Triumph over Adversity: Ulysses S. Grant at Shiloh

Every once in a while it pays to step back from a subject you know well to process it again so that the essential facts stand in clearer relief.  Such is the case with the generalship of Ulysses S. Grant on April 6, 1862.

Make no mistake about it: Grant’s army was surprised that morning by the Confederate attack.  No, soldiers were not bayoneted while asleep in their tents, but it remains true that the Confederate assault came as a surprise to the Yankees, although Grant had shown some concern about an attack against Lew Wallace’s division at Crump’s Landing.  Moreover, in the end the responsibility for this state of surprise was Grant’s.  Yes, William T. Sherman proved ineffective in performing the task of perimeter security and intelligence gathering, and yes, Henry W. Halleck’s orders handcuffed Grant’s ability to probe southward to locate the enemy and ascertain his intentions.  In the end, however, the security and preparedness of Grant’s army was Grant’s responsibility.

However, what impresses me about Grant’s performance on April 6 was his response to what he encountered that day.  Yes, in a few instances his orders could have been clearer.  Students of the battle are well aware of the dispute that arose between Lew Wallace and Grant in the aftermath of the battle over the orders issued to Wallace to come to Grant’s aid.  Yes, Wallace was confused.  Yes, he contributed to his delay by countermarching as he did.  Yes, had Grant written orders in a clear and unmistakable way, things might have been somewhat different.  We’re all terrific armchair generals in hindsight, right?  The same can be said for directing the lead elements of Don Carlos Buell’s army to Pittsburgh Landing.  In retrospect that might have been done better as well.  Finally, we remain unsure exactly what Grant instructed Benjamin Prentiss to do on the afternoon of April 6.  Was Prentiss to hold his position at all hazards?  Did he ignore/overlook/fail to receive an order to fall back?  What orders did Grant issue?  True, given various reassessments of the fighting at the Hornet’s Nest, this might not be as important as it once was believed to be, but still, questions remain.

Finally, although it is often claimed that Grant learned from his mistakes, Shiloh offers a somewhat different story.  At Belmont and Fort Donelson, a confident Grant had overlooked what the enemy might do, and that led to his being surprised, first by the Confederate counterattack at Belmont, then by the breakout attempt at Fort Donelson.  True, in both cases he had responded well, especially at Donelson, but he had not quite learned his lesson, and it is fair to say that on the eve of Shiloh he was overconfident and unconcerned about enemy intentions.

Lost in these disputes was what Grant did, and did well.  He determined to hold his position, giving ground grudgingly, while he had a staff officer prepare a strong line of defense in the rear to use when needed.  He rallied men and sent them forward to plug gaps, consulted with his subordinates, made sure his men were supplied with ammunition, and did what he could to move Buell and Wallace to the field.  Given the panic among some Union soldiers, Grant did well to respond to what confronted him as he went from point to point under fire, all the while still dealing with the effects of a painfully bruised leg.  Moreover, he exuded a quiet confidence and determination that was sorely needed.  Not all Civil War generals would have proven equal to the situation.

Grant sensed that the Confederate attack would slow down, and that the two armies would slug it out.  Basically, that is what happened, and if the Union forces conducted a fierce fighting withdrawal, the Confederate offensive started running out of steam.  As dusk cam it was clear that the outcome remained undetermined, and, with reinforcements finally arriving, Grant was thinking about mounting a counterattack the next day (most accounts of Shiloh focus on April 6 and give short shrift to the fighting on April 7).  He made sure to make good on his pledge to “whip them tomorrow.”

Yes, Ulysses S. Grant made his mistakes at Shiloh.  He was far from a perfect general on April 6.  However, his performance when faced with extreme adversity demonstrated that he also possessed a calmness under fire that would serve him and the United States well both at Shiloh and in the years to come.  Grant survived Shiloh: it may well be that the United States survived because Grant survived.

68 thoughts on “Triumph over Adversity: Ulysses S. Grant at Shiloh

  1. Donald R. Shaffer April 6, 2012 / 1:34 pm

    The United States may have survived because Grant prevailed at Shiloh, but the battle also was the beginning of Grant’s reputation as a butcher. Undeserved, of course, but understandable given the then unprecedented casualties at Shiloh.

  2. TF Smith April 6, 2012 / 2:15 pm

    Pretty fair summary, I think. Grant’s forces were surprised, but he didn’t “stay” surprised, ensured that the key ground was occupied, and brought the reinforcements in where they could be useful (once they were available). In a lot of ways, it makes for a good comparison with (for example) Eisenhower during the Ardennes in 1944.

    One point about Shiloh is that, IIRC, CF Smith actually chose the landing as the site for what amounted to a beachhead/bridgehead and (also IIRC) was responsible for laying out the position in terms of the bivouacs for the Army of the Tennessee’s six divisions.

    So if the active duty exemplar of an RA officer missed the potential opportunity this created for the enemy, I don’t think Grant’s decision-making falls into the Short/Kimmel level of failure.


    • Carl Schenker April 7, 2012 / 7:47 am

      TF Smith —

      (1) I believe it incorrect to say that CF Smith — the initial expedition commander — committed the army to PL. Sherman commended the PL site to Smith, and Smith initially positioned Hurlbut (4th Div) and Sherman (5th) there on their transports. As best I can tell, only Hurlbut’s division was fully encamped ashore when Grant himself arrived at Savannah on March 17 and promptly ordered his forces (except Lew Wallace’s 3rd division and several Savannah regiments) to concentrate at PL. It appears that Sherman then disembarked from his transports at PL, and McClernand (1st), Smith (2nd), and Prentiss’s budding division (6th) soon moved to PL. (WHL Wallace succeeded Smith in command of the 2nd Div in early April.)

      (2) Sherman (and possibly engineer James McPherson) probably had more to do with the specific siting of camps than did the ailing Smith, although it was Smith who was formally in charge at PL until the end of March. But (per para 1) it appears that Grant was at Savannah/PL in plenty of time to have the camps wherever he wanted them, had he been proactive on the matter.

      (3) All that said, I don’t fault Grant (or anyone else) for crossing the river and concentrating at PL, or even the design of the camps. The problems, it seems to me, were the failure to fortify and the failure to scout adequately, for which Grant, Smith, Sherman, and possibly McPherson all deserve criticism. (Sherman more than fellow division commanders McClernand, WHL Wallace, Hurlbut, and Prentiss because WTS was a West Pointer and Grant treated him as his eyes and ears west of the river (or informal commander at PL), at least after CF Smith could no longer fill that role.

      (4) Most of this is covered in my article “Who Failed to Fortify Pittsburg Landing?” North & South, May 2011. (I should add that I benefited from comments by our very own John Foskett in developing that article.)


      • tonygunter April 7, 2012 / 10:25 am

        “failure to scout adequately” … the prime directive for Grant was not to bring on a general engagement until Grant’s army and Buell’s army were combined. Grant already knew that a brigade-sized force of infantry, cavalry, and artillery was five miles out. Probing the intentions of this force would have required a reconnaisance-in-force foray with at least a division. Committing a division of troops to a fight less than a day’s march from the Confederate front lines would have violated the prime directive. Given that the Confederates were moving up en masse, such a foray would have guaranteed a general engagement and would have meant Grant’s firing … and IMO would ultimately have resulted in a negotiated peace.

        • John Foskett April 7, 2012 / 12:49 pm

          Given the disposition of Grant’s five divisions at PL, however, I’m puzzled as to why the directive not to bring on an engagement would be violated by appropriate reconnaissance and interpretation of the results – which clearly did not occur. We probably disagree that a division was necessary to get a meaningful idea of what lay 5 miles out. Being admonished against bringing on an engagement is never tantamount to saying “don’t make adequate preparations to defend”. Yet that’s what happened, and I believe that’s the point Carl intended with his reference to scouting. There is no way IMHO that Grant’s five divisions would have been arranged as they were on the morning of April 6 if he had determined that Johnston was launching a full-scale attack. Nor would he have left Wallace’s division out of the mix or left it in limbo for 4 hours as the attack developed. Shiloh was a near-thing because of those facts.

          • tonygunter April 7, 2012 / 6:22 pm

            You disagree that a division-sized force would be required to probe the intentions of at least a brigade-sized force five miles out that included infantry, artillery, and cavalry? What size force would you have used? And what sized force would you have sent when that one came back in pieces?

            And Grant did suspect an attack on April 6th, an attack on Wallace. So any change in parameters in your counterfactual still sees Wallace sitting in the same position on the morning of April 6th. In fact, further preparation by Grant may have taken troops *away* from PL!

          • John Foskett April 8, 2012 / 9:03 am

            I doubt that he would have been confined to scouting the presence of a large enemy force in dangerously close proximity by sending out a reconnaissance in force. He had available cavalry detachments, as well. And he didn’t “suspect” an attack on Wallace on April 6 – when he and Wallace met c. 8-8:30, Wallace told Grant he was ready to march to join up wiith Grant and Grant simply told him to hold back in readiness while Grant went to PL to figure out what was happening. Grant already had several indications of an advance by Johnston towards PL. Sending out a brigade-sized force, combined with his other resources, should have been enough. But here’s the bottom line – if it took a division to perform this mission (with which I disagree – Wallace performed the same mission towards Adamsville with a brigade)), then he should have done it. Because, like it or not, he ended up being surprised on April 6, as graphically demonstrated by the poor disposition of his divisions at PL and by his leaving Wallace isolated to the North. To repeat – a direction not to bring on a general engagement is light years from a direction to avoid precautionary scouting and risking the sort of near-debacle which occurred.

          • tonygunter April 8, 2012 / 10:11 am

            Grant did suspect an attack on Lew Wallace, it’s in the O.R., it’s in Triumph Over Adversity if I remember correctly. It’s this suspected attack McPherson mentions in his account of the story, when he said he and W.H.L. Wallace left their horses saddled on the night of April 5th so that they could move quickly to Lew Wallace’s support.

            Grant (and Sherman and Wallace) *were* performing precautionary scouting. That’s why the skirmishing took place in their front on April 5th.

            But to properly scout a position, you have to push away the blocking force. If the blocking force is a brigade, then how do you expect with any reasonable expectation of success to push them away with a mere brigade? Isn’t the expected ratio for success at least 2-1 for attacker to defender? Wallace’s movement towards Adamsville is apples and oranges: Wallace wasn’t trying to dislodge a brigade to figure out what was going on beyond the brigade.

            And if Grant sends out a division, and that division runs into heavy opposition, then regardless of whether Grant decides to send support to the division or the fighting follows the division back to PL, Grant has initiated the general engagement and is fired immediately after the battle … no questions asked. Because he has disobeyed a preremptory order to avoid a general engagement.

          • John Foskett April 9, 2012 / 7:00 am

            What do you think would have been the conclusion if a brigade were sent out on April 5 and ran into a sizeable Confederate force 5 miles from PL (and 15 miles from their base in Corinth)? It’s pretty obvious what the conclusion would have been. And Grant did not “suspect” an attack on Wallace on April 6. He was concerned about that possibility before then (as was Wallace) but so what? Wallace took precautions out Adamsville way and (so far as one can tell from the available records – see McGinnis), marched his entire division out that way on April 4 in response to what proved to be a false alarm. You apparently interpret Halleck’s order to bar all precautions such as scouting Grant’s immediate front. It hardly says that (and would have been a ridiculous order had it done so),I therefore do not. And if Grant had done this on April 5 and learned that the Rebel army was gathered in his front (but not yet ready to attack – that’s why Johnston didn’t strike until April 6), guess what? He’s exposed a Rebel attack and we aren’t dealing with the debacle on April 6, in which his army was ill-positioned to defend the attack, one division surrendered, another was wrecked, a third never made it to the fight, and thousands of fugitives ended up back at water’s edge in a milling mob separated from their units after an all-day fight for survival. I’m trying desperately to picture Halleck firing Grant for that. Unfortunately I lack the required imagination. .

          • tonygunter April 9, 2012 / 12:27 pm

            I think if a brigade were sent out on April 5th and it ran into a sizeable force 5 miles from PL, the conclusion would have been “duh.” They already knew there was a sizeable force 5 miles from PL.

            So Sherman had two options: venture out with his entire division to divine the intentions of the Confederate force in the direction of Pea Ridge, or perform some limited recon. The first would have drawn the Confederates into a general engagement, disobeying Halleck’s preremptory order … so Sherman chose the second option, Some of his men, in fact, were scouting quite aggressively, and chased the Confederate cavalry back to their infantry and artillery. It seems pretty clear from the Papers of Ulysses S. Grant that Sherman’s main concern was reigning in these men in obedience to his orders to avoid a general engagement.

            Comparing Sherman’s situation at Shiloh with Wallace’s reaction to the enemy he feared to be at Purdy is apples and oranges. If Sherman marches five miles towards Pea Ridge, he is within one day’s march of the Confederate main body at Corinth and risks bringing on a general engagement. If Wallace marches five miles in the direction of Purdy, he is farther from the Confederate main body than when he started.

            Yes, Grant did suspect an attack on Lew Wallace from Purdy, that’s why he ordered WHL Wallace to be prepared to march to Lew Wallace’s support, and that’s why McPherson and WHL Wallace left their horses saddled overnight on April 5th. It seems pretty clear from Papers of Ulysses S. Grant that if Grant had done anything to prepare for an impending attack, he may have moved troops away from PL (and indeed, he did divert two batteries to Wallace that should have been at PL) instead of repositioning them at PL.

          • tonygunter April 9, 2012 / 12:35 pm

            I think if a brigade had been sent out on April 5th and it ran into a sizeable Confederate force 5 miles out, the reaction would have been “duh.” They already knew there was a sizeable force 5 miles out.

            Sherman could march out with his entire division and risk a general engagement, or he could perform limited recon, which he did. In fact, some of his men acted quite aggressively, and chased the Confederate cavalry until they met the infantry and artillery support. Sherman’s entries in the Papers of Ulysses S Grant clearly indicate that his main concern was reining in his men in accordance with his orders to avoid a general engagement.

            Comparing Sherman’s situation with Lew Wallace’s situation is apples and oranges. If Sherman marches five miles out on towards Pea Ridge, he is less than one day’s march from the Confederate main body. If Wallace marches five miles out in the direction of Purdy, he is farther from the Confederate main body than when he started.

            Grant is clearly concerned in the Papers of Ulysses S Grant that Lew Wallace is about to be attacked from Purdy. It is for this reason that he orders WHL Wallace to be prepared to march to Lew Wallace’s support, and it is the reason that WHL Wallace and McPherson left their horses saddled on the night of April 5th. It seems pretty clear that any preparation by Grant for an attack would have risked moving troops *away* from PL, and in fact Grant did divert two batteries of artillery to Wallace that should have been at PL on the morning of April 6th.

          • John Foskett April 9, 2012 / 4:09 pm

            Duh? I’m unaware of any knowledge by Grant from a reliable, organized sourde that Johnston’s Army was five miles away on April 5 – as opposed to scattered anecdotal and unspecificreports coming in by dribs and drabs. Had a brigade-sized body run into something impurtant, they would have figured it out and brought back a reliable report. That was never done.Should Grant have taken the scattered warnings seriously? Yes – at least enough to send out an organized scout. The two Wallaces were discussing a mutual aid arrangement in either direction, as needed. It was not exclusively a precaution for WHL Wallace to head north in the event of an attack against Lew Wallace. Moreover, Lew Wallace, as noted, had taken his division out towards Adamsville on April 4 because of rumors that the Rebels were headed against him and discovered that it was a false alarm, returning with two brigades on April 5. I guess we disagree on whether Grant “suspected” an attack against Wallace on April 5, given that he did nothing with his five divisions at PL consistent with that suspicion. This thread started with the concept that Halleck’s direction to avoid bringing on a general engagement was equivalent to an order to undertake no appropriate scouting regarding Johnston’s Army (in which case, as noted, Lew Wallace violated it on April 4). I’m not sure we’re ever going to agree. I know that I’m unconvinced that Grant would have been fired had he discovered Johnston’s advance on April 5, before Johnston was ready to attack, and taken proper measures. I also know that Grant came a whole lot closer to getting fired for what happened on April 6 than (IMHO) he would have come by taking prudent steps on April 5.

          • Carl Schenker April 9, 2012 / 12:58 pm


            You refer in the thread to the artillery units Grant diverted to Lew Wallace.

            My understanding is that those were the batteries of Stone and Markgraf, IIRC. In any events, when I looked into this very question I concluded that the assigned units did not actually go to Wallace and therefore they were available to Grant at PL on Sunday.


            PS I bumped this post out toward the left margin, rather than try to squeeze it in beneath your relevant post, which itself was quite skinny.

        • Carl Schenker April 8, 2012 / 6:59 am

          If Grant was so closely constrained concerning scouting, that seems to argue all the more for defensive preparations like breastworks.

          Also, don’t forget the possibility of spys, rather than recon in force. I think Bill Feis has concluded that Grant didn’t do enough in that area pre-Shiloh.

          • John Foskett April 8, 2012 / 9:07 am

            Carl: I think that’s the rub, and the reason that Halleck’s orer is a bit of a red herring. Worst case – ask for more resources, ask for leeway in the order, or – absolute worst case – align your divisions and make preparations to defend against an attack.

          • tonygunter April 8, 2012 / 9:49 am

            I agree, Grant being shackled by his scouting constraints really did make for a stronger case in favor of some type of defensive works. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I think if you took the army in 1864 and sent them back in time to Shiloh, they would have constructed basic fieldworks.

            That being said, would defensive works have meant a more positive result for the Federal army? The Confederates were on the brink of turning back already, the appearance of defensive fortifications surely would have resulted in the Confederates returning to Corinth. Which is more favorable to the Union: a Confederate attack against a numerically superior force on ground of Federal choosing? Or a crushing counter-attack against one of the Federal wings on ground of Confederate choosing? And who is to say that the Confederates would not have come to their senses about the strategic value of miserable Corinth, Mississippi? Perhaps the Confederates would have sent the army south to defend New Orleans, resulting in 50,000 additional draftees in the Fall of 1862.

          • Carl Schenker April 8, 2012 / 10:26 am

            Tony —
            It may well be that, in some respects, the Union benefited by fighting sooner at PL rather than later at Corinth.
            (1) At PL, the Union had naval support.
            (2) I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a Sherman statement pointing out that the Union also had ammo, etc, in plenty at PL and might have been more strained at Corinth.
            (3) As you know, Beauregard eventually abandoned Corinth w/o a climactic fight. According to AD Richardson, Halleck credited Grant with having fought the battle of Corinth at Pittsburg Landing.
            (4) Still and all, my guess is that Halleck would have taken Corinth at lower cost in the intended fashion rather than in the Shiloh-first fashion. His plan was, at a minimum, Grant plus Buell and he may have intended Pope all along as well. Assuming no SHiloh, how could the outnumbered Confederates have coped with that force moving on Corinth?

          • tonygunter April 9, 2012 / 2:01 pm

            Yep, those were the two units in PUSG, ordered to be sent to Lew Wallace by the morning of April 5th. What happened to the order, were the batteries already attached to another unit by then?

          • Carl Schenker April 9, 2012 / 2:09 pm

            Don’t know the answer to your specific question. Just that the units were still at PL on Sunday morning and became part of the last line. My guess is just stickiness in the joints, so to speak. CRS

      • TF Smith April 7, 2012 / 10:36 am

        Carl –

        Many thanks for the detailed response. Appreciate it. My only defense is the “IIRC” and obviously I did not.

        On the scouting isue, did Smith or Grant appoint a chief of cavalry for the AoT at this time? I know (aty least from the OOBs I’ve seen in various works) that the army had most of three full regiments (4th and 11th Illinois and 5th Ohio) and several separate troops (companies) which were, I presume, actually mounted….I understand the country to the west of the landing was pretty heavily wooded, but was there cavalry available for scouting in the days/week prior to the battle?


        • Carl Schenker April 7, 2012 / 1:02 pm

          TF — I don’t know chapter and verse. My impression is that there was no unified command of cavalry; to the contrary, the available resources were fragmented by being assigned to the various divisions. (The Fifth, for example, was split up between Lew Wallace and one of the PL divisions.) Certainly there were some mounted scouting forays. However, Grant reassigned several units to new commands on April 4 or 5 and thus those units were busy reporting to new commanders at the critical time. I believe the studies (Sword, Daniel) say this hurt alertness/efficiency by juggling units around organizationally rather than getting them out and about. CRS

          • TF Smith April 7, 2012 / 4:52 pm

            I’ll have to re-read Daniel’s work, which has the OOB that I used to check the cavalry regiments; good point on the organization on the fly of elements of the AoT.

            I wonder if the “1-2 battalions of cavalry per division” organization (as o0pposed to creating a cavalry brigade) stemmed from the TO&E McClellan had prescribed for the AoP; IIRC, almost all the AoP divisions formed in the winter of 1861-62 had an attached divisional cavalry regiment, as if the divisions were going to function independently.


  3. Carl Schenker April 6, 2012 / 2:36 pm

    Nice post, Brooks. One should also acknowledge the stoutness of most of Grant’s officers and men, as various observers have pointed out.

    May one ask what you consider to be the best study of the battle?

  4. James F. Epperson April 6, 2012 / 2:56 pm

    I have always thought that Shiloh and the Wilderness would vie for the dubious title of “Least Understood, But Well-known Battle of the Civil War.”

    Mr. Schenker, I know you asked Brooks, but I am partial to the Cunningham study, “Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862.”

    • Carl Schenker April 6, 2012 / 4:18 pm

      Thank you, Mr Epperson.

      BTW, I long ago discovered and keep at hand your Shiloh chronology, which I link below for those not already aware of it.

      BTW, Brooks’s post made me think this would be a good day to crack open Winston Groom’s new Shiloh book.

    • Bob Huddleston April 6, 2012 / 4:37 pm

      To Cunningham, I would add Frank and Reaves, _Seeing the Elephant: Raw Recruits at the Battle of Shiloh_, a social history of the two mobs which fought there.

      • John Foskett April 7, 2012 / 9:18 am

        Bob: That is indeed a good, and insufficiently appreciated, book.

    • tonygunter April 7, 2012 / 10:12 am

      I’m glad you qualified “least understood” with “but well-known.” I’m not sure any ACW battle could surpass Raymond for least understood. As evidence I present the re-enactor information page for the reenactment this October 19-21:

      “Camp on the hill where Colonel Randall McGavock, commander of the 10th Tennessee Regiment was killed; or in the field where General Logan rallied a faltering Federal brigade; march across the ridge where 22 US guns massed their fire; wade across the creek where hand to hand fighting occurred between the 3d Tennessee and 20th Ohio.”

      1) McGavock was not killed on a hill, he was killed in a field by fire from the 31st Illinois.
      2) Except for DeGolyer’s 6 guns, most of the 22 U.S. guns were silent for most of the battle.
      3) The 3rd Tennessee never met the 20th Ohio during the battle.

      Hell, every account I have ever read fails to mention that Wirt Adams showed up on the field of battle with the 1st Mississippi Cavalry and the 20th Mississippi Mounted Infantry, even though the evidence is right there in the O.R.

  5. Bob Huddleston April 6, 2012 / 4:34 pm

    Very well put — but I am not surprised. Bruce Catton also had some thoughts on USG and Shiloh:

    Grant had learned much in war’s brutal school, but his military education was still incomplete. Now he was about to learn a great deal more – at a prodigious cost to himself and to some thousands of young men who, without quite realizing it, had joined the Union Army in order to pay for his education. – Catton, _Grant Moves South _, pp216-217.

  6. TF Smith April 6, 2012 / 7:26 pm

    “Mob” seems sort of an overstatement, at least for the Army of the Tennessee – three of Grant’s six divisions (and, presumably, roughly half of his 48,000 troops) had seen action in the Henry-Donelson Campaign, which was the toughest fight either side had seen so far in the West until Shiloh. Mustering dates ranged back to the spring of 1861 for some of the regiments in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd divisions, I believe.

    Of Buell’s force, Thomas’s division was the most experienced, but of course did not make it to Shiloh. I don’t know how much action McCook’s division had seen as such, but some of his regiments were reasonably senior.

  7. Bryn Monnery April 7, 2012 / 5:16 am

    There is no evidence for the “lick ’em tomorrow” encounter. Crawling back through the references always ends at Bruce Catton in 1960.

    Interested in whether it was real I used the massive digitisation of material to search for the phrase before 1960. It appears once in an 1898 tract by Charles F. Wingate entitled “What shall our boys do for a living?” – which is where one assumes this is where Catton acquired the phrase. No-one present at Shiloh has ever reported it.

    • Carl Schenker April 7, 2012 / 8:05 am

      Bryn —

      You raise a quesiton I have looked at and am very interested in. Would welcome any leads from the group.

      I assume you are referring specifically to the thin evidence for the supposed midnight encounter between Grant and Sherman — “devil’s own day”/”lick ’em tomorrow.”

      Actually, that account traces in an intermediate way to an 1893 blurb (“Grant’s Pertinacity”) in the Army & Navy Journal, which in turn credits the info to a tale by Sherman as reported in the Washington Post.'s+pertinacity+shiloh&hl=en&sa=X&ei=SFaAT_CsGane0QH4iuidCA&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

      I assume the A&N Journal was correct in crediting the Washington Post, but have never been able to find any lead to the Post article itself. Thus, one doesn’t know exactly what the Post reported. Was this an interview with Sherman (who died in 1891)? Was it only someone else claiming to repeat what Sherman supposedly said, perhaps after WTS died?

      It is interesting that Sherman did not recount this supposed midnight encounter in his memoirs or in other speeches about Shiloh, nor (it seems) in 1862 correspondence about Shiloh.

      Of course, there is other evidence that Grant expected to prevail on day 2, even if he and Sherman did not have the “lick ’em tomorrow” discussion.


      • John Foskett April 7, 2012 / 9:31 am

        Carl: As you and I have previously discussed, this quote appears to have become accepted fact as a result of Catton using it, since some of the more recent uses cite to Catton (if I recall correctly). Catton, of course, cited to the A&N J.

    • Carl Schenker April 7, 2012 / 12:38 pm

      Bryn & John —

      After a vexing amount of stumbling around today, I believe I have cracked the case of “the devil’s own day” at last. I thank Bryn for reenergizing me on something I have looked at from time to time w/o getting to the bottom of it.

      (1) On Dec 17, 1893, the Washington Post carried an item titled “Chesnut Grove” by one Dan Macauley. (Now available in Post’s online archives for a charge.) Its last paragraph says that Sherman recounted the “lick ’em to-morrow” anecdote to Macauley himself during a discussion about the “delays and difficulties of passing through Congress the Nicaragua Canal charter,” seeming on cursory investigation to place the conversation in the 1880s or 1890s. [Note: Macauley’s item hyphenates the word “to-morrow” so the Post’s search engine did not yield a hit on the word “tomorrow,” but “devil’s own day” eventually did the trick.]

      (2) So, what we seem to have on this score is WTS’s supposedly recounting this anecdote to Macauley of the Post at least twenty years after the fact. Two weeks later the A&N Journal picked it up. Decades later Grant/Sherman biographer Lloyd Lewis (probably) found the item in the A&N Journal, and his research papers went to Bruce Catton. Catton then went with the info in his 1960 book and the account took life from there.

      (3) I have not yet developed any info about the Post’s Dan Macauley (if that is the proper treatment of his name), but I suppose it is possible that he had a military background and knew Sherman as more than just a reporter.


      • Bryn Monnery April 8, 2012 / 11:49 pm


        This is excellent and I can’t thank you enough.


    • Carl Schenker April 8, 2012 / 1:16 pm

      (1) In case anyone else is interested, it appears to me that the “Dan Macauley” who recounted Sherman’s supposed “devil’s own day” anecdote in the Washington Post was probably Gen. Daniel Macauley, a Shiloh veteran from Lew Wallace’s 11th Indiana. Note from his obituary linked below that he was involved with the Nicaragua canal project, which dovetails with what the Nicaragua detail given in the 1893 Washington Post item.
      (2) The Post ran other “Chestnut Grove” items in 1893-1894, so Macauley may have been a periodic contributor rather than a Post employee. He died in 1894. (Conceivably, however, the scribbling Macauley was a son or nephew of the general.)
      (3) I assume that Sherman really did say something about Shiloh’s first day to “Dan Macauley” in the late 1880s, but who knows how much embellishment there may have been from Sherman and/or Macauley in the anecdote to which Bruce Catton gave such traction.

  8. John Foskett April 7, 2012 / 9:28 am

    Brooks: Regarding Walace and second-guessing, you make valid points. There is one element of Wallace’s conduct, however, which I believe is justifiably subject to crticism which cannot be dismissed as hindsight. Once the “confusion” regarding his orders was clarified and he began his countermarch c. 2:30, he did something which is inexplicable. Knowing full well that time was beyond “of the essence”, he insisted that his lead brigade remain the lead brigade. Accordingly, everything stopped while that brigade marched through the rear brigade over c. two miles. In a perfect world one might have done that, but there was no time to lose and he lost a bunch. There was no meaningful difference in the combat experience of the two brigades (his least experienced, the third, was joining up from the west,when the other two got back to the road junction, so it had no role in the delay). Whether by that point the additional lost time had any impact on the fate of Grant’s fight to survive is questionable, but it was a foolish decision in the circumstances, especially knowing that the poor character of the road he would eventually have to take to PL would mean additional delays.

  9. James F. Epperson April 8, 2012 / 3:58 pm

    Lew Wallace and WHL Wallace had discussed routes to take from Lew Wallace’s position to Pittsburg Landing, and this is the route Lew Wallace chose to use. I think Lew Wallace should have taken the shorter route to get his troops to the battle sooner.

    • John Foskett April 9, 2012 / 7:07 am

      I could be wrong but i thought their “mutual aid” discussion focused on the Shunpike, which is why Lew Wallace “improved” it. The river road was in much tougher shape. Lew Wallace’s initial choice of roads on April 6 was a by-product of the Wallace-Wallace communications, if I recall correctly. As we know, and as Wallace finally understood, taking that road on the afternoon of April 6 would have landed him in the wrong place, given the progress of Johnston’s attack..

    • John Foskett April 9, 2012 / 7:09 am

      James” Meant to add (as should be obvious) that we agree. Wallace’s decision was based on ignorance of the progress of the battle and apparent lack of clarity in the original order which reached him, as well as the impact of choosing the river road on his artillery and wagons.:

  10. Bryn Monnery April 9, 2012 / 12:28 am

    Was anyone ever looked up what Grant thought the numbers were? Last year whilst reading through volume 5 of the Papers of US Grant I found his correspondence about Shiloh and the numbers look….. interesting.

    Grant’s general estimate of the enemy he was facing in the western theatre was about 200,000 (and is also in OR 10(2), 94):

    SAVANNAH, April 5, 1862.

    Major General H. W. HALLECK,

    Saint Louis, Mo.:

    The main force of the enemy is at Corinth, with troops at different points east; also at Bethel, Jackson, and Humboldt are small garrisons. The numbers at these places seem to constantly change.

    The number of the enemy at Corinth and within supporting distance of it cannot be far from 80,000 men. Information obtained through deserters place their force West at 200,000. One division of Buell’s column arrived yesterday. General Buell will be here himself to-day. Some skirmishers took place with our outguards and the enemy’s yesterday and day before.

    U. S. GRANT,


    During the battle Grant sent the following to Buell: “The attack on my forces has been very spirited from early this morning. The appearance of fresh troops in the field now would have a powerful effect, both by inspiring our men and disheartening the enemy. If you will get on the field, leaving all your baggage on the east bank of the river, it will be more to our advantage, and possibly save the day to us. The rebel forces are estimated at over 100,000 men.”

    On 8th April he wrote two letters, one to Halleck and one to his wife, claiming he’d repelled over 100,000 enemy in 168 regiments. After the war he tried to maintain he was heavily outnumbered by revising down his own strength (and I think he was probably right). His memoirs state:

    “At Shiloh the effective strength of the Union forces on the morning of the 6th was 33,000 men. Lew. Wallace brought 5,000 more after nightfall. Beauregard reported the enemy’s strength at 40,955. According to the custom of enumeration in the South, this number probably excluded every man enlisted as musician or detailed as guard or nurse, and all commissioned officers—everybody who did not carry a musket or serve a cannon. With us everybody in the field receiving pay from the government is counted. Excluding the troops who fled, panic-stricken, before they had fired a shot, there was not a time during the 6th when we had more than 25,000 men in line. On the 7th Buell brought 20,000 more. Of his remaining two divisions, Thomas’s did not reach the field during the engagement; Wood’s arrived before firing had ceased, but not in time to be of much service.”

    I have been known to use Grants’ overestimates as a counterpoint to McClellans’, but it’s important to contextualise Grants’ achievement. He honestly thought he’d repelled a much stronger enemy.

    • Carl Schenker April 9, 2012 / 11:08 am

      Grant’s prebattle estimate of Confederate strength makes all the stranger that he (and his gang) did not adopt a more defensive posture. Beause, as of April 5/6, Grant thought himself substantially outnumbered by the forces at Corinth.

      One of Wallace’s subordinates (McGinnis or Whitlesey) later wrote that the PL forces wanted to keep clear their own way to Corinth and thereby made clear the route of the Confederates to PL. (If I can find the exact quote, I will post it because I found it rather striking.)

    • tonygunter April 10, 2012 / 5:43 am

      Grant said there were 200,000 Confederates in the western theatre, but only 80,000 in the “area.” Not sure what this area included, but I don’t think I have ever seen an estimate for how many men he thought were actually in Corinth.

      • Carl Schenker April 10, 2012 / 7:44 am

        Grant, April 5: “The number of the enemy at Corinth and within supporting distance of it cannot be far from 80,000 men.” (I think he may actually have written this on April 6, in the wee hours.) Admittedly, this does not say 80,000 in Corinth. CRS

        • Bryn Monnery April 10, 2012 / 11:11 am

          I found some of Grants’ estimates from vols 4-6 of his papers on my computer today. Unfortunately I had photocopied the rest and recently threw them out in preparation for a move.

          In August 1862 Grant is still heavily overestimating enemy strength:

          To Maj Gen Don Carlos Buell,
          Corinth Aug 12th 1862
          Gen Buell,
          From the best information I can get there is but about twenty thousand 20,000 men including new levies or conscripts in front of my left – The main body having gone to Chattanooga – The rail books at Mobile show 56,000 have passed by rail from Tupelo to the vicinity of Chattanooga; the same person who gives me this information and I believe him reliable says the whole rebel force at Chattanooga and belonging to that command is estimated at One hundred eight thousand – 108,000 – Price is at Tupelo information is that he intends to demonstrateagainst this place to cover a flank movement on the rail road and Tennessee east from here – This came in last night just as I had finished reading your dispatch and seems to confirm your information. I will telegraph you again during the day and inform you what I have done for your support in case of need –
          U.S. Grant

          (Vol 5, 289)

          However by November 1862 his numbers start to conform to reality better. The difference seems to be that he started employing McPherson rather than Sherman to filter his int, as Sherman has gotten a Corps (or technically “wing”) command.

          Does anyone know of any studies of the intelligence services out west?

          • Carl Schenker April 11, 2012 / 5:52 am

            Bill Feis has done a nice book “Grant’s Secret Service.” Also, I don’t know how much Grant leaned on Sherman to filter intelligence as a generality. Clearly, though, he relied on Sherman for reports about the condition of the front before Shiloh. CRS

  11. Buck Buchanan April 9, 2012 / 10:50 am


    As a retired Infantry officer who served as a battalion S4 twice and a brigade S4 (think quartermaster officer) I can not overemphasize USG’s value in making sure the proper ammunition flowed to the right parts of the battlefield all day long. With the wide range of calibers…Sherman’s division alone used 6 different calibers of small arms.

    That he was surprised is beyond question. But as you point out, it was the actions of USG after that which sets him apart from many leaders.

    • Carl Schenker April 10, 2012 / 5:54 am

      Buck —

      Two questions if I may:

      (1) Do you have any specific citations on Grant and the ammo? I have wondered how effective this effort really was on Sunday, given various reports in the OR of units running out of ammo.

      (2) Do you happen to know about the Confederate ammo operations? Apropos of one of Tony’s posts, the Union may have benefited from being near its base, as detachments could be sent to the rear for ammo.

      Welcome any info. Thanks,


      • Buck Buchanan April 10, 2012 / 12:07 pm


        I would have to go deep into my notes of my thesis from 20 years ago on my Shiloh chapter…let me see what I can find.

        I recall he made specific comments to his chief of ordnance on a couple of occasions to be cognizant of the mix of small arms required by each brigade. The issue the Union had of continuous resupply was most of the rseserve ammo was afloat. Thee was limited landing space at Pittsburg Landing and vessels had to contend with the shuttling in of Buell’s troops. The priority went to artillery ammunition for the gun line Grant’s COS, Joseph Webster was organizing.

        The Confederates organized over 30 wagon trains at Corinth for forwarding to the battlezone. The issue with the Confederates was each corps attacking across a broad front caused brigade trains to intermingle and become tangled on the small road network.

  12. tonygunter April 10, 2012 / 5:38 am

    “I guess we disagree on whether Grant suspected an attack against Wallace on April 5, given that he did nothing with his five divisions at PL consistent with that suspicion.”

    Well, Grant did do something consistent with that suspicion by ordering two batteries from PL to Lew Wallace. Apparently, however, the batteries were still on the boats because they ended up in the final line according to Carl.

    “Had a brigade-sized body run into something impurtant, they would have figured it out and brought back a reliable report.”

    A brigade-sized force *did* venture out towards Pea Ridge (federal cavalry, plus the 70th and 72nd Ohio) and ran into the brigade-sized force blocking the road five miles out. So obviously, a brigade-sized force was not enough to accomplish the recon that you’re suggesting. Maybe Sherman’s entire division should have been sent out? And then, not only has Halleck’s order been explicitly disobeyed, but the federals end up attacking the Confederates on ground of Confederate choosing instead of vice-versa. And Grant has explicitly disobeyed a preremptory order from his superior.

    Grant (and Sherman, perhaps moreso because Grant was convalescing from a nasty fall) certainly should have taken the skirmishing in their front a little more seriously on April 5th. Possibly have the men throw up some basic breastworks and sleep in line of battle. But the recon you are suggesting took place, encountered the brigade sized force that they expected to find, and withdrew. So again I ask you, what sized force should have been sent out towards Corinth? And if you’re suggesting a division as I think you really are, how does Grant avoid getting fired when Halleck finds out that not only was Shiloh an abject bloodbath, but that it was *instigated* by Grant against Halleck’s explicit order?

    • John Foskett April 10, 2012 / 7:38 am

      Here’s the answer. Shiloh was a “bloodbath” (and a near defeat) because Grant was woefully unready on April 6. Among the many flaws in his alignment, he had an inexperienced division where the brunt of the initial attack would fall (Sherman’s).. Moreover, the Rebel attack occurred on the 6th because Johnston was not ready to attack on the 5th. If Grant had “instigated” an engagement by encountering Johnston in the midst of his preparations for a massive assault, Grant would have been in an infinitely better posture for the fight than he was on the 6th. It’s a bit like USN aircrews spotting the Japanese strike force on December 6. The general dirctive was to avoid starting a war. Does anyone seriously question whether Kimmel would have been cashiered had his crews encounterted the IJN and struck it? I’m trying to picture Halleck getting Grant cashiered because he broke up a massive Confederate attack on his position on April 5. The image is frankly not rational. On the other hand, Shiloh as it actually occurred missed being a devastating defeat by the thinnest of threads, for all of the reasons already discussed. We clearly disagree about the intent and application of Halleck’s order and about how it would have been used had the April 5 hypothetical occurred.

      • TF Smith April 10, 2012 / 9:20 pm

        IIRC, when Halsey’s task force built around Enterprise headed for Wake in early December, 1941, to fly off the Marine fighter squadron, he ordered ordnance loaded and established rules of engagement that amounted to get in the first shot. If the IJN was east of the Dateline, they were up to no good, period.

        I think even Kimmel would not have hesitated if IJN units had been spotted Dec. 6.

        In December, 1941, the USN in the Pacific – Hart’s dispersal of the Asiatic Fleet, for example – expected to balloon to go up somewhere; unfortunately, the Army generally was not as ready (cf MacArthur, Brereton, and the Far East Air Force), and Short and Martin (and Kimmel) did not think it would be east of the Dateline.

        If Hart had been CinC, and Halsey his senior operational commander (as opposed to Kimmel and Pye), who knows? Might have been very different. Same if George Patton had been Hawaiian Department commander. IIRC, in 1937 he wrote a journal article that laid out an IJN carrier attack on Oahu.


      • tonygunter April 11, 2012 / 4:24 am

        So in your opinion, Grant should have thrown up basic earthworks and then promptly left them to fight a meeting engagement 5 miles in front of them. And Halleck, being the magnanimous fellow that he was, would have rewarded Grant for the decision.


        • John Foskett April 11, 2012 / 7:45 am

          Let’s get the facts straight, first. On April 5 Johnston was at the “deployment” area which was 2 miles from the Union camps. A significant part of his Army was already up but the rest were still arriving – slowly due to the condition of the roads and resulting traffic jams. Had Grant ordered a substantial “scout”/reconnaissance that morning, he would – not might, would – have quickly learned that the enemy was perilously close to his front in large and increasing force with obvious intentions. What he did from there was up to him, armed as he would have been with clear knowledge. Whether that would have resulted in a fight that Johnston was not yet ready for or an orderly withdrawal into a proper defensive alignment, he would have been in a far better position than actually turned out to be the case on April 6. That’s my “opinion”. Yours appears to be that Grant would have been in a worse position with Halleck in light of the general directive than he was after clearly being caught with his pants down on April 6, losing one division to surrender, thousands of fugitives streaming in headlong flight to PL, and being saved by Buell’s arrival.. I’m skeptical that Halleck would have had “Agate’s” widely-publicized story from the Cincinnatti paper in his quiver had Grant caught Johnston by surprise in the midst of bringing his army up for the attack. But that’s why they call these things “opinions”. .No :”magnanimity” on Halleck’s part would have been involved. Cold, calculating perception of public image woulld have been. I know you don’t like it (from all I can gather), but the Pearl Harbor analogy is relevant.

    • Carl Schenker April 10, 2012 / 8:06 am

      Tony: Of course, if there had been a recon in force on April 5, it would have bumped into Confederate forces that were not well organized and were not yet in attack mode. The Confederates might well have been forced back and the battle been less bloody than what transpired on April 6. How could Grant have been fired if he discovered that the whole Rebel army had advanced from Corinth and was about to launch a suprise attack? And, again what about the option of spies, as opposed to recon in force? CRS

      • Ned B April 10, 2012 / 5:44 pm

        Didnt we discuss spies — Horace Bell, John Carpenter — on this blog before?

        • Carl Schenker April 10, 2012 / 6:34 pm

          Yes, around Shiloh anniversary last year. But whatever info those two did or didn’t discover, it was Lew Wallace who was running them and there seems to be no reason to believe Grant got the info Wallace claims he sent about their scouting efforts. CRS

  13. tonygunter April 10, 2012 / 9:21 am

    If there had been a recon in force on April 5th, the first regiments in column would have bumped into the brigade that was blocking the road. If the federals had continued to press the Confederates, then additional regiments from both sides would have been fed into the fray as they arrived, the results of which would essentially mimic the original battle — a massive meeting engagement across a wide front, minus Sherman’s strong stand at his camps and Prentiss’ strong stand at the Hornet’s Nest. So I doubt seriously that the federal force would have enjoyed a better showing.

    The appearance of Grant fighting the Confederates *7 or 8 miles* from Pittsburg Landing would have been that Grant instigated a general engagement. Short of someone stumbling on an order used as a cigar wrapper, nobody would have known that Grant broke up anything until they started compiling the O.R. years later.

    • John Foskett April 10, 2012 / 10:01 am

      The “appearance” would have been that he encountered c. 40,000 Rebel troops a whole lot closer to PL than they were to Corinth (where they had been, and where they were supposedly passively awaiting a massive Union attack). Nobody would have concluded that they were there because of a lack of rooms in Corinth or to check out the Spring countryside. Soldiers being soldiers, some captured Rebs would have talked and everybody would have quickly figured out that Grant disrupted what nobody had expected – Johnston attacking PL before the Buell linkup. Far from firing Grant, Halleck would have put up billboards reminding the entire planet under whose command the vigilant, insightful Grant operated. Bank it. Instead, Grant spent a few months teetering in limbo because of the “disgraceful” surprise and butchery (replete with one surrendered division and stories about troops being bayonetted in their tents).

  14. tonygunter April 10, 2012 / 10:25 am

    He wouldn’t have encountered 40,000 rebels. He would have encountered a brigade, followed by another brigade, followed by another brigade, followed by another brigade. This would have been indiscernable to Halleck from the brigades marching to the fight from a distance. And to make matters worse, the general engagement would STILL have been a surprise and a bloodbath.

    Halleck’s order was to avoid a general engagment, not “avoid a general engagement unless they get close enough to you to justify the action.” With Grant already on Halleck’s sh*t list, I have no idea how you can claim that Grant would have survived being fired after fighting a general engagement of his own instigation 7 to 8 miles away from the river.

    As far as captured rebels, did anyone really know the plan besides Johnston, Beauregard, and staff before April 6th?

    • John Foskett April 10, 2012 / 3:13 pm

      Halleck wasn’t there, so what would have been “discernible” to him would have been what he “saw” c. April 7 or 8, after the dust and smoke settled. Your version of the hypothetical also credits Johnston with a surprisingly high degree of layered organization, given the reality of his alignment on the morning of the 5th. “Did anyone really know the plan?” Let’s see – 40,000 troops leave Corinth starting the afternoon of April 3 and head towards the Union Army at PL. Do you honestly think the purpose was a big secret known only to Johnston, Borrie, and Bragg (I’ll add Hardee, since he actually left Corinth first)?. The answer speaks for itself. It’s pretty clear that we disagree and that we’ll never persuade each other. I believe that if Grant had undertaken an organized scout on April 5 he would have been much better off than he was by sitting around in his camps blissfully ignorant of what was gathering a few miles away. I believe that as a result Halleck would have taken credit for the prudent, aggressive actions of a sagacious subordinate, rather than stepping into the aftermath with a narrow, crabbed, and literal reading of a general admonition. Like it or not, the Pearl Harbor analogy applies. I think that we’ve probably exhausted this topic for the time being.

  15. robert basin August 12, 2015 / 5:13 pm

    I’d like to ask a dumb question. I have been told that Halleck’s order to Grant to fortify at Shiloh has been transcribed incorrectly. Doing some quick research, I only see an article in the old North and South Magazine from 2011. Any help would be great!!

    • josepharose February 1, 2016 / 2:48 pm

      Robert, seemingly, Halleck’s message on March 20th, to “wait till you are properly reinforced & you receive orders” before engaging the enemy, was modified in transmission to “wait till you are properly fortified and receive orders.” and was from Carl R. Schenker, who posted on this thread some years ago. It came from his “Who Failed to Fortify Pittsburg Landing?” North & South, vol. 13, no. 1 (May 2011), 46–47. Compare PUSG 4:392.

      • robert basin February 4, 2016 / 8:32 pm

        Thanks. I guess my question or comment is that the only place I see where that order was transcribe incorrectly is from the article you speak of. Not saying that its wrong, but it seems to me that if this was the case, why is there or why wasn’t there any talk of this from that time. I do see where Grant and others wrote about not fortifying due to not wanting to affect morale of the soldiers. So I guess in my mind, the explanation of the primary subjects doesn’t mesh with the transcription “controversy”.

        • josepharose February 6, 2016 / 12:46 am

          If no one noticed that discrepancy until recently, no one would have been any the wiser, and Grant had merely received a message indicating that he should fortify, which he didn’t do. The Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War didn’t decide to investigate. If they had, that might have brought the incorrect transcription to light.

          On March 7, 1862, Halleck telegraphed Grant: “Intrenching tools should be sent to Genl Smith to enable him to secure his position wherever he may land.” On the 9th, Halleck reiterated that, “There will probably be some desperate fighting in that vicinity, and we must be prepared.” And “intrenching tools” should be forwarded. Grant didn’t enforce these instructions, but Halleck went out of his way after the battle to cover-up Grant’s failures concerning the surprise and lack of preparations. If Halleck had found out about the discrepant orders, it still seems likely that he wouldn’t have advertised the fact.

          • robert basin February 7, 2016 / 6:28 pm

            I’ve been looking for this paragraph concerning this, in Grant’s own writing from Battles and leader:

            The criticism has often been made that the Union troops should have intrenched at Shiloh but up to that time the pick and spade had been little resorted to at the West I had however taken this subject under consideration soon after reassuming command in the field McPherson my military engineer had been directed to lay out a line to intrench He did so but reported that it would have to be made in rear of the line of as it then ran The new line while it would be nearer the river was yet far away from the Tennessee or even from the creeks to be easily with water from them and in case of attack these creeks would be in hands of the enemy Besides this the troops with me officers and men needed discipline and drill more than they did experience with the pick shovel and axe Reénforcements were arriving almost daily composed troops that had been hastily thrown together into companies and regiments fragments of incomplete organizations the men and ofiicers strangers to other Under all these circumstances I concluded that drill and were worth more to our men than fortifications

            Battles and leaders, volume 1, part two page 481


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