"The ball is in motion." Outcomes
Option A: Order an immediate retreat.
Forgive the bold reaction, sir, but your army is a mess. How do you plan on organizing a retreat? Chances are, your men are just going to panic and bolt. That wouldn't do much for the morale of your troops, and you could probably kiss your military career goodbye, as well.
Grant chose option B: Organize the men into defensive lines.
Calm and confident, eh? So was Grant. If he felt any panic at seeing his army fall apart, he didn't show it.
In the thick of the Confederate attack, the Union general stayed calm and worked to organize his lines. He ordered more ammunition, and used artillery against Johnston's advancing troops. Grant hoped this would buy him some time until Buell and Wallace showed up to help him launch a counter-attack.
Did Grant make a mistake by putting so many inexperienced troops at the front of his lines in the first place? Some people think so, but many of the soldiers fought bravely. The divisions under generals Sherman and Prentiss actually rallied and started to resist the Confederate attack.
But how long can YOU hold out without the help of Wallace and Buell?
Option C: Retreat, wait for more troops, then counter-attack.
So, where are you going to get the boats to transport your troops, sir? And how are you planning to protect your men from getting picked off while they wait to get across the river? This plan doesn't sound like such a good idea anymore, does it?
Option D: We can take 'em. Charge!!!
An organized attack calls for organized troops -- which, by the way, you don't have.
James McPherson on Grant's arrival
When Grant finally got to the battlefield at Shiloh, things were in pretty bad shape. Many of the Union troops, raw troops who had never been in combat before, had broken in the face of the initial assault. There were hundreds, maybe even thousands of stragglers back by the landing at Pittsburg Landing. His two forward divisions under William Tecumseh Sherman and Benjamin Prentiss were still fighting. But they'd been pushed back. While the situation was not out of control, it was threatening to go out of control.
Brooks Simpson on Grant's reaction
When Grant arrives at the Landing, he sees chaos. And his mission is to bring order out of chaos to hang on as long possible. He knows reinforcements are on the way. He believes the Confederates cannot maintain the sort of attack that they've initiated early that morning. And so for the rest of the day, he's going from commander to commander, moving up reinforcements, arranging for supplies, rallying men, setting up secondary positions where to hold on. He knows that if men can stand their ground until dusk that he will prevail eventually at Shiloh. His job is to make sure that everyone else understands that as well, and so he goes under fire to visit his men, to rally them, to instill confidence in his commanders, all the while, giving up ground inch by inch in a stubborn effort to hold on as long as possible until those reinforcements finally arrive.
My American Experience
Do you admire Ulysses S. Grant? Or perhaps Robert E. Lee? Tell us who is your favorite and why.