THE WAR COUNCILShiloh, Tennessee
April 5, 1862
The Mississippi River divided General Albert Sidney Johnston’s responsibilities into two theaters of operation. West of the River, some 60,000 Federals faced 12,000 Confederates. On the East bank General U.S. Grant was at Paducah, Kentucky with 20,000 men. General Leonidas Polk had seized and fortified Columbus, Kentucky with a force of 11,000 southerners. Johnston’s first priority was to defend the Tennessee line. A series of Confederate losses in early 1862 kept southern forces on the move. The Confederate forces regrouped and assembled around the small town of Corinth, Mississippi. General Braxton Bragg had brought his army from the Gulf Coast, making southern forces nearly 40,000 men strong.
General Grant and a force of 40,000 men were concentrated at Pittsburgh Landing on the Tennessee River. Marching to join him was General Don Carlos Buell and his Army of the Ohio, with 20,000 men. Federal officers believed that the southern army would have little chance against the combined forces.
General Johnston’s plan was simply to crush Grant before the arrival of Buell. Due to misunderstood orders the southern army was not put into motion until late in the afternoon. This late start, coupled with an exceptionally slow march, kept the Confederate column from reaching a good striking position until late afternoon on the 5th of April. This mistake caused Johnston to arrive a day later than he had planned, and would cost him a great victory.
During the evening of the 5th, Johnston convened a roadside council of war with all his Corp Commanders. General Johnston listened to Generals Bragg and Beauregard speak doubtfully about attacking the Federal force the next morning. The Generals felt the element of surprise had been lost and complained that the supply wagons had not reached the men and no rations had been issued. Bragg reasoned that the army was out-numbered.
Johnston listened to the concerns and simply stated, “These doubts will not be permitted, the Federal Army does not know we are here, they have no defense trenches and as for the hungry soldiers, they could eat the enemy’s rations after they have been captured.” Johnston then bid farewell to the assembled leaders saying, “Gentlemen, we shall attack at daylight tomorrow.” As the officers walked away to rejoin their commands, Johnston said under his breath, “I would fight ‘em if they were a million.” It would be the last evening sky that General Albert Sidney Johnston and many of his men would see.
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