Battlefield Tour – Day 2: Shiloh

The two day Battle of Shiloh, fought April 6-7, 1862, was the first really big, really bloody battle of the war between the states, fought largely by green soldiers who had not yet seen combat. Civil War historian Shelby Foote has called Shiloh a “disorganized, murderous fist fight”. The battle of Shiloh was fought by over 100,000 soldiers, with over 24,000 men killed, wounded or missing. It was a bloodbath, and it sent deep shock waves through the citizenry. It was a wake up call that this was going to be a terrible, terrible war.

For the second day of our adventure, Andrew had an inspired idea. He suggested we wake up early and jog the Shiloh battlefield at sunrise. We all agreed that was a great idea so we woke up early this morning and made our way to Shiloh.

Tennessee is pretty. Very pretty. But the place we’re staying at, Counce Tennessee, is home to a paper factory. Thankfully our hotel is outside of the blast zone, but driving within three blocks of the factory is like driving through a high pressure dome of smell. Unfortunately, we had to pass this olfactory hazard to make it to the Shiloh battlefield.

We arrived and parked at the still-active Shiloh Methodist church. Unfortunately I failed to photograph the original Shiloh church which is nearby. It is a log cabin (and as I found out later, just a replica) that was the scene of heavy fighting the first day of the battle, and gave the battle its name.

Andrew and Kenny, pretending to warm up

We set off at a jog from Shiloh church, stopping periodically to take in various monuments and points of interest.

We ran east of the church, along the Sunken Road and the Peach Orchard (currently being replanted, evidently), scenes of heavy fighting and critical resistance mounted by the Union against the strong Confederate attack on the first day of the battle. We turned northward and stopped at Bloody Pond. It is named thus because of the wounded of both sides who dragged themselves to the pond to slake their thirst with water which soon grew dark with the blood of the dead and dying.

The Sunken Road

The Peach Orchard, currently being replanted

Andrew and Kenny at Bloody Pond

We ran toward the Visitors center, near Pittsburg Landing, where Buell’s reinforcements disembarked on the evening of the first day of battle, helping to turn the tide for the Union. We failed to find the landing (we didn’t have a map) so we turned around and ran back to Shiloh church. I estimate we ran about five miles all told.

We headed back to the hotel for breakfast, then showered and rested before getting some pizza and heading back to the battlefield.

We started at the Visitor’s Center this time, where Kenny and Andrew donned period uniforms and posed for pictures.

Andrew and Kenny – North versus South


Following this, we walked the battlefield for several more hours. Shiloh is an extraordinarily well-preserved battlefield, and smaller than some of the later battlefields we visited, and it is relatively easy to picture what happened.

There are 3,584 Union dead (of whom 2,357 are unknown) buried at the cemetery. Shiloh was an early battle, fought before the Union had its processes developed for dealing with casualties. With warm weather coming on, most of the dead from the battle were buried quickly; the Union soldiers were buried in individual graves and the Confederates were buried in trench-shaped mass graves. The Union soldiers were disinterred years later and laid to rest in Shiloh National Cemetery. It is disconcerting to note how many of the dead went unidentified.

Me and Andrew, in front of Shiloh National Cemetery

The graves at Shiloh. The short graves mark the unidentified, with just a number inscribed

We then walked to Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee river. This is where reinforcements eventually arrived to bail General Grant out. It was really kind of foolish for Grant to deploy the Union army with its back to this river and creeks on its right and left flanks. The army was completely boxed in and narrowly avoided disaster when the Confederates attacked and pressed it to the river.

Above Pittsburg Landing

The commander of the Confederate army was Albert Sidney Johnston, a gallant and well-respected Southern general. He led the final charge against the Peach Orchard personally, and was mortally wounded in that charge, having received a bullet behind his left knee which severed an artery. He could have been easily saved, but he had sent his personal doctor to go tend the wounded of both his own army and also the wounded among the captured union soldiers. There was no one around him who realized that he needed a tourniquet until it was too late. We stood quietly at the site of his passing, in a ravine some distance from where he was wounded. None of us had much to say.

General Albert Sidney Johnston was mortally wounded here

He died in this ravine, about fifty yards away

Shiloh was one of the first battles where places of terrible carnage received names that would live on, names like “Bloody Pond” and “The Hornet’s Nest”, We paused for a moment at the Hornets Nest, a tangled thicket and the site of some truly awful combat.

At the Hornet’s Nest

Like all Civil War National Parks, the grounds are dotted with monuments to the various units that fought in the battle, with the monuments set on the field of battle where the units were known to be engaged.

Monument to the soldiers of Iowa

Monument to the soldiers of Wisconsin

Here is one of the five known burial trenches containing Confederate dead.

One of five known Confederate burial trenches

Shiloh was a Union victory, but just barely. It is said that on the night of April 6th, after that first terrible day of fighting, General William Tecumseh Sherman located Ulysses S. Grant and said “Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?”

In typical fashion, Grant replied, “Yes. Lick ’em tomorrow, though.”

And he did.

We left Shiloh around 4:30pm and drove to Franklin, Tennessee. We ate dinner at the Bunganut Pig, which is an English-style pub. Jill had worked things out so that our longtime friend Nellie, who first introduced me to Jill way back in the day, could join us for dinner. Andrew, Kenny and I arrived early and snacked on potato wedges until Nellie showed up. When she did show up, I got up excitedly to give her a hug, accidentally sending my large, full glass of ice-water flying. Nellie got a kick out of that. I live to amuse.

It was great reminiscing with Nellie about our days in Glorieta, NM, and all that has happened since.

Reunion with my good friend, Nellie

Following our meal, we said our goodbyes and drove to Murfreesboro, the site of the Stone’s River battleground, which we’ll visit tomorrow.

Battlefield Tour – Day 1: Setting out and Rowan Oak

Date: very early Sunday morning, April 22

Who: Three sleep-deprived men. Yours truly, my son Andrew, and his friend Kenny

Our Objective: Experience the battlefields of the Civil War in the Western theater (primarily Tennessee). Almost exactly ten years ago, Andrew and I had toured the battlefields in the Eastern theater; Gettysburg, Antietam, Bull Run. Our goals this time include Shiloh, Chickamauga, Lookout Mountain, Stones’ River, Vicksburg.

Our Day 1 destination: Oxford Mississippi, to visit Faulkner’s house, and then on to Tennessee.

We started out before 6:00am. None of us had much sleep the night before, Andrew and Kenny having arrived around 2:00am that morning, and me having had a whirlwind day of getting ready for the trip and a fitful night of sleep that started around 11:30pm.

We piled our bags into our rented Nissan Altima. And it is at this point in my narrative that I must digress:


I rented the car the previous day. Jill drove me to the airport and we picked the car up around 3:30pm. Upon driving out of the lot, I noticed that the transmission appeared stuck; it was not shifting out of first. This struck me as odd, since the car only had about 3,000 miles on it. So now to get it back to the rental lot and raise a fuss.

But how to get back to the rental lot? You see, in the time it took me to realize that the car wasn’t shifting, I was already on the highway that leads toward the airport, because I took a wrong turn. Jill, undoubtedly rolling her eyes at seeing this oft-repeated circumstance, patiently waited for me to figure out which way was what, and after about ten minutes I was finally back at the rental place.

I pulled in. Shut the car off (in disgust!), stepped out of it and notified the attendant that the transmission on this car must be shot. He gave me a strange look, but, wronged as I was, I paid him no mind and marched over to the rental desk and announced that I needed a new car because the one they had rented to me was no good. They too gave me a quizzical look, asked for my paperwork, and then, as I was checking out which car I now wanted, with Jill texting me that I should demand an upgrade, they promptly lost my paperwork. After scrambling around for several minutes, they found it again. The lady behind the counter had accidentally handed it to one of the attendants who was using it as a scratch pad to scribble notes.

This was all too much. I was swiftly approaching high dudgeon when the original attendant to whom I had dropped the car off drove up . . . in the car. Here’s how the conversation went.

Attendant: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this car.

Me (smiling patronizingly): well, you’ve only driven it in this lot. You need to take it out and get it up to speed and then you’ll see that the transmission isn’t working.

Attendant: I did. This transmission works fine.

Me (speaking as to a young, wayward student): Impossible. When I drove it, it was stuck in first gear.

Attendant (smiling like the mongoose before he devours the snake): That’s because you had the car shifted down to first gear.

He was nice enough not to add you idiot to the end of that. He had to show me what I did wrong: the Nissan Altima does indeed have a shifter that will lock into first gear if you push it all the way to the left, which I did.

In my defense, do people go mudding or haul trailers in their Nissan Altima?

Well, I guess some do. Chastened, and having offered apologies all around, I drove off the lot sheepishly in my perfectly operational rental car, with personal dignity much less operational.

/Digression Fin

So we started out. I drove for the first four hours until Andrew took over. My shift carried us across that invisible line between Texas and Louisiana, in which the landscape changes almost immediately from the familiar Texas landscape to the strangeness of driving on stilted highways through the enormous, shabby green sight (and smell) of Louisiana Bayou. We occupied ourselves by listening to a great audio book, Moneyball by Michael Lewis. Fascinating, funny, and I’ll never watch a baseball game the same way again.

We stopped for lunch and ate some strange tasting (or strangely tasteless) chicken at a KFC somewhere in Mississippi, and then continued on. Our immediate goal was Oxford, Mississippi, and we needed to get there before 4:00pm, because that’s when Faulkner’s house, Rowan Oak, closed for the day. We got to Oxford, around 3:20, and, following some poorly worded advice from the Google map printout, promptly turned the wrong way. We discovered the error of our ways about five miles later, called the Rowan Oak number, got ourselves some better advice, turned around, and again asked directions from a yellow-jacketed security person when we hit the University of Mississippi. Turns out we had overshot again. We turned around, got to the right street, and finally made it to Rowan Oak with about twenty minutes to spare.

William Faulkner lived at Rowan Oak from the early thirties until his death in 1962. I haven’t read any Faulkner, but Andrew is a big fan, and I guess it’s time I picked up something by this author. My understanding is that he is one of the great American authors, one of those mid 20th century southern writers who wrote in a rather dark vein.

Some pictures:

Rowan Oak

Kenny, Andrew and me

Faulkner’s library

Walking the grounds

There are some great trees on this property

Where’s Andrew?

The visit to Rowan Oak was worth it. A good stop.

At this point, Kenny took over driving and took us the two hours to Counce, Tennessee, which is twenty minutes or so away from the Shiloh battlefield. We checked into our hotel, then grabbed a bite at a local eatery called The Ribcage, which has good food and gave us our first experience with Tennessee accents; for instance, the waitress asked us after the meal if we wanted some “paa” (Key Lime Pie).

Back to the hotel to rest up for an early start tomorrow.