Established on December 27, 1894, Shiloh National Military Park was transferred to the National Park Service in 1933. Some Civil War fans have a very interesting way of visiting this park.
On April 6, 1862, Confederate forces under Generals Albert Sidney Johnston (killed on the first day of the battle) and P.G.T. Beauregard launched a surprise attack against General Ulysses S. Grant’s Union Army of the Tennessee at Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River. The ensuing Battle of Shiloh (also called Battle of Pittsburg Landing) was the first large scale battle of the Civil War. The two opposing armies brought nearly 110,00 troops to this battlefield.
“Bloody Shiloh” yielded horrific casualties totaling 23,746 killed, wounded, or missing. After significant losses the first day, a heavily reinforced Union army prevailed the next day, but it was a very near thing for Grant and his Army of the Tennessee.
Today the 5,065-acre Shiloh National Military Park preserves this historic battlefield and offers visitors an automobile-convenient opportunity to see the battlefield at first hand. In 2007, nearly 369,000 people came to the park to tour the battlefield and learn about the remarkable feats of bravery and daring that took place on this hallowed ground. The battle month of April is always the busiest or second-busiest month at the park.
Being a breed apart, Civil War buffs are inclined to take their Civil War battlefield visits a good deal more seriously than the average visitor. And Shiloh, one of the most celebrated of all Civil War battlefields really brings this tendency to the fore. The battlefield is remarkably well preserved, with the roads, fields, and wood lines being just about the way they were in April 1862. The undergrowth today is thicker than it was then, but that’s about the only major difference. There is also an extensive system of historical plaques and troop position markers.
One of the things that hard core Civil War buffs want to do is get a feel for the battlefield as it was at the very onset of the fight. To do this properly, you need to walk the battlefield from the starting hour of the battle.
The problem is, the Battle of Shiloh commenced at a very inconvenient time. It was still full dark ( official records put the time at 4:55 a.m.) when Federal troops on reconnaissance ran into Confederate outposts at Fraley's Field. The opening shots were fired at 5:15 a.m., which was almost precisely at dawn ("first light"). Since the park doesn’t officially open until dawn, it’s impossible to enter the park at opening time and still make a timely arrival at Fraley's Field. What’s a dedicated Civil War buff to do?
For some, the answer is simply to sneak into the park before it is officially open. No precise records are available, of course, but Civil War buffs know that this happens a good bit. Rangers know that it goes on and seem to accept it, either because the practice is deemed to be basically harmless, or because it’s too much bother to prevent it.
Traveler tip: After touring the Shiloh battlefield, consider taking a side trip to Corinth, Mississippi, to visit the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center (one of the newest visitor centers in the National Park System), tour Battery Robinett, and learn about the strategic importance of Corinth and its relationship to the battle at Shiloh. A caveat is in order. Though visiting Corinth is a must for the serious Civil War buff, Corinth is not a very appealing destination for general interest tourism.