previous next

The battle of Shiloh.

[from the N. O. Picayune, April 5, 1896.] a graphic description of that sanguinary engagement.

written by General Joseph Wheeler, now Member of Congress, who commanded a brigade and made a famous charge at Shiloh under the Direction of General Albert Sidney Johnston.
The following article on the battle of Shiloh was written by General Joseph Wheeler, now representing the Eighth Alabama district in the House of Representatives. Although now sixty years of age, General Wheeler is one of the most active members of that body.

He was born at Augusta, Ga., September 10, 1836, graduated at West Point in 1859, was lieutenant of cavalry and served in New Mexico; resigned in 1861; entered the Confederate army as lieutenant of artillery and was successively promoted to the command [120] of a regiment, brigade, division, army corps; in 1862 he was assigned to command the army corps of cavalry of the western army, in which position he continued until the close of the war. By joint resolution of the Confederate Congress he was thanked for successful military operations, and received the thanks of the State of South Carolina for his defense of Aiken. May 11, 1864, he was the senior cavalry commander of the Confederate armies. In 1866 he was offered a professorship in the Louisiania State Seminary, which he declined. He was elected to the forty-seventh, forty-ninth, fiftieth, fifty-first, fifty-second, fifty-third and fifty-fourth congresses.

Upon my arrival at Corinth, March 9, 1862, says General Wheeler, I was assigned to the command of a brigade and was sent to the front near Monterey as the advance guard of our army (War Records, Vol. 10, part 2, page 307). While performing this duty I reconnoitered close up to the Federal lines, captured prisoners from the enemy's pickets, and gained information of their position and the general conformation of the country. On March 10th, a Federal reconnoisance in force, commanded by General Sherman, advanced, and after driving in our pickets beyond Monterey, retreated rapidly to their camp near Shiloh Church.

On April 3d General Johnston moved upon the enemy, and on the evening of April 5th the entire army was drawn up in two lines of battle in front of the Federal camps. There is no doubt but that the Federal commander knew there was a Confederate force near him, as in a lively skirmish on the evening of April 4th prisoners were captured by both sides, but the weight of evidence seems to indicate that he did not expect a general attack, and most certainly it could not have been expected as early as the morning of April 6th.

Forces at Shiloh.

On March 30, 1862, General Halleck reported Buell's forces at 101,051, and Grant's at 75,000, and the War Department says Grant reported his forces at 68, 175 on April 1, 1862. (See William Preston Johnston, page 538.)

Van Horn's Army of the Cumberland says, page 98:

Buell's force was 94,783 men. Of this, 73,472 were in condition for the field, and of this force 37,000 was to join in the movement against the enemy at Corinth. The remaining 36,000 effective troops were disposed by Buell for the defense of his communications.

The head of the column of 37,000 men was within seven miles of [121] the field on the evening of April 5th, and had joined Grant, and was in line and in action at 5 P. M. on the first day of the battle. (See War Records, Vol. 10, Nelson's Report, page 323; Colonel Amens, page 328; Colonel Grose's Report, page 337; Colonel Anderson's Report, page 739; Badeau, page 84.) And yet General Buell reports that but 21,579 of his army were actually engaged in the battle.

The returns of the War Department, as given by William Preston Johnston, page 685, claim that Grant's army on Sunday morning, April 6th, was only: Present for duty, 49,232; total present, 58,052.

Lewis Wallace's division was rested and in good condition, and within an hour's march of the battlefield when the action commenced; but as he did not become actually engaged on the 6th, it is contended that his division, 7,771 strong, should be deducted.

The highest figures, those of General Halleck, put the entire force under Grant and Buell at 176,000, and the lowest figures put the force actually engaged at 70,893.

Confederate force.

War Records, volume 10, part 1, page 398, states that before leaving Corinth for the field of Shiloh, General Johnston's force was as follows: Effective total—Infantry, 34,727; artillery, 1,973; cavalry, 2,073; total 38,773. Total present—Infantry, 41,457; artillery, 2,183; cavalry, 2,785; total, 46,425.

A garrison was left at Corinth; large details were made to corduroy and repair roads. The cavalry did not get into action; troops were detached and sent to Hamburg and other points, making deductions amounting to at least 8,000, leaving those actually engaged at 30,773, so that either estimate would put the entire Federal force more than twice that of the Confederate.

The battle.

Brigadier-General John K. Jackson was placed in command of my brigade, which, on April 6, consisted of the 2d Texas and the 17th, 18th, and 19th Alabama Regiments of infantry, and General Garrard's Battery, but after giving the first orders to move forward the duties performed by them were such that the command of the brigade devolved upon me, the orders I received coming directly from the commanding general, Albert Sidney Johnston, and Generals Bragg, Hardee, and Withers. [122]

William Preston Johnston, in his life of General Johnston, page 602, says: ‘At Shiloh there was much dislocation of commands. * * * Everybody seemed to have assumed authority to command a junior officer, and as the order was “Help me,” or “Forward,” it was always obeyed with alacrity. There was not much etiquette, but there was terrible fighting at Shiloh.’

The forward movement of our lines of battle commenced very early on the morning of the 6th, and in a few moments the troops I commanded became engaged in combats with what appeared to be independent brigades and divisions.

Each line of battle attacked by us at first offered a stubborn resistance, but finally yielded and retired towards the river. Between 1 and 2 o'clock, while reforming my brigade, preparatory to moving upon a line of battle which was formed in front of a camp upon the crest of a hill, and separated by a ravine from my position, General Albert Sidney Johnston rode up and personally gave me directions to make the attack, waiving his arms towards the enemy and saying ‘Charge that camp.’

William Preston Johnston, in ‘Life of his Father,’ page 595, says: ‘He (General Johnston) gave Colonel Wheeler, of the 19th Alabama, afterwards distinguished as a cavalry general, his order to charge.’

Very many of my command saw me gallop up to General Johnston and knew that the order came direct from the commander of the army, and this added to the enthusiasm with which they charged under a very heavy fire, driving the enemy and capturing a number of prisoners. The enemy fell back upon a second Federal line of battle, which occupied another crest, but after delivering an artillery fire, we charged this line, again capturing prisoners, the enemy retreating rapidly beyond our view.

Hearing a heavy fire to my left and front, I moved rapidly in that direction, encountering in a burning wood a large force, which retreated after a sharp engagement. About 3 o'clock I came upon two Mississippi regiments warmly engaging a long and dense line of battle.

The Federals largely outnumbered and outflanked the Mississippians, and were forcing them back, while the Mississippians were fighting at close range, most gallantly and doggedly holding every foot of ground as long as possible, the men seeming to turn and fire upon the advancing enemy at nearly every step.

The color-bearers of the two regiments were very near the advancing [123] line, and General Chalmers himself was gallantly riding among the troops. I was impressed that this was a persistent effort on the part of the enemy to penetrate our line, and I determined to resist and prevent it at all hazards. I advanced my entire brigade, fully 1,600 strong, in one handsome, regular line. General Chalmers and his battle-worn troops passed to my rear, and I took up the fight with all possible determination.

General Chalmers' Report, vol. 10, page 550, says:

After a severe firing of some duration, finding the enemy stubbornly resisting, I rode back for General Jackson's Brigade. I did not see General Jackson, but, finding Colonel Wheeler, called upon him to take up the fight, which he did with promptness and vigor. I sent a staff officer to command my brigade to lie down and rest until they received further orders.

The Nineteenth Alabama was the earliest to meet and check the enemy, but the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Alabama soon came upon my left. The Second Texas was on the right of the brigade, and as my movement had been something in the nature of a swing to the left, that regiment had further to march and met with some delay in getting into action.

The enemy's advance was checked, and for a time he held a strong position, partly protected by the slope of a ridge and a part of his line being also protected by the fence and the buildings and outhouses of a settlement. We finally dislodged him from this position, and the enemy, retreating a short distance, both lines fought at close range as severely as is ever experienced in a battle.

I do not know the losses sustained by the other regiment, but the Ninteteenth Alabama lost about twenty killed, and 140 wounded in about fifty minutes.

About an hour after taking up the fight from General Chalmers, the firing ceased in front of the Second Texas, and Major Runnels, of that regiment, rode up and directed my attention to a white flag on the enemy's line.

In a moment firing ceased in my immediate front, and by my direction Major Runnels galloped up to the officers who were displaying the flag, and in a moment returned with an exclamation that ‘the entire army had surrendered.’

I moved the brigade up in good order directly in front of the surrendering enemy, and, by great efforts, succeeded in keeping the men in rank and the brigade in line. I saw the necessity for this, as [124] some other troops had come up, and were becoming virtually disorganized, officers, as well as men, leaving the ranks and mixing among the prisoners and scattering the captured camps.

While in this position some cavalry rode up from our rear and passed between the Nineteenth Alabama and the Second Texas and took position between the prisoners and Pittsburg landing.

Abbot's Battle Fields of ‘61, page 257, says:

After a short delay, Bragg availed himself of the opportunity to attack the “Hornet's Nest” by the flank. The movement was attended with complete success.

Generals Wallace and Prentiss showed themselves worthy of the trust reposed in them by Grant and fought stubbornly until the former was shot down with a mortal wound, and the latter, with 3,000 men, was surrounded and captured by an overwhelming force of Confederates.

Generals Bragg and Withers came up and directed me to take the prisoners to Corinth, but, upon my suggestion that the battle was not over, General Bragg allowed me to detail for that purpose one regiment of the brigade (Colonel Shorter's), and I promptly formed the rest of the brigade into line, replenished ammunition and moved forward toward the river.

We met a warm fine, mostly from artillery, and when near the river, suffered some from the gunboats.

A rapid ascent to the crest of a ridge near the river placed my brigade some 300 yards in advance of our general line, most of which was still at the foot of the ridge.

Looking back, I saw the greater part of the troops withdrawing to the rear.

Night came on, and General Withers sent an order to retire. On Sunday evening the head of General Buell's army reached the field, and the next morning 21,579 soldiers of that army were in line of battle, side by side with Grant's army, making the total Federal force with which we contended on the 6th and 7th, 70,893.

Many Confederate regiments had almost disbanded during the night, and the second day it is doubtful if we had more than 15,000 men on the field, but they were the elite of the army and fought with unsurpassed heroism.

The Second day's battle.

Early on the morning of the 7th, under orders from Generals [125] Hardee and Withers, I moved forward towards the river and soon met the advancing enemy.

By General Hardee's orders I deployed the entire 19th Alabama Regiment as skirmishers, and with this regiment thus deployed, resisted for a time the advance of a solid line of battle.

I was soon driven back upon the main body of my brigade; my entire line became warmly engaged, and continued to fight with more or less severity during the entire battle.

It rained during most of the morning, and the air being still, both armies were much of the time enveloped in clouds of smoke.

Twice, in conjunction with General Chalmers, I charged up a hill and drove the enemy from a favorable position, but both times they were re-enforced and retook the position from us.

General Chalmer's Report, Vol. 10, page 552, in discussing these charges, says:

Colonel Wheeler, of the 19th Alabama Regiment, was fighting with the Mississippians and bearing the colors of his command, in this last charge so gallantly made.

In reference to this part of the battle, William Preston Johnston, page 643, says:

Chalmers was at one time detached from the command of his own brigade by General Withers in order to lead one of these conglomerate commands, and Colonel Wheeler had charge of two or three regiments thrown together. * * * Chalmers seized the colors of the 9th Mississippi and called on them to follow. With a wild shout the whole brigade rushed in and drove the enemy back until it re-occupied its first position of the morning. In this charge Wheeler led a regiment, carrying its colors himself.

The 1st Missouri Regiment having been added to my brigade, I continued engaging the enemy with varied severity until about 3 o'clock, when my command was increased by the addition of the Crescent Regiment, under Colonel Marshall I. Smith. At this time the entire line withdrew to the crest of a hill and, pursuant to orders from General Withers, I took position in advance of the other troops. General Withers in his report, Vol. 10, page 535, in referring to this, says:

The command slowly and in good order retired and formed line of battle as ordered, the advance line under Colonel Wheeler.

A little later the bulk of our army commenced withdrawing from the field, and I was instructed to act as the rear guard with the 19th [126] Alabama, 1st Missouri, some small detachments and a section of artillery.

The gallant colonel of the 1st Missouri, Lucius L. Rich, having been mortally wounded, the regiment was now commanded by Major Olen F. Rice.

The enemy were in heavy masses in my front, but they showed no disposition to advance, and the firing was at long range and without much effect.

General Buell (page 295) speaks of this firing, but says: ‘The pursuit was continued no further that day.’

General Grant (page 109) speaks of the fight continuing till 5 P. M. He also says his force was too fatigued to pursue immediately. I remained on the field until dark, and then withdrew about three miles, and at midnight General Bragg gave me verbal instructions to hold that position.

On the next morning, the 8th, Generals Sherman and Wood, each with a division, advanced, but, after feeling our lines, retired. I remained in the position close up to the enemy for about a week. and, with the exception of scouting parties, which approached our lines, the enemy remained quietly in their camp.

General Breckenridge had halted his command between my position and Monterey, and the day after the battle rode down to my bivouac, and the following day continued his march to Corinth. General Withers, in his report of the withdrawal from the field (Vol. X, page 535), says:

The remainder of the troops marched to within a mile of Mickey's, where they were placed under command of Colonel Wheeler, who throughout the fight had proved himself worthy of all trust and confidence, a gallant commander and an accomplished soldier.

And General Bragg (page 468) speaks of the noble service of ‘the excellent regiment of Colonel Joseph Wheeler.’

The public seem to have regarded the surrender of General Prentiss, with 3,400 Federal soldiers, as the leading feature in the battle of Shiloh, and discussions have taken place as to what troops are entitled to the most credit and also as to the hour that the surrender took place.

William Preston Johnston (page 620), in speaking of Prentiss' surrender, says:

Each Confederate commander—division, brigade and regimental—as [127] his command pounced upon the prey, believed it entitled to the credit of the capture.

The truth is, the battle of Shiloh was fought by an army of superbly brave men, very few of whom had had the advantage of instruction, drill, or discipline.

The surrender of Prentiss was due to the gallantry of the entire army, which, by desperate fighting between daylight and 4 o'clock on April 6, had dispersed and driven from the field all of Grant's army, except Prentiss and Wallace's Divisions, which, becoming in a measure isolated, were doomed to surrender.

Confederate regiments who never fired a shot at the surrendered troops were entitled to a full share of the credit, as they had defeated and driven off the other divisions, which made the capture of Prentiss and Wallace's Division possible. A review of the reports written at the time may be a matter of some interest.

War Records (Vol. X, page 104) and General Prentiss' report (pages 277-279) inform us that Prentiss' Division included the 12th Michigan, Colonel Francis Quinn; 18th Wisconsin, Colonel J, S. Albin; 18th Missouri, Colonel Madison Miller; 21st Missouri, Colonel David Moore; 23d Missouri, Colonel Tindall; 25th Missouri, Colonel Everett Peabody; 61st Illinois, Colonel Jacob Fry.

General Prentiss also informs us that the following regiments of General W. H. L. Wallace's Divison fought to the end and surrendered with him: The 8th Iowa, Colonel J. L. Geddes; 12th Iowa, Colonel Jos. I. Wood; 14th Iowa, Colonel Wm. T. Shaw; 58th Illinois, Colonel Lynch.

I find only eight reports made by these officers, and some of them do not allude to the fighting incident to the surrender of General Prentiss. His report, dated November 17 (Vol. X, page 278), says:

‘I reformed to the right of General Hurlburt and to the left of Brigadier-General W. H. L. Wallace. This position I did maintain till 4 P. M., when General Hurlburt, being overpowered, was forced to retire. Perceiving that I was about to be surrounded, I determined to assail the enemy which had passed between me and the river, charging upon him with my entire force. I found him advancing en masse, and nothing was left but to harrass him and retard his progress so long as might be possible. This I did until 5:30 P. M., when finding that further resistance must result in the slaughter of every man in the command, I had to yield the fight. The enemy [128] succeeded in capturing myself and 2,200 rank and file, many of them being wounded.’

Colonel J. J. Woods, Twelfth Iowa Report, April, 1862, pages 151-152, says:

Thus matters stood in our front until about 4 P. M., at which time it became evident by the firing on our left that the enemy were getting in our rear. * * * Seeing ourselves surrounded, we, nevertheless opened a brisk fire on that portion of the enemy who blocked our passage to the landing, who, after briskly returning our fire, fell back. We attempted by a rapid movement to cut our way through, but the enemy on our left advanced rapidly, pouring into our ranks a most destructive fire. To have held out longer would have been to suffer complete annihilation. The regiment was, therefore, compelled to surrender as prisoners of war.

Colonel J. L. Geddes, of the Eighth Iowa, in his report dated November 13, page 166, says:

I formed my regiment in line of battle with my center resting on the road leading from Corinth to Pittsburg landing, and at right angles with my line.. * * * About 3 P. M., all direct communications with the river ceased. * * * General Prentiss' division having been thrown back from the original line, I changed front by my left flank, conforming to his movements and at right angles with my former base, which was immediately occupied and retained for some time by the Fourteenth Iowa, Colonel Shaw. In this position I ordered my regiment to charge a battalion of the enemy (I think Fourth Mississippi), which was done in good order, completely routing the enemy. We were now attacked on three sides. It now became absolutely necessary to prevent annihilation to leave a position which my regiment had held for nearly ten consecutive hours of severe fighting, with a loss of nearly 200 in killed and wounded. I ordered my regiment to retire. I perceived that further resistance was useless. Myself and the major portion of my command were captured.

It is possible that this was a portion of the line of battle which was pressing back General Chalmers when I relieved him about 3 o'clock.

In a report dated April 9, 1862, page 281, Colonel Francis Quinn, Twelfth Michigan, says:

Between 4 and 5 o'clock on the afternoon two regiments surrendered. [129] * * At this time General Prentiss must have been taken prisoner. He was a brave man and cheered his men to duty during the whole day. When the fight was thickest and danger the greatest, there was he found, and his presence gave renewed confidence. * * * The great numbers of the dead in front of this one position caused remark and astonishment by all who beheld it the following day. This point was held from 9 o'clock A. M. till 4:30 P. M., amid the most dreadful carnage for a little space ever witnessed on any field of battle during the war.

In report dated December 1, page 291, Colonel Quinn Morton says:

We were then ordered to change our position and to engage a large force of the enemy who were pressing upon the centre, which was done.

After a severe engagement at a distance of twenty-five or thirty yards, we drove the enemy back, not, however, without serious loss. We held the position assigned us until 4 P. M., fighting almost without intermission, at which time we were ordered to change our front to meet the enemy who had outflanked us. * * * We fought until 5 o'clock, driving the enemy back, although they charged us frequently during that time. Here there was a most horrible shower of shot and shell. We repulsed the enemy in our rear and determined to try and reach the main body of the army, which had fallen back to the river, and in the effort to lead our now broken force back, the gallant and much lamented Colonel Tyndall fell, shot through the body, after having done his duty most nobly during the day. After retiring about 200 yards we were met by a large force of the enemy and compelled to surrender at about 6 P. M., after ten hours of almost incessant fighting.

In his report dated October 26, page 154, Colonel Wm. T. Shaw says:

At about a quarter to 5 P. M., I received an order from Colonel Tuttle to about face and proceed to engage the same body of the enemy. In order not to interfere with General Prentiss' lines, I marched by an oblique, passing close to the 18th Wisconsin in his line, and here for the third time that day the 14th engaged with the enemy. After less than half an hour we repulsed them and made a short advance which revealed to me the facts of our position. * * General Prentiss having already surrendered with a part of his command, the 14th was left in advance of all that remained, but completely [130] enclosed, receiving the enemy's fire from three directions. The regiment still kept its ranks unbroken and held its position facing the enemy, but the men were almost completely exhausted with a whole day of brave and steady fighting, and many of them had spent their whole stock of ammunition. It was therefore useless to think of prolonging a resistance which could only have wasted their lives to no purpose, and at about 5:45 P. M. I surrendered them and myself prisoners of war.

In his report dated April 12, page 550, General James R. Chalmers says:

About a quarter of an hour after the surrender some of our troops, supposed to be of General Polk's division, made their appearance on the opposite side of the surrendered camp, and were with great difficulty prevented from firing upon the prisoners.* It was then about 4 o'clock in the evening, and after distributing ammunition we received orders from General Bragg to drive the enemy into the river.

Major-General Leonidas Polk, in his report dated September, 1862, forwarded February 4, 1863, says, page 409:

About 5 P. M. my line attacked the enemy's troops, the last that were left upon the field in an encampment on my right. The attack was made in front and flank. The resistance was sharp but short. The enemy perceiving he was flanked in a position completely turned, hoisted the white flag and surrendered. It proved to be the command of Generals Prentiss and Wm. H. L. Wallace.

It will be observed that General Chalmers' report, written five days after the battle, fixes the hour of Prentiss' surrender at about 4 o'clock; also that Colonel Quinn, who made his report immediately after the battle (April 9), says that the movement to outflank his left was at 2 o'clock and that two regiments surrendered very soon afterwards, and he speaks of the dreadful carnage up to 4:30. Also that Colonel Geddes, of the 8th Iowa, says: Direct communication with the river ceased at about 3 P. M., and we knew that Hurlbert and a part of Wallace's Division retreated to the river a short time before the surrender.

It will be also observed that it is reports made many months after the battle, which places the time of the surrender of Prentiss as late as 5 o'clock.

My recollection is that I was fully twenty or twenty-five minutes in taking charge of the prisoners and placing them under the guard [131] of Colonel Shorter's Regiment, and fully twenty minutes more in replenishing ammunition and reforming the brigade, and certainly twenty minutes more in marching to the river bank, which we reached before sundown.

This would tend to fix 4 o'clock as very approximately the hour of Prentiss' surrender.

This engagement, by far, was the most warmly contested up to that period of the war, and hardly surpassed in severity by any battle which followed, was a square standup fight at close range and without cover by men, very few of whom had before that day been in battle. The Confederate loss was 1,728 killed, 8,012 wounded, 950 missing, more than one-third of the force actually engaged.

The Federals report their loss at 1,700 killed, 7,495 wounded, and 3,022 captured.

General Prentiss and the lamented General W. H. L. Wallace and the brave men they commanded need no enconium; they bore the brunt of the battle from daylight until 4 o'clock. Then cut off and isolated, they made a desperate charge in an effort to escape, driving everything before them until met by my brigade, which they fought with desperation until they saw that surrender was inevitable.

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 Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: