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Saw Of Shiloh
This is a simple story of a battle;
such a tale as may be told by a soldier who is no writer to a reader who is no soldier.
The morning of Sunday, the sixth day of April, 1862, was bright and warm. Reveille had been sounded rather late, for the troops,
wearied with long marching, were to have a day of rest. The men were idling about the embers of their bivouac fires; some
preparing breakfast, others looking carelessly to the condition of their arms and accouterments, against the inevitable inspection;
still others were chaffing with indolent dogmatism on that never-failing theme, the end and object of the campaign. Sentinels
paced up and down the confused front with a lounging freedom of mien and stride that would not have been tolerated at another
time. A few of them limped unsoldierly in deference to blistered feet. At a little distance in rear of the stacked arms were
a few tents out of which frowsy-headed officers occasionally peered, languidly calling to their servants to fetch a basin
of water, dust a coat or polish a scabbard. Trim young mounted orderlies, bearing dispatches obviously unimportant, urged
their lazy nags by devious ways amongst the men, enduring with unconcern their good humored raillery, the penalty of superior
station. Little negroes of not very clearly defined status and function lolled on their stomachs, kicking their long, bare
heels in the sunshine, or slumbered peacefully, unaware of the practical waggery prepared by white hands for their undoing.
Presently the flag hanging limp and lifeless at headquarters was seen to lift itself spiritedly from the staff. At the same
instant was heard a dull, distant sound like the heavy breathing of some great animal below the horizon. The flag had lifted
its head to listen. There was a momentary lull in the hum of the human swarm; then, as the flag drooped the hush passed away.
But there were some hundreds more men on their feet than before; some thousands of hearts beating with a quicker pulse.
Again the flag made a warning sign, and again the breeze bore to our ears the long, deep sighing of iron lungs. The division,
as if it had received the sharp word of command, sprang to its feet, and stood in groups at "attention." Even the little blacks
got up. I have since seen similar effects produced by earthquakes; I am not sure but the ground was trembling then. The mess-cooks,
wise in their generation, lifted the steaming camp-kettles off the fire and stood by to cast out. The mounted orderlies had
somehow disappeared. Officers came ducking from beneath their tents and gathered in groups. Headquarters had become a swarming
The sound of the great guns now came in regular throbbings - the strong,
full pulse of the fever of battle. The flag flapped excitedly, shaking out its blazonry of stars and stripes with a sort of
fierce delight. Toward the knot of officers in its shadow dashed from somewhere - he seemed to have burst out of the ground
in a cloud of dust - a mounted aide-de-camp, and on the instant rose the sharp, clear notes of a bugle, caught up and repeated,
and passed on by other bugles, until the level reaches of brown fields, the line of woods trending away to far hills, and
the unseen valleys beyond were "telling of the sound," the farther, fainter strains half drowned in ringing cheers as the
men ran to range themselves behind the stacks of arms. For this call was not the wearisome "general" before which the tents
go down; it was the exhilarating assembly," which goes to the heart as wine and stirs the blood like the kisses of a beautiful
woman. Who that has heard it calling to him above the grumble of great guns can forget the wild intoxication of its music?
The Confederate forces in
Kentucky and Tennessee had suffered a series of reverses, culminating in the loss of Nashville. The blow was severe: immense
quantities of war material had fallen to the victor, together with all the important strategic points. General Johnston withdrew
Beauregard's army to Corinth, in northern Mississippi, where he hoped so to recruit and equip it as to enable it to assume
the offensive and retake the lost territory.
The town of Corinth was a wretched
place - the capital of a swamp. It is a two days march west of the Tennessee River, which here and for a hundred and fifty
miles farther, to where it falls into the Ohio at Paducah, runs nearly north. It is navigable to this point - that is to say,
to Pittsburg Landing, where Corinth got to it by a road worn through a thickly wooded country seamed with ravines and bayous,
rising nobody knows where and running into the river under sylvan arches heavily draped with Spanish moss. In some places
they were obstructed by fallen trees. The Corinth road was at certain seasons a branch of the Tennessee River. Its mouth was
Pittsburg Landing. Here in 1862 were some fields and a house or two; now there are a national cemetery and other improvements.
It was at Pittsburg Landing that Grant established his army, with a river in his rear and two toy steamboats as a means of
communication with the east side, whither General Buell with thirty thousand men was moving from Nashville to join him. The
question has been asked, "Why did General Grant occupy the enemy's side of the river in the face of a superior force before
the arrival of Buell?" Buell had a long way to come; perhaps Grant was weary of waiting. Certainly Johnston was, for in the
gray of the morning of April 6th, when Buell's leading division was en bivouac near the little town of Savannah,
eight or ten miles below, the Confederate forces, having moved out of Corinth two days before, fell upon Grants advance brigades
and destroyed them. Grant was at Savannah, but hastened to the Landing in time to find his camps in the hands of the enemy
and the remnants of his beaten army cooped up with an impassable river at their backs for moral support. I have related how
the news of this affair came to us at Savannah. It came on the wind - a messenger that does not bear copious details.
On the side of the Tennessee
River, over against Pittsburg Landing, are some low bare hills, partly inclosed by a forest. In the dusk of the evening of
April 6 this open space, as seen from the other side of the stream - whence, indeed, it was anxiously watched by thousands
of eyes, to many of which it grew dark long before the sun went down - would have appeared to have been ruled in long, dark
lines, with new lines being constantly drawn across. These lines were the regiments of Buell's leading division, which having
moved up from Savannah through a country presenting nothing but interminable swamps and pathless "bottom lands," with rank
overgrowths of jungle, was arriving at the scene of action breathless, footsore and faint with hunger. It had been a terrible
race; some regiments had lost a third of their number from fatigue, the men dropping from the ranks as if shot, and left to
recover or die at their leisure. Nor was the scene to which they had been invited likely to inspire the moral confidence that
medicines physical fatigue. True, the air was full of thunder and the earth was trembling beneath their feet; and if there
is truth in the theory of the conversion of force, these men were storing up energy from every shock that burst its waves
upon their bodies. Perhaps this theory may better than another explain the tremendous endurance of men in battle. But the
eyes reported only matter for despair.
Before us ran the turbulent river, vexed
with plunging shells and obscured in spots by blue sheets of low-lying smoke. The two little steamers were doing their duty
well. They came over to us empty and went back crowded, sitting very low in the water, apparently on the point of capsizing.
The farther edge of the water could not be seen; the boats came out of the obscurity, took on their passengers and vanished
in the darkness. But on the heights above, the battle was burning brightly enough; a thousand lights kindled and expired in
every second of time. There were broad flushings in the sky, against which the branches of the trees showed black. Sudden
flames burst out here and there, singly and in dozens. Fleeting streaks of fire crossed over to us by way of welcome. These
expired in blinding flashes and fierce little rolls of smoke, attended with the peculiar metallic ring of bursting shells,
and followed by the musical humming of the fragments as they struck into the ground on every side, making us wince, but doing
little harm. The air was full of noises. To the right and the left the musketry rattled smartly and petulantly; directly in
front it sighed and growled. To the experienced ear this meant that the death-line was an arc of which the river was the chord.
There were deep, shaking explosions and smart shocks; the whisper of stray bullets and the hurtle of conical shells; the rush
of round shot. There were faint, desultory cheers, such as announce a momentary or partial triumph. Occasionally, against
the glare behind the trees, could be seen moving black figures, singularly distinct but apparently no longer than a thumb.
They seemed to me ludicrously like the figures of demons in old allegorical prints of hell. To destroy these and all their
belongings the enemy needed but another hour of daylight; the steamers in that case would have been doing him fine service
by bringing more fish to his net. Those of us who had the good fortune to arrive late could then have eaten our teeth in impotent
rage. Nay, to make his victory sure it did not need that the sun should pause in the heavens; one of the many random shots
falling into the river would have done the business had chance directed it into the engine-room of a steamer. You can perhaps
fancy the anxiety with which we watched them leaping down.
But we had two other
allies besides the night. Just where the enemy had pushed his right flank to the river was the mouth of a wide bayou, and
here two gunboats had taken station. They too were of the toy sort, plated perhaps with railway metals, perhaps with boiler-iron.
They staggered under a heavy gun or two each. The bayou made an opening in the high bank of the river. The bank was a parapet,
behind which the gunboats crouched, firing up the bayou as through an embrasure. The enemy was at this disadvantage: he could
not get at the gunboats, and he could advance only by exposing his flank to their ponderous missiles, one of which would have
broken a half-mile of his bones and made nothing of it. Very annoying this must have been - these twenty gunners beating back
an army because a sluggish creek had been pleased to fall into a river at one point rather than another. Such is the part
that accident may play in the game of war.
As a spectacle this was rather fine.
We could just discern the black bodies of these boats, looking very much like turtles. But when they let off their big guns
there was a conflagration. The river shuddered in its banks, and hurried on, bloody, wounded, terrified! Objects a mile away
sprang toward our eyes as a snake strikes at the face of its victim. The report stung us to the brain, but we blessed it audibly.
Then we could hear the great shell tearing away through the air until the sound died out in the distance; then, a surprisingly
long time afterward, a dull, distant explosion and a sudden silence of small-arms told their own tale.
There was, I remember, no
elephant on the boat that passed us across that evening, nor, I think, any hippopotamus. These would have been out of place.
We had, however, a woman. Whether the baby was somewhere on board I did not learn. She was a fine creature, this woman; somebody's
wife. Her mission, as she understood it, was to inspire the failing heart with courage; and when she selected mine I felt
less flattered by her preference than astonished by her penetration. How did she learn? She stood on the upper deck with the
red blaze of battle bathing her beautiful face, the twinkle of a thousand rifles mirrored in her eyes; and displaying a small
ivory-handled pistol, she told me in a sentence punctuated by the thunder of great guns that if it came to the worst she would
do her duty like a man! I am proud to remember that I took off my hat to this little fool.
Along the sheltered strip
of beach between the river bank and the water was a confused mass of humanity - several thousands of men. They were mostly
unarmed; many were wounded; some dead. All the camp-following tribes were there; all the cowards; a few officers. Not one
of them knew where his regiment was, nor if he had a regiment. Many had not. These men were defeated, beaten, cowed. They
were deaf to duty and dead to shame. A more demented crew never drifted to the rear of broken battalions. They would have
stood in their tracks and been shot down to a man by a provost-marshals guard, but they could not have been urged up that
bank. An army's bravest men are its cowards. The death which they would not meet at the hands of the enemy they will meet
at the hands of their officers, with never a flinching.
Whenever a steamboat
would land, this abominable mob had to be kept off her with bayonets; when she pulled away, they sprang on her and were pushed
by scores into the water, where they were suffered to drown one another in their own way. The men disembarking insulted them,
shoved them, struck them. In return they expressed their unholy delight in the certainty of our destruction by the enemy.
By the time my regiment had reached the plateau night had put an end to the struggle. A sputter of rifles would break out
now and then, followed perhaps by a spiritless hurrah. Occasionally a shell from a faraway battery would come pitching down
somewhere near, with a whir crescendo, or flit above our heads with a whisper like that made by the wings of a night bird,
to smother itself in the river. But there was no more fighting. The gunboats, however, blazed away at set intervals all night
long, just to make the enemy uncomfortable and break him of his rest.
there was no rest. Foot by foot we moved through the dusky fields, we knew not whither. There were men all about us, but no
campfires; to have made a blaze would have been madness. The men were of strange regiments; they mentioned the names of unknown
generals. They gathered in groups by the wayside, asking eagerly our numbers. They recounted the depressing incidents of the
day. A thoughtful officer shut their mouths with a sharp word as he passed; a wise one coming after encouraged them to repeat
their doleful tale all along the line.
Hidden in hollows and behind clumps of
rank brambles were large tents, dimly lighted with candles, but looking comfortable. The kind of comfort they supplied was
indicated by pairs of men entering and reappearing, bearing litters; by low moans from within and by long rows of dead with
covered faces outside. These tents were constantly receiving the wounded, yet were never full; they were continually ejecting
the dead, yet were never empty. It was as if the helpless had been carried in and murdered, that they might not hamper those
whose business it was to fall tomorrow.
The night was now black-dark; as is
usual after a battle, it had begun to rain. Still we moved; we were being put into position by somebody. Inch by inch we crept
along, treading on one another's heels by way of keeping together. Commands were passed along the line in whispers; more commonly
none were given. When the men had pressed so closely together that they could advance no farther they stood stock-still, sheltering
the locks of their rifles with their ponchos. In this position many fell asleep. When those in front suddenly stepped away,
those in the rear, roused by the tramping, hastened after with such zeal that the line was soon choked again. Evidently the
head of the division was being piloted at a snails pace by some one who did not feel sure of his ground. Very often we struck
our feet against the dead; more frequently against those who still had spirit enough to resent it with a moan. These were
lifted carefully to one side and abandoned. Some had sense enough to ask in their weak way for water. Absurd! Their clothes
were soaken, their hair dank; their white faces, dimly discernible, were clammy and cold. Besides, none of us had any water.
There was plenty coming, though, for before midnight a thunderstorm broke upon us with great violence. The rain, which had
for hours been a dull drizzle, fell with a copiousness that stifled us; we moved in running water up to our ankles. Happily,
we were in a forest of great trees heavily "decorated" with Spanish moss, or with an enemy standing to his guns the disclosures
of the lightning might have been inconvenient. As it was, the incessant blaze enabled us to consult our watches and encouraged
us by displaying our numbers; our black, sinuous line, creeping like a giant serpent beneath the trees, was apparently interminable.
I am almost ashamed to say how sweet I found the companionship of those coarse men.
So the long night wore away, and as the glimmer of morning crept in through the forest we found ourselves in a more open country.
But where? Not a sign of battle was here. The trees were neither splintered nor scarred, the underbrush was unmown, the ground
had no footprints but our own. It was as if we had broken into glades sacred to eternal silence. I should not have been surprised
to see sleek leopards come fawning about our feet, and milk-white deer confront us with human eyes.
A few inaudible commands from an invisible leader had placed us in order of battle. But where was the enemy? Where, too, were
the riddled regiments that we had come to save? Had our other divisions arrived during the night and passed the river to assist
us? Or were we to oppose our paltry five thousand breasts to an army flushed with victory? What protected our right? Who lay
upon our left? Was there really anything in our front?
There came, borne to
us on the raw morning air, the long, weird note of a bugle. It was directly before us. It rose with a low, clear, deliberate
warble, and seemed to float in the gray sky like the note of a lark. The bugle calls of the Federal and the Confederate armies
were the same: it was the "assembly"! As it died away I observed that the atmosphere had suffered a change; despite the equilibrium
established by the storm, it was electric. Wings were growing on blistered feet. Bruised muscles and jolted bones, shoulders
pounded by the cruel knapsack, eyelids leaden from lack of sleep - all were pervaded by the subtle fluid, all were unconscious
of their clay. The men thrust forward their heads, expanded their eyes and clenched their teeth. They breathed hard, as if
throttled by tugging at the leash. If you had laid your hand in the beard or hair of one of these men it would have crackled
and shot sparks.
I suppose the country lying
between Corinth and Pittsburg Landing could boast a few inhabitants other than alligators. What manner of people they were
it is impossible to say, inasmuch as the fighting dispersed, or possibly exterminated them; perhaps in merely classing them
as non-saurian I shall describe them with sufficient particularity and at the same time avert from myself the natural
suspicion attaching to a writer who points out to persons who do not know him the peculiarities of persons whom he
does not know. One thing, however, I hope I may without offense affirm of these swamp-dwellers - they were pious. To what
deity their veneration was given - whether, like the Egyptians, they worshiped the crocodile, or, like other Americans, adored
themselves, I do not presume to guess. But whoever, or whatever, may have been the divinity whose ends they shaped, unto Him,
or It, they had built a temple. This humble edifice, centrally situated in the heart of a solitude, and conveniently accessible
to the super sylvan crow, had been christened Shiloh Chapel, whence the name of the battle. The fact of a Christian church
- assuming it to have been a Christian church - giving name to a wholesale cutting of Christian throats by Christian hands
need not be dwelt on here; the frequency of its recurrence in the history of our species has somewhat abated the moral interest
that would otherwise attach to it.
Owing to the darkness, the
storm and the absence of a road, it had been impossible to move the artillery from the open ground about the Landing. The
privation was much greater in a moral than in a material sense. The infantry soldier feels a confidence in this cumbrous arm
quite unwarranted by its actual achievements in thinning out the opposition. There is something that inspires confidence in
the way a gun dashes up to the front, shoving fifty or a hundred men to one side as if it said, "Permit me!" Then it squares
its shoulders, calmly dislocates a joint in its back, sends away its twenty-four legs and settles down with a quiet rattle
which says as plainly as possible, "I've come to stay." There is a superb scorn in its grimly defiant attitude, with its nose
in the air; it appears not so much to threaten the enemy as deride him.
batteries were probably toiling after us somewhere; we could only hope the enemy might delay his attack until they should
arrive. "He may delay his defense if he like," said a sententious young officer to whom I had imparted this natural wish.
He had read the signs aright; the words were hardly spoken when a group of staff officers about the brigade commander shot
away in divergent lines as if scattered by a whirlwind, and galloping each to the commander of a regiment gave the word. There
was a momentary confusion of tongues, a thin line of skirmishers detached itself from the compact front and pushed forward,
followed by its diminutive reserves of half a company each - one of which platoons it was my fortune to command. When the
straggling line of skirmishers had swept four or five hundred yards ahead, "See," said one of my comrades, "she moves!" She
did indeed, and in fine style, her front as straight as a string, her reserve regiments in columns doubled on the centre,
following in true subordination; no braying of brass to apprise the enemy, no fifing and drumming to amuse him; no ostentation
of gaudy flags; no nonsense. This was a matter of business.
In a few moments
we had passed out of the singular oasis that bad 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, apparently, except one, who lay near
where I had halted my platoon to await the slower movement of the lint - a Federal sergeant, variously hurt, who had been
a fine giant in his time. He lay face upward, taking in his breath in convulsive, rattling snorts, and blowing it out
in sputters of froth which crawled creamily down his cheeks, piling itself alongside his neck and ears. A bullet had
clipped a groove in his skull, above the temple; from this the brain protruded in bosses, dropping off in flakes and strings.
I had not previously known one could get on, even in this unsatisfactory fashion, with so little brain. One of my men, whom
I knew fro a womanish fellow, asked if he should put his bayonet through him. Inexpressibly shocked by the cold-blooded
proposal, I told him I thought not; it was unusual, and too many were looking.
It was plain that the enemy
had retreated to Corinth. The arrival of our fresh troops and their successful passage of the river had disheartened him.
Three or four of his gray cavalry videttes moving amongst the trees on the crest of a hill in our front, and galloping out
of sight at the crack of our skirmishers rifles, confirmed us in the belief; an army face to face with its enemy does not
employ cavalry to watch its front. True, they might be a general and his staff. Crowning this rise we found a level field,
a quarter of a mile in width; beyond it a gentle acclivity, covered with an undergrowth of young oaks, impervious to sight.
We pushed on into the open, but the division halted at the edge. Having orders to conform to its movements, we halted too;
but that did not suit; we received an intimation to proceed. I had performed this sort of service before, and in the exercise
of my discretion deployed my platoon, pushing it forward at a run, with trailed arms, to strengthen the skirmish line, which
I overtook some thirty or forty yards from the wood. Then - I cant describe it - the forest seemed all at once to flame up
and disappear with a crash like that of a great wave upon the beach - a crash that expired in hot hissings, and the sickening
"spat" of lead against flesh. A dozen of my brave fellows tumbled over like ten-pins. Some struggled to their feet, only to
go down again, and yet again. Those who stood fired into the smoking brush and doggedly retired. We had expected to find,
at most, a line of skirmishers similar to our own; it was with a view to overcoming them by a sudden coup at the
moment of collision that I had thrown forward my little reserve. What we had found was a line of battle, coolly holding its
fire till it could count our teeth. There was no more to be done but get back across the open ground, every superficial yard
of which was throwing up its little jet of mud provoked by an impinging bullet. We got back, most of us, and I shall never
forget the ludicrous incident of a young officer who had taken part in the affair walking up to his colonel, who had been
a calm and apparently impartial spectator, and gravely reporting: "The enemy is in force just beyond this field, sir."
In subordination to the design
of this narrative, as defined by its title, the incidents related necessarily group themselves about my own personality as
a centre; and, as this centre, during the few terrible hours of the engagement, maintained a variably constant relation to
the open field already mentioned, it is important that the reader should bear in mind the topographical and tactical features
of the local situation. The hither side of the field was occupied by the front of my brigade - a length of two regiments in
line, with proper intervals for field batteries. During the entire fight the enemy held the slight wooded acclivity beyond.
The debatable ground to the right and left of the open was broken and thickly wooded for miles, in some places quite inaccessible
to artillery and at very few points offering opportunities for its successful employment. As a consequence of this the two
sides of the field were soon studded thickly with confronting guns, which flamed away at one another with amazing zeal and
rather startling effect. Of course, an infantry attack delivered from either side was not to be thought of when the covered
flanks offered inducements so unquestionably superior; and I believe the riddled bodies of my poor skirmishers were the only
ones left on this "neutral ground" that day. But there was a very pretty line of dead continually growing in our rear; and
doubtless the enemy had at his back a similar encouragement.
of the ground offered us no protection. By lying flat on our faces between the guns we were screened from view by a straggling
row of brambles, which marked the course of an obsolete fence; but the enemy's grape was sharper than his eyes, and it was
poor consolation to know that his gunners could not see what they were doing, so long as they did it. The shock of our own
pieces nearly deafened us, but in the brief intervals we could hear the battle roaring and stammering in the dark reaches
of the forest to the right and left, where our other divisions were dashing themselves again and again into the smoking jungle.
What would we not have given to join them in their brave, hopeless task! But to lie inglorious beneath showers of shrapnel
darting divergent from the unassailable sky - meekly to be blown out of life by level gusts of grape - to clench our teeth
and shrink helpless before big shot pushing noisily through the consenting air--this was horrible! "Lie down, there!" a captain
would shout, and then get up himself to see that his order was obeyed. "Captain, take cover, sir!" the lieutenant-colonel
would shriek, pacing up and down in the most exposed position that he could find.
O those cursed guns! - not the enemy's, but our own. Had it not been for them, we might have died like men. They must be supported,
forsooth, the feeble, boasting bullies! It was impossible to conceive that these pieces were doing the enemy as excellent
a mischief as his were doing us; they seemed to raise their "cloud by day" solely to direct aright the streaming procession
of Confederate missiles. They no longer inspired confidence, but begot apprehension; and it was with grim satisfaction that
I saw the carriage of one and another smashed into matchwood by a whooping shot and bundled out of the line.
The dense forests wholly
or partly in which were fought so many battles of the Civil War, lay upon the earth in each autumn a thick deposit of dead
leaves and stems, the decay of which forms a soil of surprising depth and richness. In dry weather the upper stratum is as
inflammable as tinder. A fire once kindled in it will spread with a slow, persistent advance as far as local conditions permit,
leaving a bed of light ashes beneath which the less combustible accretions of previous years will smolder until extinguished
by rains. In many of the engagements of the war the fallen leaves took fire and roasted the fallen men. At Shiloh, during
the first days fighting, wide tracts of woodland were burned over in this way and scores of wounded who might have recovered
perished in slow torture. I remember a deep ravine a little to the left and rear of the field I have described, in which,
by some mad freak of heroic incompetence, a part of an Illinois regiment had been surrounded, and refusing to surrender was
destroyed, as it very well deserved. My regiment having at last been relieved at the guns and moved over to the heights above
this ravine for no obvious purpose, I obtained leave to go down into the valley of death and gratify a reprehensible curiosity.
Forbidding enough it was in every way. The fire had swept every superficial foot of it, and at every step I sank into ashes
to the ankle. It had contained a thick undergrowth of young saplings, every one of which had been severed by a bullet, the
foliage of the prostrate tops being afterward burnt and the stumps charred. Death had put his sickle into this thicket and
fire had gleaned the field. Along a line which was not that of extreme depression, but was at every point significantly equidistant
from the heights on either hand, lay the bodies, half buried in ashes; some in the unlovely looseness of attitude denoting
sudden death by the bullet, but by far the greater number in postures of agony that told of the tormenting flame. Their clothing
was half burnt away - their hair and beard entirely; the rain had come too late to save their nails. Some were swollen to
double girth; others shriveled to manikins. According to degree of exposure, their faces were bloated and black or yellow
and shrunken. The contraction of muscles which had given them claws for hands had cursed each countenance with a hideous grin.
Faugh! I cannot catalogue the charms of these gallant gentlemen who had got what they enlisted for.
It was now three o'clock
in the afternoon, and raining. For fifteen hours we had been wet to the skin. Chilled, sleepy, hungry and disappointed - profoundly
disgusted with the inglorious part to which they had been condemned - the men of my regiment did everything doggedly. The
spirit had gone quite out of them. Blue sheets of powder smoke, drifting amongst the trees, settling against the hillsides
and beaten into nothingness by the falling rain, filled the air with their peculiar pungent odor, but it no longer stimulated.
For miles on either hand could be heard the hoarse murmur of the battle, breaking out near by with frightful distinctness,
or sinking to a murmur in the distance; and the one sound aroused no more attention than the other.
We had been placed again in rear of those guns, but even they and their iron antagonists seemed to have tired of their feud,
pounding away at one another with amiable infrequency. The right of the regiment extended a little beyond the field. On the
prolongation of the line in that direction were some regiments of another division, with one in reserve. A third of a mile
back lay the remnant of somebody's brigade looking to its wounds. The line of forest bounding this end of the field stretched
as straight as a wall from the right of my regiment to Heaven knows what regiment of the enemy. There suddenly appeared, marching
down along this wall, not more than two hundred yards in our front, a dozen files of gray-clad men with rifles on the right
shoulder. At an interval of fifty yards they were followed by perhaps half as many more; and in fair; supporting distance
of these stalked with confident mien a single man! There seemed to me something indescribably ludicrous in the advance of
this handful of men upon an army, albeit with their left flank protected by a forest. It does not so impress me now. They
were the exposed flanks of three lines of infantry, each half a mile in length. In a moment our gunners had grappled with
the nearest pieces, swung them half round, and were pouring streams of canister into the invaded wood. The infantry rose in
masses, springing into line. Our threatened regiments stood like a wall, their loaded rifles at "ready," their bayonets hanging
quietly in the scabbards. The right wing of my own regiment was thrown slightly backward to threaten the flank of the assault.
The battered brigade away to the rear pulled itself together.
Then the storm
burst. A great gray cloud seemed to spring out of the forest into the faces of the waiting battalions. It was received with
a crash that made the very trees turn up their leaves. For one instant the assailants paused above their dead, then struggled
forward, their bayonets glittering in the eyes that shone behind the smoke. One moment, and those unmoved men in blue would
be impaled. What were they about? Why did they not fix bayonets? Were they stunned by their own volley? Their inaction was
maddening! Another tremendous crash! - the rear rank had fired! Humanity, thank Heaven! is not made for this, and the shattered
gray mass drew back a score of paces, opening a feeble fire. Lead had scored its old-time victory over steel; the heroic had
broken its great heart against the commonplace. There are those who say that it is sometimes otherwise.
All this had taken but a minute of time, and now the second Confederate line swept down and poured in its fire. The line of
blue staggered and gave way; in those two terrific volleys it seemed to have quite poured out its spirit. To this deadly work
our reserve regiment now came up with a run. It was surprising to see it spitting fire with never a sound, for such was the
infernal din that the ear could take in no more. This fearful scene was enacted within fifty paces of our toes, but we were
rooted to the ground as if we had grown there. But now our commanding officer rode from behind us to the front, waved his
hand with the courteous gesture that says apres vous, and with a barely audible cheer we sprang into the fight. Again
the smoking front of gray receded, and again, as the enemy's third line emerged from its leafy covert, it pushed forward across
the piles of dead and wounded to threaten with protruded steel. Never was seen so striking a proof of the paramount importance
of numbers. Within an area of three hundred yards by fifty there struggled for front places no fewer than six regiments; and
the accession of each after the first collision, had it not been immediately counterposed, would have turned the scale.
As matters stood, we were now very evenly matched, and how long we might have held out God only knows. But all at once something
appeared to have gone wrong with the enemy's left; our men had somewhere pierced his line. A moment later his whole front
gave way and springing forward with fixed bayonets we pushed him in utter confusion back to his original line. Here, among
the tents from which Grant's people had been expelled the day before, our broken and disordered regiments inextricably intermingled,
and drunken with the wine of triumph, dashed confidently against a pair of trim battalions, provoking a tempest of hissing
lead that made us stagger under its very weight. The sharp onset of another against our flank sent us whirling hack with fire
at our heels and fresh foes in merciless pursuit - who in their turn were broken upon the front of the invalided brigade previously
mentioned, which had moved up from the rear to assist in this lively work.
we rallied to reform behind our beloved guns and noted the ridiculous brevity of our line - as we sank from sheer fatigue,
and tried to moderate the terrific thumping of our hearts - as we caught our breath to ask who had seen such-and-such a comrade,
and laughed hysterically at the reply - there swept past us and over us into the open field a long regiment with fixed bayonets
and rifles on the right shoulder. Another followed, and another; two - three - four! Heavens! Where do all these men come
from, and why did they not come before? How grandly and confidently they go sweeping on like long blue waves of ocean chasing
one another to the cruel rocks! Involuntarily we draw in our weary feet beneath us as we sit, ready to spring up and interpose
our breasts when these gallant lines shall come back to us across the terrible field, and sift brokenly through among the
trees with spouting fires at their backs. We still our breathing to catch the full grandeur of the volleys that are to tear
them to shreds. Minute after minute passes and the sound does not come. Then for the first time we note that the silence of
the whole region is not comparative, but absolute. Have we become stone deaf? See; here comes a stretcher-bearer, and there
a surgeon! Good heavens! A chaplain!
The battle was indeed at an end.
And this was, O so long ago! How
they come back to me - dimly and brokenly, but with what a magic spell - those years of youth when I was soldiering! Again
I hear the far warble of blown bugles. Again I see the tall, blue smoke of camp-fires ascending from the dim valleys of Wonderland.
There steals upon my sense the ghost of an odor from pines that canopy the ambuscade. I feel upon my cheek the morning mist
that shrouds the hostile camp unaware of its doom, and my blood stirs at the ringing rifle-shot of the solitary sentinel.
Unfamiliar landscapes, glittering with sunshine or sullen with rain, come to me demanding recognition, pass, vanish and give
place to others. Here in the night stretches a wide and blasted field studded with half-extinct fires burning red with I know
not what presage of evil. Again I shudder as I note its desolation and its awful silence. Where was it? To what monstrous
in harmony of death was it the visible prelude?
O days when all the world was
beautiful and strange; when unfamiliar constellations burned in the Southern midnights, and the mocking-bird poured out his
heart in the moon-gilded magnolia; when there was something new under a new sun; will your fine, far memories ever cease to
lay contrasting pictures athwart the harsher features of this later world, accentuating the ugliness of the longer and tamer
life? Is it not strange that the phantoms of a blood-stained period have so airy a grace and look with so tender eyes? That
I recall with difficulty the danger and death and horrors of the time, and without effort all that was gracious and picturesque?
Ah, Youth, there is no such wizard as thou! Give me but one touch of thine artist hand upon the dull canvas of the Present;
gild for but one moment the drear and somber scenes of to-day, and I will willingly surrender another life than the one that
I should have thrown away at Shiloh.
* Famous author Ambrose Bierce served in the 9th Indiana
Infantry at Shiloh. His regiment arrived with Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio, and saw heavy action on the second day
of battle. Bierce also served as topographical engineer (map maker) on General William B. Hazen's staff during the Chattanooga
The soldier-turned writer left a vivid account of his exploits in the Battle
of Shiloh. Ambrose Bierce authored "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,"
"Chickamauga," and other Civil War stories.
Reading: Shiloh: A Novel, by Shelby Foote. Review: In the novel Shiloh, historian and Civil War expert Shelby
Foote delivers a spare, unflinching account of the battle of Shiloh, which was fought over
the course of two days in April 1862. By mirroring the troops' movements through the woods of Tennessee with the activity of each soldier's mind, Foote offers the reader a broad perspective
of the battle and a detailed view of the issues behind it. Continued below…
becomes tangible as Foote interweaves the observations of Union and Confederate officers, simple foot soldiers, brave men, and cowards and describes
the roar of the muskets and the haze of the gun smoke. The author's vivid storytelling creates a rich chronicle of a pivotal
battle in American history.
Reading: Shiloh--In Hell before Night. Description: James McDonough has written a good, readable and concise history of a battle that the author characterizes
as one of the most important of the Civil War, and writes an interesting history of this decisive 1862 confrontation in the
West. He blends first person and newspaper accounts to give the book a good balance between the general's view and the soldier's
view of the battle. Continued below…
enlightening is his description of Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston, the commander who was killed on the first day
of the battle. McDonough makes a pretty convincing argument that Johnston fell far short of the image that many give him
in contemporary and historical writings. He is usually portrayed as an experienced and decisive commander of men. This book
shows that Johnston was a man of modest war and command experience,
and that he rose to prominence shortly before the Civil War. His actions (or inaction) prior to the meeting at Shiloh -- offering
to let his subordinate Beauregard take command for example -- reveal a man who had difficulty managing the responsibility
fostered on him by his command. The author does a good job of presenting several other historical questions and problems like
Johnston's reputation vs. reality that really add a lot of
interest to the pages.
Reading: Shiloh: The Battle That Changed the Civil War (Simon & Schuster). From Publishers Weekly: The bloodbath at
Shiloh, Tenn. (April 6-7,
1862), brought an end to any remaining innocence in the Civil War. The combined 23,000 casualties that the two armies inflicted
on each other in two days shocked North and South alike. Ulysses S. Grant kept his head and managed, with reinforcements,
to win a hard-fought victory. Continued below…
general Albert Sidney Johnston was wounded and bled to death, leaving P.G.T. Beauregard to disengage and retreat with a dispirited
gray-clad army. Daniel (Soldiering in the Army of Tennessee) has crafted a superbly researched volume that will appeal to
both the beginning Civil War reader as well as those already familiar with the course of fighting in the wooded terrain bordering
the Tennessee River.
His impressive research includes the judicious use of contemporary newspapers and extensive collections of unpublished letters
and diaries. He offers a lengthy discussion of the overall strategic situation that preceded the battle, a survey of the generals
and their armies and, within the notes, sharp analyses of the many controversies that Shiloh
has spawned, including assessments of previous scholarship on the battle. This first new book on Shiloh
in a generation concludes with a cogent chapter on the consequences of those two fatal days of conflict.
Reading: Seeing the Elephant: RAW RECRUITS AT THE BATTLE OF SHILOH. Description: One of the bloodiest battles in the Civil War, the
two-day engagement near Shiloh, Tennessee,
in April 1862 left more than 23,000 casualties. Fighting alongside seasoned veterans were more than 160 newly recruited regiments
and other soldiers who had yet to encounter serious action. In the phrase of the time, these men came to Shiloh
to "see the elephant". Continued below…
the letters, diaries, and other reminiscences of these raw recruits on both sides of the conflict, "Seeing the Elephant" gives
a vivid and valuable primary account of the terrible struggle. From the wide range of voices included in this volume emerges
a nuanced picture of the psychology and motivations of the novice soldiers and the ways in which their attitudes toward the
war were affected by their experiences at Shiloh.
Reading: Shiloh and the Western Campaign
of 1862. Review: The bloody and decisive two-day
battle of Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862) changed the entire course of the American Civil War. The
stunning Northern victory thrust Union commander Ulysses S. Grant into the national spotlight, claimed the life of Confederate
commander Albert S. Johnston, and forever buried the notion that the Civil War would be a short conflict. The conflagration
at Shiloh had its roots in the strong Union advance during the winter of 1861-1862 that resulted in the capture of Forts Henry
and Donelson in Tennessee. Continued below…
collapsed General Albert S. Johnston advanced line in Kentucky and forced him to withdraw all the way to northern Mississippi. Anxious to attack the enemy, Johnston began
concentrating Southern forces at Corinth, a major railroad center just below the Tennessee border. His bold plan called for his Army of the Mississippi to march north and destroy General Grant's Army of the Tennessee
before it could link up with another Union army on the way to join him. On the morning of April 6, Johnston
boasted to his subordinates, "Tonight we will water our horses in the Tennessee!"
They nearly did so. Johnston's sweeping attack hit the unsuspecting Federal camps at Pittsburg
Landing and routed the enemy from position after position as they fell back toward the Tennessee River.
Johnston's sudden death in the Peach Orchard, however, coupled
with stubborn Federal resistance, widespread confusion, and Grant's dogged determination to hold the field, saved the Union
army from destruction. The arrival of General Don C. Buell's reinforcements that night turned the tide of battle. The next
day, Grant seized the initiative and attacked the Confederates, driving them from the field. Shiloh
was one of the bloodiest battles of the entire war, with nearly 24,000 men killed, wounded, and missing. Edward Cunningham,
a young Ph.D. candidate studying under the legendary T. Harry Williams at Louisiana
State University, researched and wrote Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862 in 1966. Although it remained unpublished, many Shiloh
experts and park rangers consider it to be the best overall examination of the battle ever written. Indeed, Shiloh
historiography is just now catching up with Cunningham, who was decades ahead of modern scholarship. Western Civil War historians
Gary D. Joiner and Timothy B. Smith have resurrected Cunningham's beautifully written and deeply researched manuscript from
its undeserved obscurity. Fully edited and richly annotated with updated citations and observations, original maps, and a
complete order of battle and table of losses, Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862 will
be welcomed by everyone who enjoys battle history at its finest. Edward Cunningham, Ph.D., studied under T. Harry Williams
at Louisiana State
University. He was the author of The Port Hudson Campaign: 1862-1863
(LSU, 1963). Dr. Cunningham died in 1997. Gary D. Joiner, Ph.D. is the author of One Damn Blunder from Beginning to End: The
Red River Campaign of 1864, winner of the 2004 Albert Castel Award and the 2005 A. M. Pate, Jr., Award, and Through the Howling
Wilderness: The 1864 Red River Campaign and Union Failure in the West. He lives in Shreveport,
Louisiana. About the Author: Timothy B. Smith, Ph.D., is author of Champion Hill:
Decisive Battle for Vicksburg (winner of the 2004 Mississippi
Institute of Arts and Letters Non-fiction Award), The Untold Story of Shiloh: The Battle and the Battlefield, and This Great
Battlefield of Shiloh: History, Memory, and the Establishment of a Civil War National Military Park. A former ranger at Shiloh,
Tim teaches history at the University of Tennessee.
Recommended Reading: The Battle
of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged (Hardcover). Description: How can an essential "cornerstone of Shiloh
historiography" remain unavailable to the general public for so long? That's what I kept thinking as I was reading this reprint
of the 1913 edition of David W. Reed's “The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged.” Reed, a veteran of
the Battle of Shiloh and the first historian of the Shiloh National Military Park,
was tabbed to write the official history of the battle, and this book was the result. Reed wrote a short, concise history
of the fighting and included quite a bit of other valuable information in the pages that followed. The large and impressive
maps that accompanied the original text are here converted into digital format and included in a CD located within a flap
at the back of the book. Author and former Shiloh Park Ranger Timothy Smith is responsible for bringing this important reference
work back from obscurity. His introduction to the book also places it in the proper historical framework. Continued below…
Reed's history of the campaign and battle covers only seventeen pages and is meant to be a brief history of the subject.
The detail is revealed in the rest of the book. And what detail there is! Reed's order of battle for Shiloh goes down to the regimental
and battery level. He includes the names of the leaders of each organization where known, including whether or not these men
were killed, wounded, captured, or suffered some other fate. In a touch not often seen in modern studies, the author also
states the original regiment of brigade commanders. In another nice piece of detail following the order of battle, staff officers
for each brigade and higher organization are listed. The book's main point and where it truly shines is in the section entitled
"Detailed Movements of Organizations". Reed follows each unit in their movements during the battle. Reading this section along
with referring to the computerized maps gives one a solid foundation for future study of Shiloh.
Forty-five pages cover the brigades of all three armies present at Shiloh.
Wargamers and buffs will love the "Abstract of Field Returns". This section lists Present for Duty, engaged, and casualties
for each regiment and battery in an easy to read table format. Grant's entire Army of the Tennessee has Present for Duty strengths. Buell's Army of the Ohio is also counted well. The Confederate Army of the Mississippi
is counted less accurately, usually only going down to brigade level and many times relying only on engaged strengths. That
said, buy this book if you are looking for a good reference work for help with your order of battle.
In what I believe is an unprecedented move in Civil War literature, the University
of Tennessee Press made the somewhat unusual decision to include Reed's
detailed maps of the campaign and battle in a CD which is included in a plastic sleeve inside the back cover of the book.
The cost of reproducing the large maps and including them as foldouts or in a pocket in the book must have been prohibitive,
necessitating this interesting use of a CD. The maps were simple to view and came in a PDF format. All you'll need is Adobe
Acrobat Reader, a free program, to view these. It will be interesting to see if other publishers follow suit. Maps are an
integral part of military history, and this solution is far better than deciding to include poor maps or no maps at all. The
Read Me file that came with the CD relays the following information:
The maps contained on this CD are scans of the original oversized maps printed in the 1913 edition of D. W. Reed's
The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged. The original maps, which were in a very large format and folded out of
the pages of this edition, are of varying sizes, up to 23 inches by 25 inches. They were originally created in 1901 by the
Shiloh National Military Park under the direction of its historian,
David W. Reed. They are the most accurate Shiloh battle maps in existence.
The maps on the CD are saved as PDF (Portable Document Format) files and can be read on any operating system (Windows,
Macintosh, Linux) by utilizing Adobe Acrobat Reader. Visit http://www.adobe.com to download Acrobat Reader if you do not have
it installed on your system.
Map 1. The Field of Operations from Which the Armies Were Concentrated at Shiloh,
March and April 1862
Map 2. The Territory between Corinth, Miss., and Pittsburgh Landing, Tenn., Showing Positions and Route of the Confederate
Army in Its Advance to Shiloh, April 3, 4, 5, & 6, 1862
Map 3. Positions on the First Day, April 6, 1862
Map 4. Positions on the Second Day, April 7, 1862
Complete captions appear on the maps.
Timothy Smith has done students of the Civil War an enormous favor by republishing this important early work on Shiloh. Relied on for generations by Park Rangers and other serious students of the battle, The Battle
of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged has been resurrected for a new generation of Civil War readers. This classic reference
work is an essential book for those interested in the Battle of Shiloh. Civil War buffs, wargamers, and those interested in
tactical minutiae will also find Reed's work to be a very good buy. Highly recommended.