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Chapter 6:

The effect of the fall of Fort Donelson was stunning to the South, especially as it came close upon the heels of the report of a great victory. On the night of the battle General Johnston received dispatches announcing that the Confederates had won the battle. At daylight on the 16th came the announcement of the surrender. In Nashville the excitement and tumult were intense, and all over the South there was a mingled feeling of disappointment and indignation. The brunt of the blame fell upon General Johnston, who, knowing that time would vindicate him, bore it calmly and made the best dispositions to meet the calamity. He was calm under the animadversions cast upon him in the Confederate Congress and by the turbulent populace in Nashville. He moved his forces to the south of Nashville, [64] organized the refugees and stragglers from Fort Donelson and began the evacuation of the capital of Tennessee by removing the army supplies. The proper precautions were taken to prevent a sudden attack on the city by the gunboats, and in a few days the morale of his army, reduced fully one-half by the disaster at Donelson, was restored. He had long been aware of the danger, and before evacuating Bowling Green had foreseen the possible necessity of falling behind the Cumberland, and in extremity, the Tennessee. His plan was fully matured, and he had selected Corinth, Miss., just south of the great bend of the Tennessee, as the point at which he would rally, and from which with the concentration of all available forces he would move to give battle to the Federal forces. By the 22d the evacuation of Nashville was complete, and on the 23d the advance guard of the Federal army from Bowling Green appeared at Edgefield on the north side of the Cumberland. A deputation of the citizens, with the mayor, went out to negotiate, and on the 25th the formal surrender of the city to General Buell took place.

On the 23d of February, the organization of General Johnston's forces being completed at Murfreesboro, he issued an order announcing the reorganization of the army and assuming command. It consisted of Hardee's division, composed of Hindman's and Cleburne's brigades; Crittenden's division, of Carroll's and Statham's brigades; Pillow's division, of Wood's and Bowen's brigades; and the Reserve under Gen. John C. Breckinridge. This latter comprised the following commands: Third Kentucky, Col. A. P. Thompson; Fourth Kentucky, Col. R. P. Trabue; Fifth Kentucky (afterward called the Ninth), Col. Thomas H. Hunt; Sixth Kentucky, Col. Joseph H. Lewis; Col. Crew's regiment, Clifton's battalion, Hale's battalion, Helm's cavalry battalion, Morgan's squadron of cavalry, Nelson's cavalry, Lyon's (Cobb's) battery. Col. N. B. Forrest's cavairy, [65] and Col. John A. Wharton's cavalry (Eighth Texas), were unattached. On the 28th of February, no movement from Nashville having been meanwhile made against General Johnston, he put his army in motion for Decatur, Ala., via Shelbyville, reaching the former place on the 10th of March. Here the Tennessee river, then at flood-height, was crossed, and by the 25th of March General Johnston completed the concentration of his army at Corinth. This included, in addition to the troops brought by him, the command of General Polk, which had evacuated Columbus on the 2d of March, and General Bragg's corps of 10,000 from Pensacola, which together with other smaller detachments made about 40,000 men.

A corresponding movement had meanwhile taken place on the part of the Federal forces. General Grant had on the 10th of March begun his expedition up the Tennessee river, and on the 17th the greater part of his army, now augmented to nearly 50,000 effectives, was in camp at and near Pittsburg Landing on the southwest side of the Tennessee, twenty-three miles northeast of Corinth. On the 15th of March General Buell, with his army of 37,000, marched from Nashville for the same point by way of Columbia and Waynesboro, while Gen. O. M. Mitchel with a corps of 18,000 marched south to Huntsville and Decatur to seize the Memphis & Charleston railroad. Such was the situation, with General Grant resting in fancied security and awaiting the arrival of General Buell to move southward, with no thought of danger, when General Johnston, hoping to strike him before Buell should effect a junction, moved out from Corinth on the 3rd of April. He had said in response to the clamor following the evacuation of Kentucky and Tennessee that if he could effect a concentration of his scattered forces, those who declaimed against him would be without an argument. He was now about to redeem his word. How fully at Shiloh he did it, and in an instant [66] won enduring fame, history has recorded with indelible pen.1

Owing to continued rains and difficulty of moving his army, the battle was delayed at least a day, but taking his adversary completely by surprise on the morning of Sunday, April 6th, he lived long enough to see his army in the full tide of victory. A few hours more of life would have secured the surrender of the opposing army. What would ultimately have happened had he survived is left to the judgment of those who can best comprehend the genius of a general who had so thoroughly vindicated his capacity for aggressive as well as defensive operations. How all the fruits of victory were lost by his death have, together with the details of the great battle, been faithfully told by his son in a memoir as valuable for its historical accuracy as for its faithful portraiture of a noble life and characters.2

The Confederate troops which fought at Shiloh were organized as follows: First corps, General Polk; Second corps, General Bragg; Third corps, General Hardee; Reserve, General Breckinridge. The last is the only one in regard to which any detail will be given here. It was composed of the following: First brigade, Col. R. P. Trabue; Second brigade, Brig.-Gen. J. S. Bowen; Third brigade, Brig.-Gen. W. S. Statham; Morgan's squadron of cavalry. The First brigade consisted of the Fourth Alabama battalion, Thirty-first Alabama regiment; Lieutenant-Colonel Crews' Tennessee battalion; Third Kentucky regiment, Lieut.-Col. Ben Anderson commanding; Fourth Kentucky regiment, Lieut.-Col. A. R. Hynes commanding; Ninth Kentucky regiment, Col. T. H. Hunt; Sixth Kentucky regiment, Col. J. H. Lewis; [67] Byrne's battery; Cobb's battery; in all about 2,400 men. The battle of Shiloh was begun at daylight by Hardee's corps, and it was not long until nearly the whole Confederate force was engaged, the general position from left to right being Hardee, Polk, Bragg and Breckinridge. As is not uncommon in military experience, the reserve was early in action. Colonel Trabue, with the Kentucky brigade, was sent as reinforcement to General Hardee's right, on the left of General Polk's corps, while the remainder of General Breckinridge's division moved to the support of the extreme right. It was thus that the Kentucky troops found themselves in one of the most stubbornly contested parts of the field, being pitted against the command of General Sherman, where was found the most stubborn resistance. In the first assault Lieutenant-Colonel Anderson and Major Johnston, of the Third Kentucky, were wounded, and Captains Stone, Pearce and Emerson, Lieutenant Bagwell, commanding company, and Acting Lieutenant White, of that regiment, were killed; while Captain Bowman, Adjutant McGoodwin and Lieutenants Ross and Ridgeway were wounded. Later the brigade had a prolonged contest with a heavy force of Ohio and Iowa troops, and drove them with a charge, the Kentucky troops singing their battle song, ‘Cheer, boys, cheer; we'll march away to battle,’ and driving everything before them. The loss was heavy, Captains Ben Desha and John W. Caldwell being severely, and Adjt. Wm. Bell, of the Ninth Kentucky, mortally wounded. In the same regiment Capt. James R. Bright, Lieut. J. L. Moore and R. M. Lemmons were wounded. In the Fourth Kentucky, Capt. John A. Adair, Lieut. John Bird Rogers, commanding company, and Lieut. Robert Dunn, were severely wounded, while Capt. W. Lee Harned, of the Sixth Kentucky, was mortally wounded. This success led soon after to the capture of General Prentiss' Federal command, and by a happy conjunction, just as Colonel Trabue entered the [68] camp from the left, General Breckinridge came in from the right. The prisoners, numbering about 3,000, were sent to the rear in charge of Crews' battalion of Colonel Trabue's brigade. By this stroke of good fortune the Sixth and Ninth Kentucky were enabled to change their old muskets for Enfield rifles.

The foregoing has been collated from the report of Colonel Trabue, Rebellion Records, Vol. X, page 614. It is to be regretted that no extended report by General Breckinridge was ever made, or if made has never been found. The following is the only one relating to the battle:

Hdqrs. Reserve Corps, Army of the Mississippi, April 17, 1862.
Colonel: I have the honor to make the following statement of the small-arms, cannon, etc., captured from the enemy in the battles of the 6th and 7th by the Reserve corps, exclusive of the cavalry, from whom there is no report; small-arms 1,393, swords 11, cannon 4 pieces.

The small-arms are now in the hands of my men, most of them taken from dead and wounded enemies, and substituted for rifles or guns before in our possession. The four pieces were hauled several miles off the field and within our lines by Captain Rutledge, commanding battery in Statham's brigade, and it is confidently believed form a part of the captured cannon now at Corinth.

My command did not stop in their camps, but moved on under orders, and I think did its full share upon the line of its operations in the work, of which captured cannon, flags, small-arms and prisoners were the result.


John C. Breckinridge, Brigadier-General Commanding.

In a sketch of the Kentucky brigade, written by Gen. Geo. B. Hodge, General Breckinridge's adjutantgen-eral at Shiloh, occurs the following graphic description:

Two o'clock had arrived and the whole army was now or had been for hours engaged, with the exception of Bowen's and Statham's brigades of the Reserve corps. The enemy had been driven through and from half of his camps, but refused to give back further. Having given way [69] on his right and left wings he had massed his force heavily in the center, and poured an almost unremitting hail of fire, murderous beyond description, from his covert of trees and bushes, when General Breckinridge was ordered up to break his line. Having been most of the day in observation on the Hamburg road, marching in column of regiments, the reserve was now moved by the right flank, until opposite the point of attack, then deployed rapidly into line of battle, Statham's brigade forming the right and Bowen's the left. The long slope of the ridge was here abruptly broken by a succession of small hills or undulations of about fifty feet in height, dividing the rolling country from the river bottom; and behind the crest of these last the enemy was concealed. Opposite them, at the distance of seventy-five yards, was another long swell or hillock, the summit of which it was necessary to attain in order to open fire, and to this elevation the reserve moved in order of battle at double-quick. In an instant the opposing height was one sheet of flame. Battle's Tennessee regiment on the extreme right gallantly maintained itself, pushing forward under a withering fire and establishing itself well in advance. Little's Tennessee regiment next to it delivered its fire at random and inefficiently, became disordered and retired in confusion down the slope. Three times it was rallied by its lieutenant-colonel, assisted by Col. T. T. Hawkins, aide-de-camp to General Breckinridge, and by the adjutant-general, and carried up the slope only to be as often repulsed and driven back; the regiment of the enemy opposed to it in the intervals directing an oblique fire upon Battle's regiment, now contending against overwhelming odds. The crisis of the contest had come; there were no more reserves, and General Breckinridge determined to charge. Calling the staff around him, he communicated to them his intentions and remarked that he with them would lead it. They were all Kentuckians, and though it was not their privilege to fight that day [70] with the Kentucky brigade, they were yet men who knew how to die bravely among strangers, and some at least would live to do justice to the rest. The commanderin-chief, General Johnston, rode up at this juncture and learning the contemplated movement, determined to accompany it. Placing himself on the left of Little's regiment, his commanding figure in full uniform conspicuous to every eye, he awaited the signal. General Breckinridge, disposing his staff along the line, rode to the right of the same regiment. Then with a wild shout, which rose above the din of battle, on swept the line through a storm of fire, over the hill, Across the intervening ravine and up the slope occupied by the enemy. Nothing could withstand it. The enemy broke and fled for a half mile, hotly pursued until he reached the shelter of his batteries. Well did the Kentuckians sustain that day their honor and their fame! Of the little band of officers who started on that forlorn hope but one was unscathed, the gallant Breckinridge himself. Colonel Hawkins was wounded in the face; Captain Allen's leg was torn to pieces by a shell; the horses of the fearless boy, J. Cabell Breckinridge, and of the adjutant-general were killed under them, and General Johnston was lifted dying from his saddle. It may be doubted whether the success, brilliant as it was, decisive as it was, compensated for the loss of the great captain.

While the dramatic effect of this description is heightened by the statement that General Johnston received his death-wound in this charge, his biographer says that he was but slightly wounded, and that the bullet which cut the thread of his life was a stray one which struck him after the charge and while he was in the rear of Breckinridge's line in a position of comparative security.

When darkness closed the battle of the first day, there was but little territory and comparatively few Federal troops between the advanced Confederate lines and the river, and it is not without reason to believe that the [71] remnant would have been forced to surrender but for the timely arrival of Gen. Wm. Nelson, of General Buell's army who, with characteristic vigor crossed the river and with Colonel Ammen's brigade of fresh troops, pushed to the front and checked the Confederate advance. His official report confirms the demoralized condition of General Grant's army. He says, ‘I found cowering under the river bank when I crossed, from 7,000 to 10,000 men frantic with fright and utterly demoralized, who received my gallant division with cries that “we are whipped,” “ cut to pieces,” etc. They were insensible to shame and sarcasm, for I tried both on them; and indignant at such poltroonery I asked permission to fire on the knaves.’ All who know the demoralizing effect of defeat upon the bravest of men will condemn the severity of this language, indicating an unrestrained violence of temper, which less than six months later cost Nelson his life.

While the Confederates were elated with victory and expecting to complete it, they were ordered to halt by General Beauregard, who had succeeded to the command. Next morning the Federals, finding their front clear, advanced with the fresh troops of General Buell's army, and the operations of the day consisted chiefly in a stubborn retreat by the Confederates, who fell back slowly, fighting with persistence and vigor. Among the commands most heavily engaged was the Kentucky brigade, which for four or five hours held its position near Shiloh Church against a large force of the enemy. Its losses were heavy. Among the killed were Maj. Thomas B. Monroe, Jr., Adjutant Forman and Lieutenant Dooley of the Fourth Kentucky. LieutenantCol-onel Hynes, Capts. Jos. P. Nuckols, Ben J. Monroe, T. W. Thompson and J. M. Fitzhenry, and Lieuts. John B. Moore, Thomas Steele, S. O. Peyton and George B. Burnley were among the wounded. Detailing these casualties the report of Colonel Trabue adds: ‘And here also fell that noble patriot, Gov. George W. [72] Johnson, after having fought in the ranks of Capt. Ben Monroe's company (E, Fourth Kentucky) with unfaltering bravery from early Sunday morning to this unhappy moment.’ Governor Johnson had accompanied the army on its retreat from Bowling Green, and went to the battlefield on the staff of General Breckinridge on Sunday morning; but when the Kentucky brigade was detached, he accompanied it and served on the staff of Colonel Trabue. At half past 9 o'clock his horse was killed and he then, with characteristic spirit, took a musket and served as a member of Capt. Ben J. Monroe's company. Being mortally wounded on the afternoon of Monday by a minie-ball which passed through his body just below the median line, such was his vitality that he lay on the battlefield until the following day, when General McCook, in riding over the field, found him and had him carried to a boat at the landing. They had met at the Charleston convention. He survived the night, being kindly cared for, and was able to send messages to his family, leaving in his last words a testimony that his only aim had been his country's good. He was in his fiftieth year and had filled many positions of honor, but had declined the nomination for lieutenant-governor and for Congress when it was equivalent to an election. He was a man of peace, but of the metal to follow his convictions wherever duty led. General Beauregard, in his report of the battle, thus refers to his death: ‘I deeply regret to record also the death of Hon. George W. Johnson, provisional governor of Kentucky, who went into action with the Kentucky troops and continually inspired them by his words and example. Having his horse shot under him on Sunday, he entered the ranks of a Kentucky regiment on Monday and fell mortally wounded toward the close of the day. Not his State alone, but the whole Confederacy, has sustained a great loss in the death of this brave, upright and able man.’

‘In the conflicts of this day,’ continues Colonel [73] Trabue, ‘Lieut.-Col. Robert A. Johnston, after exemplary conduct, was wounded, Capt. William Mitchell was killed, and Capt. George A. King and Lieutenants Gillum, Harding and Schaub were wounded; all of the Fifth Kentucky. In the Sixth Kentucky, Lieutenant-Colonel Cofer, a cool, brave and efficient officer, was wounded; Capt. W. W. Bagby and Lieut. M. E. Aull were mortally wounded; Capts. D. E. McKendree and John G. Hudson were likewise wounded, as were also Lieuts. L. M. Tucker and Charles Dawson, the last named of whom was taken prisoner. Late in the evening of this second day, General Breckinridge, with the Kentucky brigade and Statham's, and some cavalry, undertook to check the enemy and cover the retreat. This was a hard duty, exposed as the command had been and wasted as they were by the loss of more than half their numbers; but the general was equal to the great undertaking, and his officers and men shared his devotion to duty.’ The loss of the brigade was 844 out of a total of something less than 2,400; the Third Kentucky losing 174, Fourth 213, Fifth 134, Sixth 108, Cobb's battery 37, Byrne's 14.

Colonel Trabue notes particularly the gallant service of Cobb's and Byrne's batteries, both of which made names for themselves second to none in that arm of the service. The horses of Cobb's battery were nearly all killed on the first day, but he saved his guns, while on the second day Byrne's battery had been so depleted by the casualties of battle that at one time he was assisted in the service of his guns by volunteers from the infantry of the brigade. The Seventh Kentucky infantry, Col. Charles Wickliffe, served during the battle in Col. W. H. Stephens' brigade of Cheatham's division. Colonel Wickliffe was mortally wounded and succeeded by Lieut.--Col. W. D. Lannom. Later Col. Edward Crossland became commander of the Seventh and continued so during the war. [74]

1 For General Johnston's last letter to President Davis, battle order, etc., see Appendix B.

2 The life of Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston, embracing his services in the armies of the United States, the Republic of Texas and the Confederate States by William Preston Johnston. New York, D. Appleton & Co., 1878.

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