When you first see it, it is just a piece of low ground situated along a fast-flowing, southern river. Then you look about and see the cannons, plaques and memorials and you realize that you are at Pittsburgh Landing on the Tennessee River at Shiloh.
You glance down at the brochure sent to you by the National Park Service and there is the old photo taken in 1862 of this place crammed full of steam boats delivering the goods of war — yes, this is that same place.
This is same piece of ground that General Grant and his Army were jammed into on Sunday, April 6th of that year as the Confederate Army nearly pushed his Union forces back into the river in one of the fiercest battles of the American Civil War. Here, the final line of the National forces held, its center led by another General, William Tecumseh Sherman.
The Union would not die this day, and the next day more troops would come in to reinforce the line and begin the counter attack. It was not the beginning of the end; it was more the end of the beginning. The war would go on for three more years. But, the momentum had shifted in the West. The Union was not going to go away.
On the recent occasion of visiting here, one of my grandchildren texted me: “Papa why are you there?” I texted back: “Our country almost disintegrated here, but fortunately it didn’t. Being here lets you know what it cost to keep it together.”
Two days of horrific fighting at Shiloh resulted in over 23,000 casualties of dead, wounded or missing Americans. It was American fighting American. This is sacred ground. Being here gave me the same kind of feeling as when I visited Omaha Beach in Normandy. Big things were being decided here.
Near the center of this national park is a small, rebuilt, hewn log structure — the Shiloh meeting house or church. It is counter-intuitive, in a way, that this building gave the battlefield its name. The word “Shiloh” in the Bible can mean “place of peace.”
It reminded me of Lincoln’s words in his Second Inaugural where he struggled with the reasons and purposes behind a Civil War in a nation that read the same Bible and prayed to the same God.
In some ways, this struggle still goes on. We are a diverse and fractious people who are still trying to find our way and live together. Shiloh reminds us of that. It is indeed “sacred ground.”
Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.