Let’s get these boys moving. Form them into regiments. I don’t care what regiments they used to be in. Make new ones. Yes, sir. Come on, boys! Form up! fall in. Buell won’t get here til night fall. Wallace is still six months North. Order Wallace to come here at once with his men. Sherman. GARRY ADELMAN: On the first day of the Battle of Shiloh, about 40,000 Confederate soldiers surprised the Union Army and begin pushing forward. It is the largest attack in American history up to that time. HARRY LAVER: When Grant finally got to Pittsburgh Landing, officers didn’t know where their men were. Their men didn’t know where the units were. GREGORY HOSPODOR: Grant immediately begins to assess the situation. It is almost as if battle clarified his mind and he could see the central thing he needed to do. To remain calm, to collect soldiers who have straggled back into the area, and begin to plug this defensive line. Very bad, private? It’s only a scratch, sir. So you can fight. Come on now, boys. Pitch in. I’m right behind you. MAN: Come on, boys. MAN: Come on, boys.
Battle of Pittsburgh
HARRY LAVER: Grant makes his way around the battlefield, not caught up in the chaos, thinking, where are my commanders, what’s their assessment of the fight and how it’s going, and what can I do to assist them? GREGORY HOSPODOR: If Pittsburgh Landing falls, Grant knows his army is gone. TIMOTHY B. SMITH: If the Confederate plan is to trap the Union Army in this cul-de-sac along the Tennessee River, then Grant will utilize this trap perfectly to fight a delaying action, to hold out until Don Carlos Buell’s reinforcements arrive. He has a whole division under Lew Wallace much nearer, and as he goes around and he talks to the different division commanders throughout the day, he will tell them, hey, Lew Wallace is on the way. Should be here any moment now.
DAVID H. PETRACUS: There’s confusion and incoherence on the battlefield, but Grant had enormous control of his emotions. There was physical courage, this quiet competence, and he was a great horseman in a day and age when that was a very important skill to have on the battlefield. GENERAL GRANT (VOICEOVER): A number of attempts were made by the enemy to turn our right flank where Sherman was posted.
GENERAL GRANT: General Sherman, situation? General, the buoys bent, but they didn’t break. I need reinforcements now. Where’s Buell? No Buell. I sent for Wallace. Can you hold your position? Yes sir, but it’ll cost.
ALLEN C. GUELZO: At the Battle of Shiloh, Sherman and Grant,
Battle of Shiloh
while they had never been what you would call good friends, they will first come into their own as this wonderful duo who will turn out to be one of the great working partnerships of the war. While so many other fragments of that Union Army dissolve in panicked retreat, Sherman slows the Confederate onslaught.
HARRY LAVER: Nevertheless, Grant knew that he may need that division of Lew Wallace’s to survive this fight, but there’s great confusion with Wallace’s division on how they should get to the battlefield and Wallace does not show up. As the Confederates move forward, the fighting became more and more constricted. It becomes a very chaotic, brutal fight and Grant recognizes that at points of chaos when everything is going wrong, you just simply have to do something to regain control.
GENERAL GRANT (VOICEOVER): Contrary to all my experience up to that time, we were on the defensive. The endeavor of the enemy was simply to hurl their men against ours with a disregard of losses on their own side. HARRY LAVER: Grant realized he needed to buy time or his army was about to be overwhelmed.
DOUG DOUDS: Shiloh the first day doesn’t go well. But in the chaos, noise, the friction that we know is inherent in a battlefield, nobody gets it right initially. Nobody. Grant is able to learn through hard experience and he has this vision of how it’s going to turn out in spite of all that’s going bad around him. TIMOTHY B. SMITH: Grant is already thinking to fall back gradually, holding successive lines of defense, basically trading space for time. To hold out until our reinforcements arrive. HARRY LAVER: And so orders went out to all his division commanders to hold their positions, as Grant put it, at all hazards. His men constructed this defensive line along this deep ravine. The Confederates have to go down into this ravine. They make one charge up out of the ravine into this whirlwind of Union artillery and musket fire. They are driven back by this intense fire. Orders start to echo down the Confederate line that we’re done, stop the attack.
Beauregard, stop the fight. We’ll finish this up in the morning. Grant, sitting on horseback watching as the Confederates fell back into the ravine, said, not beaten yet by a damn sight. TIMOTHY B. SMITH: Grant with his dogged determination, he thinks that nobody can beat him. ALLEN C. GUELZO: By the time darkness falls, yes it’s been a bad day for the Union Army, but they haven’t been pushed off Pittsburgh Landing. They’re still holding on to that strip of ground. And what’s more, across the river, Don Carlos Buell is finally starting to arrive and there are federal gunboats out on the river whose shells are keeping the Confederates at Bay in the darkness.
He had the gift at being able to take in a landscape, a map, and know almost at once what needed to be defended, what couldn’t be defended. And what Grant had seen at Shiloh was that the Confederates had exhausted their last energy just in getting as far as they had. Grant had seen that if, in the night, Buell’s troops could be ferried over and Grant’s army could be rallied and somehow reorganized and put back into position for a counterattack the next morning, then the Confederate army itself would collapse. HARRY LAVER: Grant was determined to stay and fight. Everything he’s learned came into play in making that decision. That’s the point where Grant becomes Grant. GENERAL GRANT (VOICEOVER): This day, everything’s favorable with the Union side. We have now become the attacking party. Move along.
GENERAL GRANT (VOICEOVER): The enemy was driven back all day as we had been the day before. HARRY LAVER: It was another brutal day of fighting over much of the same ground. But by 2:00 in the afternoon, Confederate commander Beauregard ordered a withdrawal back to Corinth. ALLEN C. GUELZO: The battle is over and it is, technically speaking, a victory for the Union Army. It’s a victory which has been won at terrible prices. TIMOTHY B. SMITH: Huge casualties. 25,000 killed, wounded and missing. This is the first time in American history that we’ve seen this. The armies in the Revolution and the War of 1812 are smaller than the casualty count at Shiloh. GENERAL GRANT (VOICEOVER): I saw an open field on the second day so covered with the dead. And it would have been possible to walk across the clearing stepping on dead bodies without a foot touching the ground.
MAN: Shiloh itself means place of peace. Shiloh for two days was anything but a place of peace. GREGORY HOSPODOR: Shiloh is incredibly important as the place where our country woke up to the reality of what it had signed up for. Was as if from the battlefield, a metaphorical postcard went home to America and it said with a picture of the dead, this is what you signed up for. It forced us to wake up. It forced us to grow up. It forced us to realize that this was going to be much harder than anybody had imagined.