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The Battle of Shiloh


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Grant's Victory at Fort Donelson Began the Shiloh Campaign
Ulysses S. Grant on the cover of Harpers Weekly

Gen. Ulysses S. Grant appeared on the cover of Harpers Weekly as the hero of Fort Donelson

Library of Congress

The Battle of Shiloh was an early and very significant battle in the Civil War. Fought in an obscure location in rural Tennessee, the battle was the first clash of large armies in the war, and the enormous casualties at Shiloh shocked the nation.

The actual battle took place over two days and was the culmination of a campaign that brought Union troops down the Tennessee River on riverboats. The deadly surprise attack by Confederates in the area of the Shiloh Church on the morning of April 6, 1862 threatened to turn the Union campaign into a disaster.

However, on the second day of the battle the Union Army led by General Ulysses S. Grant drove the Confederates back decisively.

The Union gains, however, were essentially wasted following the battle. Union General Henry Halleck was slow to capitalize following the Battle of Shiloh, and a great chance to destroy the Confederate Army in the West, and possibly end the war entirely, was squandered.

Shiloh would long be remembered as a major battle. It was the largest battle fought after the attack on Fort Sumter, and the war's first major clash, the Battle of Bull Run.

And Shiloh would be placed alongside such colossal clashes as Antietam and Gettysburg.

The Invasion of the South By Riverboats Began In 1862

The campaign that would culminate in the Battle of Shiloh began on February 2, 1862, when a fleet of gunboats and riverboats pressed into service as troop transports left Cairo, Illinois, steaming southward.

The first objective of the Union commander, General Ulysses S. Grant, was Fort Henry, which quickly fell. The Tennessee River, a vital artery into the heart of the Confederacy, was thus opened up to the Union Navy.

Grant then moved his army overland to attack Fort Donelson, which was on the Cumberland River near Dover, Tennessee.

Fort Donelson was a major objective, as capturing it would give control of much of two states, Kentucky and Tennessee, to the Union.

The fort itself consisted of about 15 acres surrounded by earthworks.

General Grant Gained Fame By Conquering Fort Donelson

Grant's army began to attack on February 12, 1862, and began to encircle the fort. Union gunboats arrived the next day, and a duel between Confederate artillery and gunners of the Union Navy took place with casualties on both sides.

On February 15 the Confederates attacked, in an effort to break out of the siege. Grant's troops held them off, and as that day ended the Confederates began making plans to surrender.

The Confederate commander, General Simon Bolivar Buckner, sent a message to General Grant asking for the terms of surrender.

Grant issued an answer that would make him a hero when it was reported in newspapers in the North: "No terms except an immediate and unconditional surrender can be accepted."

The Confederates, who felt that Grant was being "unchivalrous," surrendered.

And Grant, who had been virtually unknown to that point, became a hero. People began saying that his initials, U.S. Grant, stood for "Unconditional Surrender."

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