Together with neighbor Ronny Walker, who grew up near the battlefield, I visited Shiloh last week on the 153rd anniversary. We stayed overnight at the Corinth, Mississippi Hampton Inn. As a former Razorback, the sign below at the entrance to the hotel’s breakfast room made me feel “to home.”
While riding and walking the grounds, I think I better understood the battle. Although the Rebels continually forced the Yankees back on the first day of the two-day fight, the southern success was hollow because the federal defense line became increasingly compact. On the following morning the Confederate army simply did not have the strength to attack Union General Grant’s more dense defense line successfully. By default, if nothing else, the reinforced Union army was able to take the initiative and concentrate superior firepower at most any point along the stretched Rebel line. That appears to be how the federals won on the second day.
Prior to the visit I was curious to observe the ground elevation on the east (right) side of the Tennessee River. Author Larry Daniels, among others, believes that Grant should have bivouacked his army on that side in order to prevent the Confederates on the west (left) bank from attacking because the Rebel army could never cross over to attack a federal army while Union gunboats patrolled the stream.
Although east side elevations were lower, the risk of flooding did not appear large enough to require to require that Union armies avoid setting-up right bank campsites. However, the weather was good this year, while there was considerable rain in April 1862. Nonetheless, General Buell’s army reinforced Grant by crossing from the east side on the night of the first day and into the second day. Thus, a Union army was at least capable of marching through the terrain, which begs the question of whether bivouacking there was okay too.
QUESTION: Do you think Grant should have located his army on the east side of the Tennessee River instead of the west side where he was vulnerable to attack and did, in fact, suffer a surprise attack?