Shiloh National Military Park

Today’s post is 1240 words, 27 photos, a 7 minute read. Enjoy!

Hi everyone,

At the end of last weeks blog post on Pickwick Landing, I mentioned that our purpose for being in the area was to visit Shiloh, the site of the first of many bloody Civil War battles. We heard that Shiloh was sad but we enjoy history and want to learn more about what events shaped this country – for better or worse. The War between the States was a dark period in American history, a time when political and cultural differences clashed around human enslavement and its expansion. The Civil War is the deadliest war in our history with over 600,000 deaths.

Visits to battle sites like Shiloh are a reminder that freedom and liberty have a cost in human lives. Nearly 110,000 soldiers (65,000 Union and 44,000 Confederate) fought in the two-day battle resulting in over 23,000 dead and wounded (13,000 Union, 10,000 Confederate).

The Battle of Shiloh

The day of our visit in late April was picture perfect, sunny skies and pleasant temperatures in the high 60s. The Shiloh National Military Park lies near Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River, about 10 miles southwest of Savannah, Tennessee, the largest nearby town. There is a very small unincorporated town near the park named Shiloh. However, the battle takes its name for a nearby church.

After entering the park, we proceeded to the visitor’s center. There was plenty of room in the parking lot, it was spring weekday after all. The ranger on duty informed us that the museum and exhibits were closed for renovations. He directed us to the visitor center auditorium where we watched a well-done detailed video about the Battle of Shiloh that took place April 6-7, 1862. When the movie ended 32 minutes later, we left subdued, shocked at the brutality of war and the loss of so many men in two days.

Before departing the visitor center, the ranger helped us download the National Park Service app and showed us where to access the self-guided tour audio tour 0f the battlefield.

Shiloh National Cemetery

After a quick stop at the park bookstore to stamp our Parks Passport, we saw the entrance to Shiloh National Cemetery behind the bookstore. We walked through the cemetery before heading to nearby Adamsville for lunch. We would come back later for the driving tour of the battlefield.

The cemetery is the final resting place for 3585 Union soldiers (2357 unknown). They were reinterred after the war ended from over 150 locations on or near the battlefield. There are two confederate soldiers buried in this cemetery, the remaining are buried in mass graves scattered throughout the battlefield.

The tall headstone signifies that the person buried there has been identified. The short, square blocks are graves of the unknown.

As we strolled through the cemetery, we saw a few graves of soldiers from Wisconsin. Nearly 100,000 Wisconsinites served in the Union Army. Over 12,000 didn’t return home. About 4000 were killed in action or mortally wounded, 8000 died of disease, and a few hundred died in accidents. Another sobering thought.

It’s a beautiful setting overlooking the Tennessee River.

General U.S. Grant had his battlefield headquarters near the present day cemetery. He also had quarters in nearby Savannah.

The Battlefield Tour

The battlefield itself is picturesque with rolling hills and open fields surrounded by thick forests. On such a pleasant day, it was hard to imagine the roaring of cannons, the sound of muskets, the shouts of officers rallying their troops, the cries of the wounded, and the silence of death. 

The audio tour provides narration for the 22 stops on the scenic drive. Each of those stops are marked with a number and directions to the next stop. We were told by the park ranger that it would take about two hours to tour the battlefield. He was right.

One of the first stops took us to the Confederate monument. It was in this location where the Confederate Army surrounded and captured over 2,000 Union soldiers trapped in what is referred to as the Hornet’s Nest. The monument is filled with the symbolism of hope, spirit, frustration, and defeat.

Nearby was one of the many Confederate burial trenches or mass graves on the battlefield.

At stop #4, we saw the line-up of Confederate cannons that bombarded the Hornet’s Nest when infantry attacks on this position failed. On the first day of fighting, the Confederate Army had the Union troops on their heels. At the end of the day, General Grant pulled back his troops to a site near the Tennessee River. After reinforcements arrived and the Union Army regrouped, Grant launched a counterattack on the second day of fighting. While the Union held the battlefield, they failed to pursue the fleeing Confederates. Thus, this battle was not a decisive victory for either side. However, the Union did eventually capture the critical railroad junction south of Shiloh, cutting off an important supply line for the Confederate Army. This first major intense, bloody battle of the Civil War made the Union realize that the war would not end soon. It would be three years almost to the day before the Confederates surrendered at Appomattox.

An important landmark in the Battle of Shiloh was around the Shiloh Church, the namesake of the battle. Shiloh is derived from Hebrew meaning peace, tranquility, and abundance. None of that was present. During the two-day battle, intense fighting took place around the small, undistinguished church. At times, soldiers from both sides found solace in the church, this “house of peace.” The photo below shows a replica of the church built based on historical records. It was made from 150 year-old rough-hewn timbers. The interior is plain, the only natural light from the outside comes from the two doors. Note the fireplace behind the pulpit, I guess to keep the preacher’s backside warm on cold days!

Near the replica of the Shiloh Church is the modern day Shiloh United Methodist Church.

The last stop on the tour is Pittsburgh Landing. This is were Buell’s Army of the Ohio arrived the evening of April 6, 1862 to reinforce Grant’s Army. It’s such a picturesque, peaceful place.

Tennessee River Museum, Savannah

After our audio tour ended, we drove into nearby Savannah, population around 7,200. While my Traveling Partner checked out the local quilt shop, I walked down the street to the Tennessee River Museum. I paid the $5 entrance fee and headed for the exhibits on the Battle of Shiloh. One of the displays detailed how important the cannon fire from the Union gunboats were to the outcome of the Shiloh battle. The gunboats provided cover for General Grant’s retreat on April 6, allowing him to regroup and counterattack the next morning.

After checking out the interesting Battle of Shiloh exhibits, I was about to leave when I came across exhibits about the Trail of Tears. In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act to forcibly remove Native Americans from their ancestral lands in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and Mississippi to land west of the Mississippi. This became known as the Trail of Tears as many Natives died from exposure, disease, and starvations. That Trail of Tears crossed the Tennessee River at Savannah. Some have called this action a forced displacement while others have called it ethnic cleansing or genocide. IMHO, another dark moment in U.S. history.

While my time at the Tennessee River Museum was too short, I vowed to learn more about the Trail of Tears. If you find yourself visiting the Shiloh National Military Park, allow an hour or two to visit this well-done museum in Savannah. You’ll be glad you did.

Up next week, Jazz Fest!

Until then, happy travels!