Sunrise at Shiloh National Military Park

Shiloh Sunrise

Clouds above Shiloh National Military Park light up during sunrise.
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Battlefield is a jewel of the national park system

Civil War history fascinates me. So when I found myself just 20 minutes from Shiloh National Military Park, I just had to make a quick trip — and I knew exactly what print I wanted to create.

My vision combined a beautiful sunrise with a line of artillery.

So I drove to the park on my last evening in West Tennessee and drove around looking for lines of cannon. I used the app Photographers Ephemeris to pinpoint where sunrise would be the next morning.

The best option seemed to be in the field near W. Manse George Cabin. There were three lines of artillery, giving me options, and I would be able to set up with the sunrise behind the cannons.

Twelve hours later, I pulled into the small parking lot with the smallest hint of color over the trees. Honestly, it was one of those situations in which I just wasn't sure any real color would appear: The clouds were pretty thick, so I figured either that little bit of color would quickly fade to gray or I would get lucky and the rising sun would find a hole in the clouds and the cloud cover would burst into beautiful pastel colors.

I hustled out to the line of cannons above, which marks where the U.S. Army's Mann's Battery made its stand for about four hours on April 5, 1862, before pulling back after withering attacks from the Confederate forces

I wanted to show the cannons, but still include all the details of the old artillery pieces. I tried one composition but thought the details were lost in the stack of artillery. So I repositioned slightly so the closes cannon was a bit separated from those in the background. It was perfect!

As I locked down my camera on my tripod, the initial color faded from the sky. No worries; that always happens. So I stood and waited to see if the real show would happen.

Ten minutes later, amazing color spread across the bottom of the clouds. It was perfect!

It was exciting to see my vision come together, but I have to admit I was subdued as I worked. I could almost hear the roar of the cannons and small arms fire as Confederate soldiers approached, And the fact that tens of thousands of men were killed, wounded or went missing on these fields added more weight to the scene.

Long after I took my last shot, I stood and tried to imagine the chaotic struggle that happened on the very spot on which I stood, the blood that leaked into the ground as men prayed for salvation as life leaked.

It put history in perspective. It's more than just facts and statistics. It's life and death.

First Light Over Ross' Battery

This line of cannons marks where Ross' Battery of the Army of the Tennessee fought before retreating from advancing Confederate soldiers during the Battle of Shiloh.

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