Visiting the Shiloh National Military Park {Tennessee}

Living in Tennessee has given us a unique experience of really delving into the history of the American Civil War as we are right on the dividing line of the two ideologies of that time. There are so many Civil War sites close to us and the more we visit them the more we learn and the more we realize we still have so much more to learn about this complex period of our country’s history.

We visited the Shiloh National Military Park that includes a national battlefield and a national cemetery. The Battle of Shiloh was the first of many major battles to be fought in the Civil War. The battle lasted for only two days, but by the end 24,000 soldiers had been killed in action and thousands more were wounded or missing. While the battle did not end with a decided victory for either side, it was a good strategic move forward for the Union who were then able to take control of a major railroad junction into the south.

The Battle of Shiloh (photo ::

We began at the back of the park where the visitor center is. Outside the visitor center are three color coded information boards. Each board is assigned a color to represent one of the infantries that fought in the battle. As you go through the park you will see boards in the different colors so can read on the movements of the different infantries in the battle.

There is a self- guided tour through the park where visitors can drive or bike from one point to another. The tour begins at the visitor center and offers many places to stop and get out to look at the memorials and information boards at each point.

Along the tour there are memorials established for the many soldiers that fought here and each gives a haunting impression of the cost of war.

The battle of Shiloh was named after a small church in the area. Ironically the name Shiloh translates to ‘place of peace’ or ‘heavenly peace’. The original church can still be viewed in the park. A new church building was set up on the site of the original and it is a working Methodist church that provides services to visitors.

the original Shiloh Church (photo::

Also along the tour route, visitors can stop and see the mass burial ground that was used for Confederate soldiers. Just like only the victors write the history, only those that were part of the winning team are honored in the national cemetery. Confederate soldiers that died in the Battle of Shiloh were placed here. Later on, the memorial was erected in honor of the thousands of soldiers that were so unceremoniously buried here.

Confederate burial ground and memorial (photo ::

We finished the loop through the park and ended our visit with a walk through the Shiloh National Cemetery where all the Union soldiers that were killed in battle are buried.

Shiloh National Cemetery

Walking through the cemetery you notice that some of the headstones are complete with name and state the soldier came from. While others are short blocks with no information. These short blocks are for those who could not be identified and they outnumber all the headstones there.

Some of the commanders of this battle are buried here. Their headstones are in a small bricked path that overlooks the Tennessee River.

What was interesting was the headstones do not all fall into neat lines as in most cemeteries, especially national cemeteries, but instead they are all slightly curved around and expanding out from the flag. The flag has changed since the Civil War with the added stars as more territories became states. But having the headstones face the flag was a powerful reminder that the Union was fighting to keep the country together under one flag, one name, one people.

The difficult thing about history is sometimes we want it to be cut and dry, good and bad, winners and losers, heroes and villains. But nothing about the Civil War was so clearly defined and the more historians try to unravel the complexities of it the more they realize how much more convoluted it all was. There was good and bad on both sides, there were winners and losers on both sides, and there were heroes and villains on both sides. We may never fully understand the Civil War but we are still feeling the effects of it ripple through the ages to the present day. Visiting these Civil War sites helps to give a little more perspective and understanding of such a complicated part of history and into the two sides that were part of the story.

If you would like to visit some other places that are rich in Civil War history, then you may be interested in these:

Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park- Tennessee & Georgia

Stones River National Battlefield and Cemetery – Tennessee

Camp Nelson National Monument – Kentucky

Thank you for coming along on this look at a small part of the Civil War and its history with me. While war is never uplifting, it is an important part of understanding the place.

16 responses to “Visiting the Shiloh National Military Park {Tennessee}”

  1. Meg, I think you did a brilliant job of bringing this place and its history to life. You also make some really good points about good versus bad and all that. Too many people view certain historic events (not to mention current ones) in black and white terms. I feel like Sladja and I could happily spend weeks touring places like these across the U.S. Thanks for whetting my appetite, it’s such a beautiful complex. Particularly like that original church and the sign with the moving poem extract.

    • Thanks Leighton, I appreciate that. Part of me understands why we want things to be so black and white because it would make it so much simpler to grasp. But the reality of it is somewhere in all that gray area. I think you and Sladja would really love a trip through the south- there is so much history to absorb. I want to visit more of the Confederate sites in the south to get a better idea of that side of it.

    • Thank you Marion, that is so kind of you. It certainly is a dark chapter in our story but one that is so important to really understand. I hope you get to visit Tennessee one day- between the beautiful scenery and the rich history I’m sure you would love it!

    • Thanks Hannah, it has been a real learning opportunity for me visiting these sites as I realize just how little I really understand about this period. I hope you have a great weekend 🙂

  2. Sometimes, when I travel to places like London or Rome (have yet to make it to Greece), which are so, so old, I remember that the Civil War was really quite recent, relatively speaking. I’d like to see some of the monuments to various moments in America’s history. Guess I need to stop going west – haha.

    • It’s really kind of strange thought just how young our country is. It’s been interesting as I’ve talked to people from different parts of the country to learn how differently the Civil War was taught where they grew up from other parts of the country. Being from out west our education about the Civil War was incredibly brief. Living here is giving me the history lesson I never had growing up.

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