Battle of Shiloh (Early Morning Attack)

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Buckeye Bill

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* Early morning attack

Before 6 a.m. on Sunday, April 6th, 1862, Confederate General Albert S. Johnston's army was deployed for battle, straddling the Corinth Road. The army had spent the entire night making a camp in order of battle within 2 miles of the Federal camp near Major General William T. Sherman's headquarters at Shiloh Church. Despite several contacts, a few minor skirmishes with Federal forces, and the failure of the army to maintain proper noise discipline in the days leading up to the 6th, their approach and dawn assault achieved a strategic and tactical surprise. Major General Ulysses S. Grant wanted to avoid provoking any major battles until the linkup with Major General Don C. Buell's Army of the Ohio was complete. Thus the Federal army had sent out no scouts or regular patrols and did not have any sentries in place for early warning, concerned that scouts and patrols might provoke a major battle before the Army of the Ohio finished crossing the Tennessee River. Grant telegraphed a message to Major General Henry W. Halleck on the night of April 5th, "I have scarcely the faintest idea of an attack (general one) being made upon us, but will be prepared should such a thing take place." Grant's declaration proved to be overstated. Sherman, the informal camp commander at Pittsburg Landing, did not believe the Confederates had a major assault force nearby; he discounted the possibility of an attack from the south. Sherman expected that Johnston would eventually attack from the west towards Purdy, Tennessee. When Colonel Jesse Appler, 53rd Ohio Infantry, warned Sherman that an attack was imminent, the general angrily replied, "Take your ****ed regiment back to Ohio. There are no Confederates closer than Corinth."

Around 3 a.m., Federal Colonel Everette Peabody, commanding Brigadier General Benjamin Prentiss's 1st Brigade, sent a patrol of 250 infantry men from the 25th Missouri and the 12th Michigan out on reconnaissance patrol, convinced that the constant reports of Confederate contacts over the last few days meant there was a strong possibility of a large confederate force in the area. The patrol, under the command of Major James E. Powell, met fire from Confederates who then fled into the woods. A short time later, 5:15 a.m., they encountered Confederate outposts manned by the 3rd Mississippi Battalion, and a spirited fight lasted about an hour. Arriving messengers and sounds of gunfire from the skirmish alerted the nearest Federal troops, who formed battle line positions before the Confederates were able to reach them; however, the Federal army command had not adequately prepared for an attack on their camps. When Prentiss learned that Peabody had sent out a patrol without his authorization he was outraged and accused the Colonel of provoking a major engagement in violation of Grant's orders, but he soon realized he was facing an assault by an entire Confederate army and rushed to prepare his men for defense. By 9 a.m. Federal forces at Pittsburg Landing were either engaged or moving toward the front line. Both Peabody and Powell were soon killed in the subsequent fighting.

The confusing alignment of the Confederate army helped reduce the effectiveness of the attack, since Johnston and Major General P.G.T. Beauregard had no unified battle plan. Earlier, Johnston had telegraphed Confederate President Jefferson Davis his plan for the attack: "Polk the left, Bragg the center, Hardee the right, Breckinridge in reserve." His strategy was to emphasize the attack on his right flank to prevent the Union army from reaching the Tennessee River, its supply line and avenue of retreat. Johnston instructed Beauregard to stay in the rear and direct men and supplies as needed, while he rode to the front to lead the men on the battle line. This effectively ceded control of the battle to Beauregard, who had a different concept, which was simply to attack in three waves and push the Federal army eastward to the Tennessee River. The corps of Hardee and Bragg began the assault with their divisions in one line, nearly 3 miles wide and about 2 miles from its front to its rear column. As these units advanced, they became intermingled and difficult to control. Corps commanders attacked in line without reserves, and artillery could not be concentrated to effect a breakthrough. At about 7:30 a.m., from his position in the rear, Beauregard ordered the corps of Polk and Breckinridge forward on the left and right of the line, diluting their effectiveness. The attack therefore went forward as a frontal assault conducted by a single linear formation, which lacked both the depth and weight needed for success. Units marching through rough uneven terrain were unable to maintain formation integrity and ended up mixing together with regiments from other commands. Generals ended up having to take command of zones of the battlefield rather than their own assigned divisions. Command and control, in the modern sense, were lost from the onset of the first assault.

* Wikipedia

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