Regaining Power: Turnaround of Events for the Union Army

FROM THE LECTURE SERIES: The American Civil War

By Gary Gallagher, Ph.D., University of Virginia

U.S. Grant, who was imperturbable in battle, oversaw the construction of a successful defensive line, enabling the Federals to hold the Landing. Don Carlos Buell ferried 20,000 men across the river before the 7th of April. In contrast, no reinforcements came to the Confederates, who were now facing an opponent with fresh troops. What happened in the course of the battle on the 7th which was so predictable?

Painting of Gen. U.S. Grant, assisted by the Navy under Admiral Porter during the siege of Vicksburg during 1863.
Marching in for several victories, Halleck and Grant were now the victors in the Western Theater as well, bound to do more. (Image: Kurz and Allison/Public domain)

Reverse Course of the Battle

It was the reverse of what had happened on the 6th. Grant mounted counterattacks, supported by strong artillery close to Pittsburgh Landing, and the Federals pushed the Confederates back, regaining the ground that they lost on April 6. Beauregard’s lines were confused from the fighting on the previous day and seemed helpless to stem the Union advance. In the course of the fighting, Beauregard kept hoping that Van Dorn would show up. At one point, a report came that a group of soldiers in white jackets were approaching the field.

But those were New Orleans troops coming to the field. As they marched to the field in blue coats, a Confederate unit had mistaken them for Yankee troops and fired on them. So they had taken off their blue coats and turned them inside out to show the white lining.

Major reinforcements did not arrive, and Beauregard decided to abandon the field. The two-day battle ended with Grant in possession of the field and the Confederate army, that had been put together with such effort, completely defeated.

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The Battle of Shiloh

The scale of the Battle of Shiloh overlooked anything that had happened previously in American history. There were nearly 11,000 Confederate casualties, about 10,7000, and 13,000 Union casualties in two days. More casualties were at Shiloh in two days than in all other battles in American history put together. That sent a shock to the people in both North and South.

Major Advance Against Corinth

This could have been a disaster for Grant and Sherman but they held their army together and came out with their reputations enhanced. The well-planned Confederate concentration came to nothing. They were soon back at Corinth, and Henry W. Halleck arrived on the scene to coordinate a major advance against Corinth. An advance by an army that eventually grew to 100,000 men and pushed against the major railroad center in northern Mississippi. The Confederacy’s hope for a victory to win back some of Tennessee was dashed. In the entire war, there was no chance for Confederacy to reclaim crucial Tennessee territory lost in the first few months of 1862.

An illustration of the Federal army attacking the Confederate army at Corinth.
Henry W. Halleck arrived to coordinate a major advance against Corinth. But the Confederacy’s hope for a victory to win back some of Tennessee was destroyed. (Image: Internet Archive Book Images/No restrictions/Public domain)

Shiloh was an important battle for a number of reasons because it showed the way, the war was going to go in terms of scale, disappointing the major Confederate counteroffensive, and setting Grant up for greater things.

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Next Union Successes

Before the end of April, another piece of news reached the North; terrible news for the Confederacy. On April 25, the Union flotilla under David Glasgow Farragut captured the city of New Orleans. At 160,000 citizens, that was by far the largest city in the Confederacy, the most important port, and, in terms of its symbolic value, an enormously consequential place.

Control Over New Orleans

Three days after Farragut had his success, Benjamin F. Butler’s Union army occupied the city. The Federals controlled New Orleans for the rest of the war. The South’s largest city, a port and the gateway to the Mississippi Valley, was gone for the Confederacy. In late May, forces under Halleck captured Corinth and placed a Union army in a position to move deeper into the Confederate hinterlands. Early in June, another Union naval force won a battle outside Memphis, and control of that important river city passed to the Union. The North continued its unbroken string of successes in the west with the capture of those three important cities.

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Landscape of the War

Five months of campaigning in the west altered the landscape of the war. First, the North had gained control of both upper and the lower reaches of the Mississippi River, controlling the Mississippi all the way to Memphis, and New Orleans. The river was no longer a viable waterway for the Confederacy in terms of moving goods to be shipped abroad or moving them internally. The river was on its way to becoming a Union river. The Anaconda Plan was well underway, with the upper and northern parts of the river held by the North.

Losses for the Confederacy

A painting of a woman sitting and a Confederate soldier surrendering to Union army.
A major Union army poised at Corinth for the next phase of battle. It seemed that a major section of the Confederacy was vulnerable to penetration by the Union army. (Image: Julian Scott/Public domain)

A number of important Southern cities were in Union hands. Not overlooking the importance of Nashville in all the things that it offered to the Confederacy. As a group, those cities which constituted major ports, communication centers, supply centers, industrial centers, and psychological points of great value to the Confederacy were all gone. Huge parts of Tennessee, a logistical area of great bounty, were now in Union hands. The Confederate losses in Tennessee in early 1862 represented the single greatest logistical disaster that they suffered in the entire war.

Sherman struck across Georgia, and, as Philip Sheridan cleaned out part of the Shenandoah Valley in 1864, those hurt the logistical capacity of the Confederacy as well. There was a major Union army poised at Corinth for the next phase of whatever the North decided to do. It seemed that an enormous section of the Confederacy was vulnerable now to penetration by the Union army.

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No Good News for the Confederacy

There was no good news for the Confederacy from the Western Theater in the entire five-month period, and the man, Albert Sidney Johnston, looked at as the principal rallying point in the Western Theater, was dead. P. G. T. Beauregard had removed himself from command on account of illness during the Corinth operations and had permanently alienated himself from Jefferson Davis. Halleck and Grant were now the victors in the Western Theater, poised to do more.

Common Questions about The American Civil War

Q: Why was the Battle of Shiloh significant?

Shiloh was an important battle because it showed the way the war was going to go in terms of scale, disappointing the major Confederate counteroffensive, and setting Grant up for greater successes. The scale of the Battle of Shiloh overlooked anything that had happened previously in American history.

Q: How many died at Shiloh?

There were nearly 11,000 Confederate casualties, about 10,7000, and 13,000 Union casualties in two days. Casualties at Shiloh in two days were more than in all other battles in American history put together, sending shock to the people in both North and South.

Q: Who were the generals in the Battle of Shiloh?

The generals in the Battle of Shiloh were Ulysses S. Grant commanding the Union army and P. G. T. Beauregard for the Confederate army.

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