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Monday, June 16, 2014

Shiloh National Military Park offers a great alternative place to ride for Memphis area cyclists

Shiloh National Military Park offers a great alternative place to ride for Memphis area cyclists
By:  Michael Lander

Riding a bike through a Civil War battlefield like Shiloh provides cyclists
with a more unique and interesting type of scenery than they might
ordinarily encounter otherwise.

Shiloh...... It is a Hebrew word that means a place of peace.  For one small southwest Tennessee town named Shiloh, it will always be remembered for two days in April 1862 when it was anything but peaceful. 

Located about 2 1/4 hours, or 110 miles east of Memphis, Shiloh National Military Park today is a beautiful and scenic place that offers its visitors the chance to see where an important Civil War battle took place and to learn about the impact that this, and other subsequent battles, ultimately had in helping to shape and define our nation. 

Those who tour this national military park today will find a serenity and tranquility that stands in sharp contrast to the carnage and atrocities that took place on this land, which was consecrated with the blood and lives of those who fought and died on it on 6 and 7 April 1862.
Even though most of the visitors tour the park by car, one of the best ways to get a feel for the battlefield, and to actually to take it all in, is to do it on a bicycle.

For Memphis area cyclists, places like Shiloh offer them a change of scenery and a different spot where they can go to ride their bikes and, best of all, it gives them an opportunity to take in a little history at the same time. 

Among the many distinctive statues and monuments at Shiloh, cyclists
riding through the park will see the Confederate memorial, which was
dedicated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1917.

If you ride the entire tour route through the park, it is about 13 miles altogether, but there other roads throughout the park that you can ride, if you want to tack on a few extra miles.  Along the way, you will pass by cannons and dozens of markers and monuments for the various military regiments that were at Shiloh.  You will also see magnificently crafted memorials like the one for the Confederate soldiers and statues from states that had soldiers at this battle that are true works of art.  The most impressive ones of these are from Iowa, Wisconsin, Tennessee, and Illinois. 

In addition to all that, you will also come across places that have become so familiar and are part of the vernacular for those who are acquainted with Civil War history.  You will pass the Hornet's nest that received its name from the zipping bullets that sounded like angry hornets, the Bloody Pond where soldiers were said to have drank, bathed their wounds and died, and the place where the Shiloh Church stood that gave the battle its name.  You will also see monuments to the officers who died at Shiloh like General Albert Sidney Johnston, who was the highest ranking officer killed during the entire war.  

Cyclists will find dozens of Civil War era cannons, monuments, and
statues in fields and lining the tour route throughout the 4,200 acres
at Shiloh.

As one might expect, Shiloh also has burial trenches and graves for the fallen with a national military cemetery near the visitor center.  There are also has some prehistoric Indian mounds, or homes, which predate the battle at Shiloh by hundreds of years and, which were not connected in any way to the battle, but just happen to be located inside the park.

The terrain, for the most part, is a little hilly and cyclists will find a small ascent to climb on Jones Field Road and a very steep descent and an extremely challenging climb on Riverside Drive overlooking the Tennessee River. 

Even though there are some signs for bike trails on the road outside the park, there are few if any dedicated lanes or shoulders to speak of and cars are traveling at least 45 mph and faster. 

Inside the park, the traffic, for the most part, is relatively light and most appear to travel less than the posted speed limit of 25 mph.  The best times to ride might be in the early morning or late afternoon when traffic is lighter and the temperatures are often more tolerable.  The park is open from dawn until dusk and every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day.

Riding your bike through Shiloh is just half of the fun.  Taking a few
moments to stop and read about the battle can make it a more
memorable and enjoyable experience, overall.

Even though there are no real cycling amenities at Shiloh, there are two bicycle racks at the visitor center that will accommodate up to 20 bicycles and the park rangers seem very friendly and welcoming to cyclists.  The rangers, like Paul Holloway, only ask that cyclists stay on the paved surfaces while riding through the park and, if they wish to look at any markers in the field, that they walk their bike there.

The Battle of Shiloh was one of the most important battles in the western theater and it was one of the first major engagements between Union and Confederate forces in the Civil War.  For most of the soldiers, on both sides, it was their very first taste or experience in battle. 

The Union forces were led by Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Tennessee and Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell Army of Ohio, which had marched from Nashville.  The Confederate forces were led by Albert Sidney Johnston and he commanded the Army of Mississippi.  P.G.T. Beauregard assumed command after Johnston's death. 

The objective of the union was to move toward Corinth and to cut off the main railroad line that ran from Memphis in the west to Charleston, S.C. in the east. 

The Confederates were successful with their offensive on the Union Army on the first day of battle, but they were unable to take Grant's army after they established their last line of defense.  Later that evening, additional Union troops and reinforcements from Nashville (led by Gen. Don Carlos Buell) arrived and the union counterattacked the following day, forcing the Confederates to retreat toward Corinth. 

Cycling through Shiloh gives you a better opportunity to take everything
in that you are likely to miss out on in a vehicle with the windows rolled
up and the air conditioning on.

Even though both sides suffered about the same number of casualties (approximately 13,000 for the Union and 10,000 for the Confederates), the battle was seen as a victory for the North and it eventually led to the siege and capture of Corinth. 

From Memphis, cyclists can make a one-day excursion to Shiloh that will give them a chance to see and learn about history while enjoying the beautiful scenery and peacefulness that they will now find at the park today.  It should be especially enticing for those who are looking for another place to ride and who want to experience something a little more than just another usual bike ride around their Memphis neighborhood.

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