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7 Lives Altered by Shiloh: Two Fateful Days That Made Reputations, Shattered Families, and Shaped Destinies

Battle of Shiloh. World History Group Archive.

The Battle of Shiloh in April 1862 dashed any hope the war might end quickly. “From that hour,” wrote Captain L.B. Crooker of the 55th Illinois, “all sentimental talk of an easy conquest ceased upon both sides.” The Tennessee battle, which resulted in more than 23,000 casualties, changed the fortunes of many; here are just a few.

1 – Captain Andrew Hickenlooper: When fighting broke out April 6 near little Shiloh church, this unheralded commander of the 5th Ohio Battery stepped up to the challenge. As the Confed­erates pounded the Union position, Hicken­looper’s guns held off the attackers for more than six hours at what became known as the “Hornets’ Nest.” Recognized for gallantry after this battle, Hickenlooper was promoted to artillery commandant and would be critical to the Union victory at Vicksburg in 1863. Artist Thomas Corwin Lindsay immortalized Hickenlooper (shown directing his battery from his horse) in this 1895 painting of the Hornets’ Nest.

2 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant: Grant’s star rose dramatically with a string of victories in early 1862 that brought the Federals all the way to the Tennessee–Mississippi border. Shiloh, however, was a personal setback. Allowing his 49,000 troops to camp haphazardly around Pittsburg Landing, Grant seemed oblivious to the possibility of a Confederate attack. He did not order his men to entrench as he waited for reinforcements and was caught off-guard by the Rebels’ onslaught.

The Federals spent much of the battle’s first day waging a fighting retreat to the landing. Reinforcing Grant overnight, Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell and his Army of the Ohio received a great deal of credit for reversing the Federals’ fortunes the next day. Grant was heavily criticized in the press, and even temporarily demoted. Dispirited, he contemplated resigning. But after a pep talk from his friend William T. Sherman he reconsidered, and two months later, after the Federals had advanced into Mississippi, Grant was restored to command.

Death of Gen. Albert S. Johnston3 – General Albert Sidney Johnston: Johnston was widely considered the Confederacy’s top general until his Western armies blundered badly in Kentucky and northern Tennessee in early 1862. He hoped to restore his reputation by forcing a showdown near the railroad town of Corinth, Miss. Johnston was confident he could defeat Grant at Pittsburg Landing before Union reinforcements arrived. But the general was shot during the fighting near the Peach Orchard, suffering a wound behind the knee that might have been treatable with a simple tourniquet. Oblivious to his injury, Johnston fought until he bled to death—becoming the highest-ranking battle casualty of the entire war. President Jefferson Davis later claimed Johnston’s death marked “the turning point of our fate,” and Southerners would long ponder one of Shiloh’s great “what-ifs.”

4 – Brigadier General William T. Sherman: Sherman was publicly humiliated when removed from command in late 1861, but the Battle of Shiloh proved to be his great redemption. Serving as a division commander under his friend Ulysses S. Grant, Sherman was a beacon of calm for the Union on the battle’s chaotic first day. Although he had three horses shot out from under him and was wounded twice, Sherman remained “in the thickest of the fighting.” His division held firm against the Confederates’ early onslaught, inflicting hundreds of casualties before retiring, and he helped organize the Union’s final defensive line near Pittsburg Landing that evening. “I noticed that when…death stared us all in the face, my seniors in rank leaned on me,” he recalled. On May 1, Sherman was promoted to major general. By the end of the war, his name would be cursed by Southerners everywhere.

5 – Ann Dickey Wallace: The wife of Union Brig. Gen. William H.L. Wallace traveled to Pittsburg Landing in early April 1862 intending to surprise her husband, the temporary commander of the Army of the Tennessee’s 2nd Division. Instead she arrived mid-battle. Word came that William had been killed, but he was found alive the next day. Ann rushed to her husband’s side and nursed him for three days until he succumbed to a head wound. The widow Wallace resumed life in Ottawa, Ill., with daughter Isabel, where they memorialized their beloved William with a photo of his horse, flag and portrait. She never remarried.

6 – Private Henry Stanley: While living in New Orleans in 1861, the 21-year-old Briton, an inveterate adventurer, was caught up in war fever and joined the Confed­erate Army. Stanley’s baptism by fire came with the 6th Arkansas Infantry at Shiloh. “I can never forget the impression those wide-open dead eyes had on me,” he later wrote of seeing slain comrades on the field. Stanley was taken prisoner on April 7. Feeling no particular loyalty to the Confederacy, he pledged allegiance to the Union and switched uniforms. But he’d had his fill of battle at Shiloh and soon deserted. Stanley’s Civil War adventure proved to be but one colorful episode in a life filled with many. He became a renowned journalist and African explorer. His remark upon tracking down a missing missionary in modern-day Tanzania—“Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”—made him a household name.

7 – Johnny Clem: Clem was only 10 when news of his exploits at Shiloh made him a hero in the Northern press. “The drummer boy of Shiloh” never panicked, the story went, even after a Con­federate shell destroyed the drum he was playing. His legend grew further in September 1863 when he allegedly shot and killed a Rebel colonel at Chickamauga. “Johnny Shiloh” was celebrated in song and popular prints, although modern historians doubt the Union Army’s most famous drummer boy was even at his namesake battle. Clem wasn’t responsible for creating the myth, but he wasn’t shy about capitalizing on it. When he failed to get into West Point in 1871, he used his celebrity status to get a commission from President Grant. He retired as a major general at age 65, the last Civil War veteran still on duty with the U.S. Army. The Johnny Shiloh legend endured long after Clem’s death; a film version of the tale aired on The Wonderful World of Disney in 1963.