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Shiloh: A Battlefield Guide
By Mark Grimsley Steven E. Woodworth
University of Nebraska Press
Copyright © 2006
University of Nebraska Press
All right reserved.
Fraley Field, April 6
Continue 0.9 mile to Fraley Field, where the road makes a
sharp left turn and becomes RECONNOITERING ROAD. Park at
the sharp turn.
Stop 3a Powell's Reconnaissance 3:00-5:30 A.M.
Face in the direction you were traveling before the turn. In
front of you are two small trails. The southernmost of these
(to your left) corresponds to the 1862 trace of the main
Corinth Road. Take the other trail and walk about 150 yards
to a second National Park Service interpretive marker, labeled
"The Battle Begins."
You are at the eastern edge of Fraley Field, named for its 1862
owner, James J. Fraley. At the time of the battle it was a forty-acre
cotton field about 800 yards beyond the southernmost
Union encampments. The Confederate attack in this sector
began from the tree line directly across from you.
Had you continued up Reconnoitering Road (as you will do
shortly), you would soon have encountered the encampment
of the 1st Brigade of Brig. Gen. Benjamin M. Prentiss's 6th
Division, led by Col. Everett Peabody, a prewar railroad engineer.
On both April 4 and April 5, Federalsdrilling in
Peabody's sector noticed Confederate cavalry watching them
from a distance. The colonel dispatched a reconnaissance
party at 4:00 P.M. on the fifth, but darkness fell before they
discovered any enemy forces, and the patrol returned to
camp. Prentiss, in any event, pooh-poohed the notion that
there was any danger in front.
Unconvinced, around midnight Peabody ordered a second
reconnaissance. Led by Maj. James E. Powell of the 25th Missouri,
the scouting expedition consisted of three companies
from the 25th Missouri and two from the 12th Michigan-about
400 men in all.
Initially advancing toward Seay Field (to your left rear),
Powell's men encountered a handful of Confederate cavalry
pickets, who fired three shots and quickly withdrew. The major
formed his five companies in a long skirmish line and gingerly
continued into Fraley Field. There, about 200 yards
across the field, the Federals encountered two outposts composed
of enemy infantry. Although Powell could not know it,
these belonged to Maj. Aaron B. Hardcastle's 3rd Mississippi Battalion,
whose main line stood on a slight rise marked by the
red metal tablet about 250 yards in front of you.
The pickets fired one volley and withdrew to Hardcastle's
main line. Powell pursued. At a range of less than 200 yards,
the Mississippians opened fire. In the predawn darkness each
side spotted the other mainly by the muzzle flashes from
their muskets. For over an hour they traded volleys until at
length Powell detected a body of enemy cavalry apparently
trying to turn his left flank. At that point he withdrew. Neither
his men nor Hardcastle's had suffered significant losses,
but the battle of Shiloh was underway.
Note: If the weather is hot or otherwise inclement, the remaining
portions of Stop 3 can be read from the comfort of
Stop 3b The Confederate Army Advances April 3-5
Remain in place.
Powell's patrol had, of course, encountered the vanguard of
the Army of the Mississippi, finally arrived on the battlefield
after a three-day march from Corinth. Beauregard had directed
his adjutant, Col. Thomas Jordan, to draft instructions for the
approach and attack. Designated Special Order No. 8, Jordan
patterned it after Napoleon's battle plan for Waterloo, a copy
of which lay before him as he wrote. Fittingly, considering its
model, Special Order No. 8 was a marvel of ineptitude. It had
two main problems. First, the order gave insufficient thought
to the limited road network between Corinth and Pittsburg
Landing, resulting in overcrowding and traffic jams. Second,
it directed each corps to attack in successive waves, one behind
the other. In theory each corps would reinforce its predecessor,
creating a breaking strain on the Federal divisions
at Pittsburg Landing. As events would demonstrate, it was a
tactic guaranteed to result in the intermingling of units and
consequent loss of organizational control.
Stop 3c "Tonight We Will Water Our Horses in the
Tennessee River" 5:30 A.M.
Remain in place.
The Confederate plan called for the Union encampments to
be attacked at daybreak on Friday, April 4. Heavy rain, primitive
roads, and wretched traffic management forced the attack's
postponement until the following day. Even then the
troops did not reach their jump-off points before midafternoon,
further delaying the assault until Sunday, April 6.
Making matters worse, the unseasoned Southern troops
did little to keep their approach quiet. Concerned lest the
rains had dampened their powder, for example, they tested
their charges by firing them rather than prudently extracting
them and loading their muskets afresh. Between the delays
and the racket, Beauregard feared the army had lost all
chance of surprise and, to a coterie of senior commanders,
urged a withdrawal to Corinth. But Johnston, though just as
impatient with the problems on the march, insisted that the
attack must go forward. "Gentlemen," he told the assembled
generals, "we shall attack at daylight tomorrow." With that,
he spun on his heel and strode off, telling his chief of staff: "I
would fight them if they were a million. They can present no
greater front between those two creeks [the Lick and the Owl]
than we can; and the more men they crowd in there, the hotter
we can make it for them."
Johnston's pronouncement, however, did not end the debate.
Dawn on April 6 found Beauregard, Bragg, Hardee, and
several other generals still discussing the advisability of an
attack. Johnston and his staff mutely listened to the exchange
until it was interrupted by the rattle of musketry at Fraley
Field. "The battle has opened gentlemen," said Johnston. "It is
too late to change our dispositions." Hoisting himself atop
Fire-eater, his splendid bay thoroughbred, Johnston rode toward
the front, telling his staff, "Tonight we will water our
horses in the Tennessee River."
Johnston did not merely ride to the front. He remained there,
directing operations on the spot, and behaved in some respects
more like a "super-colonel" than a general commanding
an army. Critics have generally censured Johnston for this
decision, arguing that he should have remained at the rear in
a central location from which he could supervise the entire
battlefield and feed in reinforcements as needed. Instead he
delegated that function to Beauregard. While Johnston rode toward
Fraley Field, Beauregard maintained army headquarters
at the junction of the Corinth and Bark Roads, from which he
dispatched the troops of Polk and Breckinridge as they came
upon the field.
Why did Johnston abdicate his "proper" function as army
commander? After the war his son, William Preston Johnston,
explained the decision this way: "He knew that the chief strategy
of the battle was in the decision to fight. Once in the presence
of the enemy, he knew that the result would depend on
the way in which his troops were handled. This was his part of the
work, and he felt full confidence in his own ability to carry it
Historian John Keegan implicitly validates Johnston's decision
when he writes, "The first and greatest imperative of
command is to be present in person. Those who impose risk
must be seen to share it." A reputation for risk taking in the
past is not enough. "Old warriors who have survived risk intact
seem to the young to be merely old.... It is the spectacle
of heroism, or its immediate report, that fires the blood."
This was especially true in an army comprised overwhelmingly
of raw officers and troops, and eyewitnesses repeatedly
testified to the inspiring effect of Johnston's direct
presence on the battlefield. Even veteran troops sometimes
required such examples. On several occasions, for example,
Gen. Robert E. Lee made-or attempted to make-the same
choice, as in the famous incidents at the battles of the
Wilderness and Spotsylvania in which he attempted to lead
counterattacks in person.
Excerpted from Shiloh: A Battlefield Guide
by Mark Grimsley Steven E. Woodworth
Copyright © 2006 by University of Nebraska Press.
Excerpted by permission.
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