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

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