Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Shiloh Threatened Volume 50 Number 3, May/June 1997

[image] Prehistoric Indian mound at Shiloh is in danger of eroding into Tennessee River. (Courtesy Shiloh National Military Park) [LARGER IMAGE]

Erosion of the banks of the Tennessee River has rendered Shiloh National Military Park's Dill Branch ravine, considered the most scenic spot in the park, inaccessible by car. The battle at "Bloody Shiloh," fought April 6 and 7, 1862, resulted in some 24,000 casualties and secured the West for the Union. Possibly accelerated by construction of dams by the Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1930s, erosion has been a constant problem at the battlefield park, dedicated in 1894. "A major flood in 1954 took away a third of Pittsburg Landing, held by Union troops during the Confederate attack," says park superintendent Woody Harrell. "High water in 1973 brought the riverbank to within five feet of the National Cemetery wall. Now erosion has eaten under the pavement of the Dill Branch causeway, forcing us to close the last mile and a half of the park's automobile tour route."

Of more concern to the Park Service is the threat to Shiloh Indian Mounds National Historic Landmark. The ten-acre, palisaded Late Woodland and Mississippian site, made up of seven platform mounds and more than two dozen smaller house mounds, sits on a bluff overlooking the river just south of Dill Branch. Here erosion has destroyed the eastern end of Mound A, the largest in the group, leaving behind a 100-foot cliff. Now any period of high water can cause additional damage. Thirteen inches of rain last Memorial Day weekend caused a six-foot-wide, 40-foot-long section of mound to slough into the river overnight. "Four years ago we received $600,000 for stabilization work in front of the National Cemetery, but we have not been able to secure funding for work on the rest of the riverbank," says Harrell. "The price tag for the recommended work could easily top 3 million dollars." In the past, Harrell adds, when it came to funding, the Shiloh mounds have often taken a back seat to the park's Civil War resources.

© 1997 by the Archaeological Institute of America