[March 3, 2021] After the first day of the Battle of Shiloh of the American Civil War, 6 April 1862, sometime after midnight, then Union Brigadier General William T. Sherman came upon then Major General Ulysses S. Grant was standing under a tree. Sherman remarked, “Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?” Grant looked up. “Yes,” he replied, “Lick ’em tomorrow, though.”
Soldiers on both sides expected Grant’s Union forces to retreat after the first day at Shiloh. Confederates had beaten Grant’s men that day, driving them from their main line. Furthermore, the night of April 6 – 7 was miserable with storms in the area, constant shelling of Confederate camps by Union gunboats, and tending to the many wounded and dead on the battlefield. Rest for the weary soldier was impossible.
A retreat by Grant was the obvious choice. The Confederates had achieved a clear victory that first day and Union divisions were worn down. Several subordinate commanders under Grant asked what preparations Grant had made for withdrawing. Grant’s own staff officers requested that he make ready for a retreat.
Even the aggressive General Sherman was brave enough to admit he was thinking in terms of retreat. He came upon Grant under his tree in the rain with the idea of broaching the subject, as “the only thing just then possible, as it seemed to me, was to put the river between us and the enemy and recuperate.”
A determined Gran, his mind already made up. He would attack in the morning. And that’s what they did. The best action after a setback – regroup and “lick ’em tomorrow.” U.S. General Colin Powell said, “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.” Don’t get down on yourself or your unit when bad things happen. Deal with it by regrouping and lick the problem.
Thus, there would be a second day at Shiloh, with the Union on the offensive “as soon as the day dawned,” as Grant had planned. One Union trooper wrote, “No one talked of tomorrow. We knew we had to fight a victorious enemy who was expecting an easy ending to the battle, nothing less than an unconditional surrender, but we knew in our hearts that we were going to lick them.”1
The morning of 7 April arrived, and along with additional reinforcements, Grant’s army launched a counterattack along the entire line. Confederate forces were forced to retreat, ending their hopes of blocking the Union’s advance into northern Mississippi.2