Grant “Won” the Battle of Shiloh?

Just as Ulysses S. Grant is credited with “winning” the American Civil War, he usually receives the acclaim for Shiloh. A multitude of facts demonstrate why this is wrong. Simply awarding praise to the commanding officer in any engagement would mean that Buell, with his independent army, deserves half (or even more, as Grant was in charge during the losing battle on April 6th). This still completely ignores how they and others performed over the two-day affair. In the weeks before the engagement, Grant negligently allowed his men to camp within a one-day’s march of the concentrating Confederates, with little in the way of defensive preparations or intelligence-gathering. He only visited his army most days, while staying in a mansion ten miles downriver and on the opposite bank. General John McClernand, the next officer in rank before the battle, was shunted aside so that Grant could keep his favorites— Charles F. Smith and William T. Sherman—in command of the camp. Grant did nothing to correct their mistakes.

Adding to his blunders, Grant did not reach the field until four hours after the Confederates caught the Union army in a surprise attack. He gave faulty orders to division leaders, Lew Wallace and William Nelson—delaying their arrival upon the battlefield—and kept the remainder of Buell’s Army of the Ohio from moving more quickly by his misuse of the available boats. Grant, in his Memoirs, exaggeratedly claimed that, “During the whole of Sunday I was continuously engaged in passing from one part of the field to another, giving directions to division commanders.” Seemingly (we don’t know what W.H.L. Wallace was told), Grant merely told Benjamin Prentiss to hold his position at all hazards. The three others received no orders until the last line had been formed. This one order wasn’t bad, but then Grant told Prentiss later in the afternoon to hold on when the Hornet’s Nest position was collapsing. The enemy encircled and captured 2200 soldiers from Wallace’s and Prentiss’ divisions. The Memoirs then blamed the surrender on Prentiss when it was Grant’s own blunder. General Grant took little part in the next day’s action.

My new book, Grant Under Fire: An Exposé of Generalship & Character in the American Civil War, offers a long and very detailed account of this engagement and of Grant’s military career as a whole. It’s not a pretty picture. Although his biographers and most historians indicate otherwise, Grant basically bungled the whole battle from before the beginning to past the end.

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