November 3, 2014: When I first arrived at Shiloh National Military Park, while waiting for the next showing of the introductory movie, I toured the Shiloh National Cemetery. It was impossible not to be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of the men buried here. By the time I walked out, I saw a ranger standing nearby and I was just moved to say to him, “How can you work here everyday and not cry?” I could tell immediately he was a kindred spirit because he very sincerely said that he frequently did. I always tell people what a great resource rangers and interpreters are at these kind of places, and Timothy was a prime example of this. We ended up talking for a bit and he gave me insights I would not have had otherwise. Timothy is now a seasonal ranger waiting on a permanent position to open up. He said he’s wanted to be a ranger here since he first visited at 5 years old and I’m pulling for him to meet that goal since these kind of dedicated folks are an important part of our national treasures and can do so much to further our enjoyment and appreciation.
Timothy told me that he thinks the most significant thing about this park is that both sides who fought here worked together in cooperation with each other to establish this national memorial in both the battlefield and the cemetery.
“The neighing troop, the flashing blade,
The bugle’s stirring blast.
The charge, the dreadful cannonade,
The din and shout are past.””
The Federal Government established the national cemetery in 1866. Today the Shiloh Battlefield and National Cemetery form the Shiloh National Military Park, a National Park Service unit dedicated to preserving the battlefield and interpreting the battle and its aftermath in the greater picture of the Civil War.
After the Battle of Shiloh, Federal details buried the dead of both sides near where they fell. The warm weather and great number of bodies made it necessary to bury the dead quickly.
In 1866 the United States Government established this cemetery for the permanent burial of Union soldiers killed at Shiloh and related engagements. Bodies were recovered from the battlefield and reburied here, often in regimental groupings. The Confederate dead remain in five mass graves on the battlefield.
I didn’t realize at first that only two Confederates were buried within the cemetery. Timothy told me that the Confederates who died here were originally buried in mass graves on the battlefield and it was the Confederate representatives’ decision not to dig up the bodies but to leave them where they fell in battle. While it’s said that probably as many as a dozen mass graves may be on the battlefield, only five have been located and properly marked, included as stops on the auto tour of the battlefield. Timothy said that imaging showed how the bodies were buried in somewhat orderly rows, not just heaped in a pile, and that helped in the decision to leave them rest in peace at this point.
There are 3,584 Union soldiers buried here, more than 2,300 of which are unknown. I always felt a special pang of sadness to see these marked simply by a number.
Such sad but beautiful grounds and majestic trees for shelter.
“On fame’s eternal camping ground,
Their silent tents are spread.
And glory guards with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.”
“Your own proud land’s heroic soil
Must be your fitter grave.
She claims from war his richest spoil
The ashes of the brave.”
“No rumor of the foe’s advance
Now sweeps upon the wind.
No troubled thought at midnight haunts
of loved ones left behind.”
1055 Pittsburg Landing Road
Shiloh, TN 38376