Sunday, February 13, 2011

Shiloh Battlefield Hike

Location: Shiloh National Military Park, Hardin County TN
Length: 10 Miles
Difficulty: Strenuous

Overview: This lengthy hike covers most of the major sites at this amazing battlefield. One great way to follow the two-day battle is to become familiar with the historical tablets that dot the park. These tablets were placed by the War Department and are coded by color and shape. Blue square tablets represent Union Army of the Tennessee and yellow oval tablets represent the Union Army of the Ohio. Red rectangle tablets represent Confederate Army of the Mississippi and black tablets represent Union campsites. When reading the tablets, you are facing the same way as the troops where during the time of the battle. I will be focusing mostly on the April 6th fighting during the description of the hike.

After capturing Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant began moving his army down towards the important Confederate rail junction of Corinth, Mississippi.  On April 3rd, 1862, troops led by Confederate Gen. Albert Sydney Johnston left Corinth to surprise Grant’s troops, which were camped along the Tennessee River near Pittsburg Landing. A small Union reconnaissance party lead by Union Maj. James Powell encountered the Confederate battle lines on April 6th near Fraley Field.  Shots were fired breaking the early morning silence and the Battle of Shiloh had begun.

Shiloh Battlefield Hike: I like to start my hike at the parking lot near at the northern end of Rhea Field. The first shots at Fraley Field where fired a little less than a mile to the south of the parking lot. This area can be incorporated into the hike, but I like to focus on the large scale fighting that occurred at Shiloh. In front of the parking lot was the make shift Union line that Union Col. Jesse Hildebrand and Col. Ralph P. Buckland from Brig. Gen. William T. Sherman’s Division assembled in the early hours on April 6th.  To your left is where three Confederate Brigades led by Brig. Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne, Brig. Gen. Patton Anderson and Brig. Gen. Bushrod R. Johnson attacked Buckland’s position near Shiloh Church. Gen. Sherman was wounded in the northern corner of Rhea Field while organizing his troops.

Follow the hiking trail north from the parking lot across the East Branch of Shiloh Creek. This is the area covered by Confederate Col. Robert M. Russell’s Brigade as they assailed Hildebrand’s position on the high ground in front of you. Continue on the trail until you come to one of the five Confederate burial trenches at the battlefield. Because of the warm weather after the battle, Grant ordered the dead to be buried immediately. Confederate soldiers were stacked in these trenches sometimes seven men deep. Supposedly, there may be up to 6-7 more burial trenches that have not been found and have been lost over time.

Continue on the trail until it emerges onto the Hamburg-Purdy Road. This is the road where Sherman’s and Maj. Gen. John A. McClernand’s Divisions formed their defensive line after the initial Confederate attacks near Shiloh Church. Sherman’s troops were located to the left of the crossroads while McClernand’s Division was placed in front of you. The Confederate attack here triggered some of the heaviest fight of the battle, evidenced by three Confederate burial trenches in the area. Before the Union troops were forced back towards Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River, they counterattacked here but were repulsed.  On your left is a mortuary monument where Union Col. Julius Raith was killed from musket fire.

Turn right on Hamburg-Purdy Road and follow it past Confederate Road. You will soon walk past a large field to your left that is Review Field. This field saw major fighting on April 7th, as Union Brig. Gen. Stephen A. Hurlbut’s Division attacked the Confederate line along the road.

Continue on Hamburg-Purdy road and turn left on Ruggles Battery Trail. To the east of the trail is where Brig. Gen. W.H. L. Wallace’s Division felled back when Brig. Gen. Benjamin M. Prentiss line collapsed near the Eastern Corinth Road. The Union’s line was positioned at a sunken road, which is known as the “Hornet’s Nest”. After Confederate infantry failed to dislodge the Federals from there protected position with a bayonet charge, Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard ordered 50-60 pieces of artillery to be assemble along this line and fire at the Federal position along the sunken road. At the time, this was the single largest artillery barrage ever seen in North America.

Follow the trail until you reach Duncan Field on your right. The right side of the field was used during Confederate attacks against the Union line at the Sunken Road. Col. William H. Gibson’s Louisiana and Arkansas Brigade was the first to attack the Hornet’s Nest. His brigade attacked Col. James M. Tuttle’s Iowa Brigade along the right edge of Duncan’s Field. The dense undergrowth and heavy musket fire helped to break up the Confederates formation, causing them to fall back and reform their lines. Gibson’s Brigade again charged the Sunken Road, but the Federals were waiting for them. The Union line waited until the Confederates were within 25 yards and then fired a devastating barrage from the roadbed. The Confederate line crumbed and was forced to shoot into the undergrowth that hid the Union soldiers. Gibson’s Brigade fell back and advanced a third time without success.

Confederate Col. R. G. Shaver’s three Arkansas Regiments were the next Confederate troops to attack Tuttle’s line. As they approached the Federal line, Union artillery and Iowa Infantry opened fire from a heavy rail fence and drove back Shaver’s men. The Union line held on despite taking large amount of casualties during these attacks.

Walk across Duncan field towards the Sunken Road, which was an old country lane at the time of the battle. When you reach the Sunken Road, turn right and follow it through the woods. Continue on the Sunken Road Trail until you reach Eastern Corinth Road. This the center of the Hornet’s Nest where confederate attacks focused on and where repulsed multiple times.

Continue on the Sunken Road Trail until you emerge at the Peach Orchard and William Manse George’s Cabin. This is my favorite area of the battlefield because of the open views and the area saw much action on April 6th.  It was here that Union Brig. Gen. Stephen A. Hurlburt’s Division extended the Federal line from Hornet’s Nest across Sarah Bell’s Old Cotton Field and the Peach Orchard that covered the northern section of the field. Confederate Brig. Gen. John C. Breckenridge’s Reserved Corps was sent in by Gen. Johnston to attack Hurlburt’s line. This attacked was lead by Confederate Col. Winfield S. Statham and Brig. Gen. John S. Bowen’s Brigades.

As you look out across the field from the cabin, you can see the line of cannons on a crest that shows were Hurlburt’s line was located. The cabin here is the only wartime structure that was standing during the time of the battle. To your left is the Peach Orchard that the park has planted and maintained. Cross the fence and walk out towards the Union monuments to get a better view at the field where the Confederates made their attack. This crest had Union artillery that fired canister and shrapnel as the Confederates approached from the Hamburg-Purdy Road, stalling their attacks.

Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston and Tennessee Governor Isham G. Harris were in the area trying to rally the men to leave their cover and assault the Union line. One regiment, the 45th Tennessee had taken shelter in a ditch near the Peach Orchard and would not budged. Governor Harris and Gen. Johnston came rode over to them and led them towards Union Col. Issac C. Pugh’s regiment that was placed near the Peach Orchard. The peach trees were in full bloom at the time of the battle creating the illusion of snow falling as bullets pasted through the trees.

Pugh’s regiment was pushed back with help from a few scatter units led by Col. George Maney from Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Cheatham’s Division.  As the Hurlburt’s line began to crumble, Gen. Albert Johnston was struck in the leg by a Minnie ball while riding his horse “Fire-eater”. Due to the excitement of the retreating Union troops, General Johnston ignored the wound until it was to late and reeled in his saddle.

Look to your left and you will see Gen. Albert Johnston’s mortuary monument across the Hamburg-Savannah Road. Cut across the field to the monument and find the tree with the iron fence. This is not the oak tree that Gen. Johnston was under when hit but it is easy to image that this is a descendant of the tree that stood here at the time of the battle. Continue pass the tree to the ravine until you find Gen. Johnston’s “death site”.  As Gen. Johnston reeled in his saddle, Governor Harris grabbed him and led his horse to this spot. The Governor helped the Johnston from the saddle but could not stop the bleeding and Johnston soon died leaving the command of the Army of Mississippi in Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard’s hands. Albert Johnston was the highest-ranking Confederate general to be killed in battle.

Retrace your steps and turn right on Hamburg-Savannah Road and follow it until you reach the Bloody Pond on your left. The close proximity to the fighting at the Peach Orchard caused this shallow pond to be a place where wounded soldiers from both sides went to quench their thirst and wash their wounds. The pond soon turned red as the men’s blood mixed with the water.

Continue on Hamburg-Savannah Road until you reach Wicker Field. The Union Army of Ohio used this field during the second day of the battle as they assaulted the Hornet’s Nest area, which you walked through earlier. Cut through the field and follow the trail that leads into the woods. As you walk through these woods, the sunken road is running parallel less that a quarter of a mile to your left. After the Peach Orchard line collapsed, the troops defending the sunken road were surrounded and forced back to this area.

Follow the trail you reach Eastern-Corinth Road. Union Brig. Gen. Benjamin M. Prentiss soon realized the he was about to be surrounded and begin moving his troops back towards Pittsburg Landing. Turn right on Eastern-Corinth Road and follow it until you see Union Brig. Gen. W.H.L Wallace’s mortuary monument. During the withdrawal from the Honest Nest, Brig. Gen. Wallace was struck down by confederate bullet. Believing he was dead, his brother in law tried to carry the corpse off the field of battle with the help of a few Union soldiers, but was forced to leave the body behind due to the heavy fighting in the area. When the Federals counterattack the next day, they found the general to be still alive and he was brought back to Savannah to his waiting wife. Gen. W.H.L. Wallace lasted a few days with the care of his wife before succumbing to his wounds.

Turn left on Corinth Road and then turn right on the Prentiss Surrender site trail. Here the Union troops where surrounded and is known as Hell’s Hollow. Here, the Federal troops were cut of from Pittsburg Landing but continued to fight. To stop any more senseless killing, Union Brig. Gen. Prentiss rode on his horse with a white flag and surrendered hundreds of Union soldiers.

Retrace your steps and turn right on Corinth Road until you see the Confederate Monument. The center of this beautiful monument depicts “defeated victory” of the Confederacy with the bust of Albert Johnston below it. On the left is the frustrated cavalry soldier who could not get through the dense underbrush, and on the right is the infantry raising his flag boldly.

Bear right through the field after the Confederate Monument until you reach Cloud Field. Follow the road through Cloud Field until you reach the Shiloh Indian Mounds Nation Historic Landmarks. Though not a major part of the battlefield, this interesting area is well worth the side trip. You are now walking through an Indian village that stood on the banks of the Tennessee River about 800 years ago. There are over 30 burial mounds ranging from 5 to 15 feet tall within the village. Follow the road until you reach a large mound with wooden steps leading to the top. Here you can get a great view of the Tennessee River. Continue on the road and you will see the area where the two Union gunships, Lexington and Tyler, shelled the Confederates through the night after the first day of the battle.

Continue on the road towards Pittsburg Landing. Here at Dill Branch, you can see how the terrain made it difficult for the Confederates to cut off the Federals from Pittsburg Landing. Continue on the road until you reach Pittsburg Landing. Here you can see how the bluff gives way and allowed Union Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell’s steam boats to unload men and supplies that helped to turn the tide of the battle. Also, after the first day, thousands of nervous Union troops huddled in this area looking for a way across the river and away from danger.

Continue straight to Shiloh National Cemetery. In 1866, the war department established this cemetery that holds 3,584 Civil War dead, 2,539 are unknown. Take time to walk through the cemetery to get a better understanding of the carnage that occurred over the land that you have walked.  Make sure to walk towards the river and find the 16th Wisconsin Regiment Monument.  The monument is dedicated to the 6 color bearers that were killed carrying their flag.

Next to the cemetery is the visitor center that can provide more detail information about the battle that took place here. Leave the visitor center and turn right on Pittsburg Landing Road. Here you can see Grant’s Last Line where Union troops rallied and regrouped around the large siege cannons that can be seen lining the road. As the Confederates converge towards this area, their attack began to lose steam. There was confusion in the ranks after Albert Johnston was killed and exhaustion soon began to take effect as the sun began to set. As darkness fell on the first day of battle, Gen. Grant received support from two directions. On Grant’s right, Union Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace’s Third Division finally arrived from Crump’s Landing and Union Maj. Gen Buell’s men began to fill the ranks from Pittsburg Landing. These troops would help to change the course of the battle on the next day.

Continue on Pittsburg Landing Road until you reach Chambers Field. Walk into the field towards the southeast corner and find a trail. Follow the trail until you reach Calvary Road. Walk across the road to another Confederate burial trench. It was through this area that Confederates pushed backed Union Brig. Gen. Sherman and Maj. Gen. McClernand’s troops towards Grant’s Last Line after the break through at the Crossroads.

After visiting the Confederate burial trench, turn left on Cavalry Road and follow it until you reach Jones Field. It was here on southern portion of the field that Sherman and McClernand reformed their troops and prepared them for a counterattack towards the Crossroads. Here the road turns into Sherman Road. Continue on Sherman Road until you reach a Confederate burial trench on the right.

This is believed to be the largest burial trench that is known and supposedly holds as many as 721 Confederate soldiers buried 7 men deep. Above the mass grave flies the Stars and Bars, which is the only place on national park land where the Confederate flag flies.

Retrace your steps and continue south on Sherman Road until you enter Woolf Field. This field is connected to the Crossroads area and saw major fighting on both days of the battle. It was here that Sherman and McClernand’s men attacked after reforming at Jones Field. The counterattack smashed into Confederate Brig. Gen. Bushrod R. Johnson and Brig. Gen. Patton Anderson’s Brigades and quickly drove them back towards Shiloh Church. With no fresh troops, the counterattack soon stalled and the Federal troops were again sent back towards Jones Field.

Woolf Field is a great place to sit and imagine the intense fighting that occurred in the Crossroads area. My brother and I like to sit next to Water Oaks Pond and admire the monuments before we finish the last leg of the hike. Next to the pond is the beautiful Tennessee Monument. This monument was placed here in 2005 and is the last monument allowed to be erected on the battlefield.

When ready, continue down to the Crossroads. Here Sherman Road turns into Corinth Road. Follow Corinth Road until you reach the modern Shiloh Church. Find the reconstructed Shiloh Church to your left and enter. Although not the original, the 150 years old timber used to build this rustic structure allows you to image the little church that lent its name to one of the greatest battles of the war. The church was also the headquarters of Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard and was the first place where General Johnston’s body was laid after his death.

Continue on Corinth Road and stop at Peabody Road. Look towards the south and image how the Confederates advance across the fields in front of you, surprising the Federals on the morning of April 6th, and charged towards the hollowed ground around you. After contemplating the fighting and the beauty of Shiloh National Military Park, turn left on Peabody Road and continue to your car. This concludes the Shiloh Battlefield hike.

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