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Chapter 18:

  • Fall of “Island no.10,” April fifth
  • -- battle of Shiloh, April sixth -- capture of guns -- General Albert Sidney Johnston killed -- the battle resumed at Daybreak -- the enemy are reenforced by Buell -- the Confederate army retreats -- great loss -- false reports of the Federal Generals.

Corinth, Miss., April 10th, 1862.
Dear Tom: In exchange for your last entertaining epistle, I send the following hurried scrawl. It would seem that the army of the West bids fair to rival that of Virginia. As you are doubtless aware, we have fought another great battle, in fact, two, which I consider are without parallel on this continent, and approach more closely to European conflicts than any thing which either you or I have participated in as yet. To give a plain statement of things, let me begin at the beginning and go through in proper order.

After the disastrous affair of Fort Donelson, Johnston reformed his army, and remained some short time at Murfreesboro, but subsequently fell back to Corinth to defend the Memphis and Charleston Railroad. Beauregard came on from Virginia and inspected Columbus. It was deemed inadvisable to defend that place; the works were blown up, and all the cannon and stores transferred to Island No.10, which it was thought might be converted into a little Gibraltar, and successfully beat back the enemy's flotillas on the Mississippi. The command was given to General Mackall; Beauregard was installed second in command at Corinth.1 What few troops we had were being [152] daily augmented by fresh arrivals from Pensacola, New-Orleans, and Columbus, so that in a few weeks we had quite a respectable army of about forty thousand men.

It was known that Buell's force, numbering forty thousand strong, were hurrying on from Kentucky to join Grant, who, with eighty thousand men, was about to cross the Tennessee, and drive us by degrees into the Gulf of Mexico, or elsewhere. He had already crossed the river, and was camped at a place rejoicing in some dozen houses, and having Shiloh for its name. Johnston gathered every man he could, and marched out to give battle. We camped within five miles of Shiloh on Saturday night, April fifth, and could plainly see the long line of camp-fires. Our cavalry had been closer for many days before our arrival, and were noticed by the enemy, but not molested. Early next morning, (Sunday,) and long before dawn, our line of battle was quietly formed, and as we had no camp-fires our presence was not known. Marching in three grand divisions, commanded respectively by Hardee,2 Polk, and Bragg, we approached nearer to the enemy's camps, deployed columns, and commenced the attack.

When about two miles distant from Shiloh, the enemy had [153] seen us, and a general alarm was raised, with some appearance of confusion on one part of their line, though Grant had been informed of our vicinity the night before. As we advanced, daylight began to appear, clouds of sharp-shooters fanned out in our front, and innumerable little puffs of smoke dotted the dark green landscape over which our lines were rapidly moving. Presently long curls of smoke from the wooded hillocks to our front were answered by screaming shells and loud reports, and artillery bugles were sounding up and down our line. We galloped to the front, and opened a brisk fire, while to the extreme right and left we could faintly hear pattering volleys of musketry. The sun now rose in true Southern brilliancy, and shortly became intensely warm. At all events, it so seemed to us of the artillery, for we pulled off coats and jackets, strapped them on to caissons, and rolling up our sleeves, began to “roll into” the Yankees with great gusto. Such a noise you never heard, and I am deaf even now; but feeling determined to pay off old Grant for our scrape at Donelson, our onset was fierce End dashing, and the continual command was: “Forward, boys, forward!” Sometimes we moved up a few hundred yards, unlimbered, and worked away awhile, then moved forward again, until at last we found ourselves blazing away among the tents of a Yankee division, having to withstand the fire of not less than twelve pieces, with only three out of our four guns, the other having been upset by a stray shell and rendered unserviceable. Our ammunition, too, was nearly exhausted, and as supplies were far to the rear, and our infantry were now rushing through the camp, we stopped firing, and retired to a patch of woods while the guns cooled.

About this time our brigadier passed by, and said hastily: “Hold on a while, boys, we are hard at it in front, and will find some better guns for you in a few moments.” In half an hour the musketry fire somewhat subsided, and orders came to unhitch teams, and select a set of guns from some twenty that had been captured. We did so, and claimed for our use four splendid brass fellows-two six-pound rifles, and two twelve-pound howitzers. Having found lots of ammunition, we were ordered in again, and went forward at a gallop, the newly-found horses being much superior to our old mules, and powerful in [154] harness. Thus re-equipped on the battle-field, we turned the enemy's guns upon them. It was now nearly eleven o'clock. Reports from different parts of the field represented Hardee and Polk as having driven the enemy pell-mell before them, capturing camp after camp, and immense supplies of all kinds. The continual change of scene — from the fields to the woods, and from camp to camp-and the incessant fighting, so confused the sense of time, that I could not believe it to be more than seven A. M. The heat, however, began to be very oppressive, and as we gradually became short-handed, officers dismounted and served the guns with right good-will.

We were no longer able to range over the field as before; our progress was checked. The enemy had collected in great force towards our front, and had several powerful batteries in full play against our further advance. Had we not been reenforced in time, our little battery would have been snuffed out; but Bragg, under whose care the artillery had been placed, sent ample succour, and the duel between us became hot and determined. I had noticed our infantry cautiously moving up through the woods on their flank, and orders came to cease firing. The enemy saw the danger and moved up their infantry. Suddenly, up sprang several of our regiments, and, with their customary yell, ran across the open ground and up the slope, without firing. Though dozens of them were knocked over by artillery every moment, they pressed forward, their colonels and colors in front, until, as they drew near the enemy's infantry, volley upon volley of musketry met them with a savage greeting; yet they gallantly carried the position.

The artillery fight lasted full half an hour, reenforcements went up rapidly, until at last the guns were silenced, a wild yell rent the air, and immediately the order came: “ Artillery to the front.” We moved forward with all possible speed, and passed the scene of the fierce engagement I have described and found not less than twelve guns deserted, as many more having been drawn off during the fight. The loss in infantry seemed large. The enemy had received an awful lesson, but fought to the last. Our opponents at this point were Western men, fellows of true grit, who fought like heroes, disputing every inch of ground with great determination and valor. We came to a place where Kentuckians and Mississippians had [155] encountered some Dutch regiments from Missouri and Ohioit was like a slaughter-house, and but few of our men were visible among the killed.

The fight was not over, however, by any means, as incessant musketry on our flanks fully proved. It seemed, from the line of fire, that our wings were outflanking the enemy, or that they had been fighting too fast for us in the centre. After a little breathing-time, we commenced the onward movement a third time-deserted camps being to the right, left, and on every side of us. The temptation of so much plunder led scores of our young troops to halt, on some excuse or other; and the result was, that hundreds were lost to their respective regiments, and hung behind for purposes of spoil. I was sorry to see this, and remonstrated with many; but their excuses were so natural and plausible that little could be said; the majority had not been from home more than a month, and having beaten the enemy in their immediate front, thought the game was all over for that day. Many were footsore; others famished; and not a few perfectly exhausted. But now the enemy had re-formed their line again, and had scarcely got into position, before their artillery opened on us with great fury. Their first shot killed several horses and smashed up an empty caisson. We changed position somewhat, and got within better range of our friends, whose horses and caissons were behind an old farm-house. We hammered away at the house and blew the roof off, knocked in the walls, and got a sight of the caissons. We did not much care about the guns, for they were firing very rapidly and wildly.

After a little manoeuvring, we pointed fairly at the caissons, and were about to fire. “ Hold on!” shouted our captain; “point at the guns until ordered — there As a little game on foot.” The “game” aforesaid was concocted by our captain and the colonel of our supports. The infantry were to creep up on all-fours, while we maintained a furious fire, and being concealed by the smoke, should wait until all our shot was concentrated on the caissons, when the infantry were to make a sudden rush, and secure the guns. The plan succeeded admirably: we suddenly opened fire upon the caissons, and blew most of them up; but before the guns could be removed, the [156] infantry were upon them, and desperately engaged with opposing regiments. The guns were ours, and proved to be of beautiful bronze, very elegant and costly.

The line of the enemy was temporarily broken, but fresh troops came pouring in, and ultimately forced us to retire ; yet in strengthening one part of their line, they weakened another, and, by a vigorous push, our infantry and artillery made a wide gap lower down to our left, and rushed through it like a torrent. The fighting now became very confused; different sections of the enemy's line wavered and broke, and were crowded into a very small space by large masses in their rear, which seemed undecided which way to go, or what to do. Of course our generals did not give them much time to consider, but poured in upon them, and drove them in confused masses towards the river. The fight was desperately maintained by the Western men, who fought like panthers; but it was of no avail; our admirable plan of battle was still maintained by the quickness and coolness of our several chiefs, among whom I would especially mention General (Bishop) Polk and old Bragg. The latter, of course, was ever with his beloved artillery, and seemed as cool as a cucumber, among thirty pieces blazing away like furies. Polk, however, had achieved a great success in capturing that arch-braggadocio Prentiss and his whole brigade — the same bombastic hero who, when in command at Cairo, “was going to play thunder” with us, as the boys termed it. But while all were in high spirits at our evident success, and at the prospect of soon driving the enemy into the Tennessee, couriers looking pale and sad passed by, reporting that Johnston had been killed while personally leading an attack on a powerful battery.3 This news wrought us all up to madness, and [157] without waiting for a word of command, all pushed forward and assailed the enemy with irresistible fury, driving them down to the edge of the river in utter confusion and disorder.

It was now about four o'clock, and Buell was reported as rapidly advancing to Grant's relief, but was yet several miles from the river's edge. From some cause I could never ascertain, a halt was sounded, and when the remnants of the enemy's divisions had stacked arms on the river's edge, preparatory to their surrender, no one stirred to finish the business by a coup de main. It was evidently “drown or surrender” with them, and they had prepared for the latter, until seeing our inactivity, their gunboats opened furiously, and, save a short cannonade, all subsided into quietness along our lines.

Night came on, and great confusion reigned among us. Thousands were out in quest of plunder; hundreds had escorted prisoners and wounded; scores were intoxicated with wines and liquors found; yet still the gunboats continued their bombardment; and Buell's4 forces arriving in haste, crossed the river and formed line of battle for the morrow. It could not be denied that we had gained a great victory-thousands of prisoners were in our hands, including many officers of all ranks; we had captured eighty pieces of cannon, enormous quantities of ammunition, and stores of every sort; many hundreds of tents, camp equipage, hundreds of horses and wagons, [158] much clothing, and eatables of every possible description, many standards, and, in fact, wagon-loads of every thing pertaining to the camps and commissariat of a superabundantly supplied enemy But where were our men? With the exception of a few thousands of well-disciplined troops under Bragg and others, our whole army was scattered abroad, as will generally be the case with young and raw troops, if not kept firmly in hand. Yet our outposts brought word hourly that large masses of the enemy were moving across our whole front, and it could not be doubted that ere the sun again rose, the whole of Buell's and Grant's forces combined would be hurled upon us.

Although Beauregard had committed a great mistake in not pushing the enemy to conclusions the day before, he exerted himself untiringly for the morrow. Stragglers were gathered, positions taken, and the greatest exertions made to secure the invaluable spoil of the battle-field. Every spare horse and wagon in the service was employed in the work, and property worth many millions was conveyed to the rear during night. The artillery were sorely taxed; their horses were occasionally used in transporting supplies during the night, and could scarcely get an hour's rest. Couriers and orderlies were dashing to and fro, inquiring for this or that General, who could not be found; despatch-bearers were looking for Beauregard and other chiefs; thousands of wounded were groaning around us; large fires were consuming every thing that could not be transported; and so it continued till midnight. Wearied beyond all expression, I lay down on bundles of straw, with my feet to the fire, and soon was fast asleep.

I know not how long I had slept, but it seemed that in my dreams I heard constant picket-firing, mingled with which were hurried voices and the clanking of chains. Arousing myself, I found that our battery was about to move off, and that another battle was inevitable. It was not yet twilight, but our men were moving to and fro, and all seemed inspired with new life and confidence. Everywhere large fires indicated the destruction of Federal property, which plainly showed that Beauregard did not consider himself strong enough to hold the ground any longer.

At dawn picket-firing increased rapidly; and in an hour [159] after sunrise we fired our first shot. The shattered regiments and brigades collected by Grant gave ground before our men, and every one thought that victory would crown our efforts a second time; but after we had wasted our newly acquired strength on the dispirited battalions of Grant, Buell poured in his fresh troops, and the fight became terrible again. In some places we drove them by unexampled feats of valor, but sheer exhaustion was hourly telling upon both man and beast. Until noon we retained the ground heroically, but it became evident every moment that numbers and strength would ultimately prevail, so that although we had gained every thing up to this hour, a retreat was ordered.

Beauregard had prepared all the roads for this movement: there was no hurry or confusion, but every thing was conducted as if in review. We slowly fell back, leaving little of consequence behind, General Breckinridge and his Kentuckians bringing up the rear. We thus in an orderly manner fell back about two miles, and obtaining a favorable position for our small force, re-formed line of battle, and waited several hours. The enemy did not stir; they seemed content to hold the field and not pursue,--and did not move five hundred yards from their original position of the morning. General John Pope, of Kentucky, was intrusted with the duty of following us up, but acted very cautiously and fearfully, contenting himself with capturing two or three hundred exhausted and footsore Tennesseeans, who lay down by the roadside. From personal observation and conversation with those who should know, I think that our total loss would approximate to about six or seven thousand killed, wounded, and missing: the enemy confess to twice that total among themselves. We lost but little equipage and no guns; but, as I have said, have dozens of fine pieces as trophies, and an awful amount of baggage.

Yours always, ...
N. B.-I see that Pope claims to have captured not less than ten thousand prisoners, and other prizes in proportion! So says his despatch to Halleck. Truly these Federal Generals are a voracious and veracious race of knaves. Beauregard says he had not more than twenty thousand men in line in the fight on [160] Monday, and I know that Johnston could not muster twice that number when the fight opened on Sunday! Pope adds in his despatch to the good folks at Washington: “ As yet I have seen nothing but the “backs” of the rebels!” If he lives long enough, I pledge my existence he will see more in our faces than he'll find time to stay and admire. Write soon.

Yours, again, ...

1 Beauregard had strongly fortified this island, and it successfully withstood a fifteen days bombardment from a heavy fleet: Being called to superintend operations at a distant point on the mainland, in Mississippi, the command was given to Major-General Mackall, on the third of April, and, two days later, it was captured by the combined land and naval forces of the North, under command of General Pope and Commodore Foote. A large canal, twelve miles long, was dug across a peninsula formed by the winding of the river round the mainland, and thus the island was taken in the rear. The loss to us was a painful one, and quite unlooked for-we expected an engagement there, but its capture was neatly accomplished without it. The enemy captured Mackall himself, two brigadiers, six colonels, six thousand stand of arms, five thousand rank and file, one hundred pieces of siege artillery, thirty pieces of field artillery, fifty-six thousand solid shot, six steam transports, two gunboats, one floating battery, etc., etc. Did not Beauregard know of the canal being dug before he left? Many think so.--I

2 Major-General William J. Hardee was brevet Lieutenant-Colonel Second Cavalry, in the old service, and for a long time commandant of cadets and instructor in artillery, cavalry, and infantry tactics, at West-Point, New-York. His famous work on Tactics is the approved text-book, both North and South, and has proved of incalculable benefit to us; for when war commenced, it was our only resource for instruction, and is now in the hands of every one. It was compiled at the desire of, and approved by, President Davis, when Minister of War under President Pierce, being made up of adaptations from the French and English manuals. General Hardee was for a long time on the Southern coast, superintending fortifications, but was appointed to organize and command a brigade in South-Eastern Missouri. After the battle of Lexington, (September, 1861,) he was withdrawn from that State, and sent to reenforce the command of Sidney Johnston, in Tennessee. At Shiloh our line of battle marched in three divisions, Hardee commanding the first; and by his rapid, skilful movements, contributing much to the rout of Grant and his large army at that place. He has proved himself an excellent leader and fierce fighter, but is said not to possess much genius for “planning” a campaign.

3 Major-General Albert Sidney Johnston was a Kentuckian, and about sixty years of age; tall, commanding, and grave. He was a graduate of West-Point in 1820, and appointed lieutenant of Sixth Infantry. He served in the Black Hawk (Indian) war, and left the army. He migrated to Texas, and was soon appointed Commander-in-Chief of the State forces; commanded a regiment of Texans in the Mexican war, and was appointed major and paymaster of the United States army; soon after promoted to Colonel of Second United States Cavalry; and, in 1857, was sent as Commander-in-Chief of United States forces against the Mormons. He was in California when the South seceded; and although Lincoln's spies dogged his footsteps, he managed to escape, and by passing rapidly through the South-western Territories in disguise, arrived safely at Richmond, and was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the West. President Davis, in answer to those who said Johnston was “too slow,” remarked: “If he is not a general, there is not one among us!” Such praise, from such a man, speaks volumes for Johnston's true merit. He was of Scotch descent, and very much beloved in military circles. His early death was a great blow to the South. It is much to be regretted that our Southern generals persist in rushing to the front, for their example is not required to stimulate the men: rather, our soldiers require to be held in check.

4 Major-General Don Carlos Buell is from the State of Ohio, and, previous to this present war, was Captain, Assistant Adjutant-General at Washington. He served during the Mexican campaign, and with distinction, having been twice breveted for gallantry. He was always looked upon as a quiet, methodical, and “safe” officer; and when McClellan selected leaders from the “regular” service for the volunteers on General Scott's retirement, Captain Buell was appointed Brigadier-General in Kentucky, and soon after rose to the rank of Major-General. His deportment is gentle and soldierly; he thoroughly understands his business, and despises that coarse vulgarity so common among Federal leaders of the present day.

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