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NEWS | May 23, 2023

Illinois Army National Guard Officer Candidates Travel Back in Time to Battle of Shiloh for Staff Ride

Gen. Ulysses S. Grant called the Battle of Shiloh, fought April 6-7, 1862 at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, “the severest battle fought in the West during the War.”

More than 110,000 men fought at the Battle of Shiloh near Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee. More than 23,000 men were wounded or killed during the battle, including 3,957 Illinois militiamen.

The Illinois Army National Guard (ILARNG) Officer Candidate School’s (OCS) Class 68-23 visited Shiloh National Military Park during their annual Staff Ride May 20.

The Staff Ride is a field academic history exercise, according to Sgt. 1st Class Paul Golladay, the OCS course manager for the 129th Regiment (Regional Training Institute).

“The staff ride links a historical event with candidate research and a visit to the site to produce a professional-development battle analysis,” said Golladay. “Ideally, the officer candidates will come from the event with a better understanding of the principles of war, such as objective, offensive, maneuver, mass, economy of force, unity of command, security, surprise, and simplicity."

Twenty-two ILARNG Officer Candidates were on the staff ride.

Among the 22 candidates was Officer Candidate Michael Callahan, of Champaign, Illinois, a traditional Illinois National Guard member who is an 8th grade history teacher at Paxton-Buckley-Loda Community Unit School District 10 in Paxton.

“There are about 15 lessons I cover about events during the Civil War,” Callahan said. “Since there is a lot of history we cover throughout the year, the lesson plan doesn’t specifically cover the Battle of Shiloh or Illinois’ contribution to it.”

After spending the day at the Shiloh National Military Park, Callahan, who had never been to a battlefield before or walked the same area where thousands of people lost their lives, said it was a great experience.

“It’s crazy to think they walked so we could run,” he said. “It was a very humbling, awesome experience especially since today less than one percent serve.”

History has never been Officer Candidate LaQuan Melvin’s forte.

“I disliked studying history very much,” Melvin, of Joliet, said before visiting the battlefield. “I think touring where the Battle of Shiloh happened will be educational, a place where we turn education into practical.”

Melvin, an Active Guard and Reserve recruiter, said the candidates were assigned to small teams with each candidate researching different aspects of the battle and how it is relevant today.

“Each member of our small team was assigned a different aspect of the Battle of Shiloh,” Melvin said. “We researched our assigned task and will present our thoughts to the entire class during the staff ride.”

For Melvin, traveling to Shiloh was a very humbling experience.

“The Civil War gave us the country as we know it,” he said. “Once you see the terrain and imagine the fighting, you know the chance of getting shot was very high and yet they still fought for something larger than themselves.”

He said he also learned about faults and mistakes and the need for a backup plan.

“Leaders make mistakes, and the Battle of Shiloh underscores the need for leaders to have an alternate plan,” he said.

Officer Candidate Tymon Maurer, a traditional Guard member from Wheeling, Illinois, calls himself a “subdued history buff.”

“I enjoy learning about the battles,” he said before visiting the battlefield. “During this staff ride it will be members of the class teaching their fellow officer candidates about the poor weapons and tactics used in the Civil War as well as the planning principles and how they are relevant in today’s military.”

Maurer said the plans used at the Battle of Shiloh are relevant even today.

“It was a great learning experience,” he said. “Although it was a different era of warfare, the use and misuse of planning and weapons is still relevant to us today.”

Maurer said he thought the visit to Shiloh was phenomenal.

“It was a moving experience and I wanted to explore more,” he said. “The men who fought at Shiloh were rushing into certain death with hardly any training.”

For Officer Candidate Ross Nations, of Oak Park, Illinois, a four-year veteran of the Illinois Army National Guard, the staff ride to Shiloh brought the battle to life for him.

“Growing up, the Civil War was an interesting topic when it was taught in class,” he said. “It was great being out there physically on the battlefield. It gives you a first-hand view of what those fighting there witnessed.”

Nations, a traditional Guard member who is a commercial recruiter for a warehouse, said he didn’t know Illinois’ role at the Battle of Shiloh before he began his research.

“I’m proud to know the people who came before me contributed then to what I contribute to now and that’s freedom in our country,” Nations said. “It’s humbling to walk the same ground as the men who served, fought, and may have even died at Shiloh.”

Several Illinois militia regiments fought at the Battle of Shiloh. 

The hardest hit unit was the 9th Illinois Infantry. With 366 of the unit’s 578 Soldiers killed, wounded, or missing, the 9th Illinois Infantry lost more men than any Union Regiment in the battle.

According to the National Park Service, the Battle of Shiloh claimed more casualties than all of America’s previous wars combined.