The word Shiloh is said to be Hebrew for “place of peace,” however, in April of 1862, the Battle of Shiloh became the site of one of the deadliest conflicts in Civil War history. With over 23,000 casualties, the battle, fought in Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee played an important role in Union’s progress in the western theater. The Battle of Shiloh proved to be more challenging and complex due to the surprise attack initiated by the Confederates. Despite the commanders’ poor use of mission variables, the Union defended their position and performed a successful counterattack, which led to Tennessee becoming the North’s territory.
Background In 1861, the Confederacy was attempting to maintain a cordon defense around the original territory of the southern states. General Albert Sidney Johnston, the commander of the western Confederate troops, was trying to prevent the Union from advancing south. He spread his troops in a line that extended from Somerset, Kentucky to Columbus, Kentucky. In response to his defensive plan, Major General Henry Halleck evolved a plan that would attempt to pierce the Confederates defense.
According to the Staff Ride Handbook for the Battle of Shiloh, 6-7 April 1862, written by LTC Jeffrey J. Gudmens, “Halleck determined that if he seized Forts Henry and Donelson, he would control the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers, which would make the Confederate positions at Columbus and Bowling Green untenable” (Gudmens 44). Fort Henry was seized on February 6, 1862 and Fort Donelson fell on February 16, 1862 to Brigadier General Ulysses S Grant. From that point, the Union controlled the lower Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, which would serve as two avenues of invasion into deep Tennessee. After the capture of both Fort Henry and Donelson, Halleck planned to move Grant along the Tennessee River to seize
Corinth and its rail lines and then forward to seize Memphis. His goal was to combine Buell’s troops and Grant’s troops in order to overwhelm the Confederates in the area. On March 6, Grant’s forces, now under command of Major General Charles F. Smith, began the trek down the Tennessee River, while the Confederates moved toward Corinth, Mississippi. Smith discovered that the Confederates were concentrated at Corinth and conducted raids in hopes of cutting rail links to Corinth. During these raids, Smith became ill and Grant resumed command of the Army of Tennessee.
His army was split; “he had two divisions at Pittsburg Landing and one at Crump’s Landing with the rest of the army at Savannah” (Gudmens 49). Grant started moving his troops to Pittsburg Landing to set up camp. Meanwhile, the Confederates settled in at Corinth, Mississippi, a major transportation center, on March 27, 1862 and Johnston started planning his offensive attack on Grant’s army. Mission Variables According to ADRP 5-0, the United States Army uses mission variables in order to become more situationally aware before executing an operation.
By using the variables, METT-TC, leaders are able to visualize, direct, and execute an operation. Preceding the Battle of Shiloh, the Union Commanders did not accurately analyze the mission variables that would have allowed them to prepare for the operation. However, once the Confederates executed their attack, the Union defended their position, studied the situation and, in the end, accomplished their mission. At one point during the battle, Grant’s troops’ mission was to hold their defensive position, also known as the Hornet’s Nest, at all costs.
After reinforcements arrived, they were able to clearly define another critical task and purpose. Beauregard’s Confederate troops were taken by surprise when Union columns assaulted them the morning of April 7, 1862. After hours of intense, bloody fighting, Beauregard ordered a retreat to Corinth (Sword). Although, they were not expecting the Confederates to conduct an offensive attack on them, the Union adapted their mission and it was inevitably accomplished. Another mission variable to be considered is the enemy. This is where the Union significantly lacked intelligence.
The Confederate Army of the Mississippi, with about 46,000 men, were eager to retaliate against the Union forces, especially after their losses at Forts Henry and Donelson. The Commanders of the Union had the knowledge that Johnston’s army was concentrated at Corinth, which explained why their next mission was to seize Corinth. The Union was not expecting the enemy to attack, therefore the commanders set up camp based on comfort rather than tactically. Union soldiers had witnessed skirmishes of enemy, but reacted defensively.
They were told not too engage the enemy until Buell’s army arrived, but they also did not fully understand what was beyond these small sized elements of Confederates (C-SPAN 2012). On April 6, 1862, firing began and was initiated by a Union patrol that was sent out by Colonel Peabody. They discovered an even larger element of Confederates on the outskirts of their camps (Sword). Colonel Peabody’s action of sending of reconnaissance team violated orders, however, he believed there was a larger force waiting to attack and he was correct (C-SPAN 2012).
This act was a good start to analyzing the enemy, however, the Union denied any possibility that they were going to get assaulted and were too late. This failure to prepare for an enemy attack allowed the Confederates to sweep through the camps and push back the Union soldiers (Gudmens 49). The lack of intelligence on the enemy led to an immense amount of casualties, demonstrating the importance of the enemy as a mission variable. Terrain and weather is another notable mission variable. The Union’s terrain had both disadvantages and advantages.
The weather and terrain delayed the Confederate’s movement. They originally planned on attacking the Union April 4, however, due to communication failure, they did not initiate movement until the fourth. Mother nature stepped in and it rained during their march, making the dry country road muddy and a challenge to transport their necessary materials (C-SPAN 2012). The Union settled on a plateau above Pittsburg Landing. This plateau allowed over 100,000 men to set up camp and it was known to be naturally defensible.
They had an open field allowing them to train their new soldiers, however they believed that the Confederates were acting as a defensive force, rather than on the offense. The fighting began in Fraley Field, an open grassy area surrounded by wooded tree lines. The Confederates pressed their forces forward in a linear line, yet the Union was at an advantage with the terrain at this moment. As the Confederates moved forward, they started to enter the tree line, and their formation instantly separated.
This caused problems with their command and control; they had a more difficult time maintaining authority and cohesion, which was beneficial to the Union side (C-SPAN 2012). The large wooded areas plus thousands of muskets and cannons, which produced black power smoke had a tendency to make everything shadowy and visibility more difficult. The lack of visibility caused a numerous amount of incidents of misidentifying friend from foe. The Union was defending areas with a maximum elevation relief of 230 feet and sloping grades of 70% on creeks (C-SPAN 2012).
Overall, terrain is an important aspect of an operation because knowing how to utilize the terrain can alter the way the operation runs. Troops and support available was a critical mission variable that aided in the Union’s victory. The Medical support was faulty once the battle had begun. Originally, they were equipped with “two two-wheeled ambulanced, one or two four-wheeled ambulance wagons, a medicine chest, a hospital knapsack, 20 blankets, two hospital tents, and three stretchers,” but the majority of the equipment was abandoned when the Confederates assaulted through (Sword 40).
The casualties were increasing by the minute and the surgeons scavenged through the battlefield to find anything to help stabilize a patient (Sword 40). The Union had the upper hand when Buell’s troops arrived ready to attack the enemy. Their arrival increased he medical support at Shiloh and casualties were receiving much better care. Dr. Irwin, a medical director with the Army of Ohio established the first tent field hospital and established an evacuation system with the Quartermaster department (Sword 40). Buell brought in about 18,000 men of the Army of Ohio in four divisions.
The Union, in comparison to the Confederates, were able to resupply on men, food, water, and ammunition (Shelton 2008). This allowed them to carry out the element of surprise on an unprepared and underequipped Confederate army. Not to mention, the Confederates had lost General Johnston during the first day. Beauregard was completely unaware that Buell’s army had arrived and after viciously fighting the second day of the battle and suffering tremendous casualties, he broke contact with the Union and moved his forces back to Corinth (Sword).
The resupply of men enabled Grant’s army to continue fighting the Confederates and gain a victory. Another important mission variable that would affect the outcome of the battle was time. Leading up to the battle, Grant’s army was using their time to train the new soldiers while awaiting the arrival of Buell’s troops. Due to their lack of rehearsing and preparing for the enemy, they were blindsided by the tempo of the offense. The Confederates moved quickly the morning of April 6, but the Union continued defending their position the entire day.
Once Buell’s troops arrived, the Union army moved swiftly, in order to reorganize and execute their attack. Grant transitioned to the offense with patience; he “waited until the conditions were favorable to seize terrain that his forces had lost the day before” (Shelton 2008). Beauregard believed that he enough time to reconsolidate his army and plan for another offensive attack, when, in fact, Grant was using this to his advantage. Grant sent out reconnaissance elements to gather information on the enemy and realized that Beauregard was disheveled.
He decided this was the appropriate time to initiate movement (Shelton 2008). Once again, the Union failed to initially analyze the mission variables, however, once they were in battle, the Commander’s reorganized and appropriately prepared for their offensive operation. The final mission variable to consider is civil considerations. The Battle of Shiloh left over 23,000 casualties. Civilians, both Union and Confederate, were affected by this battle emotionally.
This battle forced the Confederates to pass the first draft legislation on April 16, 1862, which required men between the ages of 18 and 35 to serve. This demonstrated to the Commanders that they were successful in breaking the Confederates down. The Confederates would draft men with no experience. However, the Union would eventually establish their own version of forced service (Baker). According to Stacy Allen, the Chief Park Ranger at Shiloh National Military Park, there were over 70 buildings that belonged to the town of Shiloh.
Almost every building was destroyed during these two days. The Confederate civilians, not only lost their farms and homes, but the Union victory would decrease the amount of food and supplies they would receive. Overall, the planning for civil considerations was not a main focus of the Union, but the Battle of Shiloh had an everlasting effect of them. The Battle of Shiloh proved to both the Confederates and the Union that war would be a long and arduous battle. Throughout the war, the use of mission variables can make or break your operation.
The Union in the Battle of Shiloh demonstrated just that. They did not analyze their situation efficiently before getting attacked. They denied that the enemy was near, they did not take their cover and concealment completely serious, and instead of preparing and rehearsing for the enemy to attack, they conducted the less critical priorities of work. Although, after they were bombarded by the Confederates, the Commanders were able to reconsolidate and analyze the mission variables appropriately. Inevitability, they successfully completed their mission at the time.