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Friday, April 6, 2012

April 6, 1862 - Shiloh

Battle of Shiloh on April 6 (Wikipedia)

On a Sunday morning, near a tiny church called Shiloh, a battle commenced that would be pivotal to the year-long struggle between Union and Confederate forces. This battle near the Tennessee River would open the eyes of the nation to how savage and costly this war would become. An army of nearly 44,000 men, under the command of General Albert Sidney Johnston, had moved north from Corinth, Mississippi through rain-drenched roads and was dispersing through heavily vegetated woodlands.

The plan was to attack General Ulysses Grant's forces positioned at Pittsburg Landing before reinforcements could arrive from the north.  The battle did not go as planned, and its orchestrator, General Johnston, was mortally wounded early in the day. History tells us that April 6 saw the battle lines move back and forth throughout the day, and by nightfall, the Confederate forces had only made moderate advances to their objective.  The troops, scattered through the forest, would be bombarded through the following night by Union warships in the river. Overnight, the Union reinforcements arrived and the objective of the Confederate assault was lost.  At the end of the day of April 7, the Confederate forces had abandoned the field, retreating back to Corinth.

In the end, Shiloh would prove to be the costliest battle in American history to that time. Union casualties would  reach to 13,047 (1,754 killed, 8,408 wounded, and 2,885 missing) and Confederate casualties were 10,699 (1,728 killed, 8,012 wounded, and 959 missing or captured). Nearly 3,500 men had died in the two days of battle and 16,420 wounded, bearing the scars of the battle for the rest of their lives.

Among General Grant's forces was the 45th Illinois Infantry regiment and a young sergeant named Charles K. Erwin, my great-great granduncle.  He would survive this battle and make ready his men for the coming campaign at Corinth.

Further to the south in northern Mississippi, my 3x great grandfather, James Joseph Street and his eldest son (my 2x great grandfather), George M.D. Street,  were training with the 34th Mississippi Infantry regiment, Company G (Sons of Liberty), to prepare to defend Corinth, and their nearby home near Ripley, from the Union invasion into Mississippi.

The war for many more men, including Charles' nephew, William Peter Erwin, has not even begun.  By the end of the war, it is estimated that 750,000 people will have lost their lives to the war.

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