previous next

[604]

Surprise and withdrawal at Shiloh.

S. H. Lockett, Colonel, C. S. A. (At Shiloh General Bragg's Chief Engineer).
At the time of the battle of Shiloh I was on General Bragg's staff as his chief engineer, with the rank of captain. On the night of April 5th I accompanied him to General Johnston's headquarters, where the last council of war was held. I was not present at the meeting of the generals, but with a number of other staff-officers remained near by. We could hear the low, earnest discussion of our superiors, but could not distinguish the words spoken.

When the council closed, and General Bragg started to his own bivouac, I joined him, and received the following instructions: That as the attack would be made at daylight, the next morning at 4 o'clock I should proceed to the front along the Bark road, with Lieutenant Steel, of the engineers, and a squad of cavalry, until I came to the enemy's camp; that I should very carefully and cautiously reconnoiter the camp from where I struck it toward the enemy's left flank; that I should by no means allow any firing by my little force, or do anything to attract attention; that my duty was to get all the information possible about the enemy's position and condition, and send it back by couriers from point to point, as my judgment should suggest. Those orders I carried out the next morning. Lieutenant S. M. Steel, now Major Steel, of Nashville, Tenn., had been a civil engineer and surveyor in that section of the country, had already made several daring and valuable reconnoissances of the Federal camps, and knew the country thoroughly. He was a splendid scout, and as brave a man as ever lived. Under his skillful guidance I reached in safety a point which he said was not more than a few hundred yards from the Federal camps. Here our cavalry escort and our own horses were left, and we two, leaving the road, passed down a narrow valley or gorge, got beyond the Federal pickets, and came within a few rods of a sleepy camp sentinel leaning against a tree. In front of us was a large camp as still and silent as the grave; no signs of life except a few smoldering fires of the last night's supper. Noting these facts and without disturbing the man at the tree, we returned to our cavalry squad, and I dispatched a courier to General Bragg with a note telling what I had seen. We then moved by our right flank through the woods, from a quarter to half a mile, and repeated our former manoeuvre. This time we found the cooks of the camp astir preparing breakfast. While we were watching the process reveille was sounded, and I saw one or two regiments form by companies, answer to roll-call, and then disperse to their tents. Once more I returned to my cavalry and dispatched a courier.

A third time I made a descent from the hills, down a narrow hollow, still farther to our right, and saw Federal soldiers cleaning their guns and accouterments and getting ready for Sunday morning inspection. By this time firing had begun on our left, and I could see that it caused some commotion in the camps, but it was evident that it was not understood. Soon the firing became more rapid and clearer and closer, and I saw officers begin to stir out of their tents, evidently anxious to find out what it all meant. Then couriers began to arrive, and there was great bustle and confusion; the long roll was beaten; there was rapid falling in, and the whole party in front of me was so thoroughly awake and alarmed that I thought my safest course was to retreat while I could and send another courier to the rear.

How long all this took I cannot now recall, but perhaps not more than an hour and a half or two hours. When I reached my cavalry squad I knew that the battle had opened in earnest, but I determined to have one more look at the Federal position, and moved once more to the right. Without getting as near as our former positions, I had a good view of another camp with a line of soldiers formed in front of it. Meantime the Confederate troops had moved on down the hills, and I could plainly see from the firing that there was hot and heavy work on my left and in advance of my present position. I then began to fear that the division in front of me would swing around and take our forces in flank, as it was manifest that the Federal line extended farther in that direction than ours. I therefore disposed my little cavalry force as skirmishers, and sent a courier with a sketch of the ground to General Bragg, and urged the importance of having our right flank protected. How long I waited and watched at this point it is hard to say. Finally, becoming very uneasy at the state of affairs, I left Lieutenant Steel with the cavalry and rode to the left myself to make a personal report. In this ride I passed right down the line of battle of the Confederate forces, and saw some splendid duels both of artillery and infantry. Finally, as I have always thought about 11 o'clock, I came to General A. S. Johnston and his staff standing on the brow of a hill watching the conflict in their front. I rode up to General Johnston, saluted him, and said I wished to make a report of the state of affairs on our extreme right. He said he had received that report and a sketch from Captain Lockett, of the engineers. I told him I was Captain Lockett. He replied, “Well, sir, tell me as briefly and quickly as possible what you have to say.” When my report was finished he said, “That is what I gathered from your note and sketch, and I have already ordered General Breckinridge to send forces to fill up the space on our right. Ride back, sir, toward the right, and you will probably meet General Breckinridge; lead him to the position you indicate, and tell him [605] to drive the enemy he may find in his front into the river. He needs no further orders.” The words are, as near as I can remember them, exactly the ones General Johnston used. I obeyed the order given, met General Breckinridge, conducted him to the place where I had left my cavalry, but found both them and the Federal division gone. I rode with General Breckinridge a few hundred yards forward, and we soon received a volley which let us know that the Federal forces had retired but a very short distance from their original position. General Breckinridge deployed Bowen's and Statham's brigades, moved them forward, and soon engaged the Federal forces. I bade the General good-day and good luck, and once more rode down the line of battle until I found General Bragg. With him I remained, excepting when carrying orders and making reconnoissances, until the close of the first day's fight.

I witnessed the various bloody and unsuccessful attacks on the “Hornets' Nest.” During one of the dreadful repulses of our forces, General Bragg directed me to ride forward to the central regiment of a brigade of troops that was recoiling across an open field, to take its colors and carry them forward. “The flag must not go back again,” he said. Obeying the order, I dashed through the line of battle, seized the colors from the color-bearer, and said to him, “General Bragg says these colors must not go to the rear.” While I was talking to him the color-sergeant was shot down. A moment or two afterward I was almost alone on horseback in the open field between the two lines of battle. An officer came up to me with a bullet-hole in each cheek, the blood streaming from his mouth, and asked, “What are you doing with my colors, sir?” “I am obeying General Bragg's orders, sir, to hold them where they are,” was my reply. “Let me have them,” he said. “If any man but my color-bearer carries these colors, I am the man. Tell General Bragg I will see that these colors are in the right place. But he must attack this position in flank; we can never carry it alone from the front.” It was Colonel H. W. Allen, afterward Governor Allen of Louisiana. I returned, miraculously preserved, to General Bragg, and reported Colonel Allen's words. I then carried an order to the same troops, giving the order, I think, to General Gibson, to fall back to the fence in the rear and reorganize. This was done, and then General Bragg dispatched me to the right, and Colonel Frank Gardner (afterward Major-General) to the left, to inform the brigade and division commanders on either side that a combined movement would be made on the front and flanks of that position. The movements were made, and Prentiss was captured.

As Colonel William Preston Johnston says, that capture was a dear triumph to us — dear for the many soldiers we had lost in the first fruitless attacks, but still dearer on account of the valuable time it cost us. The time consumed in gathering Prentiss's command together, in taking their arms, in marching them to the rear, was inestimably valuable. Not only that; the news of the capture spread, and grew as it spread; many soldiers and officers believed we had captured the bulk of the Federal army, and hundreds left their positions and came to see the “captured Yanks.” But after a while the Confederates were gotten into ranks, and a perfect line of battle was formed, with our left wing resting on Owl Creek and our right on the Tennessee River. General Polk was on the left, then Bragg, then Hardee, then Breckinridge. In our front only one single point was showing fight, a hill crowned with artillery. I was with General Bragg, and rode with him along the front of his corps. I heard him say over and over again, “One more charge, my men, and we shall capture them all.” While this was going on a staff-officer (or rather, I think, it was one of the detailed clerks of General Beauregard's headquarters, for he wore no uniform) came up to General Bragg, and said, “The General directs that the pursuit be stopped; the victory is sufficiently complete; it is needless to expose our men to the fire of the gun-boats.” General Bragg said, “My God, was a victory ever sufficiently complete?” and added, “Have you given that order to any one else?” “Yes, sir,” was the reply, “to General Polk, on your left; and if you will look to the left, you will see that the order is being obeyed.” General Bragg looked, and said, “My God, my God, it is too late!” and turning to me, he said, “Captain, carry that order to the troops on the right” ; and to Captain Frank Parker, “You carry it to the left.” In a short time the troops were all falling back-and the victory was lost. Captain Parker and myself were the only members of General Bragg's staff who were with him at that time. Captain Parker, I think, is still living in South Carolina, and will surely remember all that I have narrated.

In this hasty sketch I have intentionally omitted everything but the beginning and end of that day's operations, to throw what light I can upon the two great points of dispute: Was the Federal army surprised by our attack? and whose fault was it that the victory was not sufficiently complete on the first day?

In regard to the second day's fight, I will touch upon but one point. I, as a great many other staff-officers, was principally occupied in the early hours of the second day in gathering together our scattered men and getting them into some sort of manageable organization. In this duty I collected and organized a body of men about a thousand strong. They were composed of men of at least a half-dozen different regiments. The 7th Kentucky, with a tattered flag, and the 9th Arkansas were the most numerously represented. We had not one single field-officer in the command. When I reported to General Beauregard that I had the troops divided into companies, had assigned a captain to duty as lieutenant-colonel and a first lieutenant as major, he himself put me in command of them as colonel. In order that my command might have a name, I dubbed it the “Beauregard regiment,”--a name that was received with three rousing cheers. Not long after my regiment was thus officered and christened, a message came from General Breckinridge on our [606] extreme right that he was hard pressed, and needed reinforcements. My regiment, which was at the time just behind General Beauregard, held in reserve by his orders, was sent by him to General Breckinridge's assistance. We marched down the line of battle to the extreme right, passed beyond General Breckinridge's right, wheeled by companies into line of battle, and went in with the “rebel yell.” The men on our left took up the yell and the charge, and we gained several hundred yards of ground. From this point we fought back slowly and steadily for several hours, until word came that the army was ordered to retreat, that the commands would fall back in succession from the left, and that the right wing would be the rear-guard. This order was carried out, and when night came the right wing was slowly falling back with face to the foe. We halted on the same ground we had occupied on the morning of the 6th, just before the battle began. If there was any “breaking” and “starting,” as General Grant expresses it, I did not witness it.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
April 5th (1)
6th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: