Monday, August 26, 2013

The Deadly Malady of Overconfidence

After General Grant led Union forces in February 1862 in overtaking Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, two Confederate forts that were blocking Union access into Tennessee via the Tennessee River and the Cumberland River respectively, commanders for the Union army became confident that the Civil War would end by July of 1862, a little more than a year after it had started.

Secretary of War Stanton was so optimistic about Union military prospects and victory over the south that on Thursday, April 3, 1862 he issued General Order No. 33, which stated that “the recruiting service for volunteers will be discontinued in every state from this date" (Eugene Murdock, Ohio’s Bounty System in the Civil War, Columbus: Ohio State).

Three days later, on the beautiful Sunday morning of April 6, 1862, the Confederates surprisingly and ferociously attacked the Union army encamped at Pittsburgh Landing on the Tennessee River, near a little Methodist Episcopal Chapel called Shiloh. The ensuing two day Battle of Shiloh killed more American soldiers than the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the American-Mexican War combined. The intense fighting spirit of the Rebels shocked Union commanders, and Shiloh was the beginning of the North's realization that the Civil War would neither be civil nor short. Reversing General Order No. 33, the United States continued the recruiting service for volunteer soldiers for an additional three years. By the end of the Civil War in 1865 over 620,000 soldiers had died.

Today I stood at the Shiloh battlefield and reflected on the great battle that occurred here on April 6 and 7, 1862 and I was reminded that of all the deadly maladies we face as human beings, overconfidence might be the worst. Confidence in God sounds like "If it be His will," but confidence in ourselves sounds a great deal like Stanton's General Order No. 33.


Rex Ray said...

My ancestor fought in the battle of Shiloh. He was a Confederate officer.

After the first day of battle, he found a sentry asleep. The sentry was so tired he took his place and was killed in the early morning counterattack by the North.

I guess the sentry survived and told the story.

Anonymous said...

Are we never going to learn the lessons of past disasters ? Rushing into Iraq and Afghanistan with over- confidence, soon claiming 'mission accomplished', only to find we are still there years later with great loss of life and many more seriously wounded. We have been forced to withdraw ignominiously, leaving those places, including Libya, in a worse condition than before. But we have already forgotten about this as we now prepare to rush into Egypt and Syria to solve their problems for them, without seeking prior UN sanction. Please tell me that Western world leaders have not gone mad with overconfidence.


Rex Ray said...


I’ll bet you wouldn’t try to separate a bear and lion fighting.

I wouldn’t either.

B Nettles said...

Jackson, TN is only an hour from Shiloh, and you didn't meet me for lunch? I'm disappointed, Wade.

Shiloh is an amazing place. It's shocking to think of soldiers marching through those woods, or running across those fields into artillery and musket fire.

My namesake and great-grandfather fought with the Alabama infantry there. His company was tasked with taking Union prisoners back to Corinth after the first day of fighting, so, providentially, he wasn't around for the massive Confederate failure on day 2. Consequently, I'm here.

He was captured in a later battle and sent to the POW camp on Johnson's Island, Ohio.

Today we are shocked when 5 soldiers are killed. How would we handle 26000 in one day? Was that a more callous time, despite the social politeness?

Istoria Ministries said...

Ray, great story!

Bill, I will be back at Shiloh Wednesday, this time with Rachelle. We are eating at the Catfish restaurant/hotel just north of the battlegrounds on Highway 22 at 6:00 pm. Would love to have you and your significant other join us. My cell phone DOES NOT work at Shiloh! Just show up if you can! Otherwise, we will catch you next time!

I will be writing a pretty amazing story from Shiloh in the next few days. I agree, Bill, an incredible place!