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The main point of the trip to Tennessee was to attend the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh. A good friend of mine from home, aka Vermont, was taking part of the reenactment and I was hoping to see him. I’ve never been to a reenactment before and to be honest I had no idea how it all worked or what to really expect. What I did picture in my mind reminisced more or less what I’d seen in the movies. What I ended up seeing was something extraordinary and an event that everyone should attend at least once in their life.
First, let me give you some history on this significant battle. The Battle of Shiloh originally occurred April 6-7th, 1862. Over these two days, more then 20,000 lives were lost on these fields (about 13,000 Union, 10,000 Confederates). The pond nearby was said to be red from the loss of lives, piles of amputated limbs could be found outside a cabin window where they had been thrown.
The Union first took over Fort Henry and Donaldson and then headed Southward aiming to take over the railroad in Corinth, Mississippi which was a huge junction. The Confederate troops were well aware of the Union’s plan and instead of waiting for them in Corinth, they decided to move North towards Tennessee.
The Union army was led by General U.S. Grant. His troops were led by General W.T. Sherman (it’s good to note some historians believe he was a bit on the crazy side). Sherman was transporting troops down the Tennessee River to Mississippi where he first wanted to let the troops off but the water ended up being too high and the next suitable place they found was Pittsburg Landing. More than 40,000 troops were being moved ashore but what they didn’t know was that General Johnston Confederate troops were moving right for them, some 35,000 of them. On the night of April 5th, both sides were within “shouting distance” of each other.
The next morning (April 6th) General Grant took his first sip of coffee to the sound of a cannon. The Confederate’s raided the Union camp killing many who were still undressed and having breakfast. While the Union soldiers were reaching for muskets, the Confederates were letting their cannons do the work. The Union had 35,000 reserves coming and the Confederates wanted to take care of business before they arrived. Lucky for the Union, it began to rain and slowed down the Confederates. They were going to attack a day late.
The fight ran out for two days. With the help of the 35,000 reserves the Union had clutched the victory although it wouldn’t be known until much later in the year. April 6th brought a wash of wounded and dead soldiers. Sometimes four to five deep in line. On the morning of April 7th, the Union Army came in strong, due to the reserves. For seven hours the battle reigned. The Confederates withdrew towards Corinth. The Union was too exhausted to follow. Both sides would not admit defeat – they both claimed victory. Mistakes had been made for both sides but with the supplies and available troops, the Union held the upper hand.
Driving up to the battle scene was interesting to say the least. Keep in mind, I’m saying this as I am a Yankee. When you see Confederate flags flying on the side of a two lane country road in the South, I’m still not entirely use to it.
Now the reenactment did not have nearly as many troops as there were on the day of the actual battle. I can’t imagine what that sight would’ve been like. It was amazing enough to see thereenactors on the battle field and I’m not even sure if there were more than 5,000. For the most part, I’m just going to let the photos tell of my experience at the reenactment but I will just fill you in ona couple things. The viewing area was on the Confederate side so many of the pictures you see are of – the Confederates. There were two things that amazed me the most. We were sitting behind the Confederate cannons. Way off in the distance you could see a line of trees. For a while, this is all you could see then it was like in a blink of an eye, the line of trees turned into a line of dark blue wool jackets with hundreds of soldiers in formation. (Picture above.) It was amazing. The second, the cannons. When the cannons start to go off, its like the grand finale when you see fireworks. I really don’t know how else to describe it. The cannons are lined up and they are let off one after the other. Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! You see a spark, smoke and the cannon jerk back. They are so loud that it not only shakes your body but the earth. Absolutely amazing. I told Sy that if I ever come across one when I have a house, it’s going in my front yard. Yes, ya’ll can come over and we’ll set it off!
After the battle, we were trying to find my friend who partook, to no avail. We did however meet a bunch of reenactors who were all extremely nice, helpful and humble. The reenactors had set up camp in the woods and fields nearby, we perused. The reenactors are the ones who the props all need to go to. They are incredible and completely blew us away with their kindness and genuine commitment to the reenactment. They had traveled from all over the country. They don’t get paid for this, it is something they love and an even that they take pleasure in keeping alive. Something that surprised us is that even after the battle ended, they were still acting as if they are really the soldiers in battle. Referring to the Captain with the upmost respect. It’s really nice to see.
In addition to the main battlefield, the troops camps there were also vendors available. Although, we didn’t hang out and look thru too much we did stop by a tent with rootbeer and lemonade. This is an event where everyone goes as authentic as possible and it really makes for the experience in the end.
For $15 a ticket, it was well worth the event. HIGHLY recommended. When we were traveling to and from the battle field area, it seemed like there were historical signs every half mile for an event that occurred. This area is so saturated with history that, well, I can’t help but be mesmorized by it all. It’s not only beautiful countryside but it just makes me want to learn all the history behind it all. If those trees could talk I tell ya!
Hints: Arrive early, plenty early. You want a good seat for a good view. Bring binoculars or have a great zoom on your camera. Be ready to take it all in.
Historical Information comes from the 150th Anniversary Reenactment Battle of Shiloh book that was purchased at the reenactment.