Monday, April 30, 2012

Ominous Beginnings

As Halleck reports to Secretary of War E.M. Stanton ,  "Movements continue. Roads hard.", "Old Brains"  re-thinks his disposition of forces and issues the following orders, taking Grant under his wing on this day in 1862 .

No. 35. Pittsburg Landing, Tenn., April 30, 1862.

I.  Major-General Thomas' division is hereby transferred from the Army of the Ohio to the Army of the Tennessee, and General Thomas will take command of the right wing, which will consist of his own and the divisions of Brigadier Generals W. T. Sherman, T. W. Sherman [sic], S. a. Hurlbut, and T. A. Davies.

II. The divisions of Major-General McClernand, Major-General Wallace, and one division from General Buell's army corps, to be designated to him, together with the heave [sic] artillery, will constitute the reserve, to be commanded by Major-General McClernand.

III. Brigadier-General Hamilton's reserve division of Major-General Pope's army will remain under General Pope's direction until further orders.

IV. Major-General Grant will retain the general command of the District of West Tennessee, including the Army Corps of the Tennessee, and reports will be made to him as heretofore, but in the present movements he will act as second in command under the major-general commanding the department.

Brigadier General T. W.[sic] Sherman is hereby assigned to the command of the Sixth Division of General Grant's army, now commanded by General McKean.

By order of Major-General Halleck:
Assistant Adjutant-General. *

While Halleck has been reorganizing at Pittsburg Landing, the rebels have been busy felling trees across roads, daming creeks to create larger flood plains and destroying bridges between Shiloh and Corinth.  The effectiveness of this strategy and the loss of the two divisions in todays orders pushes General Don Buell to the brink as he reallocates his remaining forces and adjusts his plans for the advance. Witness this reply to General Halleck.

In Camp, April 30, 1862.
Major General H. W. HALLECK,
Commanding Department of the Mississippi:

GENERAL: I have received your letter of to-day and your Special Orders, No. 35. The bridge at Greer's and the road to it, over some three-fourths of a mile of marsh, will be completed this evening; also the road over a marshy creek above Greer's. It will take two days at least to complete this road over Lick Creek. If it is possible to haul the supplies, forage and all, in the present condition of the road-though I think that somewhat doubtful-my command will be ready to march.

Your arrangement leaves me with three divisions, about 18,000 men.

One of the divisions is composed almost entirely of new regiments and another a good deal of similar material. If it would meet with your approbation, I should be glad to exchange a brigade for one in Thomas' division. General Thomas has five divisions.

You must excuse me for saying that, as it seems to me, you have saved the feelings of others very much to my injury.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

* Thanks to my Favorite Link Ohio State's eHistory for referenced ORE's

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Foraging at Shiloh & March on Corinth

On this day in 1862, General Grant addresses the problem of unauthorized foraging by the troops under his command.  Profiteering was strictly prohibited and considered an indication of a lapse in discipline which reflected poorly on the commanding officer.  Although specifically addressing past transgressions, this order was clearly intended to set the tone for the upcoming march on Corinth which officially begins on this date.  General Halleck, the auditor supreme, would surely hold Grant accountable for any violations and the old general's disdain for stragglers and thieves was well known.

Especially at this stage of the war, the belief at the War Department was that they could put down this rebellion and win back the hearts and minds of the southern people.  They wanted to minimize collateral damage and be respectful of private property to the extent possible.  Official foragers were instructed to buy supplies from local citizens and were given funds in US dollars to do so.

No. 47. In Field, Shiloh, April 29, 1862.

Division provost-marshals will immediately collect and turn over to the chief quartermaster all horses which have been heretofore captured, and are now held by officers, soldiers, servants, or other persons.

No officer not entitled to forage will be allowed to keep a private horse on any account whatever. Where officers not entitled to forage have horses which they claim as their own they will be required to make a certificate of the fact, stating when and how they obtained them, and if the evidence is satisfactory that the horses are their property a permit will be granted to ship or dispose of them.

No horse or other property once captured and afterward sold will be considered private property, and to avoid possible error, when property has ben [sic] purchased south of the Ohio River, evidence must be adduced to show that it was not captured.

Division commanders will see that this order is promptly executed. *

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Organizational Orders

To get an appreciation of what it takes for an administrative general like Halleck to move an army, consider this organizational Special Order issued 150 years ago today, as copied from Ohio State's eHistory online.

No. 31. Pittsburg Landing, April 28, 1862.*

I. The troops on the Tennessee River will retain their present organization of three distinct army corps, viz: The First, of the Tennessee, commanded by Major-General Grant, which will constitute the right wing; the Second, of the Ohio, commanded by Major-General Buell, which will constitute the center; and the Third, of the Mississippi, commanded by Major-General Pope, which will constitute the left wing.
The reserve will be formed of detachments ordered from the several army corps.

II. Each general commanding an army corps will be charged with its organization, discipline, and preparation for service in the field, as well as police in camp. Having his own staff and chiefs of administrative corps he will be held responsible that his troops are properly provided for through the quartermaster, commissary, ordnance, and medical departments. The commanding general will interfere in these matters only in cases of negligence or abuse.

III. Brigadier General A. J. Smith is chief of cavalry; Colonel f. D. Callender, chief of ordnance; Colonel J. V. D. Du Bois, chief of artillery; and Brigadier General H. M. Judah, inspector general of the entire army. Surg. Charles McDougall is chief medical director of the army in the field, and the medical directors of each army corps will report to and receive their orders from him. Major J. J. Key is provost-marshal-general in the field.

IV. In advancing into the interior the amount of transportation must be reduced as much as possible. To this end the commanders of army corps will regulate the number of wagons to each division, brigade, and regiment according to its effective force, not more than two tents being allowed to any company, and a corresponding reduction being made for all officers of the staff. The usual allowance of wagons per regiment will be thirteen, one for each company, two for field officers, staff, and surgeons, and one for extra ammunition. Where a regiment is greatly reduced the number of wagons will be diminished in proportion. All surplus regimental transportation will be turned over to the quartermaster's department for the general supply train.

V. Care will be taken that each regiment and battery is fully supplied with ammunition. In addition to the 40 rounds in the cartridge boxes, each man in going into a battle should carry upon his person 60 additional rounds, making 100 in all, a further supply being kept at a convenient distance in the rear. The chiefs of army corps and divisions will be held responsible for any want of ammunition, and the inspector-general and chief of artillery will report any neglect of preparation in this respect. When the cartridge boxes .

VI. The commanding general is satisfied, from his own observation and from reports of others, that the sick list is greatly increased by the defective cooking of the soldiers' food. A company officer will be detailed to inspect the food at each meal and to see that it is properly cooked, and field and general officers will give this subject their particular attention. The soldier's health and comfort depends in a great measure upon the care and attention of his company and regimental officers, and those who neglect to provide and care for their men are unworthy to command. Medical officers should also give particular attention to the condition of the soldiers' food, and should instruct them in the manner of cooking it whenever they observe a want of knowledge in this respect.

By order of Major-General Halleck:
Assistant Adjutant-General

*Thanks to my Favorite Link, Seven Score and Ten for this reference from the ORE

Friday, April 27, 2012

Confederates Cede West Tennessee

This day in 1862, with their lines drawn south of the Tennessee border, the Union Navy progressing down the Mississippi River and the Union Army in control from Nashville south and westward across the Tennessee River, the Confederates apparently cede West Tennessee to Federal control.

This concession is confirmed by the following order from Dabney Murray, Asst. Adjutant-General (CSA) to Captain Johnson in Memphis.

Memphis, Tenn., April 27, 1862.
Captain JOHNSON,

SIR: You will proceed in the steamer furnished for the purpose by the quartermaster along the Mississippi River. You will inform the planters on its banks that the river is now open to the enemy, and that the interests of our country demand that they shall at once destroy all of their cotton. No time is to be lost in the execution of this duty. Should any hesitate or fail to comply with your call upon them, you will yourself take possession of and burn the cotton, taking care to injure no other property.

It is made your duty to see that all of the cotton within reach of the river is destroyed at once. The proprietors will take an account of the amount destroyed, as you will of all which you may have to destroy yourself. These orders are given to you by General Van Dorn under instructions from General Beauregard.

In executing the above orders you will go as far up and down the Mississippi as the gunboats of the enemy will allow; and in the event of your being pursued by them, if you cannot run your boat into a place of security from them, you must, on abandoning, destroy her, to prevent the enemy from getting possession of her.

Very respectfully, yours,
Assistant Adjutant-General.
(Copies to Lieutenant Hill, Captain Lyles, Captain Clendening, Memphis.)*

*Thanks to My Favorite Link, Seven Score and Ten for this reference from the ORE.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lick Creek, April 25th, 1862

The 17th Kentucky Infantry, newly assigned to the brigade commanded by Jacob Ammen, had struck their old campground and taken position in the middle of Halleck's combined armies a few miles south of the Shiloh battlefield.  Nearby, the rest of the volunteers from Calhoun were in position under General Thomas Crittenden's division, also in Buell's Army of the Ohio.  With General John Pope's Army of the Mississippi on their left and Grant's Army of the Tennessee on their right, they were again feeling the false confidence that overwhelming force provides.  Surely such an army will provide a quick end to this rebellion.

As "retreat" was sounded on this spring evening an announcement was made to all regiments.  General C.F. Smith, who had led the Army of the Tennessee from Fort Henry to Savannah passed away at the Cherry Mansion.  The spreading infection from his injured lower leg, aided by the strain of chronic dysentery defeated the general on this date, 55 years and one day after his birth in Philadelphia.

Smith had boldly led his men on the Union's right flank at the Battle of Fort Donelson adjacent to the Seventeenth and Cruft's brigade, gaining recognition and admiration for his performance.  He was unable to return to field command at the Battle of Shiloh.  The weighty task of leading his troops fell upon his senior brigadier, W.H.L. Wallace, who was mortally wounded at the Hornet's Nest and also died at the Cherry Mansion in Savannah, TN.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Halleck Plans Advance on Corinth

On this date in 1862, General Halleck sent the following communication to General John Pope who was encamped near Hamburg, TN.  General Pope had arrived with Halleck after the battle.

GENERAL: I inclose [sic] herewith a sketch of the country between the Tennessee River and Corinth, giving approximately the position of the roads and streams, the distances, &c.* It is proposed that your army take position on the Farmington road, its right connecting with General Buell on Lick Creek and its left covered by Chester Creek. As soon as your troops are in position and properly supplied you will repair and construct roads in advance for a forward movement. Your heavy artillery should be established for the protection of your depot, and pickets should be thrown out well in advance, to give notice of any movements of the enemy. The fords of Lick Creek should be examined and arrangements made for sending couriers to General Buell’s headquarters, from which place information can be telegraphed to me. As you advance, direct communication will be established from you to these headquarters by telegraph. by these means I hope that you will keep me fully informed of everything that takes place on your line. In order that there should be a concert of action between the three armies, a constant communication must be maintained with these headquarters.

General Grant's army will form the right wing, General Buell's the center, and yours the left.  General Grant's right will rest on Owl Creek, and General Buell's left on Lick Creek until he advances to the crossings.*

And in perhaps the greatest understatement of the war he adds, "Further instructions will be given before a general advance is made."*

Thanks to My Favorite Link, Seven Score and Ten for the following reference from the Official Records.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Busy Day

Today was spent cataloging and transferring small arms in every unit at Pittsburg Landing.  Grant was addressing a problem that had plagued his troops during the battle.  The soldiers in this hurriedly assembled army had small caliber weapons of every conceivable size.  There was no uniformity even at the company level.   When troops needed resupply in the heat of battle they were not always able to get every caliber needed to fit all of their weapons.  Greater variability was being generated by the ongoing process of salvaging abandoned arms from the battlefield.

To solve this problem, Grant ordered that "companies and regiments having a variety of caliber of arms will exchange and transfer from one company to another, so as to secure but one caliber in a company. This is highly essential to convenience in issuing ammunition.  Where necessary, arms may be returned to the ordnance officer on the steamer Rockett and an exchange effected there." ( *

As you can imagine, this process created quite a commotion on the plateau. With General Halleck in charge, you can be sure that each and every transfer was dutifully recorded.

*Link provided through Seven Score and Ten website, one of my Favorite Links

Friday, April 20, 2012

Force Preparedness

In late 1861, when most of these men volunteered, there was no physical or mental testing requirement. As their training progressed, those found to be unfit for service were simply discharged. Some were discharged for personal or business reasons, but most were physically unable to keep up with the rest of the regiment.  Marginally impaired  men  might be reassigned to the Home Guard, a division of the state's militia, while soldiers  found to be physically or mentally unfit  were simply sent home with an honorable discharge. 

During extended stays at locations like Pittsburg Landing, yet another factor affecting force preparedness was evident.  By this date in 1862, all of the wounded had been treated and removed to more suitable environments for their recovery.  Enlisted men were usually sent to St. Louis, Nashville or Louisville from Shiloh.  If needed, they were then released for a period of 30-90 days and allowed to recover at home.  Some of the men who had fallen ill at Calhoun or suffered wounds at Fort Donelson were now rejoining the regiment thanks to the regular steamboat traffic up and down the Tennessee River. 

These arrivals were balanced by the steady out-flow of the infirm back to homes and hospitals and the strength of the combined regiments hovered around 300 men. The epidemic levels of pulmonary and digestive diseases were a constant throughout the war.  The sanitary conditions in camps were typically horrible and even counteracted some treatment measures.  Many veterans of the Seventeenth recounted the problems of rat infestation, particularly at Shiloh.  To complicate matters, the rats had an affinity for the taste of mustard plasters which were commonly applied to those suffering from pulmonary distress.*  Imagine yourself sleeping on the cool moist ground, a victim of pneumonia, and waking up to find rats gnawing at your chest!  Such was life in the infantry.

*Blackburn, John, A Hundred Miles, A Hundred Heartbreaks, 1972.  LOC 72-93774.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Shiloh, April 18, 1862

General Halleck had arrived at Shiloh a few days after the battle with an additional 30,000 troops under the command of General John Pope and the irrepressible organizer began restructuring his armies.  Today, the Seventeenth was informed that they would no longer serve General Grant, under whom they had won two victories and in whom they had great admiration and respect.  The regiment was being reassigned to Buell's Army of the Ohio, as they had been before joining Grant at Fort Doneslon.  They remained, however, at Pittsburg Landing.

Modern view from the bluff overlooking Pittsburg Landing

In their new assignment the Seventeenth became part of the Fourth Division, commanded by General William Nelson, serving in General Jacob Ammen's Tenth Brigade.  Ammen would become their fourth brigade commander in three months, following Crittenden at Calhoun, Cruft at Donelson and Lauman at Shiloh.  This was of no great concern to the volunteers as long as the regiment itself remained under the command of Colonel McHenry.  He was a strong leader whom they had and would follow into hell and back.  They were now a battle-tested regiment that had garnered distinction and praise from two respected generals- Wallace and Hurlbut.  No less was expected from them in their new assignment.

Once "Old Brains" was satisfied with the revised command structure, he intended to march on to Corinth and take control of, or destroy if necessary, the important railroad junction of the Mobile/Ohio and Memphis/Charleston lines.  This was, after all, the original mission of his bold plunge into the South.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Fog of War Is Lifting

The regiments that had occupied, and almost been driven from, Pittsburg Landing are  now finding some time at the end of the day to rest before going to sleep.  The campfires are surrounded with tales of heroism and cowardice under fire. The volunteers are just beginning to assemble the big picture of the battle as they exchange stories with survivors from other parts of the field.  They soon realize that, no matter how bad it had been for them, there was always someone that had it worse.

To the outside world, the fog of war yet enshrouds the battle.  The leading Confederate newspapers report on the "glorious victory at Shiloh" as late as April 11th, while some US newspapers still deny that Grant was the victim of a surprise attack. On April 14th, the New York Times prematurely reports the death of Beauregard, surmising that he must have died from wounds received at Pittsburg on the second day of the battle. 

First point of attack on Hornet's Nest.

On this date, however, one death was confirmed- that of the great southern general Albert Sidney Johnston.  He was considered by President Davis to be the best general in the Confederate Army and was greatly mourned throughout the southern states.  Johnston was mortally wounded in the Peach Orchard on Sunday afternoon when a minnie ball cut an artery in his lower leg.  He rode to that part of the field after hearing reports that the attack was failing on his right flank.  These reports would have been about the two failed attempts of Stephens' Brigade to cross the Bell's wheat field against the crossfire from Lauman (with the Seventeenth at point) and direct fire from the Hornet's Nest.  Johnston ordered Stephens Brigade to join Breckenridge on an all-out assault on the Peach Orchard.

Point of attack on the Peach Orchard.

Johnston was accompanied by Governor Isham Harris of Tennessee who, when hearing of a Tennessee regiment refusing to charge, rode off to shame his troops into action.   Shortly after Harris returned to his friend's side, the general slumped in his saddle and was assisted to the ground. In a protected ravine east of the orchard, he succumbed to the loss of the blood which had been secretly filling his boot.

Editor's Note: News links courtesy of Seven Score and Ten website.  For access to this daily sesquicentennial news update, click on the title at "My Favorite Links".

Friday, April 13, 2012

Shiloh, Apr 13, 1862

Even before the Battle of Shiloh, plans had been made toward the consolidation of the 17th and 25th regiments.  In the past four months, the ranks of both units had been thinned by all of the factors discussed in last month's post, Abominable Care , as well as routine discharges from the service.  On this day of their official consolidation, the sixty-five remaining members of the 25th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry were placed under the command of Col. McHenry and the combined unit was designated the Seventeenth Kentucky Volunteer Infantry, USA.

The troops were quite satisfied with the new arrangement.  Since their organization at Calhoun, Kentucky they had fought and lived sided by side.  They were the first regiments from Kentucky to see the elephant while serving in Cruft's Brigade at Fort Donelson.  From their camps at Fort Henry, their steamboat ride up the Tennessee River, their camps at Cloud Field and  throughout the Battle of Shiloh, they were side by side.  They had developed a level of trust and respect for each other that few men ever know.  That trust would be tested time and time again over the next 33 months and never fail.

Colonel James M. Shackelford, who had organized and commanded the Twenty-fifth was sent back to Kentucky to regain his health and organize more volunteers.   In January of 1863 he was promoted to Brig. General of Volunteers and commanded  the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, XXIII Corps.  In July of 1863, serving in this capacity, he engaged and captured fellow Kentuckian John Hunt Morgan at the Battle of Salineville in northeastern Ohio.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Shiloh, Apr 11, 1862

Today, again the regiments were assigned the grim task of removing debris from the battlefield.  With burial of the decomposing remains now complete, the troops are re-establishing campsites and salvaging what materiel they can, while from the Cherry Mansion news arrived that General WHL Wallace had died with his loving wife at his side.  The general who had led his men so bravely alongsided Prentiss at the Hornets Nest had survived five days after the Minnie ball tore through his skull.

It was easy to see where the field had been most hotly contested.  Even with the bodies removed, the abandoned artifacts gave mute testimony to the holocaust that had occurred. Cannon and caissons as well as rifles and bayonets, cooking pots, tents, bedrolls, haversacks, canteens, backpacks, bowie knives, books, musical instruments and all of the other personal items that had made life seem ordinary under such extraordinary conditions were no longer needed by the newly buried warriors or the wounded in transit to far away hospitals.

The hope that one major battle might settle the dispute between neighbors was gone.  The "Yanks" now understood that they were unwelcome invaders in a foreign country.  While patrolling the areas around the field, they were no longer approached by curious children seeking attention.  The primitive yet religious existence of the small farming community, like so much else, had been obliterated in just two days.  Their innocence lost, they hid in a forest of fear. Their cabins and fields were destroyed, orchards laid bare, and livestock gone. They could only hope and pray that the invading hordes would soon move on to their next target.

Unidentified chaplain giving mass to 69th NY State Militia in Washington  DC
Photo courtesy of Wheaton College Archives and Special Collections - John & Joyce Schmale

Most combatants as well as the affected citizenry turned to religion for comfort and guidance. Thus, the chaplain was an important officer in each regiment and critical to the morale of the troops. Attendance at regular Sunday morning services was high. Small Bibles were printed in abundance and said to be the most common item found in a soldier's backpack.  One can only imagine how many were buried in the mud by the heavy rains at Shiloh.

What later armies would call Battle Fatigue or Post-Traumatic Stress was not a consideration in the 1860s. The men provided their own form of group therapy and found strength in the knowledge that they were not alone in their distress.  Sometimes, however, their well-meaning encouragements failed.  Desertion rates were high on both sides.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Shiloh Photos (Part 2)

Common 6-pounder cast iron cannon could fire solid balls, exploding shells or scatter "grape" shot into advancing infantry.

Firing demonstration at Shiloh National Battlefield of a bronze 10-pounder.  Each unit of artillery required five or six men to operate and there were four to six units in each battery.

After mopping the bore, a measured powder charge is rammed into the breech followed by the ball or shell ordered by the artillery officer.

After the cannon is loaded, the command to fire is given and the crew braces for the sound of the explosion.

Notice the amount of smoke from only one blast of a lightweight demonstration charge.  Imagine how soon the forest would fill from the smoke of a dozen units firing as fast as they could reload.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Shiloh Photos (Part 1)

Cherry Mansion at Savannah, TN viewed from the Tennessee River landing.  US Grant was finishing breakfast on the second floor porch when he heard the sounds of battle coming from Shiloh, about 10 miles to the south.
William Manse George cabin, bewtween Peach Orchard and Sunken Road.  This period cabin was moved from another part of the battlefield as the original was destroyed on April 6, 1862.  This was typical of the dwellings at Pittsburg Landing- a stark contrast to the homes of Savannah.
The Bloody Pond as seen from the Sunken Road.  The only source of water on this portion of the battlefield,  it was used by thirsty and wounded soldiers from both sides as it was held, lost and regained by the Federal troops.
Photos by the author- all rights reserved

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Shiloh, April 8, 1862

Today was a day for the weary and wounded to get busy clearing the battlefield of the carnage that had accumulated from what was the bloodiest battle on American soil at that time.  There were more casualties at Shiloh than in the War of 1812 and War with Mexico combined.  The tragedy was only deepened by the fact that all of the combatants were American.  On this warm spring day, there were approximately 3,500 soldiers to be buried in mass graves, separated only by their colors.*  The carcasses of hundreds of equine casualties also had to be removed.

Of the 250 men reporting for duty on April 5th, The Seventeenth suffered the loss of one officer and 17 enlisted men killed, two officers and 67 enlisted men wounded and one enlisted man missing.  The losses of the Twenty-fifth included seven enlisted men killed, three officers and 24 enlisted men wounded.

Tragic as they were, casualties in the two Kentucky regiments were less than in some others. Contributing to this was the placement of their campsite at Cloud Field.  The regiments that had fought their first battle only a month before at Donelson  or earlier at Bull Run were considered veteran combat troops at Shiloh and generally bivouacked near the landing.  The unbaptised regiments were placed further to the south and thus were the first to experience the rebel charge and hear the blood-curdling Rebel Yell.  Being surprised and frightened, they fell back in disorder and suffered the higher casualty rates. 

In the next century, the State of Kentucky would pay tribute to all of her sons who fought in this horrible bloodbath by erecting one monument near the campsite of the Seventeenth.  They were not the only state to supply both sides with their young men, but their singular monument is unique among the hundreds at Shiloh National Battlefield.

Kentucky monument on the old ferry road near the Cloud Field camp site of the 17th Regiment Kentucky Volunteer Infantry. 
Photo by the author- all rights reserved

* In 1866, the mass graves of the Federal soldiers were excavated, the bodies exhumed and identified where possible and the remains re-interred in the newly designated Shiloh National Cemetery.  The burial trenches of Confederate soldiers remain untouched, but appropriately memorialized by The United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Shiloh, Apr 7, 1862 (Part 2)

Due to the wounding of three of it's officers, the remaining members of the 25th Kentucky Infantry were assigned to Col. McHenry's command on this morning.  The official consolidation would come a few days later and the combined units would fight the rest of the war as the 17th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry, USA.

Hurlbut's Division took the center of Grant's line of attack, with McClernand to his right and Sherman at the right flank.  Today they were taking the fight to the rebels from a position of strength.  Grant's reinforcements (Buell and Lew Wallace) had been positioned during the night while Beauregard's expected support was yet to cross the Mississippi River.  By all accounts, the fighting on this second day was equally ferocious as on the first.

McClernand's Road on the Shiloh Plateau. Note the opposing cannon marking the locations of Federal and Confederate Batteries on this day of reconquest.
Photo by the author- all rights reserved

As Hurlbut's division advanced, McClernand was falling behind and called for support.  The Seventeenth was sent to his aid and the Union advance continued.  Later, at Cavalry Field, Sherman's advance was completely halted by a concentrated counter-attack and he called for reinforcements.  The Seventeenth was sent to his aid and, again, the Union advance continued.  By late afternoon, Beauregard had been driven back to Shiloh Meeting House and conceded the field to the Union armies.  Under the protection of cavalry led by Tennessee's General Nathan Bedford Forrest and Kentucky's General John Hunt Morgan,  they made an organised retreat to Corinth in hopes of receiving reinforcements before the prized railway junction was attacked.

The next morning, General Sherman sent a small force of about 250 infantry to monitor the Confederate withdrawl.  The final engagement of the Battle of Shiloh ocurred when this force was turned back by Forrest's cavalry units near Michie, TN in an engagement known as the Skirmish at Fallen Timbers.

                                   Sherman's advance and hold at Cavalry Field.
                                   Photo by the author- all rights reserved

General Grant's decision to not pursue Beauregard's armies, like every other decision he made, has been much criticised.  He stated, understandably, that his armies were in no condition to continue.  This was not entirely true as Buell and Lew Wallace had been fighting for only one day and were capable of chasing the defeated rebels, but to what end?  It would have been reckless to leave the high ground with it's all-important river landing and the stores of supplies scattered all over the plateau in pursuit of a defeated enemy into an unknown terrain. 

On the other hand, with General Halleck due to arrive in a few days, Grant surely remembered the old general's admonishment to not seek any engagement with the enemy and thought it better to have his surviving forces organised and presentable to the conservative Halleck. The Battle of Shiloh was, after all, initiated by a Confederate attack but should Grant pursue, Halleck might charge him with disobeying a direct order.

Shiloh, Apr 7, 1862 (Part 1),

All through the rain-soaked night of April 6th, there was little sleep to be had among members of the Seventeenth.  The knowledge that the enemy was sleeping dry and in relative comfort in the Cloud Field encampment that had only yesterday been their home embittered them almost as much as the news of wounded and dead comrades.  Colonels McHenry and Stout were wounded. McHenry remained in command but ordered Stout to retire from the battle on Sunday night.  Captain Preston Morton of ST Brown's Company A was mortally wounded at the Peach Orchard.  As Sam Cox carried him all the way back to the landing, the captain expressed his wishes for the disposal of his property.  His wounds dressed, he was placed on a boat where he died that evening. Capt. Morton was delivered to Hartford by his faithful servant, Horace, and laid to rest in his family cemetery. [Blackburn]

Addressing the company Monday morning, Sam Cox said, "This regiment has lost it's brightest ornament...there he will repose amid the scenes of his early labors and triumphs, away from the busy hum of life, far away from the thunder of conflict and no clarion note will ever more disturb his slumbers or call him forth to battle.  Peace to his ashes, and may the undying laurel of glory grow green over his grave." *

As dawn approached, their thoughts began to focus on the day to come.  The eastern portion of the field they had defended so bravely was now to be the primary focus of Buell's Army of the Ohio.  Grant's remaining troops were to make a coordinated advance southward and westward in a  sweeping motion,  driving the Confederates from the field.  If not for Hurlbut's holding the secondary line at Wicker Field, none of this would be possible as the landing and surrounding bluffs would have been in enemy hands.  McHenry and his men took some satisfaction in this success and prepared to give the rebels more than they had bargained for on this Monday morning.  The praise that General Lauman received for the professional performance of the brigade was quickly passed on to the regiments, having been in command for just the two days.  To a volunteer regiment, there was no praise greater than to be lauded as professional soldiers by the regular army officers.

Grant's last line of defense at Corinth-Pittsburg Road.  The Confederates expected a complete victory here on Monday morning.  The Seventeenth's position is just out of frame to the right.
Photo by the author- all rights reserved

*  Blackburn, John, A Hundred Miles, A Hundred Heartbreaks, 1972, p.77
LOC 72-93774

Friday, April 6, 2012

Shiloh, Apr 6, 1862 (Part 2)

Editor's Note:  In the photograph that heads this blog, the left-most marker in the tree line designates the Seventeenth's first position in the field on this Sunday morning.

Modern view from Confederate position toward Peach Orchard.  The combined forces of Stephens,  Statham and Bowen successfully charged Hurlbut's position, forcing the establishment of a second line of defense at Wicker Field.
Photo by the author- all rights reserved

AT 2:00 PM, Lauman's Brigade was called upon to establish a secondary line of defense extending from the Hamburg-Savannah Road  at Wicker Field east to the river bluff in an effort to prevent the advancing Confederate forces from cutting-off the Union troops' access to the river.  Their position at the Peach Orchard was filled by the 61st Illinois Infantry, Col. Jacob Fry commanding.

Moern view of the position first occupied by the 17th Kentucky and later filled by the 61st  Illinois in the Peach Orchard.
Photo by the author- all rights reserved

The battle raged so violently in their new line of defense that the forest caught fire from exploding shells, choking and blinding men on both sides.The following excerpt from What I Saw of Shiloh by Ambrose Bierce describes the devastation resulting from these few hours of battle.  He took this same portion of the field on Monday as the Army of the Ohio finally arrived.

"In a few moments we had passed out of the singular oasis that bad [sic] so marvelously escaped the desolation of battle, and now the evidences of the previous days struggle were present in profusion. The ground was tolerably level here, the forest less dense, mostly clear of undergrowth, and occasionally opening out into small natural meadows. Here and there were small pools - mere discs of rainwater with a tinge of blood. Riven and torn with cannon-shot, the trunks of the trees protruded bunches of splinters like hands, the fingers above the wound interlacing with those below. Large branches had been lopped, and hung their green heads to the ground, or swung critically in their netting of vines, as in a hammock. Many had been cut clean off and their masses of foliage seriously impeded the progress of the troops. The bark of these trees, from the root upward to a height of ten or twenty feet, was so thickly pierced with bullets and grape that one could not have laid a hand on it without covering several punctures. None had escaped. How the human body survives a storm like this must be explained by the fact that it is exposed to it but a few moments at a time, whereas these grand old trees had had no one to take their places, from the rising to the going down of the sun. Angular bits of iron, concavo-convex, sticking in the sides of muddy depressions, showed where shells had exploded in their furrows. Knapsacks, canteens, haversacks distended with soaken and swollen biscuits, gaping to disgorge, blankets beaten into the soil by the rain, rifles with bent barrels or splintered stocks, waist-belts, hats and the omnipresent sardine-box - all the wretched debris of the battle still littered the spongy earth as far as one could see, in every direction. Dead horses were everywhere; a few disabled caissons, or limbers, reclining on one elbow, as it were; ammunition wagons standing disconsolate behind four or six sprawling mules. Men? There were men enough; all dead..." *

Modern view of Lauman's third position on Sunday, April 6, 1862.  This marker is found on a trail leading toward the river east of Wicker Field.  A good hunter will spot the young doe between the forks of the small tree in front of the sign.  Then imagine the doe is a Confederate rifleman in the sights of your black powder musket.
Photo by the author- all rights reserved

At 4:00 PM, the brigade was ordered to establish yet another defensive position west of the siege guns near Corinth-Pittsburg Road.  This was to become known as Grant's Last Line of Defense.  Here they fought as ferocious an assault as they had faced all day.  The rebels were sensing victory and aimed to accomplish it before nightfall.  As McClernand's Division and other brigades joined them, the Union forces finally convinced the Confederates to withdraw shortly after sunset.

This marker is west of the siege guns and easily seen on the right as you enter the park.
Photo by the author- all rights reserved

 After remaining calm through sixteen hours of battle, the sky let loose it's own fury in an amazing display of thunder and lightning.  The torrential downpour encouraged both armies to hunker down for the night.  It was as if God was saying, "That's enough!" Lauman's exhausted men were provided some sardines, hardtack and drinking water- their first refreshment of the day.  Amid the flashes of lightning, the thunder of the storm and of the gunboats Lexington and Tyler bombarding the Confederate positions through the night, the men tended each others' wounds and tried to get some rest.  They could also hear the sounds of Buell's army debarking at the landing below and this provided some small encouragement to the volunteers who all day long had been beaten back by Confederate assaults.

   Wartime photo of the USS Lexington courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command website.

*  Bierce, Ambrose, Civil War Stories, 1994, Dover Thrift Edition

Shiloh, Apr 6, 1862 (Part 1)

The rain finally stopped as dawn broke on this beautiful spring morning and the men awoke to the sound of birds singing.  Shortly after dawn, the sound of small arms fire was heard in the distance, seemingly from the southwest corner of the plateau near the primitive one-room church known as Shiloh Meeting House.  Apparently a patrol had caught some rebel skirmishers.

Instead of diminishing, the sounds of rifle fire grew until it was apparent that more than just a group of rebel skirmishers was involved in action near General Sherman's campsite. The regimental commanders were summoned to Hurlbut's headquarters and the experienced volunteers hurriedly fed their animals and themselves. They knew that this was not going to be a typical Sunday morning.  Inspection was cancelled.

At 9:00 AM, the order came to fall in and form a line of battle.  From their experience at Fort Donelson, the newly baptised veteran volunteers knew to take as much food, water and ammunition as they could carry.  On "column left" from the Brown's Ferry Road, the troops marched down the Hamburg-Savannah Road until they came to a rugged fence line which separated a peach orchard and cotton field from an old sunken wagon trail.  This is where Hurlbut set up his command post.

Modern view of the battlefield from Hurlbut's initial position Sunday morning.  The Sunken Road extends  behind the cabin along his right to the Hornet's nest on the other side of the trees. The Bell's Cotton Field lies in the distant left of the frame.  The Peach Orchard is out of frame to the left.  The 17th was positioned at the left in the distant tree line.
Photo by the author- all rights reserved

While placing his First Brigade behind the rough-hewn fence, the Third Brigade, under Lauman was ordered to take position facing west in the tree line that extended south from the Sunken Road toward the Confederate forces.  From their position nearest Hamburg-Purdy Road, the Seventeenth could see enemy soldiers looting the camps of General Prentiss which had been over-run earlier that morning.  To the left and right of the Seventeenth were positioned two units of artillery.  The rest of the brigade extended back toward the Sunken Road.  The brigade thus formed a line perpendicular to  the position of WHL Wallace and the re-grouped forces of Prentiss that the rebels called the Hornets Nest.

This marker is located halfway between Hamburg-Purdy and the Sunken Road  at the crest of a slight hill in the Bell's cotton field.
Photo by the author- all rights reserved

Soon a vicious artillery attack blasted the brigade and the enemy formed to cross the wheat field toward the Hornets Nest.  The two units of Meyer's Battery (Ohio)  to the left of McHenry's  volunteers immediately abandoned their position, leaving cannon, caisson and horses behind and the 17th unprotected at the point of attack.  Stephens' Brigade (CS) made two attempts to cross the wheat field but were turned back by the crossfire from the tree line and the Hornets Nest.

Seeing the enemy grouping to redirect their attack toward the Bell's cotton field and peach orchard, Lauman's Brigade was ordered "right company" and marched quick time along the tree line to join the 41st Illinois and 3rd Iowa (Hurlbut's First Brigade) behind the fence.  There they fought off the Confederate advances until 2:00 PM.  The veterans later referred to this morning as "five hours of hell."

Period drawing of the battle at the Bell's peach orchard viewed from Hurlbut's position. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Shiloh, Apr 5, 1862

At reveille this morning, the Seventeenth awoke to yet another rainy spring morning.  This had been the case for most of their days in the Cloud Field encampment.  Colonel Cruft broke the routine by ordering his regiments to present  in full dress after breakfast, with special orders to be read by General Hurlbut.

Marker identifying location of the campsite at Cloud Field, Shiloh National Battlefield.  The 25th Ky was camped immediately to the left.
Photo by the author- all rights reserved

The men had noticed an increase in the frequency of couriers passing along the road and General McClernand's brigade had finally arrived from Savannah after being relieved of their garrison duty.  Taken together, this could only mean that  the arrival of Buell's Army of the Ohio was imminent.  In characteristic humor, the volunteers began joking about breaking camp, noting that there were no steamboats to ride this time.

Hurlbut arrived with another general whom he introduced as  Brig. General Jacob G. Lauman, their new commanding officer.  He would take command of the four regiments that had fought at Fort Donelson under Colonel Cruft.  The 17th Ky, 25th Ky, 31st In and 44th In Volunteer Infantries are now officially the Third Brigade of Hurlbut's Fourth Division in Grant's Army of the Tennessee.  No further special orders being issued, they were dismissed to resume their normal duties.  This being Saturday, much of the afternoon was spent preparing for the regular Sunday morning inspection.  The campsite, equipment and weapons were all put in top military order in hopes of making a favorable impression on their new commander.