On April 6th 1862 Confederate General Albert Sydney Johnson led a surprise attack on General Ulyssses Grant’s forces that were preparing for a major assault to divide the Confederacy. The ensuing battle which the north called Shiloh and the south called the Battle of Pittsburg Landing that made the First Battle of Bull Run (north)/ Manassas (south) pale in comparison.
Initially, it looked like the Confederates would prevail. Launching from Corinth, Mississippi, they achieved the element of surprise and the northerners, despite some valiant defenses, fell back and the southerners captured much territory and even munitions. But on April 7th, reinforcements from Ohio arrived, and the southerners valiantly defended, but the northerners eventually pushed them back and were able to recapture all they had lost. And by the end of the 8th, territory held was much the same as it had been on the morning of the 6th. All was the same.
It was the same except, of course, that there was almost 24,000 casualties including 3400 dead. The northerns named the battle after a Methodist Church that they used as their headquarters. After the battle, as souvenirs, the northern troops picked apart the tiny church so that it was not left standing even though it was not hit during the battle.
Kind of underscoring the terrible nature of the war, Major General Albert Sydney Johnson (CSA) bled to death during the battle from what he thought earlier in the day was a flesh wound. The northerners also had a Major General Smith (US) who succumbed within a month of the battle, not from a bullet, but from an infection from a scrape he received slipping off a Union steam boat.
It would be easy to lament the picked apart church as an apt metaphor for what happens when we let other priorities eclipse that of our common faith. The seeming pointlessness of the battle, especially with its high casualties and loss of leaders, would seem to be underscore the pointlessness of it all. But that would take that the status quo in 1862 was acceptable and it wasn’t. Human being enslaving human being would, because of this terrible war with its ferocious battles, soon be illegal in our country. The end of the war would also generate the greatest building of churches across both north and south that our country ever knew. The war would also establish the precedent that we don’t simply “quit” one another when we disagree. And so, Shiloh/Pittsburg landing ends up being a victory, a hard fought one, but a victory nonetheless and the lives lost were not in vain.
I hope one day to visit the fields of southwest Tennessee to see where this great battle was waged. Let us not forget those lost and what was won.
Until next time,