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.


  1. Nice Pictures. So who won the battle(s) at Shiloh? Was it won? or just fought?


    1. The Confederates failed to accomplish their mission of driving the Union forces from the field at Shiloh and subsequently lost the prized Corinth railroad junction. Although Richmond newspapers were applauding the great victory as much as a week after the battle, the South suffered a military and psychological defeat, on the heels of their losses at Fort Henry, and Fort Donelson. The Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers gave the Union access to the deep south and the junction at Corinth provided ground transport in all four directions.

  2. I've read that the confederates were outnumbered by about 25% and even though they were the aggressors the Federals lost more troops and suffered more casualties. TSR

    1. You're right about the Confederates aquitting themselves well at Shiloh. The troops were nearly equal strength on the first day, but Union reinforcements arrived on the second day and the Southern reinforcements about two weeks later.

      The Union was better equipped, better trained, better fed and better rested. The Army of Missisipppi had completed a two-day slog through the soggy bottoms between Corinth and Shiloh and attacked when they arrived at dawn.

      Beauregard was pretty much on target 150 years ago yesterday when he said:

      HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE MISSISSIPPI, Corinth, Miss., April 16, 1862.
      Soldiers of the Army of the Mississippi:
      You have bravely fought the invaders of your soil for two days in his own position. Fought your superior in numbers, in arms, in all the appliances of war. Your success has been signal. His losses have been immense, outnumbering yours in all save the personal worth of the slain. You drove him from his camps to the shelter of his iron-clad gunboats, which alone saved him from complete disaster. You captured his artillery, more than 25 flags and standards, and took over 3,000 prisoners.
      You have done your duty. Your commanding general thanks you. Your countrymen are proud of your deeds on the bloody field of Shiloh; confident in the ultimate results of your valor.
      Soldiers, untoward events saved the enemy from annihilation. His insolent presence still pollutes your soil, his hostile flag still flaunts before you. There can be no peace so long as these things are.
      Trusting that God is with us, as with our fathers, let us seek to be worthy of His favor, and resolve to be independent or perish in the struggle.
      General, Commanding.

      (copied from one of my favorite links about the war)