This past Sunday, April 6, 2008 marked the 146th anniversary of The Battle of Shiloh. This was the first major Civil War battle in the west, and opened the eyes of leaders on both sides of the War Between the States that the conflict would not be over quickly or easily. The battle commenced with a surprise attack by Confederate forces on Union soldiers under the command of Ulysses S. Grant encamped at Pittsburg Landing on the south bank of the Tennessee River in southwestern Tennessee.
Most of the soldiers who fought that day, on both sides, had little battle experience. They fought in the open field and exhibited remarkable steadiness and readiness to obey orders. The two-day battle was intense, bloody and costly. Eventually the Union soldiers held their battle lines and the Confederates withdrew. No pursuit was made or attempted. General Beauregard reported the Confederate losses at 10,699 captured, missing, wounded or killed. The loss of Union solders, according to Generals Grant and Buell were estimated at 15,000 killed, wounded, captured or missing.
Four things astound me about this battle. First, the battle is called Shiloh because of a little church in the open field, called Shiloh Church, around which the men fought and died. Second, Shiloh is a Hebrew word for "Peace," yet in this place of peace more men died than in all the previous United States wars combined. Third, a Christian officer and gentleman for the Confederates issued an order during a particularly gruesome slaughter of Union soldiers who were being led in a counter attack to thwart the Confederate advances on Union positions. The general cried about the gunfire, "Shoot them in the midsection so they can make peace with God." A soldier dies more slowly when shot in the stomach, and the General sincerely desired the Union boys to die "making peace with their Maker." Finally, Confederate General Albert Sydney Johnston died at the battle of Shiloh, the highest ranking officer on either side to die during the Civil War. General Johnston was a Christian, an evangelical, and according to President Jefferson Davis, the finest man he had ever had the privilege of knowing. Johnston had been shot in the leg and bled to death. The wound, superficial in Johnston's mind, had nicked an artery. The General would have lived with simple medical procedures to stop blood flow - but this Christian man had sent his physican to care for the Union; that's right, the enemy soldiers that were wounded.
When people today make a big deal about brothers being against brothers and the loss of Christian civility, I am reminded that great struggles, which ultimately bring about significant change, often present the deepest ironies.
In His Grace,