Visiting Shiloh National Battlefield

Scattered throughout Shiloh National Cemetery are plaques with portions of the poem:  Bivouac of the Dead by Theodore O’Hara.  Here is the opening stanza:

The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat
The soldier’s last Tattoo;
No more on life’s parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On Fame’s eternal camping ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And glory guards, with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.

It is a most appropriate ode to not only the cemetery at Shiloh, but the entire battlefield.  I spent last weekend visiting Shiloh and going over the battlefield.  Over the next month I will be posting video clips from my visit there, but the first clip is at the cemetery:

The battle of Shiloh is the climactic scene of Duty, Honor, Country a Novel of West Point & the Civil War.  In fact, somewhere in the land that became the cemetery, on the first night of the battle, Ulysses S. Grant sat under an oak tree in the rain, contemplating whether to withdraw after horrendous losses that day, or fight on the next day.  Also, somewhere on that land, was a wood cabin where surgeons plied their bloody trade and a scene in that cabin changes the course of history.

At its conclusion, Shiloh produced more casualties in two days than all previous American Wars combined.  Walking over this hallowed ground was humbling.  I walked the entire length of the Sunken Road (which really isn’t sunken) that as the front edge of the Hornet’s Nest, where Union troops repelled eleven Confederate assaults.  Until 62 cannon were lined hub to hub, producing the greatest artillery barrage ever seen on the continent and the Union line was broken.

I walked around tiny Bloody Pond, just behind the sunken road, where casualties from both sides crawled, desperate for water on a hot April day.  I stood at the spot where General Albert Sidney Johnston was shot, still the highest ranking American officer ever to be killed in combat.

All of this is quite strange for a place called Shiloh, which means ‘place of peace’.


5 responses to “Visiting Shiloh National Battlefield

  1. After reading the book, Bob, I am going to visit those sights some day soon. In the meantime, thanks for these descriptions and videos.
    Mike M

  2. I love Shiloh and when I was first contemplating a soldier’s novel about a civil war battle, Shiloh was my immediate choice; I’d been there as a child and have been since numerous times though it is a trip for me each time (New Mexico). I will be there for the 150th reenactment the week before.

  3. Now, I’ve got to read the book. We travel up and down I-83 regularly and passing the exit for Shiloh gives me chills, even after all the trips and the history lessons and reading. Next time, we’ll have to pull off and actually walk that ground, although I would imagine the ghosts are not quiet there.

  4. Bob, You’re right. Visiting Shiloh is a very moving experience. So much tragedy. So uselessly but forthrightly given. It was a bright sunny October day when I visited, but the battlefield area is dark, shady and quiet with ghosts.

  5. Bob – Ok, now I’m hooked! I’ll pick up your book. As a medium, it would be interesting, albeit possibly overwhelming, to visit this battle site. I stopped at the Gettysburg museum a few years ago – so heart-wrenching to see the exhibits and to think of the tremendous loss of life. Outside, on the life-sized bronze statue of Pres.Lincoln, there was a single raindrop, holding itself under his eye, like a tear waiting to fall. ~ Renee

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