Buell and Grant Surprise the Rebels at Shiloh; Island No. 10 Falls

April 7, 1862 (Monday)

General Grant tried to sleep, first under a tree near his men and then in a cabin that he found already occupied with the wounded. Through the night, Union transports and reinforcements arrived at Pittsburg Landing, bringing 25,000 much-needed men. Grant was certain that his line could withstand a Confederate attack. In fact, he was so certain, that he wanted to go on the offensive.

Meanwhile, General Beauregard, now the sole commander of the Confederate Army of Mississippi, slept in General Sherman’s tent, the former owner vacating it as the Rebels attacked the previous day. He had reported to President Davis a “complete victory,” but gave no clue as to how he would follow it up come morning. He had no idea that Union General Buell’s Army of the Ohio had joined Grant’s Army of the Tennessee. His army was scattered, disassociated and worn out. His plan must have been to attack as he took no precautions to defend against a Union assault. He believed he had Grant exactly where he wanted him. And he was wrong.

As the rains fell over friend and foe alike, Grant arrayed his men. He did not, however, command the entire Union force. General Buell retained command of his army, while Grant retained commander over his own troops. There were strained relations between the two, and so, agreeing to agree, both decided to attack. Buell would take the left, Grant the right.

At dawn, General Nelson’s Division, holding the extreme Union left, stepped off. The Rebels had pulled back a half-mile or so and Nelson’s only orders were to “find the enemy and whip him.”

The scattered foe consisted of only 20,000 – less than half of the morning’s Union force could field. Holding the Confederate right was the remnants of General Breckinridge’s Corps. They were the first to be surprised by the dawn attack. Before long, they were joined by the rest of Buell’s Army, now a single blue line, over a mile long. Tipped off by Nelson, the Rebels quickly formed a stiff defense, ready to repel the Federals. For a time, the Confederates halted Buell’s advance as fighting waxed and waned, erupting into furious, but often short, battles.

On the Union right, General Grant had easily moved to Buell’s right, brushing aside several Rebel batteries in the process. They met no serious Confederate resistance until they covered a mile and a half of ground. By noon, Buell’s men had retaken the Hornets Nest and were pressing the Rebels farther and farther back.

The Rebels counterattacked, hoping to stop the swell, as their artillery shelled the enemy infantry. Through thick woods and thicker smoke, both sides fired blindly at faint muzzle flashes. As the Confederates would counter, they fell back, giving up more and more ground.

General Beauregard realized by noon that he could not win. Still, he held out hope that General Earl Van Dorn’s Army of the West, rebuilt since its defeat at Pea Ridge a month ago, would appear on the field. They were, however, no closer than Memphis, having abandoned Arkansas and Missouri to the Union, and would be no help. Finally understanding this, Beauregard ordered a withdraw.

He placed elements of Breckinridge’s Corps on the hills overlooking Shiloh Church as the rest of the Army of Mississippi filed behind them, moving back to Corinth. The cold rain, falling on and off throughout the day, turned to sleet and sometimes hail. Neither Grant nor Buell ordered their respective Union armies to follow and were more than content to see the Rebels leave Shiloh.

Grant had been taken completely unaware in one of the most brilliant surprise attacks of the war. The Confederates had overplayed their hand, however, and were unable to secure victory on the first day. Buell’s arrival on the second sealed their fate and they were sloshing the twenty-five miles back to their base.

The losses on both sides were unbelievable. The Union suffered 1,754 killed, 8,408 wounded and 2,885 captured or missing. The Confederates lost a similar amount with 1,728 killed, 8,012 wounded and 959 missing. One Rebel brigade, that of General Patrick Cleburne, went into the fight with 2,750 men. Two days later, only 58 remained. 1


The Fall of Island No. 10

The Union Army of Mississippi, commanded by General John Pope, had besieged Island No. 10 in the Mississippi River. They had taken New Madrid several weeks back and the navy, under Commodore Andrew Foote, had bombarded the island with no results.

Pope wanted to cross his army over from the Missouri side of the river, and wanted the Navy to cover him. Foote was convinced that the Rebel batteries near Island No. 10 would destroy his fleet. After a failed attempt at building a canal to bypass the island, Foote finally agreed to attempt to slip past the Rebels under cover of fog and darkness.

They, and the weather, waited until April 4th to make their first attempt. Without a moon, and through sheets of rain, the Carondelet quietly steamed within what would have been normal sight of the Rebel batteries. Due to having rerouted the steam in order to muffle it, the soot in the smokestacks ignited, sending a five foot high jet of fire into the air. Somehow, the Rebels missed this, but when the second smokestack followed suit, they sounded the alarm and began to fire upon the Carondelet.

Discovered, the Federals made a run for it. With the support of other Union ships upriver, she made it to New Madrid and safety.

Pope was itching to cross, but when Foote promised him another boat on the night of the 6th, he decided to wait. The Pittsburgh, through another storm of both rain and artillery, tied up at New Madrid, having successfully run the Rebel gauntlet.

On the morning of the 7th (this date), the two ships engaged the Rebel batteries downriver from New Madrid, at Watson’s Landing, where Pope wished to disembark his men. By 11am, transport steamers carried the 3,000 Federals to the landing. They encountered only a slave, who informed them at there was nobody there but him. The Rebels had retreated south to Tiptonville, which offered no escape.

Nearly 400 Confederates deserted through the Union lines before General William Mackall, Rebel commander, offered his surrender. That night, what was left of the garrison on the island surrendered to Commodore Foote. The Mississippi River was now open all the way down to Fort Pillow.

Through the formal surrenders the following day, Federal forces bagged roughly 4,500 Rebels and the island that had proven so impenetrable.2

  1. Just like yesterday, I had several books open and lying around me. They were (in no particular order): Army of the Heartland; The Army of Tennessee 1861-1862 by Thomas Lawrence Connelly, The Army of Tennessee by Stanley F. Horn, Northing But Victory; The Army of the Tennessee 1862-1865 by Steven E. Woodworth, Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862 by O. Edward Cunningham, Grant Rises in the West; The First Year, 1861-1862 by Kenneth P. Williams. I also used Pea Ridge by William L. Shea & Earl J. Hess; Days of Glory; The Army of the Cumberland, 1861-1865 by Larry J. Daniel; and All for the Regiment; The Army of the Ohio, 1861-1862 by Gerald J. Prokopowicz. []
  2. Island No. 10 by Larry J. Daniel and Lynn N. Bock. []
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2 thoughts on “Buell and Grant Surprise the Rebels at Shiloh; Island No. 10 Falls

  1. I’ve read that the battle of Shiloh produced more casualties than the total of all wars fought by the United States to that date. Is this true?

    1. I’ve heard that too, but I don’t believe it.

      Shiloh had 23,746 casualties (including missing and captured), while the American Rev had 25,000 American deaths (only 8,000 were from battle), with around 50,000 total casualties, plus roughly 20,000 for the Brits. The War of 1812 had roughly 15,000 American casualties and almost as many British. The Mexican War had roughly 13,000 American casualties and roughly 16,000 Mexican.

      These are all rough estimates (quickly culled from Wikipedia), but if the other wars were even half as many, it still wouldn’t qualify.

      When people say things like this, it usually is filtered with qualifiers. Sometimes they’ll make them “battlefield deaths,” but most often they’ll lump in US and CS casualties together, and compare them to US deaths of another war. That would only tell half the story.

      Probably, this line of thinking came from a time when the nation was trying to recover from the War by seeing us all as Americans. I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that, but it *does* make for some shifty book keeping.

      So yes, there were a lot of casualties at Shiloh, but not enough to be more than all of the wars fought by the US to that date. Thank god.

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