150 Years Ago This Week: Showdown looming at Shiloh

March/April 1862

After losing Fort Donelson, Tenn., over the winter, Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston decided to stop the Union advance in the Tennessee Valley by joining his dispersed Confederate troops. The concentration of Southern troops took place at the critical rail junction at Corinth, Miss. This was the next objective of the Federal invasion. A few miles to the north of Corinth, Maj. Gen. Ulysses Grant drilled his troops along the Tennessee River, waiting for another Union army commanded by Maj., Gen. Don Carlos Buell to join him. Gen. Grant was at the time unaware that so large a force of Confederates had assembled nearby.

The month of March closed with Confederate troops retreating to Santa Fe in New Mexico, following the loss of all their supply trains and animals at Glorieta Pass. In Washington, President Lincoln, fearing for the safety of the capital, ordered back a large division under Maj. Gen. Louis Blenker to join Gen. Fremont in the Mountain Department in western Virginia. The president advised Maj. Gen. McClellan that he did so “with great pain, understanding that you would wish it otherwise.” Gen. McClellan, moving his vast army in his offensive against Richmond, had been accused of deserting Washington.

April, 1862, opened with anticipation and fear. Northern armies were advancing against Confederate objectives everywhere. In the South, the population saw the many pronged threat and knew that something would have to be done quickly to counteract the threats and defend their nation. The congregation of the Second Baptist Church in Richmond contributed on Tuesday, April 1, their bell to be melted and cast into cannon. They also agreed to purchase enough metal to provide what would soon be called the Second Baptist Church Artillery Battery. The next day, Gen. Johnston, now commanding the newly organized Confederate army at Corinth issued orders for the movement and attack against Gen. Grant’s Federals at Pittsburg Landing in Tennessee, just north of Corinth. The Confederates were to move out the following day, April 3. There was a brief skirmish at Pittsburg Landing, near Shiloh Meeting House on April 2. In the Shenandoah Valley, a skirmish between opposing troops took place at Stony Creek, near Edinburg, Va.

The newspapers reported several tornadoes struck Cairo, Ill., and New Madrid, Mo. New Madrid had recently been evacuated by the Confederates when they headed to Island No. 10 in the Mississippi River. In Washington, the Confederate spy, Mrs. Rose Greenhow (later called “Rebel Rose”) and two other women were ordered sent into Virginia beyond Union lines. Although strongly endorsed by President Lincoln, none of the Northern states ever took action on the House resolution just passed by the U.S. Senate to give states financial aid if they adopted compensated emancipation of slaves.

The Confederate Army at Corinth set out on April 3 north towards the Tennessee River and the proposed attack on the Federals at Pittsburg Landing. The planned attack on April 4 was delayed due to the slowed march from Corinth. In Washington, President Lincoln discovered that fewer than 20,000 troops had been left behind to defend the capital, and instructed Sec. of War Stanton to order a full army corps back from McClellan’s army. Maj. Gen. Irwin McDowell’s corps began to return to Washington, and Gen. McClellan protested that he had been shortchanged, even though he had about 112,000 troops with him. Also in Washington, the U.S. Senate voted 29 14 to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia.

Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 194 Articles
A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.