When you drive into this place, you'll pass great hordes of cannon and monuments on your way to the visitor center, where sometimes reenactments are performed on the front lawn. Of especial interest is the fact that not all monuments commemorate either North or South, but are erected here in memory of the conflict that first wounded but later healed the nation.
As you will find elsewhere in other military parks, the overwhelming sense of sacrifice here in markers and monuments and readings from the visitor center sometimes obscures the individual human sacrifice. Shiloh was the worst conflict seen in America up to that time in almost 300 years of settlement and political dispute. Farm boys and factory hands with little direct connection with the politics of the day were pulled from familiar environs to fight in fields and swamps where they never thought they'd ever go. Tens of thousands died of wounds and disease in our costliest and bloodiest war ever. Some of these great monuments offer the grim images of the boys in blue and grey.
The worst fighting at Shiloh took place in a tangled thicket that eventually obtained the label "the hornet's nest." Under this row of oaks, whole regiments from the Union side melted away under withering artillery and musket fire from Confederate forces across the field under CSA General Daniel Ruggles. Up to that time, this was the largest battery ever assembled on the North American continent.
your first stop on a tour of shiloh is the battlefield visitor center. at the visitor center you can get a map of the battlefield and pay for the auto tour fee. see the attached web site for admission and times.
the following things to do tips are a virtual tour of the shiloh battlefield using the park map. the first stop on the auto tour is grant's last line. the artillery batteries along this ridge marks the final position of the union line on april 6 th. on april 7 after grant was reinforced by don carlos buell and lew wallace's forces and he initiated a union counter attack from this point. general lew wallace is an interesting character in u. s. history. during the civil war wallace was considered a mediocre general and did not contribute much to the ultimate union victory in the civil war. after the war wallace become internationally famous for his novel "ben hur".
the ruggles battery is stop four on the auto tour. when confederate infantry attacks on the hornet's nest failed confederate general daniel ruggles concentrated eleven batteries of artillery to bombard this position allowing his infantry to encircle and capture union general benjamin prentiss and 2,100 union troops.
shiloh church is stop five on the auto tour. the battle was named after the shiloh meeting house. the meeting house was destroyed during the battle and the building you see today is a replica. this was the site of fierce fighting during the battle.
The auto tour through Shiloh is just under a 10 mile loop, but there are also a handful of roads that cut through the park that you can take side trips along to see some other sites. For example, right before stop 10, you can hang a left on Peabody Road to see Rhea Springs, although you then need to follow the one way road back to where you came from. Generally, there are pullouts near the auto tour stops, and for the first half of my trip, I had no issues. Then I got behind several trucks worth of students, who were climbing on monuments, draping themselves on placards, etc., which did push me to move a little more briskly than I would have liked through the park.
Per usual for the major Civil War sites, there are plenty of roadside markers and monuments to look at in addition to the tour stops. Please see my travelogues for some of these.
The third stop along the auto tour, where 3 Union divisions were located along an oak forest line. The Union held off a number of attacks all day before ultimately surrendering the line. At the stop, you can walk along the sunken road here and look out into the open field to get the vantage point of where the Confederates would have been attacking from.
There are 5 marked confederate burial trenches in the park - Union soldiers dug these trenches to bury nearly 2,000 confederates who were killed during the battle. These are some of the most likely spots in the park to cause quiet reflection, as you are looking at mass graves of the men who died here.
This was the most somber site in the park for me, as I read how soldiers from both sides of the war would come here to drink and try to cleanse their wounds. Cleaning of the wounds, as well and men and horses dying on the banks and in the water allowed so much blood to flow into the pond that it turned a dark red by the time the battle was over.
I was alone at this stop - the quiet mixed with the images that came here were stunning.
Right across from the visitor center at the beginning (or end) of the auto tour is the national cemetery of Shiloh. Established in 1866, there are 3,500 (2,300 of which are unknown) Union soldiers buried here. There are also markers showing where Grant's headquarters were located. A small path winds through the cemetery, a fitting way to end the tour of a sobering battlefield.
The Battle at Shiloh began around 5am when some 40,000 Confederate soldiers surprised the Union encampment at Pittsburg Landing. The Union soldiers were caught completely off guard and the retreat toward the river quickly began. Soon Union General Prentice's division found cover along a sunken road that offered some protection and a clear field of fire. The Confederate soldiers mounted charge after charge against this position--12 in all--before concentrating all of their artillery on the Union strong point. By the end of the day the Union division was forced to surrender, but Confederate General Johnston had also been killed. The Union actions at this spot, later to become known as the Hornets Nest, bought enough time for Grant to organize his army and bring in reinforcements before the battle began anew the next day.
Bloody Pond is located at the southern end of the Sunken Road and the Hornet's Nest. It is said that soldiers of both sides came here during and after the battle to drink or wash their wounds, turning the small pond's water crimson.
Nearby is Sarah Bell's Peach Orchard, famous for the white peach blossoms that fell like snow during this battle in April.
Just a little ways further south on the Hamburg-Savannah road is the memorial marking the site where General Albert Sidney Johnston was killed. He was the highest ranking Confederate killed during the entire war.
When the southern armies retreated, the north held the battlefield and began the gruesome task of burying the dead. The 1,728 Confederate soldiers that were killed were buried in five known mass graves mostly to the north and west of the battlefield. The one we visited is said to have the remains of about 700 soldiers, and is the largest of the burial trenches.
Most of the Union soldiers who were killed were reburied in 1866 at Shiloh National Cemetery near Pittsburg Landing.