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Shiloh National Military Park: Experience the Civil War History This April

The thing I remember most about my visit to Shiloh National Military Park is how peaceful its 4,200 acres seemed nearly 152 years after the epic battle took place here along the Tennessee River on April 6-7, 1862.

Shiloh is a lovely place with a tree-lined, 9.5-mile, paved, self-guided driving tour that makes a nice route for bikers and hikers, too. All along the drive, birds were chirping, insects were buzzing, dogwoods and redbuds showed the first signs of spring, and the grounds were lush and green unlike they would’ve been during the Civil War.

Shiloh Battlefield is open from dawn to dusk daily except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, but the best time to visit is during the activities that are scheduled for the annual commemoration of the Battle of Shiloh taking place this year from April 5-8, 2014.

Shiloh Visitors Center

The Visitor Center at Shiloh National Military Park is a good place to start your tour and it’s open daily from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. CT except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. (Photo: Cathy Summerlin)

Pittsburgh Landing on the western shore of the Tennessee River was one of the Interstate Highways of its time and a key route for Union troops set to strike a strategic blow. The steamboat landing was a busy spot. When General U.S. Grant took command of the Union army at Shiloh a training ground for raw recruits from the North became the second-largest city in America.

Thousands of Union troops were encamped around a Methodist log-church called the Shiloh Meeting House as they prepared for an overland of march 22 miles south to Corinth, Mississippi, where two key railroads met that provisioned the western armies of the Confederacy.

Early on Sunday morning, April 6, 1862, thousands of Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston’s soldiers who had marched to Shiloh and camped overnight nearby poured out of the woods like water though a ruptured levee. Gunpowder smoke filled the air making a deadly fog. The noise must have been deafening, the chaos and terror rampant.

Union soldiers fled through their own standing line. Eventually the Union army yielded. The soldiers retreated to the bluff but there were not enough boats to get them across the Tennessee River. Night fell, the course of the battle changed and names like Bloody Pond and Hornet’s Nest entered the collective consciousness of a stunned nation.

The hard fought battle of Shiloh, the bloodiest battle to that date, experienced 13,047 Union men lost, wounded or dead and 10,699 Confederate losses. The battle fought here reflects the heartrending brother-against- brother nature of the Civil War.

Shiloh National Military Park3, Shiloh State of TN (2)

Although the bombardment of Fort Sumter, South Carolina took place on April 12, 1861, and other battles including the Battle of Bull Run pitted the southern Confederacy of 11 states against the remaining 33 states during the intervening year, the Battle of Shiloh was a rude awakening that made clear to all that the Civil War would exact a dear price and not end quickly as many had believed. (Photo: State of Tennessee)

A paved loop road leads to the site of a town on the high Tennessee River bluff at the eastern edge of the Shiloh Plateau that was the center of a Mississippian Era farming society of mound builders that occupied a 20-mile long stretch of the Tennessee River Valley about 800 years ago.

The site is composed of remnants of six temple (Indian) mounds, rectangular with flat tops that were enclosed by a wooden palisade and most likely served as platforms for the town’s important buildings. Shiloh is one of the few locations where you can see the remains of prehistoric stick and mud (also called wattle and daub) houses on the surface of the ground.

There is also an oval, rounded-topped mound that was initially excavated in 1899 when the site’s most famous artifact, a large red stone pipe carved in the shape of a kneeling man, was discovered. More information about this artifact and the history of the Tennessee River from pre-historic inhabitants to modern times is displayed at the Tennessee River Museum in neighboring Savannah.

Call the Visitor Center between 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. CT at 731-689-5696 to pre-register for one of the three- to four-hour guided auto caravan tours or several options for hikes. Artillery firing demonstrations by re-enactors, 19th century wet plate photography programs with interpreters in period clothing and images produced using the wet plate process and evening programs are scheduled are scheduled for April 5 and 6.

Here’s a sampling of hikes that are being offered during this year’s free events.

Saturday, April 5: A three-mile hike begins at 9 a.m. in the Peach Orchard where petals fell on the wounded dying like snowflakes. Visitors examine the role geography played during the battle. An afternoon hike focuses on nearly 600 position markers and 150 monuments and the story of Shiloh.

Sunday, April 6: Start the day with a two-hour hike that begins at 5 a.m. to trace the approaches of Union and Confederate soldiers to Fraley Field at sunrise. A four-hour hike lets you examine the deadly duel that took place when Brigadier General Patrick Cleburne’s Confederate troops fought Sherman’s Union Division around Shiloh Church.

Other guided hikes explore the reconnaissance error that was so costly for the Confederates, the fighting at the Hornet’s Nest and Bloody Pond, identifies the roles of non-combatants, civilians and residents, visits the ravine where the 9th Illinois Infantry suffered the highest losses of any Union regiment and goes to the site of Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston’s death.

Monday, April 7: Caravan and walking tours continue to follow battle lines, examine strategies that turned Union defeat into victory and the aftermath of the terrible battle.

Tuesday April 8: A caravan tour examines the the Union pursuit and the Confederates’ efforts to allow their survivors to retreat to Corinth.

Have you experienced the history at Shiloh? Let me know in the comments.

Hi there! I’m Vernon Summerlin. Like many, I came to Nashville to break into the music industry. After years of striving, I...Read on

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