Wednesday, April 11, 2012

You'll learn, you'll exercise, you'll love it

One of the highlights of my journey last week to Shiloh National Military Park were two ranger-led hikes scheduled to occur exactly 150 years after the events.

Participants marveled at guide Bjorn Skaptason's ability to recall, in exacting detail, troop movements and the order of battle.

The afternoon walk of April 5 focused on Gen. William T. Sherman's outposts and how the Federal army failed to detect the Confederates' surprise attack. Stops included Fraley Field and the appropriately named Reconnoitering Road.

Sherman was dealing with green troops and officers not trained in proper reconnaissance and the deployment of pickets.

But, more importantly, Sherman failed to properly interpret events occurring before his eyes, thinking the attack might come from another direction.

Other factors included his previous reputation of overestimating the strength of the enemy and the desire to hold off engaging with the enemy until the Army of the Ohio reached Pittsburg Landing.

For history buffs, the sesquicentennial at Shiloh offered 20 hikes over four days. The weather was spectacular.

On the morning of April 6, Skaptason covered "Turning the Enemy's Right: S.A.M Wood's Brigade and Confederate realignment."

Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston's battle plan had called for the Confederate army to turn the Union left flank and drive them northwesterly into flooded Owl Creek.

Instead, the Confederate attack broke into two distinct efforts, one pushing the Union left and one pushing Federals who were falling back on the right.

Amid confusion and heavy smoke, Wood's brigade pressed the attack, despite significant casualties from friendly fire. His troops helped pushed the Union army back to Pittsburg Landing by the end of the first day of the battle.

Skaptason likened a Civil War army to a dinosaur: Massive power in the body, but limited by a small brain. Troop movements and alignments took hours and commanders had a difficult time modifying them in the heat of the battle.

This was the first time I had participated in such a program. I heartily recommend trying one at another park during the sesquicentennial.

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