"The battle of Shiloh, or Pittsburg Landing, fought on Sunday and Monday, the 6th and 7th of April, 1862," wrote Union Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, "has been perhaps less understood, or, to state the case more accurately, more persistently misunderstood, than any other engagement between National and Confederate troops during the entire rebellion."
In the second year of the Civil War, Grant, along with Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell, engaged the Army of the Tennessee and Army of the Ohio against Gen. Albert Sidney Johnson and Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard of the Army of the Mississippi.
When it was all said and done, about 24,000 men died, with the Union forces emerging the victor and Johnson dead. The battle was a resounding blow to the Confederacy.
Today, few places rival Tennessee's Shiloh National Battlefield for its sheer peacefulness -- indeed, the word Shiloh biblically means "place of peace" -- but on those two spring days in 1862 it was impossible to grasp its significance as the bloody battles between the North and South raged on.
Shiloh, set on about 4,000 acres on the banks of the Tennessee River near Pickwick, is perhaps America's best preserved, if not most scenic, battlefield. Brimming with monuments, cannons and tablets, the battlefield is named for Shiloh Log Church, a small Methodist church built in 1851.
While spring was in the air in the tiny corner of Tennessee in 1862, so, too, rose the war cries of battle. In one corner of the battlefield, the peach blossoms were in full bloom, but the orchard would soon evaporate in clouds of pink as the blossoms were ripped off the trees by minie balls, and in one account "fell like snow," so intense was the fighting.
Now 150 years later in a series of sesquicentennial events, both Shiloh National Military Park and the nearby town of Corinth, Miss., commemorate that turbulent second year of the Civil War.
The town of Corinth, about 20 miles south of Shiloh in the northeast corner of Mississippi, was a major transportation center during the war, as it was the intersection of the east-west Memphis & Charleston Railroad and the north-south Mobile & Ohio Railroad. The spot where those rail lines meet even now is regarded as perhaps the most important 16 square feet of land during the Civil War.
Corinth, at its heart still a rail town, contains a host of museums, including Crossroads Museum and sites devoted to the war, including the Civil War Interpretative Center, parks with perfectly preserved earthworks, and even a slave contraband camp.
"In much the same manner as in 1862, the Civil War 150th anniversary activities in Northeast Mississippi will kick off with the march from Corinth to Shiloh by Confederate re-enactors," says Kristy White, executive director of the Corinth Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Events are scheduled throughout 2012, highlighting the area's importance in the entire scheme of the American Civil War:
*Shiloh National Military Park Caravan Tours, this Thursday through Saturday, takes visitors to important points along the battlefield. The free events, an alternative to walking the battlefield, are led by local tour guide Jimmy Whittington. Registration is requested. Visit www.NPS.gov/shil or www.Corinth.net for more information.
*Shiloh National Military Park 150th Anniversary Battlefield Hikes, a heartier alternative to driving, take place Friday through Saturday. Featuring three days of in-depth hikes, you can follow the movement of the troops on the field. The hikes last about two hours each and cover from easy to difficult terrain. For hiking schedules, visit www.NPS.gov/shil.
*Shiloh National Military Park's film "Fiery Trail" runs concurrently with the battlefield hikes. This is the premiere of "Fiery Trail," an interpretive film about the 150th anniversary of the battle. Showings run for the entire weekend. Visit www.NPS.gov/shil for more information.
*Shiloh's Grand Illumination is scheduled for Saturday from dusk until 10 p.m. In what promises to be a moving event, about 24,000 luminaries are to be placed around the battlefield, each representing the casualties from the Battle of Shiloh. Visit www.NPS.gov/shil.
*Corinth Theatre of Arts' presentation of "On Shiloh Hill" takes place April 13-15. Featuring music, memories and images taken directly from letters, memoirs, diaries and other written collection from the time of the Civil War, the production gives glimpses of life on and off the battlefield. Visit www.CorinthTheatreArts.com for times and ticket information.
*The Corinth Symphony Orchestra's "The Power of History," taking place at the Corinth Coliseum Civic Center on April 28, features Antonin Dvorak music of the Civil War. Selections include an American salute that's based upon "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" and the "Ashoken Farewell" from Ken Burns' "The Civil War" series on PBS. Visit www.Corinth.net for more information.
*150th Battles of Farmington and Corinth Civil War Re-enactment take place Sept. 13-16. In May 1862, after the Battle of Shiloh, the men trekked back to Corinth through Farmington, and these re-enactments will take place on the same field where the original skirmishes were fought. For a complete schedule of events, visit www.BattleOfFarmington.com.
*Corinth's own "Grand Illumination" is set for Nov. 2-3, with 12,000 luminaries paying homage to the casualties of the Siege and Battle of Corinth complete with live entertainment, carriage rides and living history encampments. Additional information is at www.Corinth.net.