The two-day Battle of Shiloh, April 6-7, 1862, began on a warm Sunday morning with wildflowers blooming in the fields. It turned into the bloodiest battle of the Civil War up to that time. When it was over, casualties approached 24,000 with more than 3,400 dead in the first major battle of the Western theater of the war.
The Union Army had steadily gained control of Tennessee, and the struggling Confederacy concentrated forces at Corinth, Mississippi, a major railroad junction that could provide access to Memphis and the crucial Mississippi River. To protect Corinth, Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston assembled close to 44,000 troops, planning to attack the forces of Gen. Ulysses Grant, which were pinned against the river at Pittsburg Landing, before reinforcements could arrive.
Initially successful, Johnston’s men attacked again and again. The Federal line barely held. However, an ineffective formation and the confusion caused by varying Confederate uniforms lead to staggering losses from friendly fire. By mid-afternoon of the first day, Gen. Johnston was dead, mortally wounded while leading his men on an assault against the so-called “Hornets’ Nest.” An additional 25,000 reinforcements bolstered the Union's exhausted lines and drove the Southerners back across the battlefield.
Shiloh National Military Park, established in 1894, is considered one of the best-preserved battlefields in the nation. This park illustrates the story with 151 monuments, 217 cannons and more than 650 historic tablets on 4,200 acres. A 12.7-mile self-guided driving tour begins with a film at the visitors center. In summer, park rangers present interpretive programs throughout the day. During the 2012 sesquicentennial, the solemnity of Shiloh was conveyed by a grand illumination, when 23,746 luminarias, one for each casualty, lit up nine miles of the park’s tour route.
Take a drive through the park for spectacular views of the Tennessee River. On a bluff overlooking the river, a Native American town active about 800 years ago was the center of a society that occupied a 20-mile stretch of the Tennessee Valley. A National Historic Landmark, Shiloh Indian Mounds include six rectangular mounds that served as platforms for the town’s key buildings. The intact mounds within the protective boundary of the national military park make Shiloh one of the few places in the eastern U.S. with visible remains of prehistoric houses.
Also on the Tennessee River banks is Hagy’s Catfish Hotel, one of the oldest family-owned restaurants in the country. Famous for its delicious fried catfish with lemon pepper or Cajun spices, Hagy’s draws crowds from long distances. Seafood dishes and smokehouse specials such as ribs and ham are also popular.
Shiloh National Military Park is a testament to the lives lost in the first major battle of the Western theater. Walk through the park and cemetery for views of the Tennessee River.