South African Military History Society

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Our Chairman, Flip Hoorweg, welcomed those present at the meeting on Thursday, 13th March, 2008. He reminded everybody about the completion of the voting forms to decide on the most popular lectures during 2007. A presentation of useful audio and video equipment from the Society was gratefully received by Gerda Viljoen, on behalf of the Library at the S.A. National Museum of Military History. Past Chairman, Hamish Paterson, reminded everyone of the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Marrières Wood, which happened during 1918.

The Curtain Raiser lecture by Donald Brown was on the topic, "My R.A.F." during which he recounted his experiences in the U.K., Egypt and Cyprus during the "Cold War Era" with the "Royal Air Force" as a radio mechanic. He joined up in 1952, and visited the Aircrew Selection Centre at RAF Cardington, where he remembers the smell of old polish and the giant hangars for the amazing R 100 & R101 airships. Donald did his basic training at RAF West Kirby, and then nearly 5 months at RAF Yatesbury, which he claimed was the most miserable place on earth, due to the almost continuous wet and damp mist over the area. After initial practical trade training with basic skills such as radio theory, soldering cables, and repairing radio equipment, he worked on the radios of Lancaster bombers and other smaller aircraft.

Donald was sent by ship on very rough seas to Port Said, and bussed down to the Suez Canal zone. He was stationed at RAF Abyad and had access to many recreational facilities, such as music clubs, cricket and dancing which helped keep up the spirits of the men. There was some hostility from the locals. They worked for 6 hours everyday. Then he was transferred to the camp at RAF Nicosia, Cyprus. Here, Donald worked on "Gloster Meteors", "De Haviland Vampires" and the "Avro Anson" aircraft. He was then sent to Cyprus Pines, a very well-maintained camp, with a further 6 weeks in Aden, with a more relaxed camp life. Donald left the "R.A.F." during 1955, having completed almost 3 years of practical service.

A lucky draw was made for the donated World War II DVD on Japan, which was won by Robin Smith, of the Kwa Zulu Natal branch of the Society, who was our main speaker for the evening. His lecture on the Battle of Shiloh, was spellbinding, despite the frustration that the connection between his laptop computer and the museum's digital projector could not be established. Robin had prepared 61 slides detailing the progress of the battle, the fascinating characters involved, and many scenes of the battle that should have been shown simultaneously with his excellent presentation. However, he soldiered on with a smile on his face, driven by his unrelenting enthusiasm for the topic.

Determined to persevere with their lavish way of life, rooted in slavery, 11 Southern states declared themselves to be the Confederate States of America, early in 1861. President Abraham Lincoln responded by attempting to blockade the rebels from markets and resources abroad, but eventually military intervention was inevitable. And so began 4 bitter years that saw 3 million Americans take up arms against each other, often father against son and brother against brother, in the Civil War.

The first major battle was fought at Shiloh (= Peace) church on the 6th and 7th April 1862. The Confederate States had to win this battle to restore their frontier to the Kentucky - Ohio border. The casualties of the battle were shocking and plunged both the North and South into outrage. Each side lost roughly 1 700 killed and 8 000 wounded. The main contenders in this significant battle were:

Army of the Tennessee: Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant, with 6 divisions under his authority. Army of the Ohio: Major General Don Carlos Buell, with 4 divisions at his command.

Army of the Mississippi: General Albert Sidney Johnston, and General P.G.T. Beauregard, with 4 Army Corps at their command, with a total of 7 divisions and brigades.

In response to the Confederate's violation of Kentucky's neutrality, Grant set his sights on the capture of Fort Henry on the Tennessee River, and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River, which were the keys to the defence of the entire region. Shortly afterwards, Fort Henry was abandoned after flooding by the Tennessee River. At Fort Donelson, a raging battle ensued between the Confederate heavy gun batteries and the Union Navy gunboats. Union forces eventually surrounded the Fort.

Brigadier General Simon Buckner (CS) sent a letter through the Union lines with a flag of truce to negotiate terms of surrender with Grant, confident that their former friendship would persuade him. Grant's reply was simply, "No terms, except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works."

Grant immediately reported his victory to Major General Henry Halleck in St Louis, who had been appointed Commander of the Department of the Missouri. The report said, "We have taken Fort Donelson, with 12 000 to 15 000 prisoners, including Generals Buckner and Bushrod Johnson, also 20 000 arms, 48 pieces of artillery, 17 heavy guns and between 1 000 to 6 000 horses, besides large quantities of stores."

Halleck had been planning to demote Grant, but now President Abraham Lincoln sent Grant's name to the Senate for promotion to Major General. Suddenly Grant was famous! His fame spread, with many saying that his famous initials "U.S." stood for "Unconditional Surrender."

Johnston in Nashville, on hearing of the surrender of Fort Donelson, ordered the City to be evacuated and then marched Southwards towards Corinth, Mississippi, (which was a major transportation centre) and to mount an all-out campaign to defend the Mississippi valley. He ordered Beauregard to head for Corinth, and to act independently in the defence of the Mississippi valley. He would be supported by Bragg with l0 000 fresh soldiers, and Ruggles with a Louisiana brigade.

In the meantime, Major General Charles F. Smith (US), (former Commandant of Cadets at West Point, when Grant was there) arrived in Savannah with a column of 63 transports. Brigadier General Lew Wallace (US) was landed at Cramp's Landing a few miles upstream from Savannah with a full division. Smith, his superior officer, was seriously injured while travelling to give those orders.

Brigadier General William T. Sherman (US) had also received orders that he should take his newly-created division of mostly Ohio regiments and proceed 30 miles upriver from Savannah to the mouth of Bear Creek in Northern Mississippi, to strike at the "Memphis and Charleston" with his troops, then cruised down-river to the first landing above water, which was Pittsburg Landing. Sherman set up his headquarters near the aforementioned Shiloh church.

Grant made his headquarters in a fine mansion overlooking the Tennessee River, belonging to William H. Cherry, who despite his great prosperity, and many slaves, claimed to be in sympathy with the Union States. By early April, Grant had 6 divisions in place, with 37 000 soldiers at Pittsburg Landing and another 7 500 with Lew Wallace at Crump's Landing. Buell's army of another 30 000 was expected to arrive after a strenuous march.

Johnston now had some 40 000 to 45 000 men in and around Corinth, about 23 miles to the South of the massed Union Forces. The night before the planned attack on the Union soldiers, rain fell in torrents and Johnston's Army, exposed on open ground, without tents, was drenched. Although Major General William Hardee (CS) had put his men in line of battle only 2 miles from the Shiloh church, many of the supporting Confederate troops were floundering in the mud. That led to the attack being postponed till the next day. That night the plans for the morning's battle were reviewed by the Confederate Generals, and Colonel Thomas Jordan, using General Beauregard's notes and Napoleon's Order for the Battle of Waterloo" drew up the army's marching orders. He called for an attack of succeeding waves of infantry with each corps aligned one behind the other across the battlefront. It was fatally flawed as a plan, as events would prove.

In response to reports that Confederate troops had been sighted near Shiloh church, Grant hurried to Pittsburg Landing aboard his steamer "Tigress". After meeting with senior officers, a raging storm hindered their intention of proceeding to the Shiloh church, and so they returned to Pittsburg Landing. Grant's horse slipped on the mud and fell heavily onto his leg. There was no fracture, but his ankle became so swollen that his boot had to be cut off and he could not walk.

Hardee, with many army veterans, was the core of Johnston's Kentucky army. They had waited in line during the whole of the previous day. They were now joined by other Confederate troops, and began their advance toward the Union forces. Major Powell (US) had his men drawn up in a long skirmish line on Fraley Field, and were the first to witness the seemingly endless line of grey infantry advancing towards them. It was shortly before 06h00. On another front, nearby, shortly after 07h00, Colonel Everett Peabody gave orders to sound the long roll, the urgent call to arms. Suddenly, the Confederates broke over the crest of the opposite ridge, 75 yards away. There was a flash of fire and a tremendous roar and the battle began. Within minutes, the advancing Confederates had established an advantage.

When Grant heard the sound of cannon fire from his headquarters, he boarded the "Tigress" with his entourage and steamed upstream, arriving at Pittsburg Landing at 08h00. Grant rode his horse straight into the battle at Shiloh. He met with a group of Union army stragglers' weaponless, panicky and disorganized and with officers among them. Grant spoke to Sherman whose uniform was rent with several bullets. Sherman was riding a stray artillery horse, after two other horses had been shot and killed from under him. Grant complimented Sherman on stubbornly resisting the Confederate attack, and assured him that ammunition wagons and other troops were on their way to help.

A heavy battle at the place known as "The Hornet's Nest" ensued, which was bravely defended for another 5 hours by Union troops, and causing heavy casualties among the Confederates. Johnston rallied his troops, and soon they gained much of the ground near a peach orchard. Nearby was a pond that was soon to be renamed "Bloody Pond" because during the battle, soldiers of both sides came to bathe their wounds there.

Johnston was elated at the recovery of his Confederate troops, although he had been struck 4 times during the assault, It appeared at first that he was not badly injured, except that a musket ball fired by one of his own soldiers had torn the artery behind his right knee. Within minutes the loss of blood made him collapse and he fell off his horse. Soon afterwards, the highest ranking American General ever to die in battle was dead.

Ruggles had massed 62 Confederate guns that caused further havoc among the Union forces. Grant rode up and down the lines of his men encouraging them that help was on the way. Soon afterwards, Buell arrived and then over 50 guns pounded the Confederates, together with the guns of the US Navy boats, "Tyler" and "Lexington" on the river. The arrival of troops under command of Major General William Nelson to support Buell, was the turning point in the battle.

Eventually, Lew Wallace also arrived with his troops. They had taken a wrong turning that had delayed their arrival. The earlier presence of his Division at the battle would have made a significant difference to the losses suffered by the Union forces. Grant was unforgiving. Lew Wallace never became a famous General. However, he did become famous much later, as the novelist with his story, "Ben Hur."

It was a horrible night for everyone, with pitch-black darkness, incessant rain, and the groans of many wounded men that could not be helped. The troops of both sides were exhausted.

On Monday, 7th April, the battle resumed, and with the newly-arrived troops, the Union States began to win. Although the Confederates fought back bravely, they were too exhausted, and with many of their number already wounded, Beauregard withdrew his troops from the battle, and headed back to Corinth. The Union States had finally won the strategic Battle of Shiloh.

A journalist by the name of Whitelaw Reid wrote a shocking account in the "New York Herald" of the events during the Battle of Shiloh, being very critical of both Grant and Sherman. The report was seemingly based upon wild tales told by panicky deserters and fugitives.

Despite the exaggerated criticism, within 2 years Grant was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General, and given command of all the armies of the Union States. It is no idle claim that Grant won the American Civil War for the Union.

The Battle of Shiloh had been a decisive struggle, but the end of the American Civil War was still 3 years off. Many things killed the dream of Southern Independence, the desperate fighting near the Shiloh church was one of those things, and another was the "Unbreakable Stubbornness" of Ulysses S. Grant!

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Bob Smith
Acting Scribe

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