Civil War Series

The Battle of Shiloh



Before retiring that evening (in General Sherman's captured tent), Beauregard telegraphed Richmond that he had won "a complete victory." "I thought I had Grant just where I wanted him and could finish him up in the morning," he later wrote. There was some belief among the Confederate high command that they might even awaken to find the Federals gone, having escaped across the river during the night in transports. If so, the next day's work would be only a mop-up action.

There was compelling evidence to the contrary. Prentiss, now a prisoner, blustered on about how Buell's army would soon arrive. Indeed, a verbatim of his words appeared in several Southern newspapers after the battle. "You gentlemen have had your way today, but it will be very different tomorrow. You'll see. Buell will effect a junction with Grant tonight, and we'll turn the tables on you in the morning." The Confederates had different information. That evening a report sent to the battlefield by Confederate scouts in northern Alabama indicated that Buell's forces were marching southward from Nashville toward Decatur, Alabama. Beauregard and his corps commanders considered this excellent news, and they believed there was now no way Buell could easily reinforce Grant. The scouting report was partially correct. Indeed, a 10,000-man Union division from Buell's army, commanded by Brig. Gen. Ormsby Mitchell, was headed south through Middle Tennessee toward northern Alabama, but Buell's main army had continued southwest toward Savannah and the Tennessee. Prentiss's boast of Buell's immediate presence was ignored by his Confederate hosts.


That night Col. Nathan Bedford Forrest was telling a different story. Forrest, who had been a Memphis, Tennessee, slave trader, would become perhaps the most famous cavalryman of the war. At this juncture of the conflict, he was still relatively unknown in the Southern army, although he and his regiment had dramatically escaped from Fort Donelson back in February. After the fighting ended on the evening of April 6, the bulk of the Confederate forces withdrew to the southern portion of the battlefield. Forrest, however, accompanied by a squadron of his 3rd Tennessee Cavalry, remained forward of the Confederate lines. As the hours passed, Forrest grew suspicious of the heavy amount of boat traffic he could see and hear on the river. Taking advantage of the darkness, he sent several men in captured Yankee overcoats across Dill Branch ravine to scout behind the enemy lines. The scouts soon reported information confirming Forrest's fears that the Federals were being heavily reinforced. Forrest related the intelligence to Hardee, whom he found spending the night in Prentiss's captured camp. Stating that the Northerners "are receiving reinforcements by the thousands," Forrest warned Hardee, "If this army does not move and attack them between this and daylight, it will be whipped like hell before 10 O'clock tomorrow." Hardee told the colonel to relate this information to Beauregard, but, unfamiliar with the terrain, Forrest could not locate the Confederate commander. Returning to Hardee, Forrest was instructed to keep a close watch and have his troopers ready for action in the morning. Hardee returned to bed. Thus Forrest's important and critical information was lost in the Confederate chain of command.


All of the Southerners, from privates on up the chain of command, seemed consumed by the need to locate food, water, and shelter for a much needed night's rest. A general state of disorganization and exhaustion possessed the whole army.

Beyond the efforts of Forrest, a certain lethargy characterized the Confederate command that night. During the night, practically the entire Confederate army withdrew south into Prentiss's and Sherman's camps. In fact, General Polk's corps retired all the way to the April 5 Confederate bivouac located at the junction of the Bark and Corinth roads, four miles southwest of Pittsburg Landing. No line of battle was formed, and few if any commands were resupplied with ammunition. All of the Southerners, from privates on up the chain of command, seemed consumed by the need to locate food, water, and shelter for a much needed night's rest. A general state of disorganization and exhaustion possessed the whole army. Southern losses had been extremely high, totaling probably 8,000 to 8,500, which left, on paper, perhaps 33,000 present for duty. The Confederate commanders claimed, however, that no more than 20,000 effectives initially reported on the line on the morning of the seventh. General Buell took exception to that figure after the war, arguing that at least 28,000 present for duty were available on Monday. The important point is that thousands of Confederate soldiers either straggled, deserted, or otherwise wandered about a vast area of several square miles in rear of the Southern army, and no one in the Confederate high command seemed concerned enough about the situation to correct the problems that night. Beauregard and his corps commanders all believed they would have to wait until daylight to reorganize the army. Then, at their leisure, they would mop up the surviving Federals and complete the great victory they had won on April 6.

Previous Top Next