Shiloh National Cemetery History

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Shiloh National Cemetery History

In 1866, the War Department established a cemetery on the battlefield of Shiloh, in southwestern Tennessee. In order to bury the dead not only from the April 6-7, 1862, battle of Shiloh but also from all the operations along the Tennessee River, workers began building the “Pittsburg Landing National Cemetery.” Changed to “Shiloh National Cemetery” in 1889, the cemetery holds 3,584 Civil War dead, 2,359 of them unknown. In the fall of 1866, workers disinterred the dead from 156 locations on the battlefield, and 565 different locations along the Tennessee River. Headboards of wood first marked each grave, but were replaced in 1876 and 1877 by granite stones. Tall stones marked the known dead and square, short stones denoted unknown soldiers.

Workers built a stone wall around the cemetery in 1867, and fashioned ornamental iron gates at the entrance in 1911. A superintendent cared for the cemetery until it was officially consolidated with Shiloh National Military Park in 1943. The results of so much labor produced what one observer called “the handsomest cemetery in the South.”

Although established as a Civil War burial ground, the Shiloh National Cemetery now holds deceased soldiers from later American wars. Many World War I and II, Korea, and Vietnam burials are in the newest section of the cemetery. There is also one Persian Gulf War memorial. Total interred in the cemetery now stands as 3,892. Although the cemetery was officially closed in 1984, it still averages two or three burials a year, mostly widows of soldiers already interred.

There is perhaps no more honorable title than that of “American soldier.” Inscribed on the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery are the words, “Here Rests in Honored Glory, An American Soldier, Known But to God.” Thousands of known and unknown American soldiers rest in national and private cemeteries all over the world, as they do in Shiloh National Cemetery. Near the river bank lies six Wisconsin color bearers, all killed in action as they carried their regimental standard into the heat of battle. Just to their west lies Captain Edward Saxe of the 16th Wisconsin, the first Federal officer killed in the battle. Near him lies the teenage drummer boy John D. Holmes of the 15th Iowa. Nearby, two Confederates lie amid so many Union soldiers, their pointed tombstones in stark contrast to the rounded stones of United States soldiers. Across the cemetery lies J.D. Putnam of the 14th Wisconsin, whose 1862 burial inscription on the foot of a tree, cut by his friends in the heat of battle, was still legible in 1901. Near him lies George Ross, a Revolutionary War soldier. In the newest sections of the cemetery, many more recent American soldiers lie in honored glory. One memorial honors a Persian Gulf veteran killed in service. Most sadly, interspersed between all these American soldiers are countless grave stones with only a number identifying them. They too had lives, mothers, perhaps wives, sons, and daughters, fears, hopes, and dreams. All these soldiers, known and unknown served their country and gave the ultimate sacrifice. They deserve the honor and tribute of Americans, and the title “An American Soldier.”

With the exception of the two Confederates, all those interred in the national cemetery are United States soldiers. There has been heated debate concerning why the Confederates are not buried in the cemetery. There are several reasons. Regulations require that only veterans of the United States military can be buried in national cemeteries. As Confederates were technically not United States personnel, they have traditionally been buried elsewhere. Although Congress stipulated in 1956 that Confederate soldiers should be treated the same as United States soldiers, the practice of burying Confederate remains in places other than national cemeteries still exists. Similarly, when taken in the context of Civil War era events, the practice of burying Confederates in national cemeteries was almost nonexistent. The Federal government’s view of former Confederates in 1866, when the cemetery was established, was that of traitors, revolutionaries, and the enemy. Burying Confederates in national cemeteries in 1866 would be synonymous with burying American Revolutionary War soldiers in British military cemeteries.

As a result, the Confederates who died at Shiloh were not disinterred from their battlefield graves. They remain on the field in several large mass graves and many smaller individual plots. As many as eleven or twelve mass graves exist, but the park commission that created the battlefield could only locate five.

National cemeteries and soldier plots are special places, and Shiloh is no different. Buried with these American soldiers are the honor, courage, and sacrifice of an entire American generation. Indeed, these soldiers gave the ultimate sacrifice for what they believed in. Can we of today’s generation learn from these soldiers and meet our own challenges and problems with the same dedication they possessed? Despite different means to wage war, different enemies to face, and different objectives to win, we are still fighting for the same causes they were: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Perhaps President Lincoln said it best when he declared “that these dead shall not have died in vain,” but that this nation “shall not perish from the earth.” It is our duty to take the standard and make sure Lincoln’s vision is never lost.

Source: Shiloh National Cemetery

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Recommended Reading: Shiloh: A Battlefield Guide (This Hallowed Ground: Guides to Civil War), by Mark Grimsley (Author), Steven E. Woodworth (Author). Description: Peabody’s Battle Line, McCuller’s Field, Stuart’s Defense, the Peach Orchard, and Hell’s Hollow—these monuments mark some of the critical moments in the battle of Shiloh but offer the visitor only the most meager sense of what happened on the banks of the Tennessee in April 1862. This battlefield guide breathes life into Civil War history, giving readers a clear picture of the setting at the time of engagement, who was where, and when and how the battle progressed. Continued below…

Designed to lead the user on a one-day tour of one of the most important battlefields of the war, the guide provides precise directions to all the key locations in a manner reflecting how the battle itself unfolded. A wealth of maps, vivid descriptions, and careful but accessible analysis makes plain the sweep of events and the geography of the battlefield, enhancing the experience of Shiloh for the serious student, the casual visitor, and the armchair tourist alike.

About the Authors: Mark Grimsley is a professor of history at Ohio State University. He is the author of And Keep Moving On: The Virginia Campaign, May–June, 1864, and the co-editor of Civilians in the Path of War, both published by the University of Nebraska Press. Steven E. Woodworth is a professor of history at Texas Christian University. He is the author of Chickamauga: A Battlefield Guide and Six Armies in Tennessee: The Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns.

 

Recommended Reading: Guide to the Battle of Shiloh, by Army War College. Description: As Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman prepared their inexperienced troops for a massive offensive by an equally green Confederate army in April 1862, the outcome of the Civil War was still very much in doubt. For two of the most chaotic and ravaging days of the War, the Union forces counterattacked and fended off the Rebels. Losses were great--more than 20,000 casualties out of 100,000 Union and Confederate troops. Continued below…

But out of the struggle, Grant and Sherman forged their own union that would be a major factor in the Union Army's final victory. For the Confederates, Shiloh was a devastating disappointment. By the time the siege was over, they had lost both the battle and one of their ablest commanders, Albert Sidney Johnston. Eyewitness accounts by battle participants make these guides an invaluable resource for travelers and nontravelers who want a greater understanding of five of the most devastating yet influential years in our nation's history. Explicit directions to points of interest and maps--illustrating the action and showing the detail of troop position, roads, rivers, elevations, and tree lines as they were 130 years ago--help bring the battles to life. In the field, these guides can be used to recreate each battle's setting and proportions, giving the reader a sense of the tension and fear each soldier must have felt as he faced his enemy. This book is part of the U.S. Army War College Guides to Civil War Battles series.

 

Recommended Reading: Seeing the Elephant: RAW RECRUITS AT THE BATTLE OF SHILOH. Description: One of the bloodiest battles in the Civil War, the two-day engagement near Shiloh, Tennessee, in April 1862 left more than 23,000 casualties. Fighting alongside seasoned veterans were more than 160 newly recruited regiments and other soldiers who had yet to encounter serious action. In the phrase of the time, these men came to Shiloh to "see the elephant". Continued below…

Drawing on the letters, diaries, and other reminiscences of these raw recruits on both sides of the conflict, "Seeing the Elephant" gives a vivid and valuable primary account of the terrible struggle. From the wide range of voices included in this volume emerges a nuanced picture of the psychology and motivations of the novice soldiers and the ways in which their attitudes toward the war were affected by their experiences at Shiloh.

 

Recommended Reading: Shiloh--In Hell before Night. Description: James McDonough has written a good, readable and concise history of a battle that the author characterizes as one of the most important of the Civil War, and writes an interesting history of this decisive 1862 confrontation in the West. He blends first person and newspaper accounts to give the book a good balance between the general's view and the soldier's view of the battle. Continued below…

Particularly enlightening is his description of Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston, the commander who was killed on the first day of the battle. McDonough makes a pretty convincing argument that Johnston fell far short of the image that many give him in contemporary and historical writings. He is usually portrayed as an experienced and decisive commander of men. This book shows that Johnston was a man of modest war and command experience, and that he rose to prominence shortly before the Civil War. His actions (or inaction) prior to the meeting at Shiloh -- offering to let his subordinate Beauregard take command for example -- reveal a man who had difficulty managing the responsibility fostered on him by his command. The author does a good job of presenting several other historical questions and problems like Johnston's reputation vs. reality that really add a lot of interest to the pages.

 

Recommended Reading: Shiloh: A Novel, by Shelby Foote. Review: In the novel Shiloh, historian and Civil War expert Shelby Foote delivers a spare, unflinching account of the battle of Shiloh, which was fought over the course of two days in April 1862. By mirroring the troops' movements through the woods of Tennessee with the activity of each soldier's mind, Foote offers the reader a broad perspective of the battle and a detailed view of the issues behind it. Continued below…

The battle becomes tangible as Foote interweaves the observations of Union and Confederate officers, simple foot soldiers, brave men, and cowards and describes the roar of the muskets and the haze of the gun smoke. The author's vivid storytelling creates a rich chronicle of a pivotal battle in American history.

 

Recommended Reading: Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862. Review: The bloody and decisive two-day battle of Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862) changed the entire course of the American Civil War. The stunning Northern victory thrust Union commander Ulysses S. Grant into the national spotlight, claimed the life of Confederate commander Albert S. Johnston, and forever buried the notion that the Civil War would be a short conflict. The conflagration at Shiloh had its roots in the strong Union advance during the winter of 1861-1862 that resulted in the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson in Tennessee. Continued below…

The offensive collapsed General Albert S. Johnston advanced line in Kentucky and forced him to withdraw all the way to northern Mississippi. Anxious to attack the enemy, Johnston began concentrating Southern forces at Corinth, a major railroad center just below the Tennessee border. His bold plan called for his Army of the Mississippi to march north and destroy General Grant's Army of the Tennessee before it could link up with another Union army on the way to join him. On the morning of April 6, Johnston boasted to his subordinates, "Tonight we will water our horses in the Tennessee!" They nearly did so. Johnston's sweeping attack hit the unsuspecting Federal camps at Pittsburg Landing and routed the enemy from position after position as they fell back toward the Tennessee River. Johnston's sudden death in the Peach Orchard, however, coupled with stubborn Federal resistance, widespread confusion, and Grant's dogged determination to hold the field, saved the Union army from destruction. The arrival of General Don C. Buell's reinforcements that night turned the tide of battle. The next day, Grant seized the initiative and attacked the Confederates, driving them from the field. Shiloh was one of the bloodiest battles of the entire war, with nearly 24,000 men killed, wounded, and missing. Edward Cunningham, a young Ph.D. candidate studying under the legendary T. Harry Williams at Louisiana State University, researched and wrote Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862 in 1966. Although it remained unpublished, many Shiloh experts and park rangers consider it to be the best overall examination of the battle ever written. Indeed, Shiloh historiography is just now catching up with Cunningham, who was decades ahead of modern scholarship. Western Civil War historians Gary D. Joiner and Timothy B. Smith have resurrected Cunningham's beautifully written and deeply researched manuscript from its undeserved obscurity. Fully edited and richly annotated with updated citations and observations, original maps, and a complete order of battle and table of losses, Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862 will be welcomed by everyone who enjoys battle history at its finest. Edward Cunningham, Ph.D., studied under T. Harry Williams at Louisiana State University. He was the author of The Port Hudson Campaign: 1862-1863 (LSU, 1963). Dr. Cunningham died in 1997. Gary D. Joiner, Ph.D. is the author of One Damn Blunder from Beginning to End: The Red River Campaign of 1864, winner of the 2004 Albert Castel Award and the 2005 A. M. Pate, Jr., Award, and Through the Howling Wilderness: The 1864 Red River Campaign and Union Failure in the West. He lives in Shreveport, Louisiana. About the Author: Timothy B. Smith, Ph.D., is author of Champion Hill: Decisive Battle for Vicksburg (winner of the 2004 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Non-fiction Award), The Untold Story of Shiloh: The Battle and the Battlefield, and This Great Battlefield of Shiloh: History, Memory, and the Establishment of a Civil War National Military Park. A former ranger at Shiloh, Tim teaches history at the University of Tennessee.

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