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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.