John J. Hight.

History of the Fifty-eighth regiment of Indiana volunteer infantry. Its organization, campaigns and battles from 1861 to 1865 online

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Online LibraryJohn J. HightHistory of the Fifty-eighth regiment of Indiana volunteer infantry. Its organization, campaigns and battles from 1861 to 1865 → online text (page 5 of 47)
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far away, this was the saddest event of the whole war.

Sunday morning, the 6th of April, we marched at 5
o'clock. Our way lay through the hills. The country was
barren and the people poor. But for the first time since
leaving Nashville we saw evidences of genuine loyalty.
The people hung out the star spangled banner and
greeted us with cheers. Some of them had come many


miles to hail the soldiers of the Union. The love of liberty
like Christianity flourishes most amongst the poor. The
people soon began to report to us that they could hear
cannonading. By going away from the column I could
distinctly note the sound. Some were unbelieving at first.
But the reports grew more and more distinct until they
could be heard above the noise of the marching arm}^.
These were the first notes of genuine war that ever saluted
the ears of the men of the 58th Indiana. Deeper, louder
grew the muttering sounds of battle from the plains far away
beyond the Tennessee. Thev were in strange contrast with
the quiet of that lovel}^ Sabbath dav, and told too plainh^ that
our countr}^ once peaceful and united, was now distracted b}^
civil war. The country people unaccustomed to such sights
and sounds came forth from their homes amongst the hills
and sat b}^ the wayside, watching the endless column filing
by and listening to the sound of distant battle. The pace
was quickened. Men pressed forward with eagerness.
Notwithstanding our great distance from the battle rumors
soon began to fly amongst us. They came more rapidly
than if borne by winged Mercury. When, afterwards, we
ascertained the exact facts of the battle we found that many
of these rumors were tme. By what means did the}^ come?
We were nearly fift}?^ miles from the battlefield. No courier
had yet reached us. There were no electric wires. But the
front of Buell's army was even now reaching the Tennessee,
at Savannah, and formed a grand telegraphic line of human
minds forty miles long ! Back through this living line,
over hills, valleys and streams, came the news of battle dis-
torted and exaggerated, but with a vein of truth running
through it all. By this means we learned that the rebels
had made the attack. "They will be defeated because they
began the battle on Sabbath," is the sentiment boldh' avowed
by imndreds of soldiers. The memorv of Bull Run was
yet fresh in the minds of all. A deep and correct convic-
tion prevailed that the commands of God could not be trifled
with. It was an almost universal sentiment in the armv at


that time that that General who commenced a battle on Sab-
bath was sure of defeat. Another source of confidence was
the fact that Buell's arm}' would begin to reach Grant at
least by this evening. He certainly could hold out until
this should happen.

Our Brigade was the rear of the army except Thomas'
Division. Under the stimulant of exciting events men
became animated. Their minds were filled with bus}-
thoughts. There was more than ordinary hilarity and con-
versation in the ranks. The onl}^ fear expressed was that
the battle would be over before we got there. Some were
even dispirited bv this thought. All put forward their best
energies. Though the way was rough we made twenty
miles or more before night came upon us. We went into
camp. Occasional guns were fired during the night, and a
heavy rain fell.

Monday morning, April 7, the column moved forward at
3 o'clock. The events of this day were similar to those of
yesterday. The country was rougher and the roads very
bad. Great numbers of people flocked to the roadside.
Our ears were early saluted b}^ the sound of the battle
renewed. The cannonading came with startling distinct-
ness. We could now begin to distinguish between the dis-
charge of single guns and entire batteries. We learn that
our men are sore pressed and we receive orders to quicken
our pace. The way in front is blocked up b}^ the trains of
preceding Divisions. The road is so bad that they cannot
move rapidly. We soon began to pass them. Some of
these wagons were moving along the road and some were
across it. Some were on the right and some were on the
left. Some were moving out of the way and some were
stuck deep in the mud. Some were hung against trees and
some were broken down. Some were parked and others
tr^nng to park. There were guards with tliiMii and a few
skulkers, who had no relish for "that noise." Our own
trains had been left far in the rear by this time. It was now
past noon. The order came to draw ten days' rations from



any train we came to and press on. The men were not pre-
pared to take care of so many rations. The officers had no
way at all to take this supply along. The lives almost of
men and officers were bound up in the baggage trains. So
many wagons are only a nuisance. We drew bacon, hard
bread, coffee and sugar from General Thomas' supply train,
and then hurried on.

Our entire march from Nashville, with the exception of
one day, might be called a forced march. Many a noble
soldier whose strength had been exhausted by the winter

campaign, crushed almost
to the earth by his heavy
load, and wearied almost
to death by the long
march, had his sunken
eye rekindled and his
pallid countenance reani-
mated b}^ the guns that
called to the field of
battle. There was many
a sore conflict that day
between the weakness of
the flesh and the willing-
ness of the spirit. Many
a one said to himself:
"I must sink down here
for I can go no farther I"
Then the thought woidd
come rushing into his
mind : "Shall I fail just when my coimtry needs me? Shall I
sink down now when reproaches may be cast on my courage?'
Stung by this thought lie collects all his little remaining


* Served as orderly of Company A from organization. Was Adjutant
of the Regiment from June, 1862, to June, 1864. After the close of the war
he engaged in farming near Francisco. Was Treasurer of Gibson county from
1S69 to 1S71. Is now County Assessor and resides in Princeton. Me is
President of the sSth Indiana Regimental Association and a member of this
Publishinii Committee.


strength and moves on. They who spend their lives amid
the pursuits of peace can never comprehend the dire con-
flict which beset the soldier's pathway. But he is repaid if
he but hears of victory in a dying hour, or living, sees the
principles for which he fought triumphant ! About 4 p. m.
the sound of battle died away. Rumors flew thick and fast.
Amongst these the prevailing ones were "Beauregard is
killed, or wounded, and the rebels are defeated." Johnson
was not named in connection with the rebels. It was dark
when we reached Savannah after a march of twenty-five
miles. All the houses in town were full of wounded. We
remained but a short time here and then went on board of
the steamer yohu y. Rowc. The night was rain}^. Many
of the men were exposed to the weather and got no rest.
When the morning of the 8th dawned we found that our
steamer had gone eight miles up the river, and was lying at
Pittsburg Landing. We had passed over one hundred and
fifty miles since leaving Nashville and were now ready to
confront the enemy on the battlefield.


On the Battlefield of Shiloh — First Impressions of
Pittsburg Landing — Visible Effects of the
Great Battle — Distress, Misery and Mud Every-
where — Rumors of a Renewal of the Engagement
— Marching to the Front over the Battle
Ground — Evidences of the Dreadful Carnage —
Resting on Arms, Waiting for the Enemy —
Review of the Two Days' Battle and the Events
Preceding — Some Critical Comments on the Con-
duct OF Commanding Officers.

THE morning of April 8th dawned gloomv after a night
of rain. The sky was overcast b}' clouds and these
were sifting a misting shower upon the earth. Only a few
feet above the water there was a level bottom, about one
hundred feet up and down the stream and about fifty feet
wide. Rising all around this were graduall}' sloping sides
to the hight of about seventy-tive feet. Thus was formed a
semi-amphitheater in the bluffs which here compose the
river bank. This is Pittsburg Landing. The little bottom
and the hillsides was a sea of mud, deep and almost impass-
able. Just at the river's brink there were some sacks of
forage and a few wet slippery planks. There were not
many persons about the Landing at this early hour. There
were a few wounded awaiting the next boat down the river.
On the forage sacks were several dead officers wrapped in
their blankets. Their faces were covered but their boots
were exposed. The rain had fallen upon these dead, so
completelv saturating their blankets and boots, that they


could not have looked more dreary had they been buried in
the waters of the Tennessee. Our eyes could not penetrate
over the bluff. No news came from the army. There was
no sound save the tramping of men on the decks, the dash-
ing of the waters against the hulls and an occasional reveille
from the unseen camps. The voice of conversation was
low. An expression of suspense and profound gloom sat
alike upon the face of nature and the countenances of the
untried soldiers. All minds were filled with wonder as to
what the day would bring forth. There was a general
expectation of battle. But many who had long coveted an
engagement, like the old man in the fable who prayed for
death, began now to beg to be excused. Wearied from long
marching, sleepless nights and exposure, they thought that
thev would prefer the battle should come at some future
time, when the sun shines brightly and they are more happily
circumstanced. Of nothing in all the world ma}' it more
truly be said than of a battle :

"Distance lends enchantmerit to the view."
We are not left long to our observations and reflections
here. The gang plank is thrown out and we are marched
on shore. Plunging amidst the mud, we climb the slippery-
hillside and pause upon the undulating plain that spreads
far and wide from the summit. The guns were stacked and
a short time given for breakfast. A few acres had been
cleared here, and there had been several inferior houses.
One of these buildings — a log hut with two rooms — was
still standing full of wounded and completely surrounded by
dead. The scenes about us beggared all efforts at descrip-
tion. The mud was everywhere deep. The country was
covered with wagons, caissons, ambulances, rations and
ammunition, tents and hospitals, men on foot and horse,
mingled in an interminable manner. Here and there might
be seen a dead horse, but most of the men who had tallen
near here were collected about the hospitals. Some had
already been buried. Near us stood a siege gun, black and
grim, facing to the front. A feeble effort had been made


to throw up a little defensive work in tront of it, but not
enough to protect the gunners. This was about the only
effort at tield works on the battlefield. Everybody we met
had a great deal to sav about the battle. They gave many
details, and had much to tell about the good behavior of
their own Regiment, Brigade, or Division, and about the
cowardice of others. Meanwhile the sharp discharge of
musketry came from the front. This was by us supposed to
be a renewal of the battle, and was so reported by those com-
ing from that way. We did not know at that time that the
participants in a battle always have many exaggerated
tales for new comers. But upon this occasion the expec-
tation of renewed battle was general. One man, hatless
and excited, came b}^ saying that he was just from the front
and that the battle was commencing in great fury.

By this time all things were in readiness. The men
unslung their knapsacks and moved rapidly to the front.
We had gone but a short distance until we began to see our
dead, lying just where they fell, showing how alarmingly
near our men had been driven to the river bank. It was
but a short distance farther until we began to come upon the
rebel dead, plainl}^ distinguishable by their dress. In an
open field, through which we passed, there were great num-
bers of men and horses sleeping their last sleep. On enter-
ing the woods we found the timber wonderfully torn by
musket and cannon shots. Limbs had been severed from
the trees and many bushes had been cut in two. Tiie evi-
dences of the dreadful carnage multiplied at each succeed-
ing step. But blue coats disappear and gray and brown
increase. We see many more rebels than of our own men.
Some were sadly torn by cannon shots but most were struck
by rifle balls. In several places they lav in heaps. But no
time was given to us to tarry by the way. We move on, out
through the camps captured by the rebels on Sunda}- but
lost to them on Monday. We continue our march beyond
the camp of General Prentiss and the point where the battle
first began. Our Brigade here took position on a low ridge



fronting toward the enemy. The men lay upon their arms
during the remainder of the day. The enemy not appear-
ing, and there being no orders to advance, the line was
slightly changed and we went into camp.

Several days were here spent, giving ample time for
wandering about the battlefield and making observation.

The ground presents a succession of hollows and ridges
but these are not deep nor high. There are but few points
where the ground is sufficiently rolling to hide a man when
standing. Indeed one would come near the truth to call the
battletield a plain. The soil is barren and uninviting to the

,.^ husbandman. In wet

weather in some places it
is impassable and in all
mir3% but the sun soon
dries it to a hard pave-
ment. Here and there
might be found a log
house surrounded by a
few cleared acres. But
the native forest, chief!}'
of oak, cover the battle-
field for miles. By this
time the wounded had
all been gathered into
hospital camps, or gath-
ered into the little homes of the poor farmers inhabiting
these parts. Our own dead lay near the Landing, or had
been buried. But everywhere might be seen the lifeless
remains of the horses slain in battle. The number of these
excited our wonder and awakened our sympathies in behalf
of the noblest of the brute creation — man's friend in peace
and his guiltless fellow sufferer in battle.

DR. W. \V. BL.MU.*

* Surgeon from the organization of the Regiment. Medical Director of
General T. J. Wood's Division from August 9, 1862, during the remainder of
his service in the armv. Since the war Dr. Blair has been continuously
engaged in the practice of his profession at his home in Princeton. He is
Treasurer of the 58th Indiana Regimental Association and a member of this
Puhlishinij Coinmittee.


Everywhere we came upon the rebel dead. Two of these
hiy several days in our camp before means were procured
for their burial. There were collections of dead about the
hospitals where they had perished of their wounds. They
were strewn through the woods and in the little fields.
Here lies one who was endeavoring to screen himself behind
a log, and here are several fallen by the same tree. One
wore upon his breast a plate of iron but a grape shot had
torn its way through and plowed its furrow of death into his
very vitals. Some have their heads torn off or body rent
to fragments by cannon balls, and others untouched by any
projectile were slain by the falling branches of the forest.
But the rifle ball had been the busiest messenger of death,
and left by far the most victims on the field of slaughter.
Some had expired seemingly without a struggle while others
had plowed and beat the earth in their d3'ing agony. Some
had crawled about as we could trace them by their blood, in
search of help or a sup of water, but found no relief until
death kindly put an end to their suffering. The dead were
clad in all styles of dress, generally some kind of brown or
gray roughly made, with an e3^e to military appearance.
But many were clothed in citizen apparel, generally without
much regard to comfort or fashion.

"On tlie battle ground, at the break of day,

Two lifeless soldiers lav;
One face looked pitiful with ^'earning pain,

As one who prajs in vain;
The other wore a look divinely blest,

And from the pulseless breast.
The picture of a lady and a child

Looked up to him and smiled!"

He must be a monster, indeed, who could cherish enmilN'
amid such scenes as these. The light of many a Soutliern
houseliold lies extinguished. The heir of wealth and honor
lies side b}- side bv the child of penur^'. Love's young
dreams are here forgotten, for the gallant lover sleeps a
dreamless sleep. Bright anticipations- of future happiness
here went down amid the battle's storm. O, how many


fond hopes of parents, of sisters and of lovers were blasted
on these dreadful battle days ! The revolving earth rolls
onward in its course, busy events crowd each other on the
stage of action, and times and seasons change, but the heart
wounds received by some when the news of death's sad
work came from Shiloh shall never be healed, and tears shall
spring an everlasting fountain in the sorrowing soul.

Some reflections on the battle of Shiloh, part of which
occurred at this time and part came up as the result of after
experience, may not be out of place here. When the smoke
of battle has passed away it is the privilege of the humblest
soldier to criticise the proudest General, and his criticisms
are to be measured not b}^ his rank but by their worth.
There were some officers in the army who desired their men
not to think but look upon their superiors as the embodi-
ment of wisdom, incapable of error. But there are few
Americans who are willing to sink themselves to the level of
the thoughtless herds, which have often followed the military
chiefs of the Old World.

One question which agitated the public mind just after
this engagement, was whether or not General Grant was
drvmk when the battle began. This was generally believed at
the time, both in the army and out of it. But after the tan-
ner bov became Lieutenant-General it was stoutly denied
from many quarters. A gentleman of intelligence and truth
who came up from Savannah on the same boat, says that he
was not intoxicated. But being at the time lame, had to be
helped on his horse, when he plunged away through the
quicksand where his staff did not dare to ride. Hence, per-
haps, the origin of the story. But, if it is true that there was
no drunkenness on the part of the commanding General,
there certainly was mismanagement somewhere. The
camps were arranged about Pittsburg Landing with but
little order. There was no provision made for an attack.
No works were constructed. No batteries were planted.
No obstructions were placed to entangle the enemy in his
advance. The roads from Corinth, over which the enemy


advanced, are usually terrible at this season of the year.
He must have approached cautiously and our commanders
were either ignorant of his coming, or at least made no
preparations for it, and kept the matter to themselves.
General Grant was absent when the battle began. Our
pickets were svnprised and quickly driven in. The men in
some of the Regiments did not have time to form, but were
killed or captured in their camps, or driven in confusion
towards the rear. Amongst these troops there was not the
slightest prevailing rumor of probable battle. There was no
standing in line of battle, as we did afterwards when the
enemy was known not to be near. Our men rallied as well
as they could and those troops, not assaulted by the enemy's
first charge, formed and all fought bravely. But such was
the want of preparations on our part that our men were
driven from many of their camps and almost to the river.
If our men had been posted in a regular line of battle,
behind substantial works, with a connected line of pickets
thrown out in front, and, had a sharp lookout been kept up,
the}^ never would have been moved. But this lesson was
not learned until later in the war. There are some things
which may be learned at West Point — other things are
learned from the school of experience.

General Lewis Wallace was at Crump's Landing, onl}^ a
few miles down the river, when the battle began, but owing
to a mistake in the roads he did not reach the battlefield
until the first day's fight was over. General Buell cannot
be justly criticised for delay. He could not certainly be
expected to know that the rebels would be there on that
particular Sunday morning, when the officers on the ground
knew nothing about it. The march from Nashville was as
rajfid as raw troops could possibly have made. If it had
not been for the dr}^ weather during most of the march, it
would not have been completed in time to have taken any
part in the engagement. In the light of later events of the
war, it seems strange to us that our army made no fortifica-
tion even after being driven all day.


But it is universally and justly conceded that the arrange-
ments of our troops for Monday's fight were splendid. All
the movements are said to have been executed in the same
manner. The enemy were steadily driven back from the
river — back through the camps captured on the day before ;
back beyond the first point of attack. They lost the field,
the dead and many of the wounded. But why were our
people so easil}' satisfied? It was a golden moment such as
is seldom given to an army. The copious rains fallen since
the commencement of the battle had rendered the roads so
horrible that the enemy were two weeks in getting back to
Corinth. They were encumbered with trains, guns and
wounded. We might at least have pressed them a few days.
Certain it is that manv guns and prisoners might have been
captured. Perhaps we might have gone straight forward,
changing our base in a few days to Hamburg Landing,
where the soil is more firm and from whence the roads to
Corinth are better. The enemy's cavalry, which left the
main army at this time, and soon learned to relish daring
raids, might have been detained south of the Tennessee.
The army, that afterward proudly bade Halleck a French
adieu at Corinth, might have been partially crushed before
the siege of Corinth began. So, Shiloh was left to be
finished at Perry ville, at Stone River, at Chickamauga and
at Mission Ridge,

The part performed b}' the rebels in this contest was in
some respects marvelous for its brilliancy of conception and
execution, but sad mistakes dimmed the glory of their
deeds. The plan was worthy of the master mind that
devised it. General Albert Sydney Johnston had done well
in conducting the war in the West. But the rebels at home
were not satisfied. Their clamors reached and stung the
gallant leader. He determined to dazzle them by a move-
ment of Napoleonic brilliancy. In wonder they behold him
flying, as if in dismay, from Nashville, through Murfrees-
boro, not stopping even at Huntsville ; but at once seeks the
south side of the Tennessee. From thence the railroads


soon transport his troops to Corinth. Here he unites his
forces with those of Beauregard. Immediately he moves
forward to defeat Grant before the coming of Buell. All
this was grand, and in striking contrast to the usual dull and
snail-like movements of our own Generals in those days.
But Johnson committed a great error when he attacked our
army on Sunday. One greater than Johnson or Grant has
said: "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy!"
There certainh' had been enough of disastrous Sabbath
fighting previous to that time to have taught him a lesson.
It he only could have fallen upon our men on Saturday
there would have been no Buell near to have played the part
of Blucher, and Beauregard's horse might have been watered
from the Tennessee. The same genius that made such rapid
movements might have precipitated the contest one day
earlier. Another error was the filling- of the canteens of
his soldiers with whisky. Experience has shown that men
need all the sense they have in battle. Drunken officers and
soldiers never do so well as sober men. Even when men
are without a stimulant the}- often become wild and excited in
battle. Coolness, calm thought, and a consciousness of
the dangers and* demands of the hour will give men confi-

Online LibraryJohn J. HightHistory of the Fifty-eighth regiment of Indiana volunteer infantry. Its organization, campaigns and battles from 1861 to 1865 → online text (page 5 of 47)