic] the faintest idea of an attack (general one,) being made upon us but will be prepared should such a thing take place.” He enclosed a two-part report made to him by Sherman, giving the details of the previous day’s skirmish, with Sherman’s additional comment that “the enemy is saucy, but got the worst of it yesterday, and will not press our pickets far—I will not be drawn out far unless with certainty of advantage, and I do not apprehend anything like an attack upon our position.” Once again, Grant and Sherman were telling themselves, and each other, what they wanted to believe.
As these reports from Grant and Sherman went off to Halleck, General Albert Sidney Johnston was riding around among his advancing columns, trying to untangle another snarl in the forward movement of his army. Looking with disbelief at the confusion, he exclaimed, “This is puerile! This is not war!” Nonetheless, with the sun out and the day wearing on, thousands of Confederate soldiers neared the unsuspecting Union camp. The colonel of the Seventieth Ohio was conducting a review of his regiment, complete with its band playing: from a higher place in the woods beyond the camp, dozens of gray-clad Confederates stood quietly watching the parade. The afternoon sun caught the glint of the brass barrels of several Confederate cannon that had been brought forward through the trees and underbrush, but the Union sentries did not understand what they saw.
Even clearer warnings came: a Confederate patrol chased some federal troops from a house just a mile from Sherman’s headquarters next to Shiloh Church, near the end of the encampment farthest from the river. Alarmed when his sentries reported unidentified men moving in the woods, Colonel Jesse J. Appler of the inexperienced Fifty-third Ohio sent a detachment to see what was out there. When he heard shots and his men came running back to report they had come under fire from “a line of men in butternut clothes,” Appler had his musicians beat their drums to turn out his regiment under arms and ordered his quartermaster to report the situation to Sherman at his nearby headquarters. Sherman considered Colonel Appler to be a nervous, frightened old man. Within a few minutes, Appler’s quartermaster reappeared with this message: “General Sherman says, ‘Take your damned regiment back to Ohio. There is no enemy nearer than Corinth.’” Overhearing this, Appler’s young soldiers laughed, broke ranks without being dismissed, and went back to looking for wild onions and turkey peas to add to their kettles for supper.
By dusk, the Confederates were moving into place within two miles of the Union encampment, where thousands of little fires and oil lanterns were lit. It was too late for an attack that day, and as it became dark Johnston held a council of war with his generals, gathering them around a campfire. They made quite a group. Among the men talking in the firelight and shadows with Johnston and Beauregard were Leonidas K. Polk, a graduate of West Point who had left the army and become a bishop of the Episcopal church, taking a Confederate commission when the Southern states seceded; John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, an academy graduate who had served as vice president of the United States under President Buchanan; Braxton Bragg, another West Pointer, brevetted for bravery in Mexico, who had brought ten thousand soldiers up from along the Gulf Coast and now commanded 13,600 men; and William Hardee, a West Pointer who had later returned to the academy as commandant of cadets. One of Johnston’s volunteer aides was Governor Isham Harris of Tennessee, who fled the state capital of Nashville before the Union Army marched in.
Of the twenty-six officers in Johnston’s army who commanded divisions or brigades, ten were graduates of West Point, and eleven had fought in Mexico, several with distinction. They brought a wealth of military experience to the Southern side and had the cavalry leader Nathan Bedford Forrest providing them with a stream of accurate and timely reports from his scouts. A few miles from them were some interesting and able Union officers—including an untried brigadier from Ohio named James A. Garfield—but the leadership of the Union force lacked the experience possessed by the Confederate side. A year before this, Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, captains who had resigned from the service and floundered in civilian life, had not yet returned to the army.
As Johnston’s council of war got under way, Beauregard started to speak. Until recently he had hoped to mount a major offensive that would regain much that the South had lost in recent months, but now he began a litany of worries. The enemy had to know they were there: all afternoon, many untested soldiers, wondering if their powder was still dry after the heavy rain, had been firing their muskets. Along the line of march, there had been bugle calls and signals made by beating drums. Young troops had been shouting back and forth to each other; when a deer sprang from the woods beside the road, hundreds of youths cried out at the sight. The Union forces were not deaf, Beauregard argued: “Now they will be entrenched to the eyes!”
He had more to say. Because the march from Corinth had taken two days instead of one (due in good part to his unnecessarily complicated planning), the troops had used up their rations and would sleep hungry tonight and have to go into battle in the morning with empty stomachs. The men were also nervously exhausted by their long sleepless struggle through last night’s rain and mud. The army was in no fit condition to make a do-or-die attack. To Johnston’s amazement, the fiery Creole recommended that they all march back to Corinth and wait for a better opportunity.
Johnston listened patiently until Beauregard finished, and then, as Leonidas Polk wrote about the dramatic moment in the firelight, “remarked that this would never do.” He replied to Beauregard that if the enemy knew they were there in great force, they would be under fire right then. Yes, the men were hungry, but the nearest food was in the Union camp, and the way to get it was to overrun the place in the morning. The meeting was over: “Gentlemen,” Johnston told his generals, “we will attack at daylight tomorrow.” As the leaders dispersed in the shadows to return to their commands, Johnston turned to an aide and said, “I would fight them if they were a million.” He later added, “I mean to hammer ’em!”
That night, trying to sleep, Beauregard heard a drum beating nearby. Furious at this noise that was both keeping him awake and warning the Northern troops that something was up, he sent an aide to have it stopped. Within minutes the man returned to tell him that the drum was in the enemy camp. That was how close they were.
At three in the morning of Sunday, April 6, Grant was in bed at his headquarters in the house of a Union sympathizer downstream at Savannah, while Sherman slept in his headquarters tent next to the little log Shiloh meetinghouse. At that hour, Colonel Everett Peabody, a heayset thirty-one-year-old Harvard graduate from a distinguished Massachusetts family, became worried about reports of Confederate activity in the woods in front of his brigade. He started assembling a force of three hundred men from one of his regiments, the Twenty-fifth Missouri. When they were ready, Peabody gave the major commanding them orders to take his troops forward and make a reconnaissance in force. Moving cautiously, at dawn the Missourians came to the edge of a clearing half a mile beyond the Union encampment and ran straight into a battalion of Confederates from Mississippi who were quietly coming the other way. As the two sides started firing at each other, thousands more Confederate soldiers began appearing out of the woods all along the six-mile-long edge of the Union camp that ran from the river to the vicinity of Shiloh Church. Jarred from sleep by the sounds of gunfire and the Union regimental drums beating the “long roll” signaling an attack, federal soldiers dashed out of their tents, grabbing their weapons and strapping on their equipment.
Just before all this started, at a meeting of the Confederate leaders in the woods, Beauregard had been telling Johnston once again that they should cancel the attack and take their army back to Corinth. As Johnston heard the crescendo of firing, he said to the officers around him, “The battle has opened, gentlemen; it is too late to change our dispositions now.” At the edge of the Union camp, Colonel Appler of the Fifty-third Ohio, the target of Sherman’s rebuke for being too apprehensive the previous day, saw a man of the Twenty-fifth Missouri come back from the direction of the firing with blood streaming from a wound on his arm; the man shouted, “Get into line—the Rebels are coming!” Sending word to Sherman, Appler turned out his men, only to receive a quick, caustic reply from Sherman, who was already up at his nearby headquarters but skeptical that this rattle of musketry was a major matter: the messenger said Sherman told him to say, “You must be badly scared over there.” Appler, now seeing hundreds of men in gray coming straight at his right flank, shouted, “This is no place for us!” and led a retreat through his regiment’s tents at the dead run, stopping on a ridge, where his men flung themselves down in the brush, pointing their muskets toward the advancing enemy.
At this point Sherman arrived, riding what he described as “a beautiful sorrel race mare that was fleet as a deer,” and accompanied by his orderly, Private Thomas D. Holliday of the Second Illinois Cavalry, who always had a carbine ready to protect his general. As Sherman raised his field glasses to study the terrain in front of him, Confederate infantrymen sprang out of the bushes fifty yards to one side, their weapons at their shoulders. A Union lieutenant sprinted toward Sherman, yelling, “General, look to your right!” Sherman’s head spun in that direction; as he shouted and threw up his right hand as if to ward off a bullet, a musket ball that he felt sure was meant for him killed his handsome young orderly, while some buckshot slashed open the third finger of Sherman’s right hand. “Appler,” he shouted to the colonel, “hold your position! I will support you!” Sherman wrapped a handkerchief around his bleeding hand and spurred off to organize the defense of the right end of the Union line. Looking in the direction of more firing, Sherman said that “I saw the rebel lines of battle in front coming down on us as far as the eye could reach.” In the meantime, the first wave of Confederates had swept through Sherman’s headquarters; his tent and the Shiloh meetinghouse were in enemy hands. In the gunfire, his two spare horses, tethered under a tree near his tent, were killed.
Some Union regiments fell back and formed lines to face the advancing enemy, while others, including Appler and most of his men, simply ran away toward the river. Johnston, who had told Beauregard to send men and supplies up from the rear while he directed the battle at the front, rode forward through the trees on his horse Fire-eater, thousands of his Confederate foot soldiers pressing through the woods to either side of him. As the sun rose and burnt through the morning mist, Johnston, convinced that his army would drive all the defenders right through their camp and sweep them into the swamps, said confidently, “Tonight we will water our horses in the Tennessee River.”
Shortly before this—the hour is not recorded—Ulysses S. Grant was eating what he described as “a very early breakfast” at his headquarters nine miles down the river. He was hoping that Buell would arrive at the end of his long march so that he could confer with him, but now, as Grant put it, “heavy firing was heard in the direction of Pittsburg Landing.” Getting up from the breakfast table, he hobbled out to the porch on his crutches, listened for a moment, and then said to his staff, “Gentlemen, the ball is in motion. Let us be off.”
By the time Grant arrived at Pittsburg Landing aboard his headquarters paddle-wheeler Tigress, many hundreds of Union soldiers who had fled the battle were milling about aimlessly under the shelter of the steep bluffs along the shore. Riding to the hastily organized front, he came to the division in the center of the line, commanded by Brigadier General Benjamin M. Prentiss, with whom he had had the severest of disputes about seniority in rank the past autumn. Prentiss’s men were falling back through their camps in the face of a Confederate bayonet charge. One of Prentiss’s commanders, Colonel Everett Peabody, whom Prentiss had earlier accused of “bringing on this engagement” by sending forward three hundred men, was riding through the area of his regiment’s tents, trying to rally his troops. Wounded four times as he kept trying to form them up to make a stand, a fifth musket ball hit him in the head, and he fell dead from his horse. Prentiss’s regiments kept falling back, some of them turning to fire as they retreated, while others threw down their arms and ran to the river.
On the right end of the Union line, Sherman’s men, nearly all of them in their first battle, were slowly falling back, but they kept their lines as they fired at the advancing enemy. Sherman, whose beautiful “race mare” had been wounded and then killed, was now using a horse he had taken over from one of his aides and was riding back and forth along his line, ignoring the danger as he calmly encouraged his men. He had dismounted and was standing, the handkerchief around his hand dark from drying blood, studying the situation and quietly giving orders, when one of Grant’s aides came up to him and said that Grant was in the middle behind Prentiss’s division and wanted to know how things were on this right end of the line. As enemy bullets and cannonballs flew past them, Sherman kept looking forward to where his men had started to hold fast, and said, “Tell Grant if he has any men to spare I can use them; if not, I will do the best I can. We are holding them pretty well just now—pretty well—but it’s hot as hell.”
In the center where Grant was, the hungry condition of the Confederate troops was giving the Union forces their first good development of the day. Many of the Southerners had not eaten for twenty-four hours or more; coming upon the deserted tent lines of Prentiss’s division, they stopped to eat the food they found there and to loot the tents. By the time they resumed their forward movement, Prentiss had managed to round up a thousand of his soldiers and place them along a slightly sunken old wagon road running along a ridge a mile behind their abandoned camp. This indentation, hardly a trench, quickly became the defensive link between Sherman’s sector on the right, and large federal units that were beginning to settle down to the left, in the area extending to the river.
Coming along the shaky defensive line from left to right, Grant reached Sherman’s sector at ten in the morning, at a time when Sherman said that he and his men were “desperately engaged.” Grant found that many of Sherman’s soldiers had run off, but that the rest of them, despite being shot at for the first time, were holding where they were. Some had even begun to fight their way back toward the tents from which they had fled.
Here was Grant and Sherman’s first meeting on a battlefield. Conferring under fire, Sherman told Grant that he needed more ammunition. Grant replied that wagonloads of it were on the way and expressed his admiration for the stand Sherman’s division was making. As Sherman put it, “This gave him great satisfaction, and he told me that things did not look as well over on the left.”
As Grant rode off, one of his aides remarked that things on Sherman’s front looked “pretty squally.” Grant answered, “Well, not so bad.” Now he had seen Sherman in the midst of a battle, calmly handling everything as well as it could be done, and he liked what he saw. Speaking of the area near Shiloh Church, Grant later said that “this point was the key to our position and was held by Sherman. His division was wholly raw, no part of it ever having been in an engagement; but I thought this deficiency was more than made up by the superiority of the commander.” He added, of this day:
During the whole of Sunday I was continuously engaged in passing from one part of the field to another, giving directions to division commanders. In thus moving along the line, however, I never deemed it important to stay long with Sherman. Although his troops were then under fire for the first time, their commander, by his constant presence with them, inspired a confidence in officers and men that enabled them to render services on that bloody battle-field worthy of the best of veterans.
As Grant indicated, he was not the only one who admired what Sherman did as the day went on. Men who had heard of this “crazy” general, frightened in Kentucky by the ghosts of nonexistent advancing columns, formed an impression that one man summed up this way: “All around him were excited orderlies and officers, but though his face was besmeared with powder and blood, battle seemed to have cooled his usually hot nerves.” However, as he kept moving from place to place, exposing himself to fire as he received reports and gave orders, stopping at artillery batteries to coordinate their fire with that of other Union guns, Sherman did have “trouble keeping his cigar lit and he used up all of his matches and most of the men’s.” Smoking or not, he seemed to have a sense what was coming next, how to get ready for it, and when to use what was needed. When his right wing started falling back, Sherman grinned and said, “I was looking for that,” and told an artillery officer to have his battery fire a prepared cannonade that stopped the Confederate charge in its tracks. The enemy responded to this repulse by sending a cavalry force thundering toward the Union guns in an effort to overrun and capture them, but the horsemen were suddenly blasted and thrown back by volleys from two infantry companies that Sherman had held in reserve for just such a contingency.
As the bloodiest battle fought thus far in the war roared on, Beauregard had come up to Shiloh Church and was using Sherman’s tent as part of his headquarters. The Confederate attacks on the Union center encountered withering blasts from Prentiss’s defenders along the old wagon road, who were able to lie with just their heads and arms and muskets above the edge of the indentation in the ground and fire from the prone position at the men running toward them. One Confederate, part of a force that came within ten yards of a brush-covered part of this makeshift trench before a desperate federal volley sent it reeling back, staggered up to a comrade and said, “It’s a hornet’s nest in there.” As the Confederates started referring to that area of the Union line as “the Hornet’s Nest” while the battle raged into the afternoon, both Johnston and Beauregard began calling for reserves to exploit advances at points along the front. They found they had none: all of the forty-four thousand men who had marched up from Corinth were already committed to the fighting along the six-mile line.
At a point near the old road stood a ten-acre peach orchard, in full bloom with pink petals on this April afternoon. The Union troops were defending a line along its front, and Johnston ordered one of Breckinridge’s brigades to charge and break the line. The Confederates refused to make the attack. When Breckinridge, almost incoherent in his frustration, had to report this to Johnston, the fifty-eight-year-old commander said quietly, “Then I will help you. We can get them to make the charge.”
Accompanied by his aide, Governor Isham Harris of Tennessee, Johnston began riding his horse Fire-eater slowly along the line of gray-clad infantrymen who were facing the peach orchard, in formation to attack, bayonets fixed on their muskets, but out of firing distance and unwilling to go forward. Reaching over from Fire-eater as he passed, he looked into his soldiers’ eyes and touched their bayonets with a small tin cup that had been captured earlier in the day, saying with each click, “They will do the work.” As he moved past man after man, Harris said, “The line was already thrilling and trembling.” Coming to the middle of the line, Johnston, a commanding general whose traditional position would have been hundreds of yards to the rear, turned, drew his sword, and shouted, “I will lead you!” Screaming the high-pitched “yip-yip-yip!” of the Rebel Yell, the entire brigade dashed forward, with scores of men running right beside Johnston. Within minutes, they cleared the Union defenders out of the peach orchard.
When Governor Harris came riding up to Johnston after the successful attack, the general beamed at him and said, “Governor, they came near to putting me hors de combat in that charge.” He raised his boot to show that its sole was flapping loose, cut from the rest of it by a musket ball. Johnston’s gray uniform had been slashed by other shots, but he seemed unharmed and exultant. He gave Harris a message to take to another officer; when Harris came back, he found Johnston groggy and about to fall out of his saddle. What Harris did not know was that, in a duel fought in Texas twenty-five years before, a pistol ball cut the sciatic nerve in Johnston’s right leg in a way that left it numb. During the attack just minutes past, a musket ball had severed an artery in that leg, but as he bled profusely, Johnston felt nothing, and in the excitement and confusion of the moment, no one else saw what was happening. By the time Harris and others helped him to the ground, he was in critical condition. Even then the quick application of a tourniquet might have saved him—Johnston carried one in a pocket—but he had sent the nearest surgeon to help wounded men nearby, and none of his staff knew what to do. Within minutes, Albert Sidney Johnston died.
As soon as that news came to Beauregard, he ordered that Johnston’s body be hidden and that no word of this loss should reach the men. Trying to weather the storm, Confederate brigadier Daniel Ruggles, a veteran twice brevetted for gallantry in the Mexican War, decided that piecemeal attacks by foot soldiers alone could not take the Hornet’s Nest.
Moving to support Ruggles and the other Confederate infantry brigades in that area of the battle, Beauregard organized a counterattack. After an hour, fifty-three cannon, the largest concentration of guns to be put in line in any American battle fought to that day, had been brought up to face the center of the old road. When the massive Confederate attack struck in the late afternoon, the Northern line broke on both sides of the Hornet’s Nest, and its defenders were surrounded. Some individual Union soldiers escaped the noose, and two Iowa regiments cut their way through to withdraw toward the river, but by six o’clock, after a long and gallant stand, Benjamin Prentiss and twenty-two hundred of his men had surrendered.
During these bloody hours, Grant had formed a new defensive line running in from the river at Pittsburg Landing, far behind the lines his army occupied at dawn. Now it was Grant’s turn to assemble artillery, and he had fifty guns in place. All afternoon, units had been falling back, some in orderly fashion and some simply collapsing and making for the riverbank, where thousands of Union soldiers—some said five thousand or more—sat shocked and beaten. Grant had been everywhere all day, often placing small units personally during the confusion in the morning and trying to orchestrate the withdrawal to this last-ditch position in the afternoon. At one time, drawn up with his staff on horseback in an open space under fire, he became so intent on studying the battlefield that one of his staff told him that if they did not move from there, “We shall all be dead in five minutes.” Grant came out of his trance, said “I guess that’s so,” and led them to a safer place. By late afternoon, every unit that Grant could rally, including those under Sherman that had finally fallen back from the right flank, was in place along this last defensive line. His artillery threw back one Confederate assault, and he was bracing his weakened army for a final Confederate attack that might drive them over the bluff and into the river.
It did not come. First, there was a delay while large numbers of Beauregard’s men rounded up the twenty-two hundred prisoners from the Hornet’s Nest and moved them some distance down the road to Corinth. But it was more than that: the Confederates were done for the day. The news of Johnston’s death had reached many of them and, like the Union soldiers facing them, they had experienced hours of what one Confederate described thus: “It was an awful thing to hear no intermission in firing and hear the clatter of small arms and the whizing minny [minié musket] balls and rifle shot and the sing of grape shot the hum of cannon balls and the roar of the bomb shell and explosion of the same seaming to be a thousand every minute … O God forever keep me out of such a fight.”
The ground at the front was strewn with corpses of men and horses, and from hundreds of thickets the wounded of both sides cried for help. The battle was not over; something had to happen tomorrow, but as the dusk of the spring evening closed on the square miles of battlefield and the Union and Confederate artillery continued to fire into each other’s lines, no one had the strength to fight on foot.
Grant and Sherman had survived this Sunday by near miracles. After Sherman’s fine “race mare” was shot from under him in the morning and he took his aide’s horse, that mount too was killed as he rode it under fire from one position to another, and the horse he then borrowed from a surgeon was also killed later in the day. At one moment a spent bullet cut through the cloth of Sherman’s uniform and bruised his shoulder without breaking the skin.
At twilight, Grant and Sherman nearly died within a minute of each other. Grant stood beside the road that led down to the wharf at Pittsburg Landing, watching with relief as some of Buell’s reinforcements, ferried from across the river, landed and started marching up to the top of the bluff. An incoming cannonball tore the head off a captain who was standing beside him, cut off the top of a saddle on a horse just behind him, and went on to take off both legs of a soldier marching up from the river. As Sherman swung up into the saddle of the fourth horse he had used that day, with a major holding the horse’s reins to make it easier for Sherman to mount because of his wounded hand, the horse pranced, and the reins became tangled around Sherman’s neck. As Sherman bowed low above the horse’s mane so that the major could lift the reins above his head to straighten them out, a cannonball cut through the reins two inches below the major’s hands and slashed off the crown and back rim of Sherman’s hat.
The first men coming up the bluff to reinforce Grant’s army, marching with bayonets fixed on their muskets, were from a Kentucky brigade, troops who had been contemptuous of Sherman when he commanded them so timorously at Louisville. Now, as they reached the top of the bluff, they saw him sitting calmly on a horse in the evening light, a bloody bandage covering one hand, powder stains and crusted blood on his face, and his hat blown to rags. Putting their hats on their bayonets, they raised their muskets toward the sky and cheered him as they passed.
That night, Beauregard slept in Sherman’s tent, while the battlefield echoed with the sound of United States Navy gunboats periodically firing at the enemy. At ten o’clock it started to rain in the torrential way it had when the Confederates were on the march from Corinth. Until late, Grant rode around his camp, watching as thousands of reinforcements marched in and talking with his commanders as he came to them. Perhaps remembering the moment at Fort Donelson when he sensed that whoever attacked next would win the battle, he said to one of his brigadiers, “Whichever side takes the initiative in the morning will make the other retire, and Beauregard will be mighty smart if he attacks before I do.”
As the battlefield turned to mud—Grant said that, with their tents in enemy hands, “our troops were exposed to the storm without shelter”—agonized moans came from both the wounded who lay lost in the dark and the men being treated by overworked surgeons and medical orderlies. Grant described part of his experience during that night of suffering.
I made my headquarters under a tree a few hundred yards back from the riverbank. My ankle was so much swollen from the fall of my horse the Friday night preceding, and the bruise was so painful that I could get no rest. The drenching rain would have precluded the possibility of sleep without this additional cause.
Some time after midnight, growing restive under the storm and the continuous pain, I moved back to the log-house under the bank. This had been taken as a hospital, and all night wounded men were being brought in, their wounds dressed, a leg or an arm amputated as the case might require, and everything was being done to save life or alleviate suffering. The sight was more unendurable than encountering the enemy’s fire, and I returned to my tree in the rain.
Sherman found him there, standing under that tree in the rainy night, supporting himself on a crutch. Grant had a lantern in one hand; his coat collar was up; rain dripped from the brim of his hat. He had a cigar clenched in his teeth. At this point Sherman, like Grant, knew that the incomplete casualty lists were already enormous: of the forty thousand Union soldiers who had started the day, ten thousand would be listed as killed, wounded, or missing, more than two thousand of the latter as prisoners. Thousands who had run from the battle still sat demoralized beside the river, huddled together in the rain, useless as soldiers.
During this bloody and terrible day, Grant had learned a lot about Sherman; now Sherman was about to encounter the essence of Grant. Sherman had reached the conclusion that the relentlessly courageous Confederate attacks had so shocked and battered the Union divisions that, even with the arrival of reinforcements, it would be best “to put the river between us and the enemy, and recuperate.” He had sought out Grant to discuss how they could make such a withdrawal, from this bank of the river to the other side. Now, looking at Grant’s strong, thoughtful face in the rain and lantern light, he was “moved by some wise and sudden instinct” not to mention retreat. Instead he said, “Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day of it, haven’t we?”
Grant said, “Yes,” and remained silent for a minute as they stood together in the falling rain, Grant on one crutch and in pain from his injured ankle, and Sherman in pain from his wounded hand. Then Grant added, “Lick ’em tomorrow, though.”
Dawn brought something close to the reverse image of the previous day. Beauregard, who the night before had sent Jefferson Davis a wire that included the triumphant words “A COMPLETE VICTORY,” said of his frame of mind, “I thought I had General Grant just where I wanted him and could finish him up in the morning.” He might have been less confident if he had received a report from Nathan Bedford Forrest, who dressed several of his cavalrymen in federal uniforms—had they been captured, they would have been executed as spies—and sent them to penetrate Grant’s lines. They returned with reports of thousands of troops disembarking at Pittsburg Landing throughout the night, but when Forrest passed this on to Hardee, that general thought that the scouts had seen Grant evacuating his army. Beauregard never received any intelligence that Grant was being reinforced.
Grant intended to strike first, and hard. By three a.m. he had given orders to his commanders to push forward “heavy lines of skirmishers” at first light and keep moving until they encountered the enemy. Entire Union divisions were to march right behind the skirmishers, “to engage the enemy as soon as found.” As usual, Grant left his commanders with great flexibility as to how to implement his plan: when Brigadier General Lew Wallace, commander of a newly arrived division of reinforcements (and the man who later wrote Ben-Hur) asked him where to start placing his troops for the dawn attack, Grant pointed toward Sherman’s end of the line and said, “Move out that way.” In answer to Wallace’s question as to what formation he should adopt, Grant responded, “I leave that to your discretion.” Wallace said of Grant’s manner, “If he had studied to be undramatic, he could not have succeeded better.”
The battle resumed at first light. A soldier of the Thirty-eighth Tennessee said, “At daybreak our pickets came rushing in under a murderous fire. The first thing we knew we were almost surrounded by six or seven regiments of Yankees.” This time it was the Confederates who could not hold. Union brigadier Jacob Ammen, an old West Pointer who had been Grant’s mathematics instructor at the academy, recorded that “the rebels fall back slowly, stubbornly, but they are losing ground.” At places the Southerners counterattacked, but this morning Grant, with twenty thousand new if untried reinforcements, had the momentum and the same number of men as the day before, while Beauregard had only half his previous day’s strength and no replacements on the way.
Once again, Grant, like Sherman, was in places of danger, and sometimes encountered trouble in places he did not consider hazardous. After a morning during which the outnumbered Confederates kept withdrawing but never broke, Grant and two members of his staff, Colonel James B. McPherson and a Major Hawkins, were, as Grant recalled, riding
along the northern edge of a clearing, very leisurely, toward the river above [upstream from] the landing. There did not appear to be an enemy to our right, until suddenly a battery with musketry opened upon us from the edge of the woods on the other side of the clearing. The shells and balls whistled about our ears very fast for about a minute. I do not think it took longer than that for us to get out of range and out of sight. In the sudden start we made, Major Hawkins lost his hat. He did not stop to pick it up.
When we arrived at a perfectly safe position we halted to take account of damages. McPherson’s horse was panting as if ready to drop. On examination it was found that a ball had struck him forward of the flank just back of the saddle, and gone entirely through. In a few minutes the poor beast dropped dead; he had given no sign of injury until we came to a stop. A ball had struck the metal scabbard of my sword, just below the hilt, and broken it nearly off; before the battle was over it had broken off entirely. There were three of us: One had lost a horse, killed; one a hat and one a sword-scabbard. All were thankful that it was no worse.
It was two-thirty. Both sides had been fighting since dawn. The Confederates were still in the battle—one of Hardee’s brigades, after a failed counterattack, had lost 1,000 killed and wounded, out of 2,750 who had started fighting the previous morning—but, as one of Beauregard’s staff said, “The fire and animation had left our troops.” Another of Beauregard’s staff went to him and put the matter gently. “General,” he said, “do you not think our troops are very much in the condition of lump sugar, thoroughly soaked with water, but yet preserving its original shape, though ready to dissolve? Would it not be judicious to get away with what we have?”
Beauregard, who was in all probability not thinking of his suffering army as a lump of sugar, replied, “I intend to withdraw in a few minutes.” Some two thousand soldiers and twelve cannon were placed near Shiloh Church to cover the withdrawal, and within an hour the remnants of the late Albert Sidney Johnston’s army began an orderly retreat back down the road to Corinth.
Here was the moment for Grant’s divisions to strike them from the rear and vanquish them all, but the Union soldiers had nothing left. Men lay on the muddy ground, panting and vomiting from exhaustion; some fell asleep right where they were after these two days of battle; others who had been sick gave way to their illnesses. Grant said that he “wanted to pursue, but had not the heart to order the men who had fought desperately for two days, lying in the mud and rains whenever not fighting,” and concluded that “my force was too much fatigued to pursue. Night closed in cloudy and with terrible rain, making the roads impracticable for artillery by the next morning.”
This was not going to be as clear-cut a scene of victory as at Fort Donelson, with thousands of Confederate soldiers marching out of their earthworks to surrender. In fact, it was going to be far worse than that for the Southern soldiers. Within a mile or two down the Corinth road, men began staggering to the side of the road and falling, unable to go on. The retreating column was seven miles long, and a man with them described it.
Here was a long line of wagons, loaded with wounded, piled in like bags of grain, groaning and cursing, while the mules plunged on in mud and water belly-deep, the water sometimes coming into the wagons. A cold, drizzling rain commenced about midnight and soon came harder and faster, then turned to pitiless blinding hail. This storm raged with unrelenting violence for three hours. I passed wagon trains filled with wounded and dying soldiers without even a blanket to shield them from the driving sleet and hail, which fell as large as partridge eggs, until it lay on the ground two inches deep.
The next morning, Sherman rode forward down the Corinth Road with four infantry brigades and some cavalry, not to resume the battle but to make sure that all the Confederates were in fact leaving the area. In some confusing terrain, he found himself and his staff separated from the screen of federal infantrymen who were supposed to be moving ahead of them. His sudden vulnerability was noticed by Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was guarding the rear of the Confederate column with 350 of his intrepid mounted troopers. Forrest shouted “Charge!” and came right for Sherman and the officers around him.
“I and my staff ingloriously fled pell mell through the mud,” Sherman recalled. “I am sure that if Forrest had not emptied his pistols as he passed through the skirmish line, my career would have ended right there.” Forrest’s career also nearly ended: intent on trying to kill or capture what he rightly thought was a general and his staff, he spurred his horse through the underbrush straight into a line of federal foot soldiers he had not seen and was hit by a bullet that stopped in his back. With his unfailing presence of mind, Forrest grabbed a Union soldier up off the ground from where he stood, somehow placed the man behind him on his horse so that the soldier’s comrades would not shoot at this human shield, and galloped away—the last man to shed blood at Shiloh.
When Sherman rode back into his original encampment around Shiloh Church at the head of the force he had taken down the Corinth Road, soldiers came from all directions to hail him. As the cheers went “rolling down the line,” a man who was there said that “he rode slowly, his grizzled face beaming with animation, his tall form swaying from side to side, his arms waving.” Halting on his horse in the middle of a crowd, his raspy voice rang out: “Boys, you have won a great victory. The enemy has retreated to Corinth.”
For Grant and Sherman, there was the matter of telling their wives. Within hours of Sherman’s triumphant return to camp, Grant wrote home.
Again another terrible battle has occurred in which our arms have been victorious. For the numbers engaged and the tenacity with which both parties held on for two days, it has no equal on this continent. The best troops of their rebels were engaged … and their ablest generals … The loss on both sides was heavy probably not less than 20,000 killed and wounded altogether.
I got through all safe having but one shot which struck my sword but did not touch me.
I am detaining a steamer to carry this and must cut it short.
Give my love to all at home. Kiss the children for me. The same for yourself.
Good night dear Julia.
Three days later, Sherman told his wife of Shiloh in a long letter, the end of which is missing, which he began almost in the tone of an excited schoolboy.
Well we have had a big battle where they shot real bullets and I am safe, except a buckshot wound in the hand and a bruised shoulder from a spent ball … Beauregard, Bragg[,] Johnston, Breckinridge and all their Big men were here, with their best soldiers and after the Battle was over I found among the prisoners an old Louisiana Cadet named Barrow who sent for me and told me all about the others, many of whom were here and Knew they were fighting me. I gave him a pair of socks, drawers and Shirt and treated him very kindly. I won[’]t attempt to give an account of the Battle, but they Say that I accomplished some important results, and Gen. Grant makes special mention of me in his report which he shew [sic] me …
The scenes on this field would have cured anybody of war. Mangled bodies, dead, dying, in every conceivable shape, without heads, legs; and horses! All I can say this was a Battle … I know you will read all accounts—cut out paragraphs with my name for Willy’s future Study—all Slurs you will hide away, and gradually convince yourself that I am a soldier as famous as Gen. [Nathanael, of the Revolution] Greene …
You ask for money—I have none, and am now without horse saddle bridle, bed, or anything—The Rebels, Breckinridge had my Camp and cleaned me out.
At about this time, Sherman began his appraisal of the performance during the battle of his officers and men, and brought court-martial charges against four of the twelve commanders of his infantry regiments. Addressing the assembled officers and men of the Fifty-third Ohio, most of whom had fled with their commander, Colonel Appler, to the riverbank early in the battle, with some trying to get themselves evacuated with the wounded being taken downstream by boat, Sherman gave them a verbal whipping that lasted for an hour. An Indiana soldier, a bystander who heard it all, said Sherman told them that “they were a disgrace to the nation and finally wound up by promising them that at the next battle they would be put in the foremost rank with a battery of Artillery immediately behind them and then if they attempted to run they would open on them with grape and canister.”
The Battle of Shiloh had ended, and the battle about what happened there now began. For the South, the process was simple. After Beauregard’s first triumphant telegram to Jefferson Davis, joy and relief pulsed through the Confederacy. Then came the news of the death of Albert Sidney Johnston, then the fact that some of the South’s finest generals had been forced to retreat back to Corinth, and then the casualty figures: 1,723 dead, 8,012 wounded, 959 missing. The Union losses were marginally higher, but, with no more talk about each Southern man being able to beat three, four, five Yankees, it was clear that the South had lost more blood than it could afford to lose. Strategically, so much had been at stake for the Confederacy at Shiloh: it was the South’s chance to reverse Grant’s victories at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, the opportunity to fight back into Tennessee and Kentucky, the chance to become equal again in the Mississippi River theater of operations that Grant and Sherman knew held the key to the war. All that was gone.
And there was morale. Memories of the rout inflicted on the North at Bull Run were no comfort to Southerners hearing the realities of the biggest battle fought on the North American continent to that date. The Southern public learned of a pond in Shiloh’s woods that turned red from the blood of men killed and wounded around it, of fields you could not walk across without stepping on bodies, of seven hundred Confederate soldiers buried in a mass grave, of the carcasses of five hundred horses that had to be burnt where they fell, of a large and growing pile of amputated arms and legs in the courtyard of the makeshift hospital hastily set up in the Tishomingo Hotel at Corinth. The Confederacy was determined to fight on, but as one of its soldiers, the writer George Washington Cable, said, “The South never smiled after Shiloh.”
In the North, the first news was of a tremendous, categorically successful victory. Bells rang; Congress recessed for a day; President Lincoln proclaimed a national day of prayerful thanksgiving. Beauregard had called off the battle on Monday, April 7; on April 9, The New York Times, The New York Herald, and the New York Tribune came out with headlines proclaiming a tremendous victory. Grant was the man of the hour. The next day’s edition of the Tribune was filled with stories of his courage and skill: splendid, determined soldier; smokes cigars; man of few words but magnificent results.
The next day’s Tribune struck a different note, echoed in other cities as reporters arrived at Pittsburg Landing and began buttonholing anyone in sight for stories of the battle. Grant’s army had been taken by surprise. Why was he having breakfast nine miles away, when his men were attacked while they were asleep in their tents? Thousands of men ran away from the battle. There was confusion everywhere, throughout the battle.
The casualty lists came in, with totals higher than the four previous biggest battles of the war combined, and the journalistic hunt was on in earnest. The Confederates had dashed into the Union soldiers’ tents and bayoneted them in their sleep. The Tribune came out with an editorial, “Let Us Have the Facts.” There had been no preparations for anything at Pittsburg Landing. Grant was drunk. Was it a victory at all? A. K. McClure, a nationally prominent Republican supporter from Philadelphia, went to see Lincoln in the White House and urged him to remove this questionable figure Grant from command. Lincoln listened to everything McClure had to say, and thought for a while. Then he shook his head. “No, I can’t do it. I can’t lose this man. He fights.”
Initially, the criticism focused on Grant. Then a paper in Ohio published an article by Lieutenant Governor Benjamin Stanton (no relation to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton). In a piece of political grandstanding, Stanton had arrived at Pittsburg Landing soon after the battle, bringing with him five thousand dollars to help troops from Ohio. Stanton heard the same inaccurate and exaggerated tales the reporters were getting and, when he met Sherman, the senior officer from Ohio present at Shiloh, never asked him a single question about the battle. Returning home, Stanton wrote a diatribe against the Union generals, not mentioning Sherman by name but referring to “the blundering stupidity and negligence” of Grant.
An incensed Sherman entered the fray with a letter to Stanton. Early in it he set the tone: “The accusatory part of your statement is all false, false in general, false in every particular, and I repeat, you could not have failed to know it false when you published that statement … Grant just fresh from the victory of Donelson, more rich in fruits than was Saratoga, Yorktown, or any other fought on this Continent, is yet held up to the people of Ohio … as one who in the opinion of intelligent cowards is worthy to be shot … Shame on You!” Sherman added that no colonel of the Ohio regiments had any idea of how Stanton spent the five thousand dollars that was supposed to benefit the soldiers from Ohio.
Stanton replied to this with another diatribe, this time mentioning Sherman by name, and the fight was on. The Sherman team went to work: Sherman’s brother Senator John Sherman, Sherman’s famous and well-regarded father-in-law, Thomas Ewing, and Ellen’s brother, the influential lawyer Philemon Ewing, all Ohioans, filled newspaper columns with criticism of Stanton, with Stanton responding every time; before the storm ran its course, both sides were printing pamphlets setting forth their views.
As for Grant, he was heartsick about the slurs on his reputation, writing Julia that he had been “so shockingly abused” by the press, but he preferred to remain silent. Grant’s father decided to go to the support of his son, releasing to the press a brief, entirely personal letter he received from Grant defending his conduct at Shiloh, and a long letter from Captain William S. Hillyer of Grant’s staff that praised Grant’s actions and asked the rhetorical question, “Is success a crime?” Grant complained to Julia that the publication of these letters “should never have occurred.” His father made other efforts, which included two letters in the Cincinnati Commercial signed by a close friend of the elder Grant but possibly written by Jesse Grant himself. Grant’s father also wrote Congressman Washburne to thank him for a speech he made on his son’s behalf, and wrote the governor of Ohio, saying of Lieutenant Governor Stanton, “Shame on such a Demagogue.”
Realizing that his father was defending him in part by criticizing the performance of other Union commanders, Grant sent him an angry letter saying that there was “not an enemy in the world who has done me so much injury as you in your efforts in my defense. I Require no defenders and for my sake leave me alone … Do nothing to correct what you have already done but for the future keep quiet on this subject.” He closed the letter with, “My love to all at home. Ulys.”
Julia, staying with her father-in-law in Covington, Kentucky, at the time Shiloh was fought, was reading a Cincinnati paper a few days after that. She had just finished an article that said Grant was at a “dance house” instead of being on the battlefield, when an unexpected guest arrived.
A tall, handsome woman, clad in deepest mourning, entered the little parlour … Coming directly up to me, she said, “Mrs. Grant, I am an entire stranger to you, and I have come an entire day’s journey out of my way to tell you this.” She paused a moment, choking down a sob, and said, “I am the widow of Colonel Canfield. I have just lost my husband at Shiloh. I must tell you of your husband’s kindness to me.”
Feeling a premonition, this woman had managed somehow to get herself to Pittsburg Landing at the end of the first day of the Shiloh fighting. There at the waterfront she was told that her husband, Lieutenant Colonel Herman Canfield of the Seventy-second Ohio, had been wounded and was in a hospital down the river at a place she had passed on her way up to the battle. At that moment she saw Grant and his staff ride onto the pier and watched him being assisted off his horse because of his injured ankle and helped aboard his headquarters riverboat the Tigress , where he began writing dispatches. Warned by the sentries that she could not come aboard, she swept by them, found Grant, and explained her plight. Grant told her that she could stay on the Tigress, which would soon be taking the report he was writing downriver, and made out the appropriate passes to get her ashore and into the hospital where her husband lay.
Julia asked her, “Did you reach your husband in time, Mrs. Canfield?”
“Oh, no,” she sobbed. “I was late, too late. I was conducted down the aisle between the cots in the hospital, and my escort paused and pointed to a cot, the blanket drawn up so as to cover the face. I knelt beside it and drew the covering down.
“He was dead—my husband, my beloved, my noble husband. I thrust my hand into his bosom. It was still warm, but his great heart had ceased beating.
“The blood was clotted on his beard and breast. I think he might have lived if I had been near,” she sobbed. “I have determined to devote my time to the wounded soldiers during the war. My husband needed only the services of a kind nurse.”
The ladies parted. Mrs. Canfield did indeed throw herself into nursing wounded soldiers, and Julia would see her next in three years, under supremely dramatic circumstances.
On April 11, four days after the large-scale fighting at Shiloh finished, Halleck arrived at Pittsburg Landing. Being senior, according to plan he took over Grant’s field army and placed Grant in a meaningless role as his assistant commander of the armies of the West. It was in effect a demotion for Grant. At a time when Grant and Sherman felt that their army was sufficiently recovered from the battle to march the twenty miles to Corinth and finish the destruction of Beauregard’s remaining force, Halleck began to plan his version of how to proceed. No one was going to catch Halleck by surprise or undermanned. Learning that Beauregard had received reinforcements at Corinth that brought the Confederate strength back up to sixty-six thousand, he did not begin his march until he had one hundred thousand men and two hundred cannon assembled at Pittsburg Landing. Then Halleck started the twenty-mile trek. He would march the army two or three miles in a day, stop and construct elaborate earthworks, camp there two or three days, and move on another few miles and do the same thing.
Although Sherman admired Halleck at this time, he recalled that his division “constructed seven distinct entrenched camps” in this astonishingly slow movement toward Corinth; a newspaper reporter who accompanied the Union force said that “Halleck crept forward at the rate of about three-quarters of a mile per day.” (Grant, watching this without the authority to change a single detail, referred to it as a siege on the move.)
Halleck finally reached Corinth on May 28—seven and a half weeks after the last day of fighting at Shiloh—and the next day began a massive artillery bombardment of the town. From time to time trains moved in and out of Corinth, to the sounds of cheering, and Halleck saw this as proof of the arrival of more and more enemy troops and the Confederate determination to hold that essential transportation crossroads at all costs. In fact, Beauregard was evacuating his last units from Corinth, having the trains come back empty and ordering everyone left in the town to shout as they arrived. When Halleck finally sent foot soldiers into Corinth on May 30, they found not a single enemy soldier. (In a final touch, when Halleck rode in himself, his horse tripped over a telegraph wire hanging just above the ground.)
During this time, Grant remained with the army, doing nothing because as Halleck’s second in command there was nothing for him to do. In addition to his feelings about the press controversy over his leadership at Shiloh, Grant was dismayed by the way Halleck so signally failed to exploit the battle in which so many men suffered and gave their lives. At one point during the ponderous march to Corinth, he wrote a formal request to Halleck, whose tent was only two hundred yards from his, asking that he be given a field command, or be relieved from further duty. Halleck, who recently had sent out a petulant order emphasizing that all letters on military matters “should relate to one matter only, and be properly folded,” refused to do either.
Sherman, whom Grant had praised and commended during and after the battle, stumbled upon the chance to save Grant for the Union cause. When Sherman paid a call on Halleck before leaving Corinth to see if it was possible to salvage some locomotives and railroad cars that had been abandoned in the swamps west of Chewalla, Tennessee, Halleck “casually mentioned to me that Grant was going away the next morning.” When Sherman asked why, Halleck said that he did not know, but Grant had asked him for a thirty-day leave, and he had agreed.
Sherman knew why. For himself, he had reason to be grateful to Halleck, who had given him the division he led so well at Shiloh that he was now being promoted to major general, but he had seen Grant “chafing under the slights of his anomalous position” and decided to go and see him before he left for Chewalla. Arriving at Grant’s headquarters, which “consisted of four or five tents, with a sapling railing around the front,” he saw packing going on that indicated Grant was not simply going on leave, but leaving the army. Shown into Grant’s tent, he found him “seated on a camp-stool, with papers on a rude camp-table,” methodically sorting out letters and putting bundles of them aside.
After passing the usual compliments, I inquired if it were true that he was going away. He said, “Yes.” I then inquired the reason, and he said, “Sherman, you know. You know that I am in the way here. I have stood it as long as I can, and can endure it no longer.” I inquired where he was going to, and he said, “St. Louis.” I then asked him if he had any business there, and he said, “Not a bit.” I then begged him to stay, illustrating his case by my own.
Before the battle of Shiloh, I had been cast down by a mere newspaper assertion of “crazy,” but that single battle had given me new life, and I was now in high feather; and I argued with him that, if he went away, events would go right along, and he would be left out; whereas, if he remained, some happy accident might restore him to favor and his true place.
He certainly appreciated my friendly advice, and promised to wait awhile; at all events, not to go without seeing me again, or communicating with me.
That very evening, Grant wrote Julia that “Necessity however changes my plans, or the public service does, and I must yeald [sic].” The next day he wrote to Sherman at Chewalla, saying, as Sherman put it, “that he had reconsidered his intention and would remain.” Later, Sherman could not find that note from Grant, but to the end of his life he kept a copy of the reply he sent Grant the same day. In it he went on to rail against the treatment they both had received from the press, but the part he chose to make public in his memoirs was this:
Chewalla, June 6, 1862
MY DEAR SIR: I have just received your note, and am rejoiced at your conclusion to remain; for you could not be quiet at home for a week when armies are moving, and rest could not relieve your mind of the gnawing sensation that injustice had been done you.
A letter from Grant that did survive is one he sent soon after that, not to Sherman but in reply to a letter from Ellen Sherman. Writing her from Memphis while Sherman was in another area, Grant tried to soothe the worries Ellen expressed concerning what Sherman described as “a touch of malarial fever” that he contracted during his inspection of the locomotives abandoned in the Tennessee swamps. In it he praised Sherman’s “indefatigable zeal and energy” and assured Ellen that he had suggested Sherman take a leave to recover fully, but that “he would not listen to it.” Grant said that “although Gen. Sherman’s place would be hard to fill,” he would again see “if he will consent to a leave,” and went on to say, “There is nothing that he, or his friends for him, could do that I would not do [for him] if it were in my power. It is to him and some other brave men like himself that I have gained the little credit awarded me, and that our cause has triumphed to the extent it has.”
The “happy accident” that Sherman hoped would happen for Grant occurred five weeks later: on July 11, after McClellan was completely outgeneralled by Robert E. Lee in the Seven Days’ Battles in northern Virginia, Lincoln ordered Halleck to Washington to serve in the reconstituted post of general in chief. Henry Halleck now commanded the entire United States Army. There would eventually be questions of how wise a promotion that was for the Union cause as a whole, but Ulysses S. Grant took over from Halleck more or less by default, becoming the commander of two of the three Western armies. He thought that he could finally begin to fight the war in the Mississippi theater of operations the way he wanted to do it. Halleck was still Grant’s superior, but he would be a thousand miles away, with much else on his mind.
The growing personal and military relationship between Grant and Sherman had reached a somewhat paradoxical moment. From the time of Shiloh, Grant strongly praised Sherman. Writing his official report of the battle two days after it occurred, Grant singled out Sherman for his highest commendation: “I feel it a duty however to a gallant and able officer Brig Genl W T Sherman to make special mention. He not only was with his Command during the entire two days action, but displayed great judgment and skill in the management of his men. Altho severely wounded in the hand the first day, his place was never vacant. He was again wounded and had three horses killed under him.”
Three weeks later he wrote to Julia, “In Gen. Sherman the country has an able and gallant defender and your husband a true friend,” and in a later letter to her said, understating his role in Sherman’s rise, “Although Gen. Sherman has been made a Maj. Gen. by the battle of Shiloh I have never done half justice by him. With green troops he was my standby during that trying day of Sunday, (there has been nothing like it on this continent—nor in history.) He kept his Division in place all day, and aided materially in keeping those to his right and left in place—He saw me frequently and received, and obeyed, my directions during that day.”
In these five months that had brought them together, Sherman made varying estimates of Grant. After Fort Donelson, he wrote his brother John that “Grant’s victory was most extraordinary and brilliant.” After Shiloh, preferring to speak of Grant’s earlier victory at Fort Donelson while controversy surrounded the recent battle, Sherman told Grant in a letter that “you obtained a just celebrity at Donelson, by a stroke of war more rich in consequences than was the battle of Saratoga.” On the same day, he wrote Ellen that “he is brave as any man should be, has won several victories such as Donelson which ought to entitle him to universal praise …” but added, “He is not a brilliant man … but he is a good & brave soldier tried for years, is sober, very industrious, and as kind as a child.”
By comparison, when Sherman learned that Halleck was ordered east as general in chief, with Grant to be his successor in the West, he wrote Halleck this:
I cannot express my heartfelt pain at hearing of your orders and intended departure … That success will attend you wherever you go I feel no doubt … I attach more importance to the West than the East … The man who at the end of this war holds the military control of the Valley of the Mississippi will be the man. You should not be removed. I fear the consequences …
Instead of that calm, steady progress which has dismayed our enemy, I now fear alarms, hesitation, and doubt. You cannot be replaced out here.
This letter, written by Sherman to the man who gave him the chance to come back from disgrace to prominence and promotion, combined genuine admiration with flattery and perhaps a measure of duplicity. Telling Halleck, “You should not be removed” and “You cannot be replaced,” indicated a preference for his leadership over that of Grant. To characterize Halleck’s glacial military movements as “calm, steady progress” flew in the face of the squandered opportunities Sherman had witnessed. For Sherman to add that, with Halleck gone, he feared there would now be “hesitation, and doubt” was astonishing: those characteristics had marked all of Halleck’s command in the West and were the antithesis of Grant’s approach to war.
And yet it appeared, from other letters Sherman wrote, that he was not only grateful to Halleck but truly admired him, perhaps because of his orderly, methodical approach to so many matters. (Sherman was not alone in praising Halleck: many of Halleck’s officers and men saw the fall of Corinth as an intelligently planned bloodless taking of an important strategic point and gave Halleck the nickname “Old Brains.”) No one ever doubted that Sherman had a complicated personality: those words of praise for Halleck came from the same man who had supported Grant in every way since the war had brought them together. First, Sherman had done an outstanding job in forwarding men and supplies to Grant at Fort Donelson and in handling the movement of wounded and prisoners resulting from that battle. At Shiloh he outperformed Grant’s other generals. Then Sherman, who had reason to avoid the attention of newspapers that could quickly remind their readers of his earlier failure of nerve in Kentucky, threw himself into defending Grant in his replies to an attack in which he himself was not initially named. Finally, as a newly promoted major general who could have regarded the departure from the army of another man of the same rank as an opportunity to advance himself, Sherman had talked Grant out of leaving the army.
What developed next between Grant and Sherman would influence both the military and political aspects of the war, and its results. Sherman had more to learn about Grant, and himself. Through conversations and letters they would, often without realizing it, teach each other about the nature of the war they were experiencing. Between them they would evolve a harsh and efficient philosophy of war that would affect the South’s civilian population as well as its armies, and begin to apply those measures.
Fifteen months into the war, after Donelson, after Shiloh, at times both men thought it would soon end. Speaking of the Confederacy, Sherman wrote his brother that “the People are as bitter against us as ever, but the Leaders must now admit they are defeated.” A week after Shiloh, Grant told Julia that he expected “one more fight and then easy sailing to the end of the war. I really will feel glad when this thing is over.” Reflecting on the battle, Grant later concluded that “it is possible that the Southern man started in with a little more dash than his Northern brother; but he was correspondingly less enduring.” In midsummer of 1862, both Grant and Sherman still had a lot to learn about Southern endurance, and about each other.