Shiloh: the first grand battle
The plucky little wooden gunboat “Tyler” --its flanking fire on the Confederate troops charging across the ravine of Dill's Branch, close by the river, greatly assisted Hurlbut, Commander of the Federal, left, in holding off Withers' gallant attack |
The defenders of Grant's last line at Shiloh: guns that held their ground at Pittsburg Landing
These heavy guns when this picture was taken had not been moved from the actual position they held in the afternoon of the battle of Shiloh, April 6, 1862.
In one of the backward movements of Grant's forces in the afternoon of that day General Prentiss, isolated by the retirement of troops in his flanks, fought till overwhelmed by the Confederates, then surrendered the remnant of his division.
Encouraged by this success General Bragg ordered a last desperate charge in an effort to turn the left of the re-formed Federal line.
Onward swept the Confederates toward a grim line of batteries, which Colonel Webster, of Grant's staff, had ranged along the top of the bluff from a quarter to a half a mile from Pittsburg Landing.
The line of artillery overlooked a deep ravine opening into the Tennessee River.
Into this and up its precipitous side General Withers dashed with two brigades.
The gunboats Tyler and Lexington in the river joined with Webster's batteries upon the ridge and a frightful fire was poured into the ranks of the advancing Confederates.
In the face of this, although finding himself unsupported save by Gage's battery, Withers led on his men. The division that he had expected to reenforce him had been withdrawn by the order of General Beauregard.
To his men working their way up the slope came the order to retire.
General Chalmers, of Withers Division, did not get the word.
Down in the ravine his men alone of the whole Confederate army were continuing the battle.
Only after nightfall did he retire. |
No Confederate who fought at Shiloh has ever said that he found any point on that bloody field easy to assail.
Colonel William Preston Johnston (Son of the Confederate General, Albert Sidney Johnston, killed at Shiloh).
In the history of America
many battles had been fought, but the greatest of them were skirmishes compared with the gigantic conflicts of the Old World under Marlborough
On the field of Shiloh
, for the first time, two great American armies were to engage in a mighty struggle that would measure up to the most important in the annals of Europe
And the pity of it was that the contestants were brethren of the same household, not hereditary and unrelenting enemies.
At Fort Donelson
the western South
was not slain — it was only wounded.
The chief commander
of that part of the country, Albert Sidney Johnston
, determined to concentrate the scattered forces and to make a desperate effort to retrieve the disaster of Donelson
He had abandoned Bowling Green
, had given up Nashville
, and now decided to collect his troops at Corinth, Mississippi
Next in command to Johnston
was General Beauregard
who fought at Bull Run
, and who had come from Virginia
to aid Johnston
There also came Braxton Bragg
, whose name had become famous through the laconic expression, “A little more grape, Captain Bragg
,” uttered by Zachary Taylor
at Buena Vista
; Leonidas Polk
who, though a graduate of West Point
, had entered the church and for twenty years before the war had been Episcopal bishop of Louisiana
, and John C. Breckinridge
, former Vice President
of the United States
The legions of the South
were gathered at Corinth
until, by the 1st of April, 1862, they numbered forty thousand.
General A. S. Johnston, C. S. A.
A brilliant Southern leader, whose early loss was a hard blow to the Confederacy.
Albert Sidney Johnston was a born fighter with a natural genius for war. A West Pointer of the Class of 1826, he had led a strenuous and adventurous life.
In the early Indian wars, in the border conflicts in Texas, and in the advance into Mexico.
he had always proved his worth, his bravery and his knowledge as a soldier.
At the outbreak of the Civil War he had already been brevetted Brigadier-General, and had been commander of the military district of Utah.
An ardent Southerner, he made his choice, dictated by heart and conscience, and the Federal authorities knew the loss they would sustain and the gain that would be given to the cause of the Confederacy.
In 1861 he was assigned to a district including Kentucky and Tennessee with the rank of General.
At once he displayed his gifts as an organizer, but Shiloh cut short a career that would have led him to a high place in fame and history.
The early Confederate successes of the 6th of April were due to his leadership.
His manner of death and his way of meeting it attested to his bravery.
Struck by a minie ball, he kept in the saddle, falling exhausted and dying from the loss of blood.
His death put the whole South into mourning. |
Camp of the Ninth Mississippi: the story of this regiment is told on page 201. |
Brig.-Gen. J. D. Webster
To no one who was close to him in the stirring scenes of the early conflict in the West did Grant pay higher tribute than to this veteran of the Mexican War who was his Chief of Staff.
He was a man to be relied upon in counsel and in emergency, a fact that the coming leader recognized from the very outset.
An artillery officer and engineer, his military training and practical experience made him a most valuable executive.
He had also the gift of leading men and inspiring confidence.
Always cool and collected in the face of danger, and gifted with a personality that won friends everywhere, the reports of all of his superiors show the trust and confidence that were reposed in him. In April, 1861, he had taken charge of the fortifications at Cairo, Illinois.
He was with Grant at Paducah, at Forts Henry and Donelson, and at Shiloh where he collected the artillery near the Landing that repelled the final Confederate attack on April 6th.
He remained Chief of Staff until October, 1862.
On October 14th, he was made a Brigadier-General of Volunteers, and was appointed superintendent of military railroads in the Department of Tennessee.
Later he was Chief of Staff to General Sherman, and again proved his worth when he was with General Thomas at Hood's defeat before Nashville in December, 1864.
On March 13, 1865, he received the brevet of Major-General of Volunteers. |
Meantime, the Union
army had moved southward and was concentrating at Pittsburg Landing
, on the Tennessee River
, an obscure stopping place for boats in southern Tennessee
, and some twenty miles northeast from Corinth
The name means more now than merely a landing place for river craft.
It was clear that two mighty, hostile forces were drawing together and that ere long there would be a battle of tremendous proportions, such as this Western hemisphere had not then known.
had no idea that the Confederates
would meet him at Pittsburg Landing
He believed that they would wait for an attack on their entrenchments at Corinth
The position his army occupied at the Landing
was a kind of quadrilateral, enclosed on three sides by the river and several small streams that flow into it. As the early days of April passed there were ominous rumors of the coming storm; but Grant
was so sure that Johnston
would not attack that he spent the night of the 5th of April at Savannah
, some miles down the Tennessee River
It was Saturday night. For two weeks the Union
troops had occupied the undulating tableland that stretched away from the river at the Landing
There was the sound of the plashing streams overflowing from recent rains, there were revelry and mirth around the thousand camp-fires; but there was no sound to give warning of the coming of forty thousand men, who had for two days been drawing nearer with a steady tread, and during this night were deploying around the Union
camp, only a mile away.
There was nothing to indicate that the inevitable clash of arms was but a few hours in the future.
At the dawn of day on Sunday, April 6th, magnificent battle-lines, under the Confederate
battle-flag, emerged from the woods on the neighboring hills within gunshot of the Federal
Whether the Union
army was really surprised has been the subject of long controversy, which we need not
Brave southerners at Shiloh
In the Southern record of the battle of Shiloh, the name of the Washington Artillery, of New Orleans, stands out in red letters.
It was composed of the best blood of the city, the dandies of their day. Here we see the officers of the Fifth Company, in the first year of the war while uniforms were bright, sword-belts pipe-clayed, and buttons glistening.
Under the command of Captain W. Irving Hodgson, this company made its name from the very first. |
Southern boys in battle
Here we see plainly shown the extreme youth of some of the enlisted men of the Washington Artillery of New Orleans.
Not one of the lads here pictured is within a year of his majority.
We hardly realize how young the fighters on both sides were; only their faces and the records can show it. At Shiloh, with Anderson's brigade of brave fighters, these young cannoneers answered to the call.
Anderson was first in the second line of battle at the beginning.
Before the action was twenty minutes old he was at the front; and with the advance, galloping over the rough ground, came the Washington Artillery. |
Certain it is that it was unprepared, and in consequence it fought on the defensive and at a disadvantage throughout the day.
's corps, forming the first line of battle, moved against the outlying division of the Union
army, which was commanded by General Benjamin Prentiss
, of West Virginia
could form his lines Hardee
's shells began bursting around him, but he was soon ready and, though pressed back for half a mile in the next two or three hours, his men fought like heroes.
Meanwhile the further Confederate advance under Bragg
, and Breckinridge
was extending all along the line in front of the Federal
The second Federal force to encounter the fury of the oncoming foe was the division of General W. T. Sherman
, which was cut to pieces and disorganized, but only after it had inflicted frightful loss on the Confederate army.
, as we have noted, spent the night at Savannah
, a town nine miles by way of the river from Pittsburg Landing
As he sat at breakfast, he heard the distant boom of cannon and he quickly realized that Johnston
's army had attacked his own at the Landing
Instantly he took a boat and started for the scene of the conflict.
At Crump's Landing, about half way between the two, General Lew Wallace
was stationed with a division of seven thousand men. As Grant
passed Crump's Landing, he met Wallace
and ordered him to be ready for instant marching when he was called for. When Grant
arrived at Pittsburg Landing
, about eight o'clock in the morning, he found a tremendous battle raging, and he spent the day riding from one division commander to another, giving directions and cheering them on as best he could.
About two and a half miles from the Landing
stood a little log church among the trees, in which for years the simple folk of the countryside had been wont to gather for worship every Sunday morning. But on this fateful Sunday, the demon of war reigned supreme.
The little church was known
Ununiformed but fearless Southern soldiers
A photograph of the Ninth Mississippi taken a few months before it fought at Shiloh.
In this military line of coatless men we see as brave a fighting unit as ever, with all the glitter and panoply of war, swept into the tide of battle.
Here they stand, ununiformed but fearless.
Attached to Chalmers' Brigade on the extreme right at the opening of Shiloh these soldiers were commanded by Lieut.-Col. William A. Rankin.
They dashed forward in the fierce attack that caused the surrender of Prentiss' division.
General Chalmers wrote of the bravery of these Mississippians when attacked in turn next day. “As a last resort, I seized a battle-flag from the color-bearer of the Ninth Mississippi and called them to follow.
With a wild shout the whole regiment rallied to the charge, and we drove the enemy back and reoccupied our first position of the morning, which we held until the order of retreat was received.”
Bragg reported: “Brigadier-General James Chalmers, at the head of the gallant Mississippians, filled — he could not have exceeded — the measure of my expectations.”
to all the country around, and it gave its name to the great battle that raged near it on that memorable day.
had borne the first onset of the morning.
He had been pressed back half a mile.
But about nine o'clock, after being reenforced, he made a stand on a wooded spot with a dense undergrowth, and here he held his ground for eight long hours, until five in the afternoon, when he and a large portion of his division were surrounded and compelled to surrender.
Time after time the Confederates
rushed upon his position, but only to be repulsed with fearful slaughter.
This spot came to be known as the “Hornet's Nest
It was not far from here that the Confederates
suffered the irreparable loss of the day. Their noble commander, Albert Sidney Johnston
, received his death wound as he was urging his troops to force back Hurlbut
's men. He was riding in the center of the fight, cheering his men, when a minie ball cut an artery of his thigh.
The wound was not necessarily fatal.
A surgeon could easily have saved him. But he thought only of victory and continued in the saddle, raising his voice in encouragement above the din of battle.
Presently his voice became faint, a deadly pallor blanched his cheek.
He was lifted from his horse, but it was too late.
In a few minutes the great commander was dead, from loss of blood.
The death of Johnston
, in the belief of many, changed the result at Shiloh
and prevented the utter rout or capture of Grant
One of Johnston
's subordinates wrote: “Johnston
's death was a tremendous catastrophe.
Sometimes the hopes of millions of people depend upon one head and one arm. The West
perished with Albert Sidney Johnston
and the Southern
afterward declared that “the fortunes of a country hung by a single thread on the life that was yielded on the field of Shiloh
succeeded to the command on the fall of Johnston
and the carnage continued all the day — till darkness was falling over the valleys and the hills.
The final charge
The boats that turned the tide at Shiloh photographed a few days after the battle
The assistance rendered by these Tennessee River boats that had been pressed from their peaceful occupations into the service of the army, was of such immense importance as to become a great factor in the turning of the battle tide that saved the Federal cause.
General Grant's headquarters in the early morning of April 6th was some miles from where the fight began.
It was at Savannah, on the Tennessee, and as soon as the cannonade announced the opening of the battle, Grant transferred his headquarters to the Tigress, which lies between the other vessels in the photograph.
The steamer on the right is the Universe, the largest of the transports present.
At one o'clock General Buell, pushing ahead of his troops, reached the river bank, and the two leaders held a conference on the upper deck of the Tigress. It was touch and go whether the troops fighting in the forest, beyond the landing, could hold their ground.
The Confederate General Johnston, in forming his plans, had intended to leave an opening that would tempt the hard-pressed Federal army to retreat down the river.
But, instead, they massed solidly back on Pittsburg Landing, huddled together so closely that brigades, and even regiments, were overlapping.
As soon as Buell's hastening troops came up, the transports were turned into ferry-boats, and all night long they plied across the river loaded within an inch of their gunwales with the reenforcements.
Later, as the picture shows, they brought supplies.|
of the evening was made by three Confederate brigades close to the Landing
, in the hope of gaining that important point.
But by means of a battery of many guns on the bluff of Dill's Branch
, aided by the gunboats in the river, the charge was repulsed.
then gave orders to desist from further attack all along his lines, to suspend operations till morning.
When General Bragg
heard this he was furious with rage.
He had counted on making an immediate grand assault in the darkness, believing that he could capture a large part of the Federal
When the messenger informed him of Beauregard
's order, he inquired if he had already delivered it to the other commanders.
“Yes,” was the reply.
“If you had not,” rejoined the angry Bragg
, “I would not obey it. The battle is lost.”
's fears were not shared by his compatriots.
Further mention is due the two little wooden gunboats, Tyler
, for their share in the great fight.
had lain all day opposite the mouth of Dill's Branch
which flowed through a deep, marshy ravine, into the Tennessee
just above the Landing
Her commander, Lieutenant Gwin
, was eager for a part in the battle, and when he saw the Confederate
right pushing its way toward the Landing
, he received permission to open fire.
For an hour his guns increased the difficulties of Jackson
's and Chalmers
' brigades as they made their way to the surrounding of Prentiss
Later on the Lexington
joined her sister, and the two vessels gave valuable support to the Union
cannon at the edge of the ravine and to Hurlbut
's troops until the contest ended.
All that night, in the downpour of rain, Lieutenant Gwin
, at the request of General Nelson
, sent shot crashing through the trees in the direction where the Confederates
This completely broke the rest of the exhausted troops, and had a decided effect upon the next day's result.
Southern hopes were high at the close of this first bloody day at Shiloh
Whatever of victory there was at the end of the
day belonged to the Confederates
They had pressed the Federals
back more than a mile and now occupied their ground and tents of the night before.
They had captured General Prentiss
with some thousands of his men as a result of his brave stand at the “Hornet's Nest
But their hopes were mingled with grave fears.
General Van Dorn
with an army of twenty thousand men was hastening from Arkansas
to join the Confederate forces at Shiloh
; but the roads were bad and he was yet far away.
On the other hand, Buell
was coming from Nashville
to join Grant
Should he arrive during the night, the contest of the next day would be unequal and the Confederates
would risk losing all that they had gained.
's army, with its long, muddy march from Corinth
and its more than twelve hours continuous fighting, was worn and weary almost to exhaustion.
The Union army was stunned and bleeding, but not disabled, at the close of the first day's battle.
Caught unawares, the men had made a noble stand.
Though pressed back from their position and obliged to huddle for the night around the Landing
, while thousands of their comrades had fallen on the gory field, they had hopes of heavy reenforcements during the night.
And, indeed, early in the evening the cry ran along the Union
lines that Buell
's army had come.
The advance guard had arrived late in the afternoon and had assisted Hurlbut
in the closing scene on the bluff of Dill
's ravine; others continued to pour in during the night.
And, furthermore, General Lew Wallace
's division, though it had taken a wrong road from Crump's Landing and had not reached the field in time for the fighting of the 6th, now at last had arrived.
had brought with them twenty-five thousand fresh troops to be hurled on the Confederates
on the morning of the 7th.
But Van Dorn
had not come.
The preponderance of numbers now was with the Union
Everyone knew that the battle was not over, that the issue
A gallant regiment from the Hoosier state
To the Ninth Indiana belongs the banner record, on the Federal side, at bloody Shiloh.
It seldom happens to any unit of a fighting force, while still engaged in action, to receive words of thanks and congratulation while still on the firing-line.
Flags have been decorated with the medal of honor, individuals have been so rewarded for deeds of bravery and prowess, but to the Ninth Regiment from the Hoosier State fell the unique honor of having the word “well done” given them under fire.
General Nelson, on April 7th, rode up and thanked them, and well was it deserved, for they saved the flank of Hazen's brigade by stubborn bravery that has hardly ever been equaled.
Posted on the line of a rail fence that offered little or no protection, they held their ground against a force that outnumbered them two to one--able and determined fighters, too, who charged time and again up to the muzzles of their rifles, only to be beaten back by the steady and continuous volleys.
Colonel William B. Hazen, in command of the Nineteenth Brigade, two or three times found himself so fiercely assailed that it looked as if the flank would be crumbled in, but the Ninth was there.
And when the cost was footed up, it made a sad but gallant showing.
The Ninth had suffered the heaviest loss in numbers of any regiment in the Army of the Ohio at that battle.
The percentage of officers killed and wounded left many vacancies for promotion; no less than eight positions there were to fill in the depleted companies.
And along that thin rail fence, in the battle, one hundred and seventy men had been killed or wounded.
The Fourth Division, which General Nelson commanded, points with pride to the scroll of Hazen's Nineteenth Brigade, and first on the list stands the never faltering Ninth.
In November it was transferred to the Second Brigade of the Second Division, Fourteenth Corps, Army of the Cumberland, and at Stone's River it lost one hundred and nine men, all told.|
must be decided on the coming day, and the weary thousands of both sides sank down on the ground in a drenching rain to get a little rest and to gain a little strength for the desperate struggle that was sure to come on the morrow.
Ten thousand stragglers from the Union
army were crouching along the banks of the Tennessee
Like the men at Bull Run
, this was their first battle, and they had not the courage to endure the rain of bullets about their ears; but unlike the soldiers at Bull Run
, they had fled at the beginning, not at the end, of the day's fighting.
At the break of day on Monday, April 7th, all was astir in both camps on the field of Shiloh
, and the dawn was greeted with the roar of cannon.
The troops that Grant
now advanced into the contest were all, except about ten thousand, the fresh recruits that Wallace
had brought, while the Confederates
had not a single company that had not been on the ground the day before.
There is every reason to believe that Beauregard
would have won a signal victory if neither army had been reenforced during the night.
But now under the changed conditions the Confederates
were at a great disadvantage, and yet they fought for eight long hours with heroic valor.
The deafening roar of the cannon that characterized the beginning of the day's battle was followed by the rattle of musketry, so continuous that no ear could distinguish one shot from another.
's division of Buell
's army was the first to engage the Confederates
commanded the Federal
left wing, with Hardee
immediately opposed / to him. The Union center was under the command of Generals McCook
; the right wing was commanded by McClernand
, with Hurlbut
next, while Sherman
and Lew Wallace
occupied the extreme right.
The Confederate left wing was commanded by the doughty Bragg
and next to him was General Polk
was again the storm center and in it
made his headquarters.
Hour after hour the columns in blue and gray surged to and fro, first one then the other gaining the advantage and presently losing it. At times the smoke of burning powder enveloped the whole field and hid both armies from view.
The interesting incidents of this day of blood would fill a volume.
of the Southern
side had a novel experience.
His horse was struck by a bursting shell and torn to a thousand fragments.
The general, thrown ten feet high, fell to the ground, but leaped to his feet unhurt and asked for another horse.
Early in the afternoon, Beauregard
became convinced that he was fighting a losing battle and that it would be the part of prudence to withdraw the army before losing all. He thereupon sent the members of his staff to the various corps commanders ordering them to prepare to retreat from the field, at the same time making a show of resuming the offensive.
The retreat was so skilfully made, the front firing-line being kept intact, that the Federals
did not suspect it for some time.
Some hours before nightfall the fighting had ceased.
The Federals remained in possession of the field and the Confederates
were wading through the mud on the road to Corinth
It was a dreary march for the bleeding and battered Confederate army.
An eye-witness described it in the following language:
I made a detour from the road on which the army was retreating that I might travel faster and get ahead of the main body.
In this ride of twelve miles alongside of the routed army, I saw more of human agony and woe than I trust I will ever again be called upon to witness.
The retreating host wound along a narrow and almost impassable road, extending some seven or eight miles in length.
Here was a line of wagons loaded with wounded, piled in like bags of grain, groaning and cursing; while the mules plunged on in mud and water belly-deep, the water sometimes coming into the wagons.
Next came a straggling regiment of infantry, pressing on past the
Buell's troops crossing the Big barren
When the Confederate General Braxton Bragg made his masterly march into Kentucky and succeeded in getting in the rear of General Buell in Middle Tennessee in September, there followed a series of movements that demanded the utmost exertions of the engineers to keep the Federal Army in touch with its base and at the same time to oppose a front to General Bragg.
In the first Confederate retreat through Kentucky almost all of the causeways had been destroyed, and when Buell arrived at Bowling Green, which is north of Nashville and on the bank of the Big Barren River, that stream was found to be almost flooding its banks.
Here the nineteenth Regiment Michigan Engineers rebuilt the bridge almost at the place where General Mitchell had crossed early in the year.
The middle part of the bridge was composed of fourteen pontoons.|
wagons; then a stretcher borne on the shoulders of four men, carrying a wounded officer; then soldiers staggering along, with an arm broken and hanging down, or other fearful wounds, which were enough to destroy life.
And, to add to the horrors of the scene, the elements of heaven marshaled their forces — a fitting accompaniment of the tempest of human desolation and passion which was raging.
A cold, drizzling rain commenced about nightfall, and soon came harder and faster, then turned to pitiless, blinding hail.
This storm raged with violence for three hours. I passed long wagon trains filled with wounded and dying soldiers, without even a blanket to shelter them from the driving sleet and hail, which fell in stones as large as partridge eggs, until it lay on the ground two inches deep.
Some three hundred men died during that awful retreat, and their bodies were thrown out to make room for others who, although wounded, had struggled on through the storm, hoping to find shelter, rest, and medical care.
Federals advancing into Tennessee--1862: Engineers and Infantry busy at the Elk River Bridge
Incessantly, through rain or shine, the work on this bridge over the Elk River, near Pulaski, Tennessee, on the Central Alabama Railroad, went on during the months of June and July.
The engineers had before them an enormous task.
The Federal General Buell's army was short of supplies and ammunition, and the completion of this bridge, and other bridges, was a matter of vital necessity.
Supplies had to be brought from Nashville.
The roads were heavy with mud and the incessant rains had swollen the streams, making it not only slow but almost impossible for wagon trains to keep in touch with the base.
Over the Central Alabama (Nashville and Decatur Railroad) food and other necessities for the army's very existence had to be transported.
Among those workers who labored uncomplainingly and whose work bore fruit, was the First Regiment, Michigan Engineers, that numbered among its enlisted men mechanics and artisans of the first class.
They built this bridge pictured here.
Four companies were employed in its construction, aided by an infantry detail working as laborers.
The bridge was 700 feet long, 58 feet high, and crossed the Elk River at a point where the water was over 20 feet deep.
At the right of the picture three of the engineer officers are consulting together, and to the left a squad of infantry are marching to their position as bridge guards.
Here is the daily business of war — to which fighting is the occasional exception.|
Why the Federals
made no attempt to pursue the retreating foe has never been satisfactorily explained.
It is not improbable that Grant
, had he ordered an immediate and vigorous pursuit, could have captured Beauregard
's entire army.
But he and all his advisers seemed to rest on their laurels and to be content with the day's work.
The news of these two fearful days at Shiloh
was astounding to the American
Never before on the continent had there been anything approaching it. Bull Run
was a skirmish in comparison with this gigantic conflict.
The losses on each side exceeded ten thousand men. General Grant
tells us that after the second day he saw an open field so covered with dead that it would have been possible to walk across it in any direction stepping on dead bodies, without a foot touching the ground.
American valor was tried to the full on both sides at Shiloh
, and the record shows that it was equal to the test.