Written by Alan
Our club Games Day in Nov 2016 saw six of us – Alan, Bill,
Ian R, Jim, Kieron, and Martin – participate in a re-enactment of the ACW
Battle of Shiloh, which occurred on Apr 6-7th 1862, in west Tennessee.
We used 15mm figures and terrain from a mix of sources, and the
regular Fire & Fury rules; the
scenario can be found in the F&F Great Western Battles scenario book,
available from most wargaming bookshops – see our website’s Sites of Interest
Background to the
In late March 1862, General Halleck, Union theatre
commander, ordered Generals Grant and Buell to converge on Pittsburgh Landing
on the Tennessee river, and move against
a key railroad junction at Corinth Mississippi, 22 miles further south. Grant
arrived first, and camped between Pittsburgh Landing and Shiloh church, to wait
for Buell. However, Confederate General Johnston, in charge at Corinth and
their overall Western commander, decided to attack before Buell could join him.
Johnston’s men attacked early on the 6th, and Union
pickets came under fire several miles south of Shiloh church at about 5am.
Incredibly, Peabody’s reports were not believed, allowing the Confederates to
approach more closely and attack the Union camps en masse at about 8am.
battle commenced at this point, with the Confederate surprise attacks along the
axes of the Western and Eastern Corinth Roads, on the encampments of the Union
5th and 6th Divns, south and east of Shiloh church.
1 - The crew for the Battle of Shiloh - seated, Kieron and Bill; standing, Martin, Alan, Jim and Ian R
Shiloh is not a diverse battlefield terrain-wise; there are few landmarks and no significant geographical features. Martin and Alan had visited Shiloh NBP in Sept
2016 as part of their American Civil War tour, and their first-hand experience
was useful in setting the scene. They had found the battlefield preserved today much
as it was in 1862 – heavily wooded, interlaced with narrow streams and unpaved
tracks, with cleared areas surrounding the isolated farms. The terrain is
slightly rolling, but there are no significant elevations, and in most places the dense woods reduce
visibility to a couple of hundred yards at best. The ability of commanders to direct troops must
have been severely compromised, and battle ranges generally short - this was
probably less important than it would have been later in the war, since many
troops on both sides were still armed with smoothbore muskets in the Spring of 1862. However, it limited the role
of artillery, by effectively confining it to the open areas and along the tracks.
Everywhere else, it could only use canister.
One thing to note about our depiction of the battle is that
we dispensed with most of the trees, for playability. It wouldn’t be practical
to move troops if we had accurately modelled the dense woods, so we designated
the entire board as wooded unless specifically marked otherwise – as open
fields, tracks, the farms, etc.
The action opened on the Confederate left, where brigades
from the divisions of Hindeman and Ruggles attacked Sherman’s Divn in their camps in the open area south of Shiloh church. The Confederate
superiority in numbers soon saw the Federals retreating back past the church,
but the Rebels were delayed as their troops paused to loot the encampments,
which gave just enough time for Federal reinforcements to arrive in the form of
McDowell’s Bgde, which had been encamped just off the western table edge. For a while, the battle here see-sawed back
and forth around Shiloh church, with neither side able to get the upper hand.
2 - Hindeman's and Cheatham's Divns advance up W Corinth Rd to Shiloh church
Wood’s Bgde of Hindeman’s Divn engaged Peabody’s Bgde of the
Federal 6th Divn in the centre, while over on the Confederate right, Withers’ division advanced up the E
Corinth Rd, towards Miller’s Bgde. Martin,
who was playing the 6th Divn commander, Prentiss, fully expected to
be overwhelmed by sheer force of numbers, and sure enough, Peabody’s Bgde,
which historically had put up a stiff fight, quickly retired in confusion
across Barnes’ field north of their camps, but then formed a second line of
defence near the Hamburg-Purdy Rd, still south of the Peach Orchard and the
Hornet’s Nest. Miller’s Bgde on the left
fared better, repeatedly hurling back strong Confederate attacks, before withdrawing
in the direction of the Sarah Bell farm. Once again however, the Confederate advance
was delayed while their troops looted the Union camps, and the outnumbered Federals
were allowed to retire and regroup.
3 - Millers Bgde of Prentiss' Divn holds off the initial Rebel attacks on the Federal left
The ordeal wasn’t over yet for the Federals though. Sherman
and Prentiss’ Divns were outnumbered locally almost 3-to-1, and the Confederates
were starting to pile on the pressure again. On their left, they finally cleared the
Federals from south of Shiloh church, and continued to advance north, only to
run into the first of the Federal reinforcements, from McClernand’s 1st
4 - The Rebels drive north past Shiloh church and encounter McClernand's Divn
In the centre, Peabody’s Bgde of Prentiss’ Divn found cover
along a snake-rail fence at the northern end of Barnes’ Field, where they faced
a massive Confederate infantry assault from the Rebel brigades of Hindeman’s Divn, supported on their left by Ruggles.
Supported only by their divisional artillery,
Peabody’s Bgde was for a time the only Union force in place to prevent a
complete Confederate breakthrough in the centre, to the Hornet’s Nest and
5 - Peabody's Bgde and its divisional artillery hold the centre alone north of Barnes' field
It was at this point that the difficult terrain of Shiloh
came to the Federal’s aid. The Confederate looting of the Federal encampments
had in several instances given the Union troops a breathing space, and allowed
them to rally and regroup, where the Rebels might have had more success if they
could have kept up the pressure. At this point though, the Rebels were also
suffering from command and control problems in the close terrain, and it took
them a considerable time to line up for their attack in the centre.
6 - The Confederates mass for an attack in the centre
Despite being outnumbered 3-to-1, Peabody’s Bgde gave a good
account of itself, and the Confederates took heavy casualties as they crossed
Barnes’ field. The 6th Divn artillery fired until it ran low on ammunition,
whereupon the Confederates finally succeeded in capturing the snake-rail fence
Peabody had been defending.
7 - Peabody's Bgde and supporting artillery are driven back from Barnes' field
then though, the Rebels were so weakened by casualties that a Federal
counter-attack briefly re-captured it, routing a Confederate brigade in the
8 - Peabody's Bgde counter-attacks at Barnes' field
Up to this point, Prentiss’ Divn had been doing all the
fighting on the Federal left and centre. Their sacrifice and stubborn defence had
not been in vain however, as behind them infantry and artillery from Hurlbut’s
Divn started to take up positions in the sunken lane which history would later know
as the Hornet’s Nest.
9 - Reinforcements from Hurlbut's 4th Divn take up position in the Hornet's Nest
However, over on the Federal left things still looked
precarious. Stuart’s small brigade from
Sherman’s 5th Divn, encamped way over on the Federal left south of
the Bell farm, had been immediately outnumbered by a determined Rebel attack with
artillery support from Gladden’s Bgde of Withers’ Divn. They fought valiantly
and refused to give ground, but inevitably took heavy casualties.
10 - Stuart's Bgde under attack by Gladden on the Federal left
Withers’ other brigades, Chalmer’s and Jackson’s, had
meanwhile re-applied pressure to Miller’s Bgde of Prentiss’ 6th
Divn, which was defending the Sarah Bell farm. Without artillery support however,
and heavily outnumbered, they were unable to withstand the strong Confederate advance,
and fell back past the Bell farm and into the Peach Orchard.
11 - Miller's Bgde of 6th Divn fails to hold off the Rebel attack at the Bell farm
12 - The Confederates surge past the Bell farm and towards the Peach Orchard
The Rebels followed, sweeping forward into the Peach
Orchard, where they encountered the fresh Federal troops of Hurlbut’s 4th
Divn. The Confederates would not be
easily denied however, and some of the heaviest fighting of our battle occurred
around the Peach Orchard as both sides fed in reinforcements. By the time the Confederate
attack was halted, it had started to outflank the Hornet’s Nest at its eastern
13 – The Confederate advance through the Peach Orchard is finally halted by Hurlbut’s 4th Divn
Meanwhile, the Federal right flank, reinforced by units from
McClernand’s Divn, still held on doggedly in the vicinity of Shiloh church.
14 - Sherman and McClernand hold near Shiloh church on the Federal right
Over in the centre, the Confederates were also on the move. Reinforcements
from Breckenridge’s Divn had brushed aside the remnants of Peabody’s Bgde and
were advancing towards the Hornet’s Nest. The Confederate leaders had clearly been
reading their history books, as behind them the divisional artillery together
with the Confederate reserve artillery lined up a Grand Battery facing the
15 - The Confederate infantry and grand battery facing the Hornet's Nest
Unfortunately, that is where we had to leave it, as we had
run out of time. The battle clock was now at 2pm, so fighting had been going on
for 6 hours, and the Confederates were less than halfway to Pittsburgh Landing,
with only Forrest’s cavalry brigade yet to appear.
The Federals had done well on their right, with Sherman and
McClernand stalling the Confederate advance just north of Shiloh church; they had
done much better in our re-enactment than in real life.
In the left and centre, the Confederates had done about as
well as historically, up to this point. Prentiss Divn held further south in our re-enactment
than historically, so it was Hurlbut occupying the Hornet’s Nest and looking set
to be flanked, but as the picture below
shows, W Wallace’s 2nd Divn and the Union reserve artillery have come
forward more than they did historically, so a Rebel breakthrough to the river
16 - Federal defences in depth with 2nd Divn behind the Hornet's Nest
Just as historically, our re-enactment illustrates that the
Confederates faced a difficult task in driving the Federals away from
Pittsburgh Landing in a single day, indeed, perhaps an impossible one given the
nature of the terrain, the poor battle-plan sending in their three corps in lines
one behind the other, and the inexperience, poor equipment and supply situation of many of
Looting the Union camps certainly did not help the poorly
equipped Rebels keep pressure on the retreating Federals, but the nature of the
terrain and the limits it placed on their command and control system played an
important part also. Although the Confederates enjoyed an almost 3-to-1
advantage in numbers initially, they were only rarely able to take advantage of
it, whereas the Federals could afford to trade space for time, knowing they had
strong reinforcements between themselves and the river, and Buell on the way.
Although the Confederates did not lose AS Johnston (played
by Jim) in our re-enactment, the battle did take a heavy toll of Confederate
commanders, including most notably Patrick Cleburne, killed leading his brigade
near Shiloh church. In real life,
Cleburne would be killed at the battle of Franklin in November 1864, but before
that he would become known as the “Stonewall of the West”, and widely
recognised as the ablest commander the Rebels had in the western theatre.
As for Shiloh itself, just as we did, the Confederates
simply ran out of time on the first day of the battle. Indeed, the F&F
scenario book seems ridiculously optimistic to assume that a 22 turn battle can
really be fought out in 8-9 hours; we got through just 12 turns in 7 hours, and
certainly weren’t dawdling.
Again, as in real life, our battle illustrated that Shiloh
church and the Hornet’s Nest were indeed the key locations on the field,
something which is not really apparent when looking at a map. Although modern
battlefield archaeology has cast doubt on the extent and ferocity of the
fighting at the latter, as described in veteran’s accounts, there is no
doubting the strength of the position with open fields in front at its eastern
and western ends, an impression certainly confirmed for Martin and Alan when
they walked the ground there just two months before.
Shiloh’s importance is often overlooked because it did
little to change the tactical situation; the Western theatre after the battle was much as
before. What it did do of course, was to
completely change the prevailing perspective on the war, North and South, East
and West. The scale of the casualties appalled both sides, and forced the
realisation that both sides were in deadly earnest, and that this would not be
a 90-day war, or settled in one major engagement.
Shiloh had repercussions for the commanders on both sides. Historians
generally agree that Grant and Sherman were caught by complete surprise, and after
the battle, Halleck used it as an excuse to depose Grant. On the Confederate side, AS Johnston of course was dead, and
the Army of Tennessee would eventually get Braxton Bragg in charge. We can only
conjecture how history might have been different had Johnston not been killed.
It is unlikely that Johnston could have succeeded in throwing the Union army
into the Tennessee river that day, but he could hardly have been a worse
commander than Bragg proved to be.
it may not have been fully appreciated at the time but Shiloh did change the situation in the West strategically, however, because it cemented the Union's hold on W Tennessee after the earlier victories at Forts Henry and Donelson. I would argue that failing to secure a victory at Shiloh was the
first point at which it is possible with hindsight to say that the Confederacy
was doomed to lose the war. If Johnston had indeed soundly defeated the Union
army that day, then the Union invasion of W Tennessee that Spring would have
become moot, and US Grant might have been just another failed Union general’s
name on the long list sacked by Abraham Lincoln. By failing to halt the Union
advance at Shiloh however, the Confederacy was opened up to further losses
later that summer, at Corinth and Iuka, and ultimately it gave Grant a back
door to Vicksburg, the key to the Mississippi valley.
Most historians would agree today that, contrary to the
prevailing opinion at the time, the Western theatre of the war was far more
important than the East, and ultimately, it was the irretrievable losses in the
West which doomed the Confederacy. And
the first of those losses was at Shiloh...