Our first stop was the visitor center where we sat and watched a 30 minute video on the Battle of Shiloh (Pickings Landing to the southern population)
. Now the video is about 30 years out of date (they are set to release a new one this year), but it did an excellent job of explaining the events leading up to the battle, the battle itself, and the results of this battle. I never realized the importance of this area in the battle and the impact Ulysses S. Grant had on the battle. It was also interesting to be able to tie the names you heard about during history class to places they stood and commanded their troops or even lost their lives. As we exited the visitor center we stopped and asked the park ranger where he would recommend to stop on the park car tour (this park is massive and we spent about an hour driving around). He recommended stopping at the Hornets’ Nest (this is the area where the federal soldiers held off the confederate soldiers for 8 hours before they were taken hostage on the first day of the battle) and an overlook of the Tennessee River where the Union hammered the rebel forces with their gun boats. Before I would let us go on our tour I told them I had to get my passport stamped (National Park version) and a souvenir pin to document my travels.
We headed out on the driving tour where we quickly learned that we didn’t need to stop at every spot but would focus on the two mentioned by the park ranger. As we arrived at the Hornets’ Nest we found where the Union soldiers were captured (we were attacked by mosquitos) and found where a majority of the first day of the battle had been fought
. There was a large field that led up to where the Union troops had made their stronghold on a sunken road. Just stopping and looking at this area made you realize the sacrifices these soldiers were making by walking out in the middle of the field and basically being a shooting target for the Union troops. The outskirts of the field were woods that were densely populated and would have provided good coverage from the enemy. As I stood there I wondered why would you risk your life by walking into open sites, but this battle strategy has always bewildered me when reading about the Revolutionary War and Civil War. This experience made me better understand the impacts of a country divided and the amount of damage we did to one another. Standing there listening to sounds of animals rustling in the woods, the wind whistling through the trees, and imagining the condition these soldiers for both sides were going through make you wonder how you would survive in these conditions without war let alone with shots and cannons exploding all around you.
As we continued our adventure, we passed monument after monument, plaque after plaque, and cannon after cannon. We made a few wrong turns and wound up basically covering the entire tour route. Not only were there remnants of the military engagements that occurred here, but there were also reminders of what else lived in these surroundings
. We passed over 30 deer throughout the park and at least 5 Indian mounds reminding us that while there was a war going on there were other people and critters out there trying to survive as well.
After our final attempt to find Tour Stop 18, we finally arrived after 2 wrong turns and 1 ½ hours later of driving, but it was worth the wait. The sight was set on the Tennessee River with 2 cannons overlooking a ravine where the Federal gun boats continually fired into the Confederate forces on the night of the first day of the battle. The ravine was lush with large trees and vines hanging along the trees (one of my colleagues said it reminded him of his time in Vietnam). Where I struggled was how cannons and gun boats worked so effectively in wearing down the Confederate troops with the area so heavily wooded. My only thought was that when you damaged a tree it would also act like a weapon as it fell and splintered.
The park was much larger than I expected and almost overwhelming with the amount of history and monuments marking all the significant steps in the battle. To really understand the park I would love to travel it on foot with a park ranger or guide. As we roamed we didn’t necessarily know what we were looking at, and I’m sure a personal guide would help us connect the flow and series of events and the significance of the monuments. If you are a Civil War enthusiast, you need to head to Shiloh and the Corinth area. Hopefully we will be able to check out the Corinth area later this week.
I don't consider myself much of a history buff, but I always like to check out our National park systems to better understand the areas around us and the history that develops the culture in the area. As I told my work colleagues tonight I would rather have someone read me the history than try to read it myself (no private tour guides on this trip). Shiloh, TN is about 30 minutes from our final destination of Corinth, Mississippi and I thought to myself "how could I miss the chance to learn about one of the deadliest battles between American sons?" I’m not going to give you any history lessons here, but to put it in context there were 23,000 casualties in 2 days (total Vietnam War was over 58,000- Please don’t take this as downplaying this war).