After the successful battles at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson in February, the Army of the West Tennessee, commanded by Ulysses S. Grant, continued their campaign into Confederate territory. The Union plan called for the army to concentrate its scattered units at Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River. There they would be joined by the Army of the Ohio, commanded by Don Carlos Buell, before beginning to advance and seize the Memphis & Charleston Railroad, the South’s vital east west link. On 3 April, Confederate commander Albert Sydney Johnston ordered his newly formed Army of the Mississippi north, intending to engage and defeat Grant before Buell could arrive. At dawn on 6 April, he deployed his army of over 43,000 strong astride the road from Corinth; around 5.00 am an advance Union patrol discovered Confederate units in and around Fraley’s Field, they skirmished then fell back toward Union lines. The Confederates stormed the Union positions which they found unfortified – the Union Army fell back, but as they did so they began to offer stiff resistance around Shiloh Church, where savage fighting tied down the Confederate advance by midday. Johnston’s right flank stalled by Sarah Bell’s Field and the Peach Orchard and again in a dense oak thicket, the Hornets’ Nest. The Union army grimly held on seven long hours; despite inflicting heavy losses, the Confederate army had gained ground but failed to drive Grant’s army away from the river and Pittsburg Landing. As dusk fell Confederate losses took stock of the losses inflicted by the Union Army, including their commander, Johnston.
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