Friday, April 6, 2012

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. 

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