Ulysses S. Grant Wins the Battle of Shiloh

An engraving of Grant leading the cavalry at the Battle of Shiloh
An engraving of Grant leading the cavalry at the Battle of Shiloh.

Archive Photos/Getty Images

General Ulysses Grant’s overwhelming victories at Forts Henry and Donelson in February 1862 caused the withdrawal of Confederate forces not only from the State of Kentucky but also from most of Western Tennessee. Brigadier General Albert Sidney Johnston positioned his forces, numbered at 45,000 troops, at and around Corinth, Mississippi. This location was an important transportation center since it was a junction for both the Mobile & Ohio and Memphis & Charleston railroads, often referred to as the 'crossroads of the Confederacy'.

General Johnston Dies During a Sneak Attack

By April 1862, Major General Grant’s Army of Tennessee had grown to nearly 49,000 soldiers. They needed a rest, so Grant made camp on the western side of the Tennessee River at Pittsburg Landing while he was awaiting re-enforcements and also training soldiers who had no battle experience. Grant was also planning with Brigadier General William T. Sherman for their attack on the Confederate Army at Corinth, Mississippi. Further, Grant was waiting for the Army of Ohio to arrive, commanded by Major General Don Carlos Buell. 

Instead of sitting and waiting at Corinth, General Johnston had moved his Confederate troops near Pittsburg Landing. On the morning of April 6, 1862, Johnston made a surprise attack against Grant’s Army pushing their backs up against the Tennessee River. Around 2:15 p.m. that day, Johnston was shot behind his right knee and died within an hour. Before his death, Johnston sent his personal physician to treat injured Union soldiers. There is speculation that Johnston didn’t feel the injury to his right knee due to numbness from a wound to his pelvis that he suffered from a duel fought during the Texas War for Independence in 1837.

Grant's Counter Attack

The Confederate forces were now led by General Pierre G.T. Beauregard. Though Grant's forces were believed to be vulnerable, Beauregard made what would prove to be an unwise decision to cease fighting near dusk of that first day.

That evening, Major General Buell and his 18,000 soldiers finally arrived at Grant’s camp near Pittsburg’s Landing. In the morning, Grant made his counter-attack against the Confederate forces resulting in a major victory for the Union Army. In addition, Grant and Sherman forged a close friendship on the Shiloh battlefield that remained with them throughout the Civil War and arguably led to the ultimate victory by Union at the end of this conflict. 

Battle of Shiloh

The Battle of Shiloh is probably one of the most significant battles of the Civil War. In addition to losing the battle, the Confederacy suffered a loss that may have cost them the war—Brigadier General Albert Sidney Johnston’s death that happened on the first day of the battle. History has considered General Johnston to have been the Confederacy’s most able commander at the time of his death – Robert E. Lee was not a field commander at this time—as Johnston had been a career military officer with over 30 years of active experience. By the end of the war, Johnston would be the highest ranking officer killed on either side. 

The Battle of Shiloh was the deadliest battle in the history of the U.S. up until that time with casualties that exceeded a total of 23,000 for both sides. After the Battle of Shiloh, it was quite clear to Grant that the only way to defeat the Confederacy would be to destroy their armies.

Grant Excels Despite His Alcoholism 

Although Grant received both praise and criticism for his actions leading up to and during the Battle of Shiloh, Major General Henry Halleck removed Grant from command of the Army of the Tennessee and transferred command to Brigadier General George H. Thomas. Halleck based his decision partially on allegations of that Grant was struggling with alcoholism; he promoted Grant to second-in-command of the western armies, which essentially removed Grant from being an active field commander. Grant wanted to command, and he was ready to resign and walk away until Sherman convinced him otherwise.

After Shiloh, Halleck made a snail crawl to Corinth, Mississippi taking 30 days to move his army 19 miles and in the process allowed the entire Confederate force stationed there just to walk away. Needless to say, Grant was returned to his position of commanding the Army of the Tennessee and Halleck became the Union’s general-in-chief. This means that Halleck moved away from the front and became a bureaucrat whose major responsibility was the coordination of all Union forces in the field. This was a key decision as Halleck was able to excel in this position and work well with Grant as they continued to fight the Confederacy. 

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Kelly, Martin. "Ulysses S. Grant Wins the Battle of Shiloh." ThoughtCo, Dec. 20, 2022, thoughtco.com/ulysses-s-grant-battle-of-shiloh-104342. Kelly, Martin. (2022, December 20). Ulysses S. Grant Wins the Battle of Shiloh. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/ulysses-s-grant-battle-of-shiloh-104342 Kelly, Martin. "Ulysses S. Grant Wins the Battle of Shiloh." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/ulysses-s-grant-battle-of-shiloh-104342 (accessed March 28, 2023).