April 8, 1862 – Both Federals and Confederates claimed victory after a terrible two-day battle, while the shock of such enormous human loss began sinking in.
Major General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Federal Army of the Tennessee, considered pursuing the Confederate Army of Mississippi as it withdrew back toward Corinth on April 7. But Major General Don Carlos Buell, commanding the Federal Army of the Ohio that reinforced Grant, was not amenable to the idea. Grant, unwilling to pull rank, did not order Buell to help pursue.
Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest led 350 Confederate cavalry in guarding the retreating wagon train. On the 8th, two Federal brigades advanced in a probing action led by Brigadier General William T. Sherman. A skirmish ensued in which Forrest was shot in the side and nearly captured. Using a Federal soldier as a shield, he rode off and survived the wound.
Sherman also escaped potential death. As Forrest’s troopers advanced toward him, the Federals held firm and drove them off. Sherman later contended that had Forrest not emptied his pistols before reaching him, “My career would have ended right there.” This was the last skirmish in the Battle of Shiloh, with Forrest becoming one of the last casualties.
Back on the battlefield, it took several days for Federal officers and men to regroup their units and reorganize themselves. During that time, troops tended to the incomprehensible number of dead and wounded strewn for miles. A soldier on burial detail recalled:
“When the grave was ready we placed the bodies therein, two deep. All the monument reared to those brave men was a board upon which I cut with my pocket knife the words ‘125 rebels.’ We buried our Union boys in a separate trench and on another board cut ’35 Union.'”
Continuous rain made the work of collecting the wounded and burying the dead even more miserable. In addition, thousands of dead horses littered the field, with camps damaged and destroyed throughout. When the rain stopped and the weather warmed, the air filled with the stench of rotting flesh.
Members of the U.S. Sanitary Commission came to help bury the dead and ship the wounded northward down the Tennessee River to Federal hospitals. The commission ultimately distributed clothing and bedding for thousands of soldiers, as well as foodstuffs needed not only to feed the men but to make brandy and whiskey for medicinal purposes.
General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Confederate army, claimed victory, even though he did not accomplish his mission of destroying Grant’s army before Buell’s arrived. Moreover, the Confederates had been forced to return to their original base at Corinth, Mississippi, while Grant remained where he had been before the battle. While Beauregard remained optimistic, southerners were horrified by the losses, especially that of the revered Albert Sidney Johnston. Confederate soldier and novelist George Washington Cable wrote, “The South never smiled again after Shiloh.”
Grant wrote his wife also declaring victory in the “terrible battle” that “has no equal on this continent.” He went on:
“The best troops of the rebels were engaged to the number of 162 regiments as stated by a deserter from their camp, and their ablest generals… I got through all safe having but one shot which struck my sword but did not touch me. I am detaining a steamer to carry this and must cut short. Give my love to all at home. Kiss the children for me. The same for yourself.”
Northerners celebrated what they believed to be a glorious triumph. But when reports of the tremendous casualties began spreading, the celebrations turned to shock, as nothing like the magnitude of this battle had ever happened in America before. The press harshly criticized Grant and Sherman for being unprepared on the first day, thus allowing such a slaughter to take place.
Had Grant decided to retreat and not counterattack after the first day, his career would have probably been ruined. But President Abraham Lincoln, desperate for aggressive commanders, supported him. When urged to remove Grant from command, Lincoln said, “I can’t spare this man; he fights.”
Major General Henry W. Halleck, Grant’s superior, was among those most critical of Grant’s generalship. Halleck resolved to leave his headquarters at St. Louis and take command of the Federal troops at Pittsburg Landing himself. This would greatly diminish Grant’s authority in the upcoming campaign against Corinth.
Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 293; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (8 Apr 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 157-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 135; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 184-85; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 413