Northern troops did not occupy Florence for long, but Grant’s Army of the Tennessee continued moving its gunboats along the Tennessee River. By March of 1862, Grant had established his headquarters in Savannah, Tennessee, and from there he planned to coordinate an attack on Albert Sidney Johnston’s Confederate army camped near an important railroad junction at Corinth, Mississippi. And as Grant planned his offensive against the city, Johnston decided to coordinate a surprise attack on the Union Army, then camped along the Tennessee River at Pittsburg Landing.
Shortly after dawn on April 6, 1862, Confederate forces attacked. Surprised and unprepared to fight a defensive battle, the Army of the Tennessee was pushed back by rebel soldiers on the first day of battle. Unfortunately for the Confederate army, however, General Johnston was killed unexpectedly, and his replacement, Gen. Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, decided not to organize a final assault to finish off the disorganized Federals. His decision was reasonable; his troops were exhausted, and he believed reinforcements were on the way. Nevertheless, by morning, Grant had been reinforced by Don Carlos Buell’s troops, giving the Union army fresh soldiers and greater numbers. At dawn on April 7, Grant attacked and defeated the surprised Confederates, pushing the rebels back to Corinth, Mississippi.
Known as the Battle of Shiloh, this bloody clash involved over 110,000 troops, and each side took about 10,000 casualties. The horrific violence was unprecedented. Among the Confederate ranks were more than 6,000 Alabamians who were involved in the bloody fighting. Colonel Wheeler, commander of the Nineteenth Regiment Alabama Infantry, reported that his soldiers “exhibited an example of cool, heroic courage which would do credit to soldiers of long experience in battle. Subjected as they were to a deadly fi re of artillery and a cross-fire of infantry, they stood their ground With firmness and delivered their fire.” Though many soldiers fought bravely, two days of fierce fighting left both armies exhausted. The Confederate troops were demoralized, and Grant’s army, despite having won a victory, began to realize that a long conflict was truly inevitable. Shiloh was the bloodiest battle to date, but as the conflict continued, it was sure to bring more carnage.