Shiloh, April 6, 1862

Following the Fort Donelson victory, the Union was overconfident and thus surprised when they were attacked at the woods near Shiloh in southwestern Tennessee. Union General William Tecumseh Sherman remarked, “My God, we’re attacked,” after his orderly [servant soldier] was unexpectedly [by surprise] killed.

Sherman recovered, however, and for the next twelve hours, his leadership was as one historian wrote, “cool and courageous.” Leading from the front of his troops, Sherman was wounded, and had three horses shot out from underneath him.

Despite the heavy losses the Union sustained [had] in the first day of surprise battle, Grant counterattacked [attacked the attackers] the next day, sending his 40,000 troops to battle against P.T. Beauregard’s 25,000 soldiers. Later in the day, Grant’s troops were reinforced [made stronger] with additional [more] troops. By the afternoon, the Confederacy was in retreat. The Union did not follow as the casualties [dead and wounded soldiers] from the battle were overwhelming [too much].

The Battle of Shiloh was the bloodiest battle of the war thus far. More than 20,000 soldiers died or were wounded. Some historians argue that this battle was the beginning of “total war” for both the Union and the Confederacy. It also marked the end of Southern control of the Mississippi Valley.

Primary Sources

"The Hornets' Nest"

By Union Colonel John Thomas Smith

His account of the Battle of Shiloh, or Pittsburg Landing. He served in the Thirty-First Regiment of Indiana Volunteer Infantry.

"The battle of Pittsburg Landing, during the first day, was one of the most terribly hard-fought battles of the war. The attack was the most fierce, and the resistance the most stubborn. It was a complete illustration of Southern dash and Northern pluck and endurance. . . . The battle of Pittsburg Landing was an open-field fight. [Our] army had not yet begun to use the shovel and pick, and the surface of the country was such that neither army could get much advantage of the other. The Thirty-first was rather fortunate in getting a favorable position. It was halted in an old road, in which there had been beaten and washed a depression nearly a foot deep. In this depression the regiment lay down, and fired and loaded without getting up. The ground in front was literally covered with small undergrowth—a real thicket. This was, however, all cut off with bullets almost as clean as if a mowing machine had run over it. At no place, on the whole line, did Confederate dead lie thicker than here in our front. So numerous, in fact, were the rebel dead here, that this place received the name and was known as the ‘hornets’ nest.’"


  1. What does this source reveal about battles that took place during the Civil War?
  2. What differences does Colonel Smith observe between Union and Confederate soldiers
  3. Based on these characteristics, who do you think had the advantage?
  4. Based on the excerpt, why do you think the Civil War lasted longer than many expected it to?

General Charles F. Smith


Gen. Charles F. Smith, Died: April 25, 1862 of a foot infection he got in jumping from one boat to another in opening stages of Shiloh Campaign