previous next

Battle of Shiloh: refutation of the so-called ‘lost opportunity, on the evening of April 6th,’ 1862.

General Thomas Jordan, Adjutant—General of the Confederate Forces that were Engaged.

Although I have shown in a former article, published in the New Orleans Picayune, that under the rules which would govern in the courts of justice, the report of General Bragg would not be taken as evidence of anything, waiving the illegitimate furtive nature attached to the whole of it, I propose to show that even had it been actually written when and where pretended on its face, and had it ever reached me and subsequently in due official course been handed to General Beauregard, all the same the sub-reports of all the brigade and regimental commanders of his corps concurrently contradict the statement of that report, which in effect alleges that he had set on foot a hostile movement against the last Federal position of the 6th of April, that had ‘every prospect of success, but which was stopped by an order’ from General Beauregard to ‘withdraw the forces beyond the enemy's fire.’

Beginning with General Chalmers, whose report is dated six days after the battle, and of whom Bragg found it pertinent to say that while he could not ‘exceed the measure of my expectations * * * never were troops and commander more worthy of each other,’ that officer, thus lauded, gives this vivid sketch:

It was about four o'clock in the evening, and after distributing ammunition, we received orders from General Bragg to drive the enemy into the river. My brigade, together with that of General Jackson, filed to the right and formed facing the river, and endeavored to press forward to the water's edge, but in attempting to mount the last ridge we were met by a fire from a whole line of batteries protected by infantry, and assisted by shells from the gunboats. Our men struggled vainly to ascend the hill, which was very steep, making charge after charge without success, but continued to fight until night closed hostilities on both sides. During the engagement, Gage's battery was brought up to our assistance, but suffered so severely that it was soon compelled to retire. This was the sixth fight in which we had been engaged during the day, and the men were too much exhausted to storm the batteries on the hill, and they [298] were brought off in good order, formed in line of battle, and slept on the battlefield, where I remained with them.

General J. K. Jackson, of the same division (Withers's), of Bragg's corps, reporting on the 26th of April, 1862, or twenty days after the battle, is equally specific upon all the points involved in this passage of his report:

My brigade was ordered to change direction again, face toward Pittsburg, where the enemy appeared to have made his last stand, and to advance upon him, General Chalmers's brigade being again on my right. * * * * Without ammunition and with only their bayonets to rely on, steadily my men advanced under a heavy fire from light batteries, siege-pieces and gunboats. Passing through the ravine, they arrived near the crest of the opposite hill upon which the enemy's batteries were, but could not be urged further without support. Sheltering themselves against the precipitous side of the ravine, they remained under this fire for some time. Finding an advance without support impracticable, remaining there under fire useless, and believing any further forward movement should be made simultaneously along the whole line, I proceeded to obtain orders from General Withers, but before seeing him was ordered by a staff-officer to retire. This order was announced to me as coming from General Beauregard, and was promptly communicated to my command. In the darkness of the night which had fallen upon us my regiments became separated from each other, etc. Thus closed Sunday, April 6th, upon my brigade.

But, as may likewise be seen from General Jackson's report, it was already so late that in the darkness he lost his brigade, and, unable even to find it the next morning, was assigned ‘by some staff officer, not now recollected’ (Colonel Jordan, as it happened), ‘to the command of other troops during the Monday's battle.’—(Rebellion Records, Volume X, Part I, page 555.)

Colonel Deas, commanding another brigade of the same division and corps (Bragg's), reporting as early as the 25th of April, 1862, through Withers, states of this stage of the battle:

Here, in the hot pursuit, the Twenty-first and Twenty-fifth Alabama became separated from me in the woods, and before I had time to find them I received an order from General Withers to form on the extreme left, where I remained until night came on (with the Twenty-second Alabama and First Louisiana, two hundred and twenty-four men, with fifteen rounds of ammunition), and then attempted to get back to the camp I had left (Federal), but got to a different one. My [299] men being now completely exhausted, and not having had anything to eat since morning.

—(Rebellion Records, Volume X, Part I, page 438.)

Now, as to the colonels of the regiments of this division (Withers's), here are their statements touching the last hours of the 6th of April, statements that were before Generals Bragg and Withers when they wrote their reports. Lieutenant-Colonel W. D. Chadwick, commanding Twenty-sixth Alabama, as early as April 12th reports that:

Having only about two hundred men left, and seeing that they must all be sacrificed if I remained, without gaining any material advantage, I withdrew them to a wood in the rear of a field and awaited orders. Finding no one to whom I could report, and the men being quite exhausted, I moved back to the enemy's camp, near where we had entered in the forenoon. * * * Colonel Collart was able to join us at that place, and ordered the regiment a few hundred yards further back, where we spent the night.

—(Rebellion Records, Volume X, Part I, page 546.)

Colonel Joseph Wheeler (commanding Nineteenth Alabama, Jackson's brigade, Withers's division) states, that having been ordered to charge the enemy with his regiment to the river, after passing through the deep ravine below the lowest camp, the regiment was halted (by whose orders he does not report) within four hundred yards of the river and remained ready to move forward for half an hour, when night came on and we were ordered to the rear. (Rebellion Records, Volume X, Part I, page 559). Colonel John C. Moore, commanding Second regiment of Texas infantry, under date of April 19th, 1862, reports to General Withers:

After advancing about half a mile we came to a deep ravine and formed ourselves in front of a heavy battery of the enemy at the distance of four hundred or five hundred yards. They opened on us a fire of shot and shell which did but little damage, as the balls generally passed over our heads and across the ravine. After having kept up this fire a considerable time, they then changed the position of some of the guns, placing them so as to bring us a raking fire up the ravine from our right. Seeing this state of things, we made a rapid retreat from our unpleasant position and proceeded back to the camp last taken, having been told that we would here receive further orders. It was dark when we reached camp, and after waiting an hour or so we bivouacked near this encampment in a drenching rain. First Lieutenant Daniel Gallaher was sent to look for ammunition [300] soon after we took this camp. He did not return, and is supposed to have been taken prisoner.

—(Ibid, page 562.)

The foregoing statements, especially of the three brigade commanders, Chalmers, Jackson, and Deas, as well as of Colonel Wheeler (a graduate of West Point) and Colonel Moore, certainly give such a picture of the condition of their several brigades and regiments that, had General Withers been brought before a court-martial for the statement in his official report, made on the 20th of June, 1862, which we shall cite, any such court must have found him guilty of conduct that I need not specify at this time. The language in question is as follows:

This division was moved promptly forward, although some regiments had not succeeded in getting a supply of ammunition, and had just entered a deep and precipitous ravine when the enemy opened a terriffic fire upon it. Staff-officers were immediately dispatched to bring up all the reinforcements to be found, and the order was given to brigade commanders to charge the batteries. These orders were being obeyed when, to my astonishment, a large portion of the command was observed to move rapidly by the left flank from under the fire of the enemy. Orders were immediately sent to arrest the commanding officers, and for the troops to be promptly placed in position to charge the batteries. Information was soon brought, however, that it was by General Beauregard's orders, delivered thus directly to brigade commanders, that the troops were being rapidly led from under the fire of the enemy's gunboats. Thus ended the fight on Sunday, and thus was this command disorganized, an evil sorely felt the next day.

—(Ibid, page 533.)

All the more unwarranted does such language appear from his own immediate admission, that simultaneously with this order to retire out of action, Bragg having placed him in command of all the troops on the right, and ‘it being now near dark, the order was given to fall back half a mile and bivouac for the night.’ And just here it is noteworthy, that Withers did not lodge that night with the troops of his own division, but with Colonel Martin, of Breckinridge's division, from which the charitable deduction is, that he was unable to find his own troops; for, otherwise, it was his duty to be with, and attend to, their reorganization and readiness for the next day. Hence, if there be significance in words, he makes it clear that such was the absolute lateness of the hour, that had the attempt been made to carry the Federal batteries—whose fire he characterizes as terrific—with such troops as were there assembled, it would have [301] resulted in an awful butchery and dispersion of all employed in so insensate, so preposterous an undertaking; and such must be the verdict of any military man who may studiously read the reports of the subordinate officers of Withers's three brigades, and bear in mind the formidable line of fifty-odd pieces of artillery which Webster had improvised, and which Buell had so opportunely supported with Ammen's fresh brigade. Nor was it materially different with the other division of Bragg's corps, for Ruggles who commanded it, and who did splendid service that day, especially in the capture of Prentiss, reports:

Subsequently (to Prentiss' surrender), while advancing towards the river, I received instructions from General Bragg to carry forward all the troops I could find. I received from Colonel Augustin notice of General Beauregard's orders to withdraw from the further pursuit, and finding soon afterwards that the forces were falling back, I retired with them, just as night set in, to the open field in the rear, and as 1 received no further orders, I directed General Anderson and Colonel Gibson to hold their troops in readiness, with their arms cleaned, and cartridges supplied for service the next day.

—(Ibid, page 472 )

General Patton Anderson thus describes the situation with his brigade:

The sun was now near the western horizon, the battle around us had ceased to rage. I met General Ruggles, who directed me to take a road which was not far to my left, and to move down it in the direction of the river. I had not proceeded far, when overtaking me he ordered a halt till some artillery could be taken to the front, when he would give me further directions. Soon after halting, several brigades, composing portions of Generals Polk's and Hardee's commands, filed across the road in front of me, and moved off to the left at a right angle to the road, and commenced forming line of battle in an open field and woods beyond. Several batteries passed down the road in the direction of Pittsburg. One soon returned, and filed off into the field where the infantry was forming. The enemy's gunboats now opened fire. General Ruggles directed me to move forward a short distance, and by inclining to the right to gain a little hollow, which would probably afford better protection for my men against shell than the position I then occupied. I gained the hollow and called a halt, ordering the men to take cover behind the hill and near a little ravine which traversed the hollow. We occupied this position some ten or fifteen minutes, when one of General [302] Ruggles's staff directed me to retire to the enemy's camp beyond the range of his floating guns. In filing off from this position several men were killed and many wounded by the exploding shells of the enemy. It was now twilight. As soon as we had placed a hill between us and the gunboats the troops moved slowly, and apparently with reluctance, from the direction of the river. It was eight o'clock at night before we had reached a bivouac near General Bragg's headquarters, and in the darkness of the night the Twentieth Louisiana and portions of the Seventeenth Louisiana and Confederate Guards got separated from that portion of the command with which I was encamped on other ground. By the assistance of my staff the whereabouts of the whole command was ascertained before we slept.

—(Ibid, page 499.)

Colonel Randall Lee Gibson is very meagre in his report as to what his brigade did after 3 P. M.; but here is all that he says of what was done after Prentiss' surrender:

In obedience to orders, we moved with the main body of the army towards the river. I was given command by Brigadier-General Ruggles to retire my command from the fire of the gunboats. In this movement considerable disorder ensued, owing to the fact that all the troops were closely massed. My whole command was kept together for the night, except the Nineteenth Louisiana volunteers, Colonel B. L. Hodge, who, in spite of exertion of his own, did not succeed in reporting to me until after the battle of the 7th.

—(Ibid, page 480.)

As for Colonel Pond, commanding the Third brigade of Ruggles's division of Bragg's corps, touching his operations after 4 P. M, relating a charge made by his forces pursuant to an order from General Hardee, he says:

This brought my troops under the fire of the enemy's batteries and three of his regiments in an oblique column instead of line of battle, and the fire became so destructive that the troops recoiled under it. (Hurlbut's division, see Rebellion Records, Volume X, Part I, page 205.) The Eighteenth Louisiana (Monton's) suffered severely in this charge, also the Orleans Guards; the Sixteenth Louisiana less than either, being on the right, and consequently in what might be called the rear of the column. As my troops were advancing to this charge, we again received a severe fire from our own troops on the right, which, added to the fire from the enemy, almost disorganized the command. In order to reform, we were compelled to fall back about one hundred and fifty yards to the [303] enemy's main camp, where we rejoined Colonel Looney with his regiment. * * The charge made on the enemy's battery, in which the Eighteenth regiment suffered so severely, was not in accordance with my judgment. * * I was alone (in the quarter of Owl Creek), without anything to support my own rear or the left of the general line, and therefore felt it my duty to take any step with extreme caution, and to keep my force in hand to hold Owl Creek against any and every contingency.

When night came,

as he goes on to state, he found himself ‘considerably in advance of our general front, and so fell back without orders,’ be it noted, from his corps commander, and ‘slept within a mile of the river, and four hundred yards of the Federal line.’—(Ibid, page 58.)

It is to be noted that the Eighteenth Louisiana lost two hundred and seven officers and men either killed or wounded in this ill-judged charge. This brigade was not in the quarter of the field with General Bragg, and I refer to the reports of Colonel Pond, Colonel Monton, Major Gober (Sixteenth Louisiana), Colonel Marshall J. Smith and Colonel Looney, Thirty-eighth Tennessee, chiefly to show that no order reached them to retire, and that, up to the very edge of night, they were being employed on the Confederate left by orders of General Hardee in desultory, resultless, though bloody conflicts. Colonel Fagan, of Gibson's brigade, writing as early as the 9th of April, states:

It was late in the afternoon when the enemy was repulsed, and was followed in the direction of the river (after the capture of Prentiss). That night we slept in the enemy's tents, worn with fatigue, decimated in numbers, but elated that such a hard-fought day had such a glorious close.

—(Ibid, page 488.)

Evidently Colonel Fagan had not heard of the ‘Lost opportunity’ when he wrote, nor had Colonel H. W. Allen at the date of his report of April 10th, neither had Captain Dubroca (of the Thirteenth Louisiana), who commanded the regiment at the close of the action. Colonel Hodge, of the Nineteenth Louisiana (Gibson's brigade), is thus specific as to the lateness of the hour:

After the enemy were driven from this stronghold (which Prentiss and Wallace had held), we, with several brigades, moved towards the river. It was then nigh sunset. In accordance with your order (Gibson's) we commenced falling back about dusk, and being separated from the brigade, I conducted the regiment to the camp of the enemy, where I had established a temporary hospital during the day. [304] I was in the saddle till a late hour of the night, endeavoring to find your headquarters, but unable to do so.

—(Rebellion Records, Volume X, Part I, page 493.)

Captain W. G. Poole, commanding the Florida battalion, as early as April 12th reports that, after the successful affair with Prentiss, his battalion, with a portion of the brigade (Patton Anderson's) proceeded forward within range of the heavy guns on the Tennessee river, where ‘we were for some time exposed to the enemy's shells. * * * We then fell back to the enemy's camp and bivouacked for the night.’—(Ibid, page 505).

Colonel Charles Jones (Seventh Louisiana), as early as the 11th of April reports that, after taking part in the successful operation against Prentiss, General Anderson, his brigade commander, came up with the Twentieth Louisiana and ordered the line formed:

At this moment I was wounded in the left arm with a minie-ball and retired. After having my wound dressed, I immediately returned to the field in search of my command. Fell in with General Ruggles and reported myself to him. He invited me to remain with him, as the action was drawing to a close. The enemy having retired and left us in possession of the field, and being unable to find more than fifty of my command, I, with my adjutant (also wounded), retired with this small force to the ambulance depot to assist the wounded, and retired for the night.

—(Ibid, page 506).

Colonel W. A. Stanley (Ninth Texas), of the same brigade and division of Bragg's corps, reported on the 15th of April:

In the meantime firing continued incessantly on our right; we were then ordered to join the command in that direction, which was reported to have the enemy badly routed and driving them toward their gunboats. After proceeding some distance we found ourselves in the range of shot and shell fired from the boats and vicinity. At this point night put a close to the action of the day of the 6th. We retired from this point to form our encampment for the night, our troops being more or less scattered, some having been completely exhausted by the fatigues of the day. We then formed in two groups, leaving one to encamp on the battlefield and the other near the general hospital.

—(Ibid, page 509).

Such is the uniform statement made immediately after the battle by all the officers of Bragg's corps, whose reports have been published, and not a word is to be found to justify Generals Bragg and Withers in the assertion that the forces under them at the time the precautionary order was received to withdraw out of the immediate [305] fire of the gunboats, would have been able, before the darkness of night set in, to carry the ridge occupied by Webster's fifty-odd guns, supported by Ammen's brigade of Buell's army, as also by the remains of Hurlbut's, Stuart's and W. H. Wallace's brigades, and certain other fragmentary commands that had been organized at the river-side by Grant out of the best material of his broken regiments. Upon this point Ammen's personal diary, dated on the 7th of April, is much more specific and full than his official report, that I must be excused for quoting at length from my former West Point professor as follows:

General Nelson went over in the first boat with the Thirty-Sixth Indiana, Colonel Grose; General Nelson ordered me to remain and see my brigade over. * * * * On the top of the banks near some buildings I found the Thirty-Sixth Indiana partly formed in line. * * * * Here, too, were Generals Grant, Buell, and Nelson, * * * * General Grant directed me to support the battery about sixty to one hundred yards to the left of the road, which was done as soon as the line could be formed, probably three or four minutes, Generals Buell and Nelson, assisting. The Thirty-Sixth Indiana, and part of the Sixth Ohio volunteer infantry, were placed in position behind the crest of the hill, near the battery, the left protected by a deep ravine parallel to the river and having water in it.

General Buell himself, who had reached Pittsburg Landing ahead of Ammen, with his Chief of Staff, Colonel Fry, reports on the 15th of April, 1862:

It (Ammen's brigade) was immediately posted to meet the attack at that point and, with a battery of artillery which happened to be on the ground and was brought into action, opened fire upon the enemy and repulsed him. The action of the gunboats also contributed very much to that result. The attack upon that point was not renewed, night having come on, and the fire ceased on both sides.

—(Ibid, C. 299).

The right about three hundred yards from the landing. General Buell selected the position, and was with us when the Rebels reached the crest of the hill, received our fire, were shaken, fell back, advanced again, etc. The assaults of the enemy were met by our troops and successfully resisted. About five minutes after we were in position, the Rebels made the first attack, and kept on a quarter to half an hour (dusk) when they withdrew. Our loss was only one man killed. We were down the slope of the hill, and, the [306] enemy firing before they depressed their pieces, the balls went over our heads; our men, in the hurry, fired the same way, the balls followed the slope of the ground and were destructive.

—(Rebellion Records, Volume X, Part 1, pages 333-34).

The hour that Ammen's brigade marched up the hill from Pittsburg Landing, and the lateness of the repulse, is thus reported by General Nelson as early as April 10th:

At 5 P. M. the head of my column marched up the bank at Pittsburg Landing, and took up its position in the road under fire of the Rebel artillery, so close had they approached the landing. I found a semi-circle of artillery, totally unsupported by infantry, whose fire was the only check to the audacious approach of the enemy. The Sixth Ohio and Thirty-sixth Indiana had scarcely deployed when the left of the artillery was completely turned by the enemy, and the gunners fled from their pieces. The gallantry of the Thirty-sixth Indiana, supported by the Sixth Ohio, under the able conduct of Colonel Ammen, drove back the enemy and restored the line of bat tle. This was at 6:30 P. M., and soon after the enemy withdrew, owing, I suppose, to the darkness.

—(Ibid, page 324).

Further, and finally, General Prentiss in his report fixes the hour when he surrendered, after one of the most resolute, obstinate defenses of an untrenched position that was made during the whole war, namely, at 5:30 P. M., while Colonel Gedde, of the Eighth Iowa, did not surrender his forces at this point until 6 P. M. Colonel Grose, of the Thirty-sixth Indiana, also reports, on the 8th of April, that ‘the firing continued until near dusk,’ (Ibid, page 337); while Lieutenant-Colonel Nicholas L. Anderson, Sixth Ohio, reports that his regiment was disembarked at about five o'clock on the evening of the 6th of April, and marched up the hill as quietly as possible, ‘and that under Ammen's orders it was placed in support of a battery,’ (Ibid, page 339). Further, Colonel F. C. Jones reports that ‘the Twenty-fourth Ohio was landed at 5:30 P. M. and formed in line of battle on the river hill,’ (Ibid, page 339).

General Hurlbut's report (April 12th) likewise serves to throw light upon the Federal and Confederate situation after the capture of Prentiss, and he was forced back to the river: ‘On reaching the 24-pound siege guns in battery,’ he states, ‘I again succeeded in forming line of battle in rear of the guns, and by direction of Major-General Grant I assumed command of all the troops that came up. Broken regiments and disordered battalions came into line gradually upon my division. Major Cavender posted six of his 20-pound [307] pieces on my right, and I sent my aid to establish the light artillery, all that could be found on my left, * * * many gallant soldiers and brave officers rallied steadily on the new line. * * * In a short time the enemy appeared on the crest of the ridge, led by the Eighteenth Louisiana, but were cut to pieces by the murderous and steady fire of our artillery. Dr. Cornyn again took charge of one of the heavy 24-pounders, and the fire of that gun was the one on which the fire of the other pieces concentrated. * * * Captain Gwin, United States Navy, had called on me, by one of his officers, to mark the place the gunboats might open fire. I advised him to take a position on the left of my camp ground and open fire as soon as our fire was within that line. He did so. * * * And his fire was most effective in stopping the advance of the enemy on Sunday afternoon and night. About dusk the firing ceased.’ (Ibid, page 205.) All the sub-reports of the officers of his division confirm this statement, that the contest only ceased at about dusk, and that not until night came on did the enemy (Confederates) withdraw.

If more evidence be necessary to show the absolute groundlessness of General Bragg's averment, in effect that he would have carried the Webster position notwithstanding the heavy battery of fifty-odd guns that garnished it and the gunboats whose fire swept all the approaches thereto, certainly further credulity must now cease before the words of his staff-surgeon, the eminent Dr. J. C. Nott, of Mobile, written as early as November 6th, 1867. After saying that he had ridden by the side of General Bragg through the greater part of the day; had been with him at the close of the battle, and rode away with him after the battle was over, Dr. Nott added that, when beside Bragg on horseback at the close of the day, he heard him give orders to withdraw the troops from the field, and also for their disposition for the night, and that his ‘impression at the time was that General Bragg gave the order of his own responsibility.’ * * * ‘Our men,’ explains Dr. Nott, ‘immediately in front of whom we were standing, were too much demoralized and indisposed to advance in the face of the shells (from the gunboats), which were bursting over us in every direction, and my impression was (this was also the conclusion of General Bragg) that our troops had done all that they would do, and had better be withdrawn. The scene in front of General Bragg and myself was one of considerable confusion. * * * If he had received and disapproved such an order (to retire), it is probable that something would have been said about it.’ (Military Operations of General Beauregard, by Colonel Roman, page 535.) [308] Captain Clifton H. Smith, who carried to Bragg the order that General Beauregard really did give, states that it was in these words:

Ride to the front and instruct General Bragg to arrest the conflict and reform the lines.

Smith also writes that he found Bragg ‘in a slight ravine in rear of Ruggles's division, accompanied by his staff and escort. * * * He had evidently but just retired from some portion of his line of battle. General Ruggles himself was immediately at hand. * * * I am confident none of his troops in that immediate quarter were in offensive action at that moment; for I can only remember hearing a dropping fire of musketry, and not the regular roll of a line of battle in action, which, once heard, is ever after easily recognized. I communicated your (Beauregard) order to General Bragg in the exact words I had received it, without one syllable of comment. He (Bragg) transmitted the same to his division commanders. * * General Bragg turning to me asked, can you conduct me to the place where General Beauregard is at present? I replied in the affirmative, and we left the front, riding towards the point where I had parted with you (Beauregard), and where I had left you in conversation with General Prentiss. * * * When I reached General Bragg the troops appeared to me to be essentially at a standstill, judging from the character of the firing and the condition of those presented to my view. * * I perfectly recollect walking with him (Bragg), after dismounting, to the spot where you were, and calling his (Bragg's) attention to the fact that he was in your (Beauregard's) presence. It was quite dark, and he was at first unable to distinguish you. The darkness settles in my mind the time of our return to your headquarters.’ Smith further states, circumstantially, that the distance traversed by Bragg and himself was between one and two miles—no more; that is, not exceeding twenty minutes in time. As will be seen in his report of February 7th, 1863, General Hardee connects himself with what I may here properly call by its right name, the conspiracy of the story of the ‘Lost Opportunity at Shiloh,’ in words which rather suggest than outrightly express blame and criticism, to-wit:

Upon the death of General Johnston, the command having devolved upon General Beauregard, the conflict was continued until near sunset, and the advance divisions were within a few hundred yards of Pittsburg, where the enemy huddled in confusion, when the order to withdraw was received. The troops were ordered to bivouac on the field of battle. Exhausted by fasting and the toils of the day, scattered and disordered by continued combat of twelve hours, many [309] straggled to find food amid the profuse stores of the enemy, or shelter in the forest.

—(Rebellion Records, Volume X, Part I, pages 569, 570).

This paragraph is all literally true, but it does not give the whole of the truth of the situation, and, whether framed or not to that end, it has been used to give gravamen to the theory, that but for the order to withdraw out of action so complete a victory must have been gained, late as it was, or after sunset, as to have prevented any serious battle the next day. This preposterous supposition people are asked to accept, and Hardee is adduced in effect by Colonel William Preston Johnston as having been of that belief. Hardee, who virtually confesses that at sunset his men had been fighting twelve continuous hours without food, and that his own corps was so utterly out of his own hands, that he had to seek that night a sleeping place with Colonel Martin, of Breckinridge's reserve division.

Of his subordinates, who were in that quarter of the field where Hardee was personally present (the Confederate left), Brigadier-General Cleburne, as distinguished subsequently for soldierly ability as for personal intrepidity, reports that after having exhausted his ammunition and been obliged to replenish it after much delay, he again advanced and continued to move forward until checked by a heavy fire from the enemy's field artillery (Hurlbut's and McClernard's troops, as may be seen) and gunboats. When this firing ceased, he again advanced until halted by an aid from General Beauregard, who informed him that he was not to approach nearer the river. ‘It was now dark,’ says Cleburne, ‘so I returned and encamped near the Bark road. Every fifteen minutes the enemy threw two shells from his gunboats, some of which bursted close among my men.’ (Ibid, page 582). I may also add that from about two thousand seven hundred officers and men on the morning of the 6th of April, Cleburne found his brigade muster but eight hundred on the morning of the 7th. (Ibid, page 582). Brigadier-General Wood, who commanded Hardee's third brigade, says that under orders from General Hardee to move to the centre and front, he took his troops under and beyond the shells of the gunboats, until, coming on a line of troops (Confederates) in his front, he halted and ordered the men to rest, selecting a position the most secure from the shelling. From the shells, however, at this point he lost ten killed and wounded. ‘In a short time I saw,’ says General Wood, ‘the line on my front moving to the rear around my right. A staff-officer then ordered me to fall back to the encampment we had last [310] passed, and to allow my men to get something to eat and rest for the night.’ (Ibid, page 593). Here, as we see, were two lines of Confederate troops, not about to rush upon and capture the enemy, but inert when the order to fall back for the night reached them! Unhappily, General Breckinridge made no report. But Colonel Trabue, one of his brigade commanders, has given a very full narrative of his most effective operations during the day, from which I had occasion to quote in the third paper of this series, and from which it is to be seen that, after halting to allow two of his regiments to exchange their guns for Enfield rifles captured from Prentiss, he moved forward to rejoin Breckinridge, who, with Stratham's and Bowen's brigades, was occupying the front line, being on the crest of the hill (or high land), overlooking the narrow valley of the Tennessee river, on which and near by was Pittsburg Landing. ‘Having been halted here for more than an hour,’ says Trabue, ‘we endured a most terrific cannonade and shelling from the gunboats. * * * From this position, when it was nearly dusk, we were ordered to the rear to encamp, which movement was effected in good order * * * in darkness of the night.’ (Ibid, page 616). Colonel Martin, who commanded Breckinridge's second brigade, after Bowen was wounded, also reports that when within from three hundred to four hundred yards of the river, the enemy opened on ‘his troops with their gunboats and two batteries in position near the river bank, which sounded terribly and looked ugly and hurt but few. Our men began to discover the fact.’ (Ibid, page 622). He does not say, however, that any order was given by General Bragg either to advance or to prepare to advance, all this time, or that any advance or assault was made. But he goes on to say:

Being near night, I fell back, by an order from General Bragg, to the first encampment in the tents furthest from the river, where we stayed all night. * * * Major-General Hardee and General Withers came to our encampment where they remained all night.

— (Ibid, page 622).

Dunlap, commanding the Ninth Arkansas of the same brigade, thus reports, April 14th, 1862:

Continuing to follow the enemy until the position became of extreme peril, placed, as we were, between two batteries, both pouring destructive volleys of grape and cannister into our ranks. In this position we received orders to fall back to a safe position and await further orders. By this time night came on.

Colonel Martin withdrew, * * this closed the fighting of the 6th [311] of April, he stated, adding that the loss of the regiment was about one hundred killed and wounded. (Ibid, 625.) And this brings us to General Polk, the last of the three corps commanders of the Confederate army at Shiloh, referred to by Colonel Johnston as having believed that the ‘victory was won and would have been consummated by the capture of Grant's army,’ * * but for Beauregard's ‘order of withdrawal,’ late as it was when that order reached anybody; that is to say, on the very edge of dusk, and before even the partial execution of which the darkness of night had settled upon both armies to such an extent that corps and division and brigade, and even regimental commanders, were separated from their commands until the next morning, and even later. General Polk, it is to be noted, fixes five o'clock as the time that his ‘line’ attacked the enemy's troops, the last that were left upon the field, in an encampment ‘to his right.’ The attack was made front and flank. The resistance was sharp but short. (Rebellion Records, Volume X, pages 1 and 409.) This refers to the attack upon and surrender of Prentiss, which Prentiss himself reports took place at 5:30 P. M. The details which General Polk describes as incident to that surrender, including the arrangements for sending two thousand prisoners to the rear, with the disposition of their arms, could hardly have occupied less than half an hour. That must have made it at least as late as six o'clock before such disposition could be made and leave ‘the field clear,’ as he says it was, before the troops with him—now united with those of Generals Bragg and Breckinridge, as also Cheatham, with one brigade of his own (Polk's) corps—could possibly be ready to advance in that vigorous manner which he asserts must have made it ‘the most brilliant victory of the war,’ as there was ‘an hour or more of daylight still left.’ (Ibid, page 410.) Of course, as the sun went down not later than 6:25 on the 6th of April, on the field of Shiloh, General Polk, writing nearly six months after the battle, indisputably was in error as to the actual hour, as well as to the readiness of his troops for any further vigorous operations that day. However, from my personal knowledge of Generals Polk, Bragg and Hardee, I am led to say that General Polk was the only one of them who could have believed—when he wrote the substance of what I have quoted—that it was still in the power of Confederate forces he specified to have captured what remained of the Federal army, some twenty-odd thousand men at least, exclusive of Ammen's brigade, notwithstanding the lateness of the hour, and notwithstanding that the troops were disarrayed and for the most part out of the [312] hand of their proper commanders, from corps to companies, as is not honestly deniable. We must now see, however, from the reports of his several division, brigade and regimental commanders, as to the condition of their respective commands, whether there were really any rational grounds for General Polk's belief that his troops were capable of the vigorous assault that was essential to make the Confederate operations at that late hour a triumphant success. General A. P. Stewart, a professionally educated soldier, who fell into command of Polk's first division by the disablement of General Clark, reports that after the capture of Prentiss, in which his immediate command had no part, under the orders of General Polk, he moved toward ‘our left to the support of some Louisiana regiments’ (with the Second and Thirty-third and Fifth Tennessee regiments.)

In passing through the woods,

Stewart continued, ‘the Fifth Tennessee became separated from us. The other two moved forward to a road, and thence by the left flank along the road to the camp where prisoners were captured. We finally took position, under the orders of General Breckinridge, to aid in the pursuit of the enemy, which was checked by the fire of the gunboats!’ Nothing here assuredly indicated the existence of that ardor of which their corps commanders say so much in reports which they avoided to dutifully render to General Beauregard, while calling so promptly for those due from their own subordinates—an avoidance of duty in which, I take this immediate occasion to say, they were favored by my illness and absence from the duties of my office from about the middle of May up to the very eve of Beauregard's separation from the army. But for this casualty I am very sure the reports in question would have been elicited before the close of May, and I dare to say, moreover, they would have reached my office—at least those of Bragg and Hardee—essentially free from, or not stuffed and effusing with that suggested and directed blame of their commanding general, which have made the reports subsequently transmitted without even approximate similars in the whole round of official military literature. How little prepared, after the surrender of Prentiss, three of his regiments, the Twelfth, Thirteenth and Twenty-second Tennessee regiments of Stewart's division, were to vigorously assail the enemy in the manner so sanguinely fancied by General Polk, is shown by Colonel Russell, their brigade commander, in these definitive words:

The prisoners being disposed of, I made preparations to move the forces under my command forward toward the river, but Colonel [313] Freeman (Twenty-second) reported his regiment out of ammunition. The Twelfth and Thirteenth regiments coming up at this time, being in the same condition, I ordered details to proceed to the enemy's camp and supply them. This being done, General Cheatham directed a line to be formed in rear of the encampment and await further orders. The gunboats kept up an incessant fire of shot and shell. After waiting in this position some time, orders were received from General Bragg to fall back out of the range of the gunboats and encamp for the night.

—(Ibid, page 418.)

The Eleventh Louisiana, another regiment of Russell's brigade, having become separated from the other regiments apparently much earlier in the day, its Lieutenant-Colonel, R. H. Barrow, gives a sketch of the disjointed condition in which his regiment, for example, had fallen as early as 3 P. M.

The engagement was now general; the fighting desperate; our men hurried from point to point as exigencies required, until those who had up to this time remained together were greatly cut up and divided, rendering it impossible to rally any considerable number upon any one point. From this time and in this manner a large majority, if not all of our men, I believe, continued to fight throughout the day. I was ordered toward evening by Captain Blake (of Polk's general staff) to take my position with what men I had on the extreme (Confederate) left, where I remained (unengaged evidently) until the fighting of the day had ceased; after which I started back to find our hospital, hoping there to find the majority, if not all, of our regiment assembled.

—(Ibid, page 427.)

He did not find it, however, in the night, and was able next morning only to assemble some sixty-odd of his men. Lieutenant-Colonel J. H. Bell (Ibid, page 423) confirms Colonel Russell's report, just cited, as also does Colonel A. J. Vaughan, Thirteenth Tennessee, in these terms:

At this time heavy firing commenced on our right, and I was ordered to support it. I did so, where I met with General Cheatham, who ordered me to remain where I was until further orders. Here I received an order from Colonel Russell to fall back to the rear of his regiment (Twelfth Tennessee), and proceed down the river until we came under the fire of the enemy's gunboats. It being now about dark, I was ordered back to an encampment, where I took quarters for the night.

—(Ibid, page 425.)

Major James A. Neely commanding Thirteenth Arkansas, of Stewart's brigade, reports that having been severely handled and beaten [314] back in a somewhat early part of the day, until reinforced by General Beauregard, he returned into action and pursued the enemy to near the river, where he remained with the regiment ‘under the bombs from the gunboats until dark. We then repaired southeast, near General Stewart's hospital, at which we encamped for the night.’ (Ibid, page 432.) And here is a report which certainly does not accord with the story of the readiness and organization of the troops in the advance, after Prentiss was overcome, for a vigorous onset in such force as to assure the capture of Grant's army at the river side. I refer to these words in the report of Lieutenant-Colonel Strahl, commanding the First regiment Tennessee volunteers:

I then marched the regiment a short distance to the rear, had the men wipe out their guns, many of them being so dirty they could not load, fill their cartridge-boxes and replenish their canteens with water. We then marched forward into line, and continued in line until after dark, when we fell back in order to get out of reach of the shells from the gunboats.

—(Ibid, page 432.)

Lieutenant-Colonel C. D. Venable, commanding the Fifth Tennessee, of Stewart's brigade judging from his report, could not have been part of that puissant force which was about to swoop down upon, throttle and carry of from under the guns of the naval vessels the whole Fedral army after 6 o'clock in the afternoon of an April day; for after having, by a movement of his regiment, as he reports, ‘closed the only avenue of escape’ for General Prentiss, and thus assured his capture, he next flanked to the left about three hundred yards and halted to rest; but, in a few moments, ‘the shelling from the gunboats was so severe as to be unbearable, killing and wounding several of (his) men,’ whereupon he ‘retired to a ravine and remained until dusk, and then moved back and encamped for the night.’ (Rebellion Records, Volume X, Part I, page 434.) Again, Colonel A. W. Campbell, commander of the Thirty-third Tennessee, of the same division (Stewart's), as may be seen, having expended the ammunition of the right wing of his regiment, he halted it until ammunition could be procured, which detained them for some time, ‘after which, advancing toward the river until night, we returned to the cross-roads and bivouacked near the cross-roads.’ (Ibid, page 435.) And now I have to quote the report of General Cheatham, dated April 30, which is wholly irreconcilable with and subversive of the story of the ‘Lost Opportunity’: ‘Broken and routed he (enemy) apparently, from all directions, seemed flying toward the river, and our own forces as generally closing upon him. * * * * [315] With the balance of my command I pressed forward and joined Colonel Maney, who had now become my advance, and had in pursuit captured and sent to the rear many of the enemy. About this time a halt was made for the purpose of some concentration of our forces for a concerted attack upon the enemy, then understood to have concentrated on the river bank, under the shelter of the gunboats, from which, at the time, an active shelling was being kept up on our advance. My own and other commands came rapidly forward, but many regiments having entirely exhausted their ammunition, a halt of some time was necessary for the purpose of replenishing. The day was now far advanced, and before the proper preparations were made darkness prevented further operations that day, and all commands were withdrawn for the night out of range of the shells from the enemy's gunboats.’—(Ibid, pages 439-40.)

It goes without saying that all the reports of his officers confirm General Cheatham's lucid explanation of the last hour of the 6th of April, but I will only cite the following from Colonel George Maney, commanding one of Cheatham's brigades:

During a constant press forward, the best means of securing the advantage already gained, I made but a short halt (after capture of Prentiss) in the position from which the enemy had been driven, and with the First and Ninth Tennessee regiments continued my advance as rapidly in the direction of his flight. He (Hurlbut) made no rally before my command, * * and I was halted near, for the purpose, as I understood, of allowing some concentration of our troops for attacking the enemy at the rear and near his gunboats. Our force came rapidly up, but it was already quite late in the day, and they halted near a deserted camp of the enemy, a shorter distance in my rear and to the right, for the purpose of replenishing their ammunition. I held the position at which I had been halted until dark, the enemy all the while keeping up an active shelling from his gunboats, which proved, however, more noisy than destructive. At dark, finding our troops generally retiring, and understanding it was the order for all to do so, I withdrew my command for the night, and this ended their part in the battle of Sunday.

—(Ibid, page 455).

I will close this part of the issue raised with Colonel Johnston, by the statement of Colonel David Urquhart, of the staff of General Bragg, of August 2d, 1880, in answer to a letter from me that after leaving me he rejoined General Bragg:

Who I found engaged with the Federal troops, who were now [316] disputing every inch. At about sunset an order came from General Beauregard to withdraw, collect and reorganize the troops, all of whom had become greatly broken and intermixed. * * * At the time this order was given, the plain truth must be told, that our troops at the front were a thin line of exhausted men, who were making no further headway, and were glad to receive orders to fall back. * * * Several years of subsequent service have impressed me that General Beauregard's order for withdrawing the troops was most timely; otherwise the collection and reorganization of troops, that took place that night, could not have been made, and the army would not have been in condition to make the obstinate head which it did on the next day against Grant and Buell's combined armies, up to the moment in the afternoon when it was withdrawn, carrying off so considerable a part of the enemy's artillery and in such good order that Buell's and Grant's armies did not venture to follow.

—(Military Operations of General Beauregard, Volume I, page 551).

My summary of so much of the published official documents as bear at all upon the question of the alleged ‘Lost Opportunity,’ revived so strenuously in sheer assertion by Mr. Davis and his aid-de-camp, is now concluded. Its fullness will be justified to the reflecing, as it could not be shortened without falling fatally short also of the real object which has incited me to write my papers; that is, to present so vigorous an analysis and exposition of the unquestionable documentary official history of certain mooted phases of the campaign and battle of Shiloh as must leave no foundation hereafter for two honestly entertained opinions among those who, in the pursuit of the truth of history, or from any other cause, may have been at the pains, after reading my papers, to compare their citations with the documents from which they are taken. Without at least as minute an inquisition, the discussion thus recently revived by Mr. Davis and Colonel Johnston would be as endless as any human affair can be. Colonel Johnston has asserted explicitly that it was ‘the opinion of almost all the officers and men at the front the victory was won, and would have been consummated by the capture of Grant's army without any order of advance from General Beauregard, by the generals actually there, and therefore it was his order of withdrawal which broke up and disintegrated the victorious battle array, as a night was given for the reinforcements of Buell and Lew Wallace to come up.’

Such a statement becomes simply shameful, under the light of the closely contemporaneous statements of every division commander, [317] except one (Withers); of all the brigade and regimental commanders of each Confederate corps, including the reserve whose reports have reached the light; that is, of nearly all commanders present in the battle. It is also shameful to ignore, as he has done, the revelations of the reports of Generals Buell, Nelson and Colonel Ammen's diary, as also the disclosure of the available Federal defensive resources at the time, to be found in the reports of Generals Hurlbut and McClernand. Any student of history, or soldier, who may follow the same line of research that I have, will see that my summary is essentially judicial, because it sets forth in its integrity all that is officially reported contemporaneously on either side of the question, and I challenge the production of a word that I have omitted which can be said to run counter to the unbroken chain of documentary proof which I have adduced. Into the discussion of the further matters relating to General A. S. Johnston's connection with the campaign and battle of Shiloh, asserted and reasserted by his son (Colonel Johnston) so persistently, it is not my purpose to follow him, unless made unavoidable hereafter. I will say, however, that it were very easy to demonstrate that his story—that in the month of January, 1862, General A. S. Johnston had in his possession a map with ‘Shiloh church’ marked upon it by the engineers, and had pointed out to Colonel Bowen that there ‘the great battle of the southwest will be fought’—is not one whit more historical or less imaginary than the ancient fable of the voyage of Arion to Parnassus on the back of a music-loving dolphin. I may also say that Colonel Johnston seems to aim to present his father as exercising a brawny physical power and influence upon the battle of Shiloh, not unlike that ascribed to Marlborough at the battle of Blenheim, by the English poetaster, Philips, in these lines:

Churchell viewing where
The violence of Tallard most prevailed,
Come to oppose his slaughtering arms. With speed
Precipitate he rode, urging his way
O'er hills of gasping heroes and fallen steeds
Rolling in death. Destruction, grim with blood,
Attends his furious course. Around his head
The glowing balls play innocent, while he,
With due impetuous sway, deals fatal blows
Among the flying Gauls. In Gallic blood
He dyes his reeking sword, and strews the ground
With headless ranks. What can they do? Or how
Withstand his wide destroying sword?


And now, in conclusion, I challenge those who have brought on this discussion to make up the issue tangibly as one purely of historical and military import and concern—that is, divested of all family vanities and personal ambitions, for submission, in effect, to the judicial decision of a few such men as Judge Campbell, Secretary Lamar, Senators Vance, Pugh, Colquitt and Eustis, Governor Haygood, General E. P. Alexander, or many score of such other gentlemen of the South whom I could name as capable of deciding according to the clear documentary evidence. But let the issue be made so broad as to embrace several subjects which have not been touched upon in my papers. For example to begin with, “Was the military situation on the part of the Confederates in the department under the command of General A. S. Johnston such as to make the loss of Fort Donelson an inevitable result?” Or, in other words, was it not in the power of General Johnston, in February, 1862, with the resources of men and transportation at his position, immediately after General Grant invested Fort Henry, to have readily concentrated upon and overcome him with a decisively superior force? Or, in fact, did not the failure on the part of General Johnston to essay such an enterprise, as early as the 7th of February, 1862, cause the loss of Fort Donelson from the outset with the ten thousand troops sent thither after the capture of Fort Henry, and thus make the immediate abandonment of Bowling Green and Columbus absolutely a necessary consequence, with the early abandonment also of Nashville and Middle Tennessee? Let the issue also embrace the question, whether there was not such tardiness and hesitancy on the part of the Confederate movement from Murfreesboro to Corinth, that the junction of Johnson's forces with those of Beauregard at that point, late in March, 1862, was a sheer casualty, due to the want of enterprise on the part of the Federal general to so interpose the forces at his disposition between the divided fragments of his adversary as to make their concentration at Corinth an impossibility? That is to say, was it not in the power of the Confederate commander-in-chief to have assembled his forces a week earlier than he did, and therefore been in the condition to fight General Grant at latest on the first instead of the 6th of April, 1862?

Thomas Jordan, 61 Broadway, New York, September 1, 1887.

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 People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Braxton Bragg (39)
G. T. Beauregard (22)
Prentiss (18)
Withers (14)
L. Polk (13)
W. J. Hardee (12)
Grant (11)
Rebellion Records (10)
Buell (10)
Ammen (10)
Daniel Ruggles (9)
John C. Breckinridge (7)
A. P. Stewart (6)
P. H. Nelson (6)
William Preston Johnston (6)
Hurlbut (6)
B. F. Cheatham (6)
Randall Lee Gibson (5)
R. M. Russell (4)
J. G. Martin (4)
A. S. Johnston (4)
J. K. Jackson (4)
Clifton H. Smith (3)
J. C. Nott (3)
Thomas Jordan (3)
Albert Sydney Johnston (3)
P. R. Cleburne (3)
J. R. Chalmers (3)
Gen Bowen (3)
Patton Anderson (3)
F. C. Wood (2)
Joseph Wheeler (2)
Webster (2)
W. H. Wallace (2)
Trabue (2)
Pond (2)
John C. Moore (2)
Monton (2)
George Maney (2)
Looney (2)
B. L. Hodge (2)
Grose (2)
Fagan (2)
Deas (2)
Henry C. Davis (2)
A. W. Campbell (2)
Lew Wallace (1)
C. D. Venable (1)
A. J. Vaughan (1)
Zebulon B. Vance (1)
David Urquhart (1)
J. E. B. Stuart (1)
Strahl (1)
Alexander P. Stewart (1)
W. A. Stanley (1)
Marshall J. Smith (1)
A. B. Roman (1)
Pugh (1)
W. G. Poole (1)
Philips (1)
James A. Neely (1)
McClernard (1)
McClernand (1)
Malplaquet Marlborough (1)
J. B. Lamar (1)
F. C. Jones (1)
Charles Jones (1)
Edward Johnson (1)
Haygood (1)
Gwin (1)
Gober (1)
Gedde (1)
Daniel Gallaher (1)
Gage (1)
Fry (1)
Thomas J. Freeman (1)
Eustis (1)
Dunlap (1)
Dubroca (1)
Cornyn (1)
Colquitt (1)
Collart (1)
Clark (1)
W. D. Chadwick (1)
Cavender (1)
Blake (1)
J. H. Bell (1)
R. H. Barrow (1)
Augustin (1)
Arion (1)
Nicholas L. Anderson (1)
Archer Anderson (1)
H. W. Allen (1)
E. P. Alexander (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: