North Alabama is full of history buffs and I consider myself to be one of them, with a lot of my interest pertaining to the Civil War. I have had the opportunity to visit many Civil War battlefields across the country but other than Nashville and Chattanooga I never really think of any of the big battlefields being close to home (Huntsville). But in actuality, one of the largest battles of the Civil War took place about two hours from here at a small place known as Pittsburgh Landing, Tennessee. You may have heard of the battle – Shiloh.
Road Trip to Shiloh
This article is not a review of the history of the battle, because there is no shortage of books on the subject. This is simply my view on why you should make the pilgrimage to see this wonderfully preserved national treasure. If you have never been, Shiloh National Military Park makes for a wonderful day trip that everyone (regardless of your thoughts on the war) should make time for.
The park, which was established in 1894, consists of 3,996 acres of land fronting the Tennessee River on the Tennessee/Mississippi border just north of Corinth, Mississippi. As I drive the road leading to the battlefield the grasslands turn slowly to forest and the enormity of this battle begins to take hold. The first monument comes up and I realize that one of the units engaged in the battle was in that exact place more than 150 years ago. The scene then opens and there are cannons and monuments as far as you can see as the road winds to the park office, which sits beside the Shiloh National Cemetery. This is where I would normally make a list of the must see things at Shiloh, but everything there is truly a must see. My highlights though include –
The Hornet’s Nest – The almost center location of the battlefield where a heavy combat occurred over both days of the battle. The Hornet’s Nest is one of the most well known icons of the Civil War next only to the Confederate charge at Gettysburg.
The Confederate Memorial Statue – A map is needed to locate the memorial, but once found, it is a solemn reminder of the soldiers buried in 5 mass graves throughout the area.
Shiloh Church Site – The small building is a reconstruction of the original church for which the battle was named.
The National Cemetery – From the moment you enter the cemetery through the iron gates, you know that you are truly on hallowed ground. Sitting on the bank overlooking the Tennessee River, the cemetery was started with 3,584 Union soldiers that were killed during the two-day battle. Being a national cemetery now, it consists of U.S. veterans and their family members.
The battlefield is so large that driving will get you in sight of many of the memorials and exhibits, but you will typically have to walk to read about them. So good walking shoes are a must for visiting. Another recommendation would be to take along your bicycle and ride through the park, which is what I plan on doing for my next visit.
Other than vending machine’s Shiloh does not offer anything in the way of food items, but on the next road past the park entrance is the world famous Hagy’s Catfish Hotel.
While there be sure to take a moment and read some of the interesting articles posted on the walls, where you will find a ghost story about a man named Elmo who used to haunt the restaurant, and who has a makeshift grave marker in the parking lot overlooking the Tennessee River.
Just standing on the ground where almost 3,500 Americans lost their lives and another 22,000 were wounded brings a comprehension that can never be found in a textbook or on a television show. And that, is something you don’t find every day.
Wil Elrick hails from Guntersville, Alabama where at an early age he developed a love for both trivia and history. He has spent the last 20 odd years, fine tuning the art of communication while working in law enforcement, writing, television media, historical research, and public speaking. He lives in North Alabama with his two boys, and a neurotic German Shepherd Dog. He one day hopes that Bigfoot is proven real. Wil’s new book Alabama Scoundrels is available from History Press.