John K. Duke.

History of the Fifty-third regiment Ohio volunteer infantry, during the war of the rebellion, 1861 to 1865. Together with more than thirty personal sketches of officers and men online

. (page 7 of 24)
Online LibraryJohn K. DukeHistory of the Fifty-third regiment Ohio volunteer infantry, during the war of the rebellion, 1861 to 1865. Together with more than thirty personal sketches of officers and men → online text (page 7 of 24)
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random, may be accepted as evidences that the Federal command-
ers at no time contemplated the probability of an attack, and
deemed no provision for such a contingency necessary. General
Sherman's division was stationed furthest from the river. Three


of his brigades, commanded by Colonels McDowell, Bnckland, and
Hildebrand, occupied the exterior or western limit of the plateau.
McDowell, guarding the bridge on the Purdy road over Owl Creek,
was somewhat retired, his front describing an obtuse angle with
that of Buckland, who came next in the line to the left. Upon
Buckland's left was Hildebrand ; the interval between their ap-
proximate flanks was a short distance in advance of Shiloh Church.
Sherman's remaining brigade, commanded by Colonel Stuart,
was posted on the extreme right of the field, guarding the ford
over Lick Creek. This brigade was fully a mile distant from Hil-
debrand's left flank, and was fronted southeast. The interval was
filled by Prentiss' division, which was thus inserted, as it were, in-
to Sherman's line, and constituted the center of the line of battle.
The formation thus presented was extremely ragged and defective-
A wide interval separated Prentiss from Hildebrand, the latter be.
ing considerably in advance, and partially masking the right flank
of the former, Stuart, as has been said, was faced at right angles
to the rest of the line, and was, morever, too far in the rear to ren-
der prompt and adequate support to Prentiss against a sudden and
energetic attack. Of course, these defects could have all been
readily remedied, in the face of an enemy approaching cautiously,
but the Confederate advance was as swift and headlong as an ava-
lanche, and came with as little precaution. McClernand's divis-
ion lay half or three-quarters of a mile in the rear of Sherman's
three brigades on the right ; Hurlburt and W. H. L. Wallace were
fully two miles in the rear.

" The division of General Lew. Wallace was at Crump's Land-
ing, some miles north of the battle ground, and, as has already
been stated, took no part in the first day's fighting.

" The question in connection with this battle which now
seems to excite most interest and elicit most frequent discussion is
that of the surprise of the Federal army there, which has been very
constantly alleged, was at that time and for many years after spok-
en of as a fact conceded by every one on both sides, and was not,


until of comparatively recent date denied. General vSherman
grows annually stronger in his conviction that the original and
universal impression on this head was erroneous, and at every suc-
cessive army reunion waxes more indignant that any one shall
charge, or even credit such a thing. Inasmuch as the general held
the most advanced position, and was doing the outpost duty of the
army — if any such duty can be said to have been done at all — and
was the ranking officer of those immediately upon the ground, it
may be that he feels that the responsibility for the surprise, if there
was one, rests peculiarly upon him.

" I have already ventured the opinion that the disposition of
the troops encamped in front of Pittsburgh Landing would have
been altered, and the general formation been made more regular
and compact, had a Confederate advance and attack been contem-
plated. Lew. Wallace would scarcely have been allowed to remain
so far away with 8,000 men if a feeling of security had not pre-
vailed with those who controlled his movements. Indeed, when
Cheatham assembled his division at Purdy to march it to Mickey's,
where it rejoined the main body of the Confederate forces, Wallace
so little suspected the true meaning of the movement that he be-
lieved it to be preliminary to an attack upon himself. Nor would
the leading divisions of Buell's column have been delayed at
Savannah if battle had been anticipated at Pittsburgh. General
Grant emphatically enough urged them to haste, on the morning
of the 0th, when he was disturbed at breakfast by the roar of artil-
lery at Shiloh.

" If General Grant was ignorant of Johnston's forward and
aggressive movement until the blow fell, it argues that his subor-
dinates, nearer the front, were also ignorant of it, for any informa-
tion procured by them would have instantly been forwarded to
him. If General Grant knew Johnston was advancing and meant
to give battle, how came he to be at Savannah on Saturday night,
and not on the front, where before and atter this battle, he was
accustomed to be, and where General Sherman, who, in this re-


spect, practiced what he preached, says that a Commander in Chief
should ever be when battle is imminent? Above all, it is incon-
ceivable and inexplicable, if the Federal Commander realized the
danger and actually expected attack, why a strong, continuous
line of pickets was not thrown out, some hundreds of yards at
least, beyond the ordinary camp guards, and extended along the
entire front of the army, not merely in front of Prentiss' division,
a precaution that officer seems to have taken without suggestion
from or conference with any other ; and it is difficult to understand
why a part of each division on the front was not made to bivouac
on their arms during the nights of the 4th and 5th, and held ready
to support the pickets. Two corps of Johnston's army reached
Mickey's on the 4th ; the entire army was assembled there on the
evening of the 5th, with strong picket lines well advanced. For
two days, then, before the battle, the forest immediately in front
of the Federal position, and less than four miles distant from Sher-
man's encampment, was thronged with the Confederate battalions.

" The Confederate order of attack was arrayed on the after-
noon of the 5th, and, speaking from a recollection of what I wit-
nessed myself, I would say that the Confederate outpost videttes
and the most advanced Federal sentinels were not more than a
mile apart. Everything that transpired along the front and in
the camps which we were able to observe was matter of constant
and curious remark during those two days. If any recognition of
our presence was obtained, it could be discovered by no sign, noted
by no movement of preparation in that seemingly careless host.
A general feeling of amazement pervaded the Confederate ranks at
the apathy or ignorance of their adversary ; and much of the im-
petuous confidence which characterized them on the morning of
the battle was due to the indications which convinced them that
they had surprised their foe.

" It is true that so skillful and wary a captain as General
Beauregard believed, on the night of the 5th, that the attempt to
effect a surprise would fail, on account of the delay of twenty-four


hours, which has been mentioned, and for that reason counseled
an abandonment of the plan, and a return to Corinth. But he was
of the opinion that our presence had been discovered by the enemy,
simph because he could not conceive it possible that it could be
concealed, when ordinary vigilance must have detected it.

" General Sherman, in his Memoirs, page 229, says : ' From
about the 1st of April we were conscious that the rebel cavalry in
our front were getting bolder and more saucy, and on Friday, the
4th of April, it dashed down and carried off one of our picket
guards, composed of an officer and seven men, posted a couple of
miles out on the Corinth road. Colonel Buckland sent a company
to its relief, then followed himself with a regiment, and, fearing
lest he might be worsted, I called out his whole brigade, and fol-
lowed some four or five miles, when the cavalry in advance en-
countered artillery. Thus far we had not positively detected the
presence of infantry.'

" Now, it is certain that General Sherman is mistaken in re-
gard to the distance to which this reconnoissance was pushed, for
if he had ' followed ' four, not to say five miles, he would have got-
ten beyond Mickey's, and he would assuredly have ' positively
detected the presence of infantry, ' unless Hardee's corps and that
portion of Bragg's then there, had proven unsubstantial myths —
something he did not find them when, two days after, they had
advanced four miles.

" In his report of this affair, written on the 5th, he states that
he ordered Major Ricker, of the 5th Ohio Cavalry, to pursue the
party which had made a dash on the pickets. ' He rapidly ad-
vanced some two miles, and found them engaged, charged the en-
emy, and drove them along the Ridge road, till he met and re-
ceived three discharges of artillery, when he very properly wheeled
under cover and returned until he met me. As soon as I heard
artillery I advanced with two regiments of infantry and took posi-
tion, and remained until the scattered companies of infantry and
cavalry returned. This was after night. '


" Now, it can scarcely be inferred from this language that
Major Ricker, and certainly not that General Sherman, pressed out
so far as ' four or five miles. ' But in the same report, still speak-
ing of this Confederate cavalry dash, and speculating as to its
meaning, he says : I infer that the enemy is in some considerable
force at Pea Ridge ; that yesterday morning they crossed a brigade
of two regiments of infantry, one regiment of cavalry, and one bat-
tery of field artillery, to the ridge on which the Corinth road lies.
They halted the infantry and artillery at a point about five miles
in my front, and sent a detachment to the lane of General Meaks,
on the north side of Owl Creek, and the cavalry toward our
camp '

"It is impossible to deduce any other conclusion from this re
port, which, it must be remembered was written and sent to Gen-
eral Grant's Adjutant General on the day before the battle, than
that General Sherman was in total ignorance of his enemy's im-
portant and threatening concentration at Mickey's — that he knew
nothing of the Confederate masses immediately in his front, grad-
ually pushing nearer as they formed for the fight, and that he al-
together misapprehended the significance of the ' saucy ' demons-
trations which he describes

•' General Sherman is credited with having said recently that
the stories so frequent at the time of the battle, of men having
been shot or bayoneted in their tents on the morning of the 6th,
were utterly without foundation. He is mistaken. Very many
such instances occurred. It was quite a common thing to see dead
men, half clad, lying in tents perforated with bullets, and, in some
cases, stretched at the entrance, or entangled in the tent cords as
if killed just as they were rushing out. If the Federal army at
Shiloh was not so completely surprised as so large a body of men
can ever be, then its commanders have a more serious charge to
meet. If they were not taken unawares, how can they possibly
explain the disadvantage at which they suffered themselves to be
taken? What possible excuse can they offer for their careless
array and evident want of preparation for immediate battle ?


" On the evening of the 5th the Confederate army was, as has
been already stated, arrayed in the order in which it was to com-
mence the engagement, and the men slept that night on their
arms, and in line. The first line of battle, nnder Hardee, extended
from Owl Creek to Lick Creek, having a front of a little more
than three miles. Hardee's own command nnmbered 6,7H9 effec-
tives, and Gladden's brigade, detached from , Bragg, was added to
his line, making its total effective strength 9,024. The second .
line was commanded by General Bragg. It was 10,731 strong,
and was formed from 300 to 500 yards in the rear of the first line.
The third line was composed of Polk's corps and the three brigades
commanded by Breckenridge. Polk was massed in colnmns of
brigades on the Bark road, abont -SOO yards in the rear of Bragg ;
Breckenridge was formed on his right. It was intended that Polk
shonld snpport the two lines in his front, and take up the fighting
when they began to weary or falter. Breckenridge was to be used
as a reserve. Polk's corps was 9,13(i strong; Breckenridge's re-
serve numbered 6,439. The Confederate army, therefore, stood in
order of battle 35,320 men, infantry and artillery, to which 4,300
cavalry, watching its flanks, being added, foots up an aggregate
strength of 39,630. It. carried into action some fifty guns.

'' To meet the impact of this force, there were irregularly dis-
posed about the ground from Pittsburgh to Shiloh Church, accord-
ing to the estimate herein previously made, some 41,000 men,
with eighty-four guns.

" I have already mentioned the fact that while Lick Creek,
on which rested the Confederate right, flows from the point where
the first Confederate line was formed, with a very slight northerly
inclination, almost straight to the river. Owl Creek bends abruptly
to the northward. This should be born in mind, because it had
much to do with General Johnston's plan of attack and conduct of the
battle. The Comte de Paris is of the opinion that General Johnston
should have massed his army on the Federal right, and turning
that flank, have driven it up the river into the angle between


Lick Creek and the river. It is a matter of astonishment that so
intelligent and competent a military critic shonld entertain this
view. By massing on the Federal left and pivoting on his own left
flank, Johnston kept both his flanks well protected. Turning and
driving back the left wing of his enemy, his right was guarded all
the time by the vicinity of Lick Creek, until, when he began to
bear away from that stream, it was afforded the better protection
of the river to which his right then approached. If, on the con-
trary, he had pivoted on his right and massed on the Federal left,
his left wing, as it swung around in the execution of the movement
which the Comte de Paris thinks he should have attempted,
would have receded rapidly down Owl Creek, very soon leaving a
wide interval between his left and that stream, into which the
troops, which General Johnston had every reason to believe were
stationed nearest to Pittsburg Landing, might be poured, danger-
ously threatening his rear, and effectually checking the pocketing
business suggested. W. H. L. Wallace's division, lying along the
road to Crump's Landing, was, in fact, exactly in the position
which would naturally and most certainly have brought him upon
Johnston's left flank and rear had the latter attempted this ma-

" I may be pardoned for reproducing here a description of the
beginning of the battle, which I wrote many years ago, when it?
picture was fresher in my memory, although its details, perhaps,
not so familiar to me as now. :

" 'The afternoon wore away, and no sign in the enemy's
camps indicated that he had discovered our presence. The night
fell, and the stern preparations for the morrow having been all
completed, the army sank to rest. The forest was soon almost as
still as before it had been tenanted with the hosts of war. But
before the day broke the army was astir ; the bugles pounded the
reveille on all sides, and the long lines began to form. About 5
o'clock the first gun rang on the front — another and another suc-
ceeding until the musketry grew into that crackling, labored sound


which precedes the roar of real battle. The troops seemed excited
to frenzy by the sound. It was the first fij^^ht in which the majori-
ty of them had ever been engag-ed, and they had as yet seen and
sufifered nothing to abate the ardor with which the high spirited
young fellows panted for battle. Every one who witnessed the
marshaling of the Confederate army for the attack upon the morn-
ing of the ()th of April, must remember more distinctly than any-
thing else the glowing enthusiasm of the men their buoyancy and
spirited impatience to close with the enemy. As each regiment
formed upon the ground where it had bivouacked, the voice of its
commander might be heard as he spoke high words of encourage-
ment to his men and it would ring clear as he appealed to their
regimental pride, and bade them think of the fame they might
win. When the line began to advance, the wild cheers which
arose made the woods stir as if with the rush of a mighty wind.
Nowhere was there any thought of fear — everywhere were there
evidences of impetuous and determined valor.

" For some distance the woods were open and clear of under-
growth, and the troops passed through preserving their array with
little difficulty ; but as the point, where the fight between the
pickets had commenced, was neared, the timber became dwarfed
into scrubby brush, and at some places dense thickets impeded the
advance. The ground, too, grew rugged and difficult of passage
in unbroken line. The gray, clear morning was ere long enlivened
by a radiant sunrise. As the great light burst in full splendor
above the horizon, sending brilliancy over the scene, many a man
thought of the great conqueror's augury, and pointed in exultation
and hope to the 'sun of Shiloh.' Breckenridge's division went
into the fight last, and, of course, saw and heard a great deal of it
before becoming itself actively engaged. Not far off the fight soon
grew earnest, as Hardee dashed resolutely on ; the uneasy, broken
rattle of the skirmishers gave way to the sustained volleys of the
lines, and the artillery joined in the clamor, while away on the
right the voice of the strife grew hoarser and angrier like the


growl of some wounded monster, furious and at bay. Hardee's
line carried all before it. At the first encampment it met not the
semblance of a check. Following close and eager on the fleeing
pickets, it burst upon the startled inmates as they emerged, half
clad, from the tents, giving them no time to form, driving them in
rapid panic, bayoneting the dilatory on through the camps swept
together, pursuers and pursued.

" ' But now the alarm was thoroughly given, the ' long roll,'
and the bugle were calling the Federals to arms ; ajl through their
thick encampments they were hastily forming. As Hardee, close
upon the haunches of the foe he had first started^ broke into
another camp, a long line of steel and flame met him, staggering,
and, for a little while, stopping his advance. But his gallant
corps was yet too fresh for an enemy not recovered from the ener-
vating effects of surprise to hold it back long. For a while it
writhed and surged before the stern barrier suddenly erected in its
path, and then, gathering itself together, dashed irresistibly for-
ward. The enemy was beaten back, but the hardy western men
who filled his ranks (although raw and for the first time under
fire) could not be forced to positive flight. They had once formed,
and at this stage of the battle they could not be routed. Soon
they turned for another stand, and the Confederates were at once
upon them. Again they gave way, but strewed the path of their
stubborn retreat with many a corpse in gray as well as in blue.

" ' At half past seven the first line began to show signs of ex-
haustion, and its march over the rough ground while struggling
with the enemy had thinned and impaired it. It was time for
Bragg's corps to come to the relief, and that superb line now
moved up in serried strength. The first sign of slackening on the
part of the Confederates seemed to add vigor to the enemy's resist-
ance ; but, bravely as they fought, they never recovered from the
stun of the surprise. Their half of the battle was out of joint at
the beginning, and it was never gotten right during the day. They
were making desperate efforts ro retrieve their lost ground when


Bragg's disciplined tornado burst upon them. The shock was met
gallantly, but in vain. Another bloody grapple was followed by
another retreat by the Federals, and again our line moved on.

" ' General Johnston's plan of battle was to execute a grand
wheel to the left with his entire army, his right rapidly advancing,
his left more deliberately, and his heaviest blows delivered upon
the Federal left and center. He thus hoped to overwhelm and
completely drive back the Federal left, and eventually by success-
ive, heavy and sustained attacks batter their whole line to pieces,
and driving the fragments to the river's edge, compel their sur-
render. Had the army been wheeled to the right, the danger of
fatally exposing the left flank, already indicated, would have been
incurred. If both flanks had been pressed forward abreast and
kept close to the respective creeks, the front of the army would
have been so greatly extended that its capacity for formidable and
continuous advance would have been greatly impaired, no suffi-
cient number of troops could have been massed upon any given
point to certainly destroy and break through all resistance, audits
center would have been so weakened that a determined counter
attack might have pierced it, which would have resulted in com-
plete and crushing defeat. In that event one-half would have been
flung upon Owl Creek, the other upon Lick Creek, with the ene-
my separating them and in possession of the line of retreat. But
not only were these dangers avoided by the character of the move-
ment adopted, but its tactical value became strikingly apparent in
another respect. Owing to the peculiar disposition of Prentiss'
division and Stuart's brigade, and the gaps which the irregular
Federal alignment disclosed, the three line formation of the Con-
federates enabled them, while giving each other sustained support,
to also take every command successively in front and flank as they
came swinging around from the right, and this was repeated until,
under the fierce, bloody and continual assaults, the Federal army had
become disintegrated and almost crumbled away, despite a resist-
ance never surpassed in courage and firmness.


"General Sherman in his report of the battle written April 10th,
says : ' On Sunday morning, the 6th inst., the enemy drove our
advance guard back on our main body, when I ordered under arms
all my division, and sent word to General McClernand, asking him
to support my left ; to General Prentiss, giving him notice that the
enemy was in our front in force, and to General Hurlburt, asking
him to support General Prentiss. ' This, he says, was at 7 a. m.
He goes on to say : ' About 8 a. m. I saw the glistening bayonets
of heavy masses of infantry to our left front in the woods beyond
the small stream alluded to, ( this was a small, inarshy rivulet just
in front of his position ) and became satisfied for the first time that
the enemy designed a determined attack upon our whole camp. '
Yet he had sent word to Prentiss an hour earlier that the enemy
was present in force. ' The battle opened by the enemy's battery
in the woods to our front throwing shells into our camp. Taylor's
and Waterhouse's batteries promptly responded, and I then ob-
served heavy battalions of infantry passing obliquely to the left,
across the open field in Appier's front ; also other columns advanc-
ing directly upon my division. Our infantry and artillery opened
along the whole line, and the battle became general. Other heavy
masses of the enemy's force kept passing across the field to our
left and directing their course on General Prentiss. ' The battle
in reality commenced at 5 a. m., and, singularly, enough was in-
augurated by the Federals. Prentiss, still excited about that
' cavalry dash ' of the previous day, sent out early on Sunday morn-
ing, the 6th, the 21st Missouri Regiment with instructions to re-
connoiter and observe the Corinth road. Just at daybreak this
regiment encountered Hardee's skirmishers advancing. It was,
of course, instantly driven in and was closely pursued. Pickets
and guards recoiled with it, and certainly Hardee was in the first
camps long before 7 a. m., while at 8 a. m., the hour at which
General Sherman states that he first became convinced that a gen-
eral attack was intended, the battle had been wholly joined from
wing to wing, and the entire field was one raging maelstrom of
strife. The oblique movement of troops to the left, of which Gen-


eral Sherman speaks, was more apparent than real, and was in
pnrsnance of the grand wheel of the Confederate army from its
right, which brought it with such terrific impact upon the Federal

Online LibraryJohn K. DukeHistory of the Fifty-third regiment Ohio volunteer infantry, during the war of the rebellion, 1861 to 1865. Together with more than thirty personal sketches of officers and men → online text (page 7 of 24)