Battle of Shiloh
Colonel Wills De Hass
The 6th of April, 1862, was a day fraught with momentous issues for the future of the American Republic. The evening of the 5th had witnessed the concentration of a great army, whose leader, had boastingly declared in the pride of their strength should, on the coming morn, overwhelm and destroy the army of the Union which lay encamped in conscious security around the wilderness church of Shiloh! At no period during our prolonged and sanguinary civil war was the Union more imperiled than on that eventful Saturday evening. The battle of Shiloh was the first decisive and, pre-eminently, the most important of the war. Defeat. then would have been the greatest disaster that could have befallen the arms of the Union. The country can never know the full danger of that hour, and the pen of the historian can never portray the peril which hung over the Army of the Tennessee. Congress received the announcement of events then culminating in profound silence, the official dispatch of victory declared it was the hardest battle ever fought on this continent," the President proclaimed a day of fasting and prayer for the great deliverance by this and other achievements of our arms; but the peril of the army, the severity of the battle, and the magnitude of the victory will, perhaps, never be fully known or appreciated. General Grant says, in his report: "There was the most continuous firing of artillery and musketry ever heard on this continent kept up until nightfall; " and the Southern accounts describe it as the "most sanguinary battle in history, in proportion to the numbers engaged." We propose to give a succinct and impartial recital of the principal facts and incidents, now passed into history, of that great struggle for the Union. With a brief retrospect, I will pass to the consideration of my subject.
The fall and winter campaigns of 1861-62, had made manifest that a decisive blow must be struck in the Southwest or the cause of the Union materially suffer. The new department commanders General Buell in that of Ohio, and General Halleck in that of Missouri - united their energies, and the capture of those important strongholds, Forts Donelson and Henry, rapidly followed. These successes led on to other operations. With the opening spring it was resolved to follow up the retreating armies of the Confederacy and strike an effective blow in the neighborhood of Corinth, Mississippi, where it was known that the most formidable defenses were in course of construction. In February, a new district was formed, called West Tennessee, and by order of General Halleck, General Grant was appointed to its command, with headquarters in the field. The most strenuous exertions were made to organize a force of sufficient strength to meet and overcome, in connection with the army of General Buell, the Confederate forces at Corinth. The Tennessee expedition was ordered to rendezvous at Paducah, at the mouth of the Tennessee river, and every available Western regiment was ]turned forward to join it. With how much haste this was done, I may mention that my own regiment, which had already received orders to join General Rosecrans in Western Virginia, bad the order countermanded and, without arms, were hurried forward to the month of the Tennessee river. Steamers great and small were put into requisition, and by the l0th of March, a fleet of formidable strength was ready to ascend the Tennessee. About this time arose a dilemma. General Grant, as alleged, on Account of some dissatisfaction with the Donelson affair, was ordered to remain at Fort Henry and to turn the command over to General Charles F. Smith, an officer of the regular army, with few equals in or out of the service. It was this officer to whom all agree in giving the honor of saving the day at Donelson. The expedition steamed up the Tennessee and reached the point known as Pittsburg Landing, two hundred and twenty miles, from Paducah, our (Sherman's) division going into camp at Shiloh Church on the 18th and 19th of March. Savannah, ten miles below, was selected as the headquarters of the commanding general. The division of General Lew Wallace was landed at Crump's, four miles above Savannah,, and the other five divisions of McClernand, Smith, Hurlbut, Sherman, and Prentiss, disembarked at Pittsburg Landing, which consisted of a warehouse, grocery, and one dwelling. It was a point whence roads led to Corinth, Purdy, and the settlements adjacent. It appeared to have been regarded as of some importance, in a military view, by the Confederates, for after the fall of Donelson the erected a batterv on the high bluff overlooking the landing, and General Cheatham occupied Shiloh as a military camp.
The country is undulating table-land, the bluffs rising to the height of one hundred and fifty feet above the alluvial. Three principal streams and numerous tributaries cut the ground occupied by the army, while many deep ravines intersect, rendering it the worst possible battle-ground. The principal streams are Lick creek, which empties into the Tennessee -above the landing; Owl creek, which rises near the source of Lick creek, flows southeast, encircling the battle-field, and falls into Snake creek, which empties into the Tennessee below the landing, or about three miles below Lick creek. The country at the period referred to was a primeval forest, except where occasional settlers had opened out into small farms. The Army of the Tennessee lay within the area indicated, extending three and a half miles from the river and nearly the same distance north and south. Much discussion has arisen as to whom belongs the credit of the great central movement, of which the Tennessee expedition was the initiation and Sherman's March the culmination and in connection with this no little crimination and recrimination has been indulged by particular officers as to the military judgment displayed in landing the Army of the Tennessee on the west side of that river, The disposition of the army, neglect of proper fortifications and general want of precautionary measures, have been subjects of free discussion and condemnation. Whether just or not, can hereafter, perhaps, be better determined. General Sherman says the camp was chosen by General Smith, and by his orders be (Sherman and Hurlbut) took position. He further says: " I mention for future history that our right flank was well guarded by Owl and Snake creeks, our left by Lick creek, leaving us simply to guard our front. No stronger position was ever held by any army."-(Record of courtmartial, Memphis, Tennessee, Auqust, 1862.)
When the writer reached Shiloh (April 2d) he found the impression general that a great battle was imminent. Experienced officers believed that Beauregard and Johnston would strike Grant or the Army of the Tennessee before Buell could unite the Army of the Ohio. We found the army at Shiloh listless of danger, and in the worst possible condition of defense. The divisions were scattered over an extended space, with great intervals, and at one point a most dangerous gap. Not the semblance of a fortification could be seen, The entire front war, in the most exposed condition. One or two sections of batteries at remote points, no scouts, no cavalry pickets, a very light infantry picket within one mile of camp, were all that stood between us and the dark forest then filling with the very flower of the Southern army. To my inexperienced judgment, all this appeared very strange, and I communicated these views to our brigade commander, who expressed himself in the same spirit, but remarked that he was powerless. One day's work in felling trees would have placed the camp in a tolerable state of defense. The men were actually rick from inaction and over-eating. A few hours' active exercise with the axe and shovel would have benefitted their health, and might have saved their camp from destruction, with thousands of valuable lives. This would have produced a much better morale effect than the neglect which bad been urged as the reason why the camp was not protected I It was surprising to see bow speedily the same men cut down trees and erected works of defense on the approach to Corinth. A little of the vigilance then used would have saved life, property and reputation at Shiloh. That a grave military error was committed in disposing the army and neglecting the proper defenses at Shiloh, there can be no question. If General Smith erred in selecting the ground or disposing the troops, who was responsible when that officer lay prostrate on his death-bed?
General Halleck had, in general orders, directed the camp to be fortified, and supposed this had been done, for, in his first dispatch from St. Louis, announcing the battle, he says: "The enemy attacked our works at Pittsburg, Tennessee, yesterday, and were repulsed with heavy loss." We do not appear, however, as the censor, simply the historian, whose province, although not always pleasant, should be guided by the line of duty, truth, and justice. It shall be our endearvor to avoid partisan issues and confine this statement to plain, historical facts. Thursday, the 3d, being quite unwell, remained in my tent. On Friday, made and received few visits, and in afternoon witnessed the first "speck of war." A small detachment of the Fifth Ohio Cavalry, with a portion of the Seventieth Ohio Infantry, made a short reconnoissance and fell in with the advance of the Confederate army. We lost a few men; killed and captured half a dozen of the enemy. Of the wounded was an intelligent non-commissioned officer, who died during the night. This officer communicated information that the entire Confederate army bad advanced from Corinth, and were to attack us on the following (Saturday) morning. This information, of such vital importance to our army, was disregarded, and we slumbered on the very verge of a volcano. 11 It was expected," says General Beauregard, "we should be able to reach the enemy's lines in time to attack them early on the fifth instant. In consequence, however, of the bad condition of the roads from late heavy rains, the army did not reach the immediate vicinity of the enemy until late on Saturday afternoon. It was then decided the attack- should be made on the next morning at the earliest hour practicable." On Saturday morning an order was issued by General Sherman to cut a road from Owl creek, in front of the church, to an old cotton-field, three-fourths of a mile east of our camp. The creek was securely bridged, and the road cut of sufficient width to admit the passage of our army on its anticipated march to Corinth! About two o'clock P. M., Colonel Jesse Hildebrand, commanding Third Brigade, Sherman's Division, to which my regiment was attached, invited me to accompany Colonel Buckland, commanding Fourth Brigade, same division, Colonel Cockerel, Seventieth Ohio Volunteers, and one or two other officers, on a short reconnaissance. We had not advanced half a mile from camp when we were met by squads of the fatigue party sent out to cut the road, with the startling intelligence that the rebel cavalry were in considerable force in the wood immediately across the old cotton-field. Our pickets extended to the line of the field. We rode to a position commanding the wood referred to, and with a glass saw the enemy in considerable force. We afterward learned they were Forrest's cavalry, and their commander, riding a white horse, was plainly visible.
It was manifest their object was not to attack, but watch our movements, and prevent the advance of the reconnoitering parties. The officers (Hildebrand and Buckland) remained some time, then returned to camp to report the situation to General Sherman, and get their respective commands in readiness, as both anticipated an attack. Remaining tinder orders to watch the movements of the enemy, the afternoon wore away. Before leaving it was deemed expedient to strengthen the picket line with three additional companies, charging them not to advance, not to bring on an engagement, but watch closely all movements of the enemy during the night, and report promptly the approach of attack. That evening a free inter change of opinion took place at our tent, where General Sherman called while we were at tea. The full particulars, which have been hurriedly recited, were detailed. He was incredulous that an attack was meditated-believed they were only present to watch our movements; said news had been received that evening that Buell would join us in forty-eight hours, and then we would advance on Corinth. General Sherman's positive manner of uttering his opinions had the effect to quiet the apprehensions of some of the officers present, but others were not satisfied. The principal officers of the Third and Fourth Brigades, and Fifth Ohio Cavalry, commanded by a son-in-law of the late President ITarrisoii, were convinced that attack was at hand. Letters written that night by officers could be produced to show the feeling pervading the camp of the Seventy-seventh Ohio. Thus stood matters on that eventful Saturday night. Colonel Hildebrand and myself occupied the same tent; it stood adjacent the primitive little church which was destined to fill so important a page in our country's annals. Colonel Hildebrand, not feeling well, retired early, but I remained up late writing letters, and preparing for the morrow. The men were ordered to stack arms in front of their tents, prepared to advance or repel attack, and that if firing were heard during the night to remain quiet-await the long-roll or bugle call. Every soldier in the regiment felt that a battle was imminent; in an hour the whole camp was asleep. How unconscious of danger lay the army of the -Union that night! Outside of the immediate brigades named, few dreamed of dan,,er; but their visions were of home and the loved ones who looked so fondly for their return; but, alas! how hopeless to thousands, who, that night, slept their last sleep, on earth.
On our front-in the depth of the dark forest-how different the scene! At midnight, stepping from my tent, beneath the shadow of that quiet church, I listened for a premonition of the coining storm. But all was still save the measured tread of the sentinel, and the gentle whispers of the genial night breeze. No sound came from the distant woods. The camp-fires shed their lurid light against the walls of living green; no drum-beats or bugle-blasts were heard, for quietness reigned by imperious command, throughout the rebel camps. Those who slept dreamed of booty and glory, for Beauregard had assured them that they should sleep in the enemy's camp tomorrow night, eat well-baked bread and meat, and drink real coffee. It is also alleged, of the same commander, that be declared he would water his horse on Sunday evening in the Tennessee, or another place where water is supposed not to be very abundant. He did not redeem either of the latter promises, but he did the first. Long before early dawn on that calm, Sabbath morn, the rebel army had breakfasted, and stripped for the bloody work before them. Their blankets, knapsacks, etc., were laid aside, their only encumbrance being their arms, haversacks, and canteens. The latter, it has been asserted, were filled with "powder and whisky," which, of course, is a popular delusion. Certain it is, however) they fought with the desperation of men inflamed with something more stirring than Yankee hatred and Southern patriotism. By three o'clock they were on the move. At daybreak General A. Sidney Johnston said to General Beauregard: "Can it be possible they are Dot aware of our presence?" "It can scarcely be possible," replied the latter; "they must be laying some plan to entrap us." General Johnston commanded, with Beauregard second in command. With us the latter was regarded as chief commander, as it was his army that lay at Corinth, and he it was whom we supposed we would have to fight.
General Johnston, after evacuating Nashville, moved his army with all possible dispatch to Corinth, declaring, as a recent biographer of this great military genius asserts, with almost the spirit of prophesy, that the decisive battle in the Southwest would be fought in the neighborhood of Shiloh church. This, the biographer asserts, was not sheer guessing, but the result of clear and close calculation. [General Hurlbut recently informed me that it has only been a few months since he learned, from a son of General Johnston, the real plan of the battle of Shiloh, as arranged by his father.] The united armies of Johnston and Beauregard numbered about fifty thousand men, and constituted the fighting material of the Confederate army, commanded by the most experienced officers-Johnston, Beauregard, Bragg, Hardee, Polk, Cheatham, Breckenridge - and a long list of, subordinate commanders, presenting an array of names that ought to infuse confidence in any army. With their united forces it was "determined," says General Beauregard in his report, "to assume the offensive, and strike a sudden blow at the enemy in position under General Grant, on. the west bank of the Tennessee, at Pittsburg, and in the direction of Savannah, before he was reinforced by the enemy under General Buell, then known to be advancing via Columbia. By a rapid and vigorous attack on General Grant, it was expected he would be beaten back into his transports on the river or captured," etc. The disposition of the forces of General Grant, who, on account of the continued illness of General Smith, and an explanation with General Halleck, was ordered, March 14th, to assume command of the Army of the Tennessee, were as follows: General Sherman occupied the extreme front at Shiloh church; Generals Prentiss and Hurlbut lay on the left.; Generals McClernand and W. H. L. Wallace on the right and rear. The form of the encampment was a semi-circle with its greater arc on the left. Two roads led from the landing to Corinth, distant twenty miles--one by the way of the church, and the other through General Prentiss' camp, intersecting the road from Hamburg, seven miles further up the river. These troops, particularly the advance division under Sherman, were mostly fresh from the recruiting camps, and wholly unpracticed, even in the simplest company maneuvres. Many of the regiments were not supplied with arms until their departure up the Tennessee. This was the case with my own regiment. With such disadvantages we went into the great battle of Sunday.
At gray dawn, on the morning of the 6th, Lieutenant Burriss, of Captain Sisson's company, Seventy-seventh Ohio Volunteers-a regiment recruited from the border counties of Western Virginia and Ohio-came to brigade headquarters and communicated the intelligence that the enemy were gathering in great force. He was sent back with orders to Captain Sisson to maintain the picket line, but if attacked to retire in order, holding the enemy in check. We heard dropping shots over the whole of our immediate front and tolerably brisk firing on the left, in the direction of General Prentiss. As Colonel Hildebrand was not well, he was advised to remain quiet, and I would report the facts to General Sherman, whose headquarters were about four hundred yards to our rear. In a few minutes Captain Sisson reached camp, confirming all his lieutenant had communicated, and adding that the enemy swarmed in the old cottonfield alreadv referred to; that he had watched them from the moment lie discerned a man, and felt confident they were gathering for an attack. They had already commenced firing on our pickets, and believed, from the rapid firing on Prentiss' line, that he had been attacked in force. Captain Sisson returned to his command, and the writer went at once to General Sherman's headquarters. Ile was met at his tent. The facts related were communicated, and for some minutes we listened to the firing. The General appeared to be in doubt as to attack, but ordered the brigade into readiness for action.
Returning to regimental headquarters, the men were found promptly responding to the long-roll and preparing for action. Partaking of a hasty breakfast, they fell into line. The morning was bright, warm, and genial. Although early spring in that luxuriant Southern clime, nature had robed herself in a rich mantle of green; the woods were vocal with feathered songsters, and the air redolent of perfume from bud and wild flower. The swamp lily, with its brilliant petals, contrasted beautifully with the deep green foliage and spotless blossom of the American cornus. The scene was altogether lovely, save where man, by his unlicensed passions, was spreading death and desolation. It was now about half-past six o'clock. The fire on our front grew hotter and nearer. The regiment was in line. Colonel Hildebrand was pressed to join in a cup of coffee, remarking that it would better fit him for duty, when, in the very act of taking the co:ffee, a shot from the enemy's gun, unlimbered in the road we cut the day before, in, full view of our camp, told us, as it crashed through the trees over our tent, that the battle had opened! Colonel Hildebrand said: "Colonel, aid me with the brigade; send the major with the regiment; ride at once to the Fifty-third and form them into line." The Fifty-third Ohio was alluded to, which constituted part of our brigade. Their camp was across a ravine to the left of the Fifty-seventh Ohio, and some distance from brigade headquarters. It was here where General Sherman rode early in the opening of the battle and lost his orderly -shot by his side-in the ravine near the camp of the Fifty-third. It may be here stated that Shiloh church stood on the brow of a sloping hill, at the base flowing Owl creek. To the left of the chapel were the camps of the Seventy-seventh and Fifty-seventh Ohio. The brigade headquarters were immediately to the right of the church. The wood had been cut for camp use from a considerable portion of the hillside fronting the church. Down this hill front, in the direction of Owl creek, the Fifty-seventh and Seventy-seventh Ohio were thrown, and also a portion of the Fourth Brigade. Taylor's battery had a good position to the right of the church, and was ordered to unlimber for action. The Fifty-third formed in their own camp, which was an old peach orchard. They were supported by Waterhouse's battery.
The hour was now about seven o'clock, and the battle opened with great fury. The enemy advanced to the attack of our forces by three distinct lines of battle. The first, according to General Beauregard's report, "extended from Owl creek on the left to Lick creek on the right, a distance of about three miles, supported by the third and the reserve." The first line was commanded. by General Hardee, supported by General Bragg; the second line by Generals Bragg and Polk, and the third by General Breckenridge. These lines were separated from five to eight hundred yards. General Beauregard was on the left, General Johnston on the right. Standing in front of Shiloh chapel, looking down into the dark wood from which issued the deep roar of heavy cannon and the sharp rattle of musketry, scarcely a man was visible; but as the unclouded sun fell on their burnished arms the whole scene became lighted up, presenting a panorama most effective, and one which can never be forgotten by those who witnessed it. The lines closed steadily on us, the enemy moving forward at all points. Squadrons of cavalry had been thrown out on both wings to drive in the Union pickets. Hardee had deployed his forces in lines of brigades, with their batteries in the rear. Against these well-disciplined troops did our raw regiments contend. Onward came the surging masses, backward fell our lines; then rallying would, by a terrific fire, check the shouting legions in gray! Checked again and again, they still pressed forward. The keen eye of Hardee soon detected the wide gap between Sherman and Prentiss. This gap-more than a mile in width-General Sherman says was left to be occupied by part of Buell's troops. It almost proved to be an open highway to the flanks and rear of the Union lines. General Hurlbut has recently informed the writer that he was opposed to flanking movements which might jeopard his own command. Into this gap he pushed several brigades commanded by Gibson, Anderson, Pond, and others, and attempted to sweep round on Sherman's left. The camp of the Fifty-third Ohio having been gained and three of Waterhouse's guns captured, the line near Sherman's headquarters was enfiladed and driven back in confusion. McClernand promptly supported Sherman, but seeing the fianking movement of Hardee, I was ordered to hurry up reinforcements. Meeting an advancing column, I found on inquiry it was General Smith's Division, commanded by General W. H. L. Wallace, of Illinois. He was advised of the attempted flank movement, and requested to change his line of march in the direction indicated. That gallant officer adopted the suggestion, and ordered a brisk movement in the direction indicated. He soon fell mortally wounded.
Half an hour after we separated be engaged the enemy, and the most terrific firing heard during the day came from that quarter. The force encountered was Ruggles' Division of Bragg's Corps. He requested that a battery should be sent to him. Captain J. W. Powell, with great promptness, took position, and remained in command of his battery until his right arm was shot off. This gallant officer is the distinguished Major Powell, in charge of the geographical and geological survey of the Rocky mountain region. As a scientist be is doing good service, as he did as a soldier in the wilderness of Tennessee. He was a meritorious officer, and his success in the field of science has been great. It is hoped that Congress will give him ample means to carry out his enlarged views in the department to which he has been assigned. General Grant, it may be stated in explanation, his headquarters being at Savannah, did not reach the battle-ground before ten o'clock. He doubted for a time that it was an attack, but the continuous and heavy firing convinced him otherwise, and steam was ordered on his flag-vessel, the Tigress. Up to the hour named we were without a general commander. The fighting was irregular and miscellaneous. Each division commander had quite as much as he could do to attend to his own defenses or aid those in advance. The subordinate commanders felt that much depended on themselves, and the men realized the vital importance of doing their whole duty. As a distinguished clergyman said in his sermon on the Sabbath following the battle, the " fighting was done by march, not brain! " The army really did not know when it was whipped. A prominent Confederate officer afterward said: "You were thoroughly beaten on Sunday, but did not know it." This was literally true.
The battle went on hour by hour. The Union army was steadily beaten back at all points. The great leader of the Confederates had fallen, for Albert Sidney Johnston was as great a military genius as the country has produced. His death was caused by a Minnie ball severing the femoral artery at about half-past two o'clock. This was a most critical point. Breckenridge's reserves had been ordered up. Johnston said: " I will lead these Kentuckians and Tennesseans into the fight," and, waving his sword, pressed forward to take a certain position, which they did gain-but their brave leader was gone! The death of Johnston caused a brief pause. Thirty minutes were probably consumed in Beauregard taking command, and these were precious moments for the Union army. It enabled our shattered ranks to close up and prepare for the next assault. It came. Beauregard, concentrating all his energies in the moment, exclaimed, as the brigades filed by him: ,Forward, boys, and drive them into the Tennessee! " His purpose was to gain the river, capture our transports, and destroy our army. One or more deep ravines, with marshy approaches, intervened. These must be crossed. In the meantime some heavy siege guns, which lay on the hill at the landing, had been wheeled into position; a battery of Parrotts had also been prepared for action. A few trees were felled, some bales of hay and a few barrels filled with earth, afforded slight protection to the gunners. But there was a determined feeling in the army not to be driven into the river. An officer, now no more, who did valiant service on that bloody field, well expressed this feeling. When asked what lie intended doing if pressed to the water, replied: 11 Give them these twelve shots and take the consequences." In addition to the siege guns and Parrotts, the two wooden gunboats, "Tyler " and "Lexington," lay, one at the month of the principal ravine and the other a short distance below.
The Union army had been pressed back within half a mile of the Tennessee. A desperate and final struggle was now to be made. About four o'clock, after half an hours comparative quiet, the deepmouthed guns again opened; the roll of musketry was heard in continuous volleys, the wild tumult, the wierd shriek, the crashing timber, all bespoke the terrible conflict. The battleground has become fearfully contracted; the enemy's shell fall into the river and explode amid the transports! Another advance is ordered. The shattered brigades of Beauregard enter the ravine and close up on the contracted lines, protected by the siege guns. "Three different times," reports one of the commanders, " did we go into that 'valley of death,' and as often were we forced back." Another reports:"A murderous fire was poured into us from masked batteries of grape and canister and also from rifle-pits." General Bragg ordered General Chalmers to drive us into the river at all hazards. In vain did this brave Carolinian, who sacrificed his own life and a large portion of his command, attempt to do so. The concentrated fire of the Union army, aided by the formidable natural barriers, prevented the execution of Beauregard and Bragg's humane orders! Gradually the firing ceased. The Sabbath closed upon a scene which had no parallel on the Western Continent. The sun went down in a red halo, as if the very heavens blushed and prepared to weep at the enormity of man's violence. Night fell upon and spread its funereal pall over a field of blood where death held unrestrained carnival! Soon after dark,- the rain descended in torrents, and all through the dreary hours of that dismal night it rained unceasingly. The groans of the dying, and the solemn thunder of the gunboats came swelling at intervals high above the peltings of the pitiless storm.
General Beauregard redeemed his promise, and slept in the camp of the Union army that night. That officer, we have reason to believe, occupied our tent that Sabbath night. He says: " I established my headquarters at the church at Shiloh, in the enemy's encampment," etc. His dispatches were written on a desk in one of the Union tents. Our tent was, the only one thus provided. These facts are mentioned as not of much historical importance, but simply as incidents of the day. It was renown through all of Sunday that General Buell was hurrying on with all possible dispatch. That officer, with two of his corps commanders, Nelson and Crittenden, had reached General Grant's headquarters on the hill at the river by half-past four o'clock. An hour after, portions of their commands had crossed, and were climbing the steep river banks to take part in the last desperate struggle of Sunday. The appearance of Buell's advance, in the dark hours of that terrible Sabbath afternoon, was a spectacle the most inspiriting that despairing men ever looked upon. As they filed across the broad bottoms of the Tennessee, with colors flying, and filling the vale with their shouts of encouragement, the most despairing felt that the day was not entirely lost. Language is inadequate to express the sublime emotions which spring from the presence of a succoring army. What the "eagles of Dessaix were to Consular France, the banners of Buell were to the arms of the Union," as his gallant army surged onward to the red field of Shiloh! General Sherman, at a recent interview, informed me that when Buell inquired the force and condition of the Army of Tennessee, and was answered-showing fifteen thousand men, with the division of Lew Wallace, not engaged on Sunday-and Buell assured him that the Army of the Ohio would be ready to co-operate in an offensive movement on Monday, it was then and there determined to make a determined advance early on the morrow.
Monday morning, at six o'clock, the combined forces of Grant and Buell moved against the enemy. General Buell's fresh troops, with the division of Lew Wallace, not engaged on Sundav (why, may, perhaps, never be known), pressed the enemy at all points. Steadily the army of the Union regained our camps, and by noon a signal victory had been achieved. Beauregard withdrew his forces in good order, and pursuit was not continued beyond Shiloh church. Tuesday, the 8th,-.General Sherman determined to pursue. With two brigades from his own division, two from Buell's army (Generals Garfield and Wood), and two regiments of cavalry, he proceeded from Shiloh in the direction of Corinth. At the distance of a little over a mile, we came upon the advance camp of the enemy, on Saturday night. Everywhere along our line of march remains of the retreating army were noticed. Fresh graves were all around; the dead, dying, and wounded lay in tents, old houses, and upon the ground. We were marched to a point about four and a half miles from the church, when our videttes informed us the rebel cavalry were directly ahead, concealed in ravines, and behind a long row of tents. General Sherman ordered skirmishers thrown out, deploying companies A and B of my own regiment, when orders were given to the Seventy-seventh to support skirmishers. The regiment was led within fifty yards of the line of tents. The ground was an-old cotton-field, partly covered by fallen trees; hence the name of the engagement, "Fallen Tim ber." The field was skirted by heavy wood. Almost immediately the enemy's skirmishers opened tire, and the writer realized that he was an object of particular mark. A fierce yell filled the air, and the rebel cavalry came up from ravine and behind tents as thick as they could ride. I ordered the men to up and fire, which order had scarcely been executed when the entire line was ridden down, the men sabred and shot by a force ten times superior to our own. The dash was one of the boldest of the war, and the loss sustained over one-third of my command. The promptness of Colonel Hildebrand, in ordering up the other regiments of his brigade, I think saved the day, and the commanding general and staff from capture. An officer of his staff (McCoy) was ridden down, and, as General Sherman assured me, lie narrowly escaped. I regard this statement due the memory of a brave and meritorious officer.
The dead were buried on the spot; the wounded removed to camp; the rebel camp destroyed, with a large amount of property, and this was the last of the fighting at Shiloh. The losses sustained by both armies exceeded the frightful number of twenty-five thousand men. Four years after the battle, a writer, visiting Shiloh and Corinth, gave a hideous picture of the condition of things. He stated that twelve thousand Confederate soldiers lay unburied on the two fields 1 After the battle of Shiloh, General Grant ordered the dead of both armies to be buried. The inhumation, however, consisted of little more than a thin covering of earth, which the heavy rains have long since washed off, and the remains of brave men, who periled all for their country's sake, lie exposed to the elements. This fact is disgraceful to the government and the people, and sl-io-ald be remedied with the least possible delay. Instead of squandering means over idle parades, it should be our duty and pleasure to give the bleaching bones of our gallant dead the rites of decent burial. Regarding this as fitting opportunity, it is respectfully and earnestly requested that Congress adopt some measure for the preservation of the remains at Shiloh-that a cemetery be established, and graves properly marked; also, that the church at Shiloh be rebuilt as a national memorial!
As the church that was at Shiloh has passed into history, a brief description may not be uninteresting. It was a small, unpretending edifice, of hewn logs, and occupied the brow of a hill, with a commanding prospect. It was built in 1849 -50 by Rev. Jacob J. Wolff, a local minister of the Methodist Church. It was not a costly edifice; no massive architrave was there; no stained windows or carved lintels; but these were not essential to the simple-minded people who worshiped in it, and who worshiped before they had a church in the grand old woods, which we know 11 were God's lirst temples." The church at Shiloh had two doors and one window, which was without glass. Of pulpit and seats none were visible, as the Confederate General Cheatham had removed them for camp use previous to our occupancy. Before the battle the flooring boards -were being rapidly converted into coffins for Union soldiers. After the battle it was used as a hospital up to the time the army advanced on Corinth. A guard was placed over it so long as any portion of our camp was maintained; but no sooner had the guard been removed than the vandalism of curiosity-hunters utterly demolished the struture, and carried off the last remnant of a log.
Before closing I may be expected to answer one question: Was the army at Shiloh surprised? It has already been shown what was the condition of things on the 5th, and surely no one will say that the Third Brigade of Sherman's Division was surprised. The same may be said of the Fourth Brigade, and the principal officers of the Fifth Ohio Cavalry; but here exceptions cease. The whole of that army, with individual exceptions, in addition to those named, were surprised. There was a general feeling that an attack was imminent, but that it would come on Sunday morning, April 6th, few believed. As to where the responsibility and censure belong, is one of those open questions which may be difficult to settle. General Grant's biographer, Professor Coppe, discussing this point, says: "At the outset our troops were shamefully surprised." For want of these precautions (proper fortifications, etc.), continues the same biographer, "we were surprised, driven back from every point in three great movements of the enemy," etc. This is saying too much, and cannot be justified. Another point demands brief remark. How much had Buell to do with saving the honor of the nation at Shiloh? Certain facetious writers have asserted that "Providence, the gunboats, and Buell saved the day." In reply, we have to say that the first of these had much to do with the national honor, the second very little, and the third very considerable. But whether the day would have been lost without his timely co-operation; whether the Army of the Tennessee would have been able, as asserted by Sherman, to take the offensive on the morrow; whether the presence of Buell's fresh troops inspirited the shattered brigades of Grant, and dispirited those of Beauregard, are points to be well considered.
It is certainly in bad taste to charge the first day's operations at Shiloh a "Second Bull Run disaster," and that the commanding officers ought to have been "shot;" and it is alike to be condemned to deny credit to Buell's army for the gallant and timely aid afforded on Monday. Let justice be rendered where it belongs. Impartial history will accord to both armies their full credit. In my dispassionate judgment, no men could have done better than Grant's army did on Sunday. Veterans could not have withstood the solid lines and unbroken fire which girdled them throughout that long and terrible day. It is true there was disorder, and many brigades on the front, after hours of incessant fighting, did give way; but the men were not whipped-only disheartened. Some obloquy has been thrown on certain Ohio troops. This was both unjust and cruel. No men could have stood better against a wall of fire than those Western troops, fresh from the plough and the shop. The Confederate dead who lay over that field on Sunday night told how severe had been the fire, and dreadful the carnage, inflicted by the sturdy men of the West.
The charge that the officers were derelict is also unjust. That grave military errors were committed in the disposition of the camp, and the exercise of proper precaution, has been shown; but that they were remiss on the field is not true. General Grant, after reaching the field, was active, and his presence gave confidence. The division commanders were untiring in their efforts; General Sherman particularly distinguished himself, and by his presence and bravery greatly inspirited the men. McClernand, Hurlbut, and others did effective service. General Prentiss, who was captured with part of his division, contended bravery with an overpowering force before he succumbed. The brigade commanders displayed great courage, coolness and skill. The same may be said of regimental commanders, and down to the lowest noncommissioned officers.
If the army had not behaved well, where would it have been when darkness closed the scene? It has been assumed by those inimical to officers engaged at Shiloh, that the army was utterly demoralized. and routed from any definite line. This is untenable. Sherman's line of battle was never wholly destroyed. Sixteen years have elapsed since that day of carnage and disaster. Quietness reigns over the field then crimson by the best blood of the nation, and peace has been proclaimed throughout the land. Shiloh rests in its primitive solitude. May its maimed and riven forests never more be stirred by the breath of war, nor its peaceful sleepers be disturbed by the tread of contending hosts. The great battleground of the war, let it be erected into a holy, hallowed cemetery, where the heart of the nation can offer homage to the memory of her brave sons who gave up their lives that the nation might survive.
This page last updated 10/27/01
RETURN TO BATTLE OF SHILOH OFFICIAL RECORDS PAGE