Under the Anaconda Plan, Union forces in the West were to seize control of the Mississippi River while Union forces in the East tried to capture the new Confederate capital in Richmond. In the western theater, the Confederates had built two forts, Fort Donelson along the Cumberland River and Fort Henry on the Tennessee River, which controlled the Kentucky and western Tennessee region and blocked the Union's path to the Mississippi.
The Union officer responsible for capturing these forts was Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885), a West Point graduate who had resigned from the army because of a drinking problem and who was working in his father's tanning shop when the war began. In February 1862, gunboats under Grant's command took Fort Henry and ten days later, Grant's men took Fort Donelson, forcing 13,000 Confederates to surrender.
Grant and some 42,000 men then proceeded south along the Tennessee River. A Confederate force of 40,000 men, under the command of Beauregard and Johnston tried to surprise Grant before other Union forces could join him at the Battle of Shiloh. In two days of heavy fighting during which there were 13,000 Union casualties and over 10,000 Confederate casualties, Grant successfully pushed back the southern forces. By early June, Union forces controlled the Mississippi River as far south as Memphis, Tennessee.
A first-hand account of the Battle of Shiloh, written by a northern soldier, follows.
I received your letter last Sunday morning and will freely admit that I was very much pleased to see that you had really devoted a whole sheet to your unworthy brother away down South in Dixie and in the midst of Secesh [the Confederacy], but although it is a[n] exciting fact, it is here that we are in the midst of Secesh [Confederates] for they lay all around us in the shelf of death, and now only a few rods from [us are]...over 250 dead bodies and all secesh, we did not bury Union men & rebels together at all.... A great number of them were killed on Sunday & when I rode on the field on Friday last dead bodies could still be seen lying round in the brush. It was an useful 24 hours work, but thank fortune now all is quiet and we still sit ...in our own beds.... But...we know not at what time the hole may open again in all its fury. We are directly in the advance, but now they have moved hosts of our army to the front and we are back of the center, and cannot be surprised as we were before....
He [the enemy] will at least make a desperate resistance, if he does not make another attack himself, he is said to have an army of 120,000 at his command, but he may not hold this number, 5 rebel deserts that came here a day or two ago say there he used all the eloquence he was master of to get his men to make an advance on us again but was unable to get his men to come up to fire. If this is true than it shows that his men are sensible to the last, for the probability is great they will get whipped most outrageously, if they do try again, for we are the conquerors, and they are whipped and disheartened.... We are flushed with victory and they are disheartened by defeat, they were too confident on last Sunday evening a week ago, when Beauregard telegraphed home that this was a second Manassas [Bull Run], that the Yankees fought with stubbornness, and with the bravery of despair, but the southern blood was too much for them, and that the Federals were completely whipped, in the next morning, he would take and kill the whole of the Federal forces....
[Confederate] General Beauregard is an able General, or he would not have caught us in the way he did before. I can't help admiring him as a military man, though I do wish someone had been lucky enough to shoot him. However Sidney A. Johnston [sic], who was the Commander in Chief was killed, and I have stood over his body....
I have rode over this field and through the dead...when the stench was so intolerable that my company, and old soldiers at that, had to throw their dinners all overboard, and that on horseback too....I had human bodies for my landmarks from Monday till Friday night, and by that time they were so bloated that you could hardly tell what they were, and Union men at that...literally torn all to pieces, heads gone and bodies cut right in two...."