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´╗┐Title: "Shiloh" as Seen by a Private Soldier - With Some Personal Reminiscences
Author: Olney, Warren, 1841-1921
Language: English
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Libraries.)



WAR PAPER

No. 5.


Commandery
Of the State
OF
CALIFORNIA


MILITARY ORDER
OF THE
Loyal Legion
OF THE
UNITED STATES.



"SHILOH"
AS
SEEN BY A PRIVATE SOLDIER.


A PAPER READ BEFORE
CALIFORNIA COMMANDERY
OF THE
MILITARY ORDER
OF THE
Loyal Legion of the United States,
MAY 31, 1889.


BY COMPANION
WARREN OLNEY,
LATE CAPTAIN 65TH U. S. C. Inf.
(Insignia No. 4862.)



THE BATTLE OF SHILOH.

With Some Personal Reminiscences.


Very interesting descriptions of the great battles of the late war,
written by prominent generals, have been lately published and widely
read. It seems to me, however, that it is time for the private soldier
to be heard from.

Of course, his field of vision is much more limited than that of his
general. On the other hand, it is of vital importance to the latter to
gloss over his mistakes, and draw attention only to those things which
will add to his reputation. The private soldier has no such feeling. It
is only to the officers of high rank engaged that a battle can bring
glory and renown. To the army of common soldiers, who do the actual
fighting, and risk mutilation and death, there is no reward except the
consciousness of duty bravely performed. This was peculiarly the case
in the late war, when more than a million of young men, the flower of
our country, left their workshops and farms, their schools and
colleges, to endure the hardships of the march and the camp, to risk
health, limb and life, that their country might live, expecting
nothing, hoping nothing for themselves, but all for their fatherland.

The first really great battle of the war was that of Pittsburg Landing,
or Shiloh, and I shall not only attempt to give a general account of
the battle, but also describe it from the point of view of a man in the
ranks.

In respect to the general features of this desperate struggle between
our own countrymen, my statements are derived from many reports and
accounts carefully collated, and from many conversations with soldiers
engaged, both from the Union and Confederate armies.

Who of us, having reached middle life, does not recall the exultation
and enthusiasm aroused by the news of the capture of Fort Donelson?
What a thrill of pride and patriotism was felt through all the loyal
North! The soldiers of the great Northwest had attacked a citadel of
the rebellion, and captured it, with sixteen thousand of its defenders.

At this time the Third Iowa Infantry was strung along the North
Missouri Railroad, guarding bridges and doing other police work.
Company B, which had the honor of having on its muster roll private
Olney, was stationed at that time in the little town of Sturgeon,
Missouri, where our principal occupation was to keep from freezing. We
had then spent eight months campaigning in that border State--that is,
if you call guarding railways and bridges, and attempting to overawe
the disaffected, enlivened now and then by a brisk skirmish,
campaigning. The Second Iowa had led the charge which captured the
hostile breastworks at Donelson, and General Grant had telegraphed to
General Halleck at St. Louis, who had repeated the message to the
Governor of our State, that the Second Iowa was the bravest of the
brave. The First Iowa had distinguished itself at Wilson's Creek, near
Springfield, under General Lyon, while _we_--well, we hadn't done much
of anything but to get a licking at Blue Mills. Therefore, when a
message to move came, and we found ourselves on the way to join General
Grant's army, we felt quite hilarious.

At St. Louis we were put on board the steamer "Iatan." Down the
Mississippi, up the Ohio, up the Tennessee. As we proceeded up the
Tennessee we were continually overtaking or being joined by other
steamboats loaded with troops, until presently the river was alive with
transports, carrying the army of the West right into the heart of the
Confederacy. It was a beautiful and stirring sight; mild weather had
set in (it was now the second week of March), the flotilla of
steamboats, black with soldiers, bands playing, flags flying, all
combined to arouse and interest. It was the "pomp and circumstance of
glorious war."

Frequent stoppages were made, giving us a chance to run ashore. About
the thirteenth we reached the landing-place, which soon afterwards
became famous. The river was very high, and at first there seemed to be
doubts as to where a landing should be effected, but in a few days the
question was settled. Our boat was moored as near the shore as
possible, and we joined the immense throng painfully making their way
through the unfathomable mud to camps in the dense woods. The first
things I observed after reaching the high bluff, were trees that had
been torn and shattered by shells from our gunboats, which, it seems,
had dislodged a company of Confederates, who had dug rifle-pits on the
bluff, from whence they had fired on our steamboats.

We first camped on the bluff near the landing, but shortly moved back
about a mile from the river, and camped on the edge of a small cotton
field with dense forests all around. The Hamburg road ran past the left
of our line, between us and the Forty-first Illinois; while on the
right was a small ravine, which ran into a little creek, and that into
Snake Creek.

The mud--well, it was indescribable. Though we were only a mile from
our base of supplies, the greatest difficulty was experienced in
getting camp equipage and provisions. We found that other divisions of
the army had landed before us, moving farther out to the front towards
Corinth, and had so cut up the roads that they were quagmires their
whole length. Teams were stalled in the mud in every direction. The
principal features of the landscape were trees, mud, wagons buried to
the hub, and struggling, plunging mule teams. The shouts of teamsters
and resounding whacks filled the air; and as to profanity--well, you
could see the air about an enraged teamster turn blue as he exhorted
his impenitent mules. And the rain! how it did come down! As I recall
it, the spring of 1862 did not measure its rainfall in Western
Tennessee by inches, but by feet.

But in time our camp was fairly established. Sibley tents were
distributed, one for fourteen men. They protected us from the rain, but
they had their drawbacks. Several of us were schoolmates from a Western
college, and, of course, in some respects, constituted a little
aristocracy. We had had a small tent to ourselves, and the socialistic
grayback, as yet, had not crawled therein. Now, we were required to
share our tent with others, and that might mean a great many. But when
it came to a question of sleeping out in the cold rain, or camping down
in a crowded tent in true democratic equality and taking the chances of
immigration from our neighbors' clothing, we did not prefer the rain.

Of course, the private soldier has not much opportunity for exploration
about his camp, however strong may be his passion in that direction. I
did what I could, but my knowledge of the general encampment was much
enlarged when, during the days following the battle, all discipline
being relaxed, I tramped the field over in every direction and talked
with the men of numerous regiments on their camp grounds. Further on, I
shall refer to the position occupied by our army more at length, and
shall only refer now to the general position of our encampment, as on a
wooded plateau, accessible to attack only from the direction of
Corinth, the river being in our rear, Snake Creek and Owl Creek on our
right flank, and Lick Creek on our left. In places there were small
fields with their adjuncts of deserted cabins. Our troops were camped
wherever there was an opening in the woods or underbrush sufficiently
large for a regiment. There seemed to be no order or system about the
method of encampment, but each regiment occupied such suitable ground
as presented itself in the neighborhood of the rest of the brigade; and
the same was true of the brigades composing the divisions.

Our regiment was brigaded with the Twenty-eighth, Thirty-second, and
Forty-first Illinois. The division was commanded by Brigadier-General
Stephen A. Hurlbut (since somewhat noted as United States Minister to
Peru). We had served under him in Missouri, and our principal
recollection of him was an event which occurred at Macon. We had got
aboard a train of cattle cars for the purpose of going to the relief of
some point threatened by the enemy. After waiting on the train two or
three hours, expecting every moment to start, we noticed a couple of
staff officers supporting on each side the commanding general, and
leading him to the car I was in. Getting him to the side of the car,
they boosted him in at the door, procured a soldier's knapsack for him
to sit on, and left him. He was so drunk he couldn't sit upright. The
consequence was that the regimental officers refused to move. A
court-martial followed, and we heard no more of our general until we
found him at Pittsburg Landing in command of a division. He showed so
much coolness and bravery in the battle which followed, that we forgave
him his first scandalous appearance. But the distrust of him before the
battle can readily be imagined.

No one who has not been through the experience can realize the anxiety
of the private soldier respecting the character and capacity of his
commanding officer. His life is in the general's hand. Whether he shall
be uselessly sacrificed, may depend wholly upon the coolness or
readiness for an emergency of the commander; whether he has had two
drinks or three; whether he has had a good night's rest, or a good
cigar. The private soldier regards a new and unknown commander very
much as a slave does a new owner, and with good reason. Without
confidence on the part of the rank and file, victory is impossible.
Their soldiers' confidence in Stonewall Jackson and Lee doubled the
effective strength of their armies. When in the Franco-Prussian war a
German regiment was called upon for a charge, each man felt that the
order was given because it was necessary, and that what he was doing
was part of a comprehensive scheme, whose success might very likely
depend upon whether he did his assigned part manfully. The French
soldier in that war had no such feeling and, of course, the result of
that campaign was not long in doubt. In Napoleon's time, the confidence
of the rank and file was such that time and again he was saved from
defeat by the feeling of the attacked corps or detachment that it
_must_ hold its ground, or probably imperil the army. Oh, the sickening
doubt and distrust of our generals during the first years of the war!
Our soldiers were as brave as ever trod the earth, and thoroughly
imbued with the cause for which they were fighting; but the suspicion
that at headquarters there might be inefficiency or drunkenness; that
marches and counter-marches had no definite purpose; that their lives
might be uselessly thrown away--you would have to go through it to
realize it! At the beginning of the war, the Southerners had a vast
advantage over us in that respect. Generally speaking, they started out
with the same able commanders they had at the end.

Our colonel was thoroughly disliked and distrusted. As he was the
ranking colonel of the brigade, he was placed in command of it; so you
see we did not feel particularly happy over the situation, especially
as we knew the Confederate army was only twenty-two miles off.

The steady, cold rains of the first week or two was most depressing. On
account, probably, of the bad weather and exposure, the soldiers' worst
enemy, diarrhoea, took possession of our camps, and for a week or ten
days we literally had no stomachs for fighting. But after a little the
rain let up, the sun came out warm, our spirits revived, the roads, and
consequently the supplies improved; and on the whole, we thought it
rather jolly.

If you had been there of a warm, sunny day you would have noticed every
log and stump serving as a seat for a soldier, who had taken off his
shirt and was diligently hunting it all over. It was not safe to ask
him what he was looking for.

Troops were continually arriving, some of them freshly recruited, and
not yet familiar with their arms, or the simplest elements of
regimental maneuvers. It was said there were some regiments who had
just received their guns, and had never fired them. Badeau says they
came on the field without cartridges. I know that improved rifles were
scarce, for my own regiment at that time did not have rifles, but old
smooth bore muskets with buck-and-ball ammunition--that is, the
cartridge had next to the powder a large ball, and then next to it
three buck shot. Of course, we should have had no show against rifles
at long range, but at short range, in woods and brush, these weapons
were fearfully destructive, as we shall presently see.

Strange to say, these freshly recruited regiments were assigned to
Sherman's division and to Prentiss' division, whose camps were
scattered in the woods farthest out towards Corinth. As might have been
expected, these new soldiers did not stand on the order of their going,
when they suddenly discovered a hostile army on top of them.

A map of the place selected for the concentration of our army shows
that with proper precautions and such defensive works as, later in the
war, would have been constructed within a few hours, the place was
impregnable. The river which ran in the rear was controlled by our
gunboats, and furnished us the means of obtaining abundant supplies.
Creeks with marshy banks protected either flank. The only possible
avenue of attack upon this position was directly in front, and across
that ran little creeks and ravines, with here and there open fields
affording fine vantage-ground. A general anticipating the possibility
of attack, would not have scattered his divisions so widely, and would
have marked a line of defense upon which the troops should rally.
Advantage would have been taken of the ground, and trees felled with
the tops outwards, through which an attacking force would have, with
great difficulty, to struggle. And later in the war, as a matter of
precaution, and because of the proximity of the enemy, breastworks
would have been thrown up. All this could have been done in a few
hours. Our flanks were so well protected that no troops were needed
there, and in case of attack, each division commander should have had
his place in the front, to which to immediately march his command;
while, the line being not more than three miles long at the very
outside estimate, there were abundant forces to man it thoroughly,
leaving a large force in the reserve to reinforce a point imperiled.

Why was not this done? It is hard to find an answer. General Sherman's
division was at the extreme front. It was being organized. The enemy
was not more than twenty-two miles away, and was known to be
concentrating from all the West. Yet this general, who afterwards
acquired such fame as a consummate master of the art of war, took no
precautions whatever, not even thoroughly scouting the ground in his
front. His pickets could not have been out more than a mile. General
Prentiss' division was also in process of organization, and he, like
Sherman, was in advance, and on Sherman's left. The complete absence of
the ordinary precautions, always taken by military commanders since the
beginning of history, is inexplicable. The only reason I can conjecture
for it grows out of the character of General Grant and his
distinguished subordinate, and their inexperience. They had had then
little practical knowledge of actual warfare. General Sherman, except
on one occasion, had never heard a hostile gun fired. They had to learn
their art, and the country and their army had to pay the cost of their
teaching. Happily, they were able to profit by every lesson, and soon
had no equals among our commanders. But because they have since
deserved so well of their country, is no reason why history should be
silent as to their mistakes. The Confederates would have made a great
mistake in attacking us at all in such a position, if we had been
prepared to receive them. But this want of preparation prevented us
from taking advantage of the opportunity, and inflicting a crushing
defeat upon the South. By it the war was prolonged, and every village
and hamlet in the West had its house of mourning.

Immediately in the right rear of General Sherman was camped the veteran
division of General McClernand. About two miles further back, and about
a mile from the river, was stationed the reserve, consisting of two
divisions, Hurlbut's and W. H. L. Wallace's, formerly C. F. Smith's.
Across Owl Creek, and seven or eight miles off, was camped General Lew
Wallace's division. It was so far away as not to be in easy supporting
distance.

On April 1st, our division was marched to an open field, and there
carefully reviewed by General Grant. This was our first sight of the
victor of Donelson. Friday, the 4th of April, was a sloppy day, and
just before sundown we heard firing off towards Sherman's division. We
fell into line and started toward the front. After we had marched about
a mile, pitch darkness came on. Presently, a staff officer directed a
counter-march back to camp, saying it was only a rebel reconnoisance.
It was a nasty march back in the mud, dense woods, and thick darkness.

All this day the Confederate army was struggling through the woods and
mud, on its march from Corinth to attack us. It was the expectation of
General Johnston and his subordinates to cover the intervening space
between the two armies in this one day and attack early Saturday
morning; but the difficulties of the march was such, that he did not
make more than half the distance, and had to go into camp for the
night. Saturday was a reasonably pleasant day, but General Johnston's
troops had got so entangled in the forests, he did not feel justified
in attacking until all his preparations were made, which took the whole
of Saturday. He then moved up to within a mile or two of Sherman and
Prentiss, and went into camp _within sound of our drums_.

The delay had been so great that Beauregard now advised a countermarch
back to Corinth. He represented that our forces had surely been
appraised of their march, and it would be too late now to effect a
surprise; that they would undoubtedly find us all prepared, and
probably behind breastworks and other obstructions. General Johnston
was smarting under the criticisms of the campaign which resulted in the
loss of Donelson. His courage and military instinct told him that now
was the time to strike. He felt, too, that a bold stroke was necessary
to redeem the fortunes of the Confederacy and his own reputation. His
resolution was to conquer or die; and he replied to Beauregard: "We
shall attack at daylight to-morrow."

Here was an army of a little over 40,000 men, as brave as ever
shouldered muskets, fighting on their own soil, and, as they believed,
for homes and liberty, resting for the night at about two miles from
the invading army, and all prepared to attack at dawn, and sweep the
invaders of their country back into the Tennessee river. Upon the
favoring breeze, the sound of our drums at evening parade came floating
to their ears. They heard the bugle note enjoying quiet and repose in
the camp of their unsuspecting foe. They, themselves, were crouching in
the thick woods and darkness, all prepared to spring on their prey. No
camp-fire was lighted; no unnecessary sound was permitted; but silent,
watchful, with mind and heart prepared for conflict, the Southern hosts
waited for the morning.

Such was the situation, so far as our enemies were concerned. But how
was it with the army fighting for the integrity and preservation of the
nation? Let us begin with the commanding General. That day (Saturday)
he dispatched General Halleck as follows: "The main force of the army
is at Corinth. * * * The number at Corinth and within supporting
distance of it cannot be far from 80,000 men." Later in the day he
dispatched the news of the enemy's reconnoisance the night before, and
added: "I have scarcely the faintest idea of an attack (general one)
being made upon us, but will be prepared should a thing take place."

Grant had less than 50,000 men fit for battle. He thinks the enemy at
Corinth, twenty-two miles away, has 80,000 men. He must know that the
enemy knows Buell, with his army, will soon reach the Tennessee, and
when united with his own will nearly double his effective strength;
that now, and before Buell joins him, if ever, must the Confederates
strike an effective blow. His pickets have been driven in the night
before, the enemy using a piece or two of artillery; yet he does not
expect an attack, and makes not the slightest preparation to receive or
repel one. He leaves General Lew Wallace with over 7,000 good troops at
Crump's Landing, out of easy supporting distance, Nelson's division and
Crittenden's division of Buell's army at Savannah; and has no thought
of moving them up that day to repel an overwhelming attack about to be
made on him. On Saturday he visits his army and Sherman, and then goes
back to Savannah, unsuspicious of the presence of the enemy.

How was it with General Sherman, who had the advance on the right, and
was probably more relied upon by Grant and Halleck than was Prentiss?
In fact it is not at all improbable that Grant wholly relied upon the
two division commanders at the front, particularly Sherman, to keep him
posted as to the movements of the hostile army. General Sherman
reported on Saturday that he thought there were about two regiments of
infantry and a battery of artillery about six miles out. As a matter of
fact, the whole rebel army was not more than six miles out. Later in
the day he dispatches: "The enemy is saucy, but got the worst of it
yesterday, and will not press our pickets far. I do not apprehend
anything like an attack on our position."

A tolerably extensive reading of campaigns and military histories
justifies me in saying that such an exhibition of unsuspicious security
in the presence of a hostile army is without a parallel in the history
of warfare.

How was it with our army? We knew the enemy to be at Corinth, but there
had been no intimation of advance; and no army could get over the
intervening space in less than two days, of which, of course, it was
the duty of our generals to have ample notice. Usually, before a
battle, there seems to be something in the very air that warns the
soldier and officer of what is coming, and to nerve themselves for the
struggle; but most of us retired this Saturday night to our blankets in
as perfect fancied security as ever enveloped an army.

But this was not true of all. A sense of uneasiness pervaded a portion
of the advance line. Possibly there had been too much noise in the
woods in front, possibly that occult sense, which tells us of the
proximity of another, warned them of the near approach of a hostile
army. Some of the officers noticed that the woods beyond the pickets
seemed to be full of Rebel cavalry. General Prentiss was infected with
this uneasiness, and at daylight on Sunday morning sent out the
Twenty-first Missouri to make an observation towards Corinth.

This regiment, proceeding through the forest, ran plump upon the
Confederate skirmish line, which it promptly attacked. Immediately the
Missourians saw an army behind the skirmish line advancing upon them.
They could hold their ground but for a moment. The enemy's advance
swept them back, and, like an avalanche, the Confederate army poured
into the camps of Sherman's and Prentiss' divisions.

At the first fire our men sprang to arms. By the time the enemy had
reached our camps many regiments had become partially formed, but they
were all unnerved by the shock. Some were captured by the enemy before
they could get their clothes on. Some, without firing a shot, broke for
the river-landing, three miles away, and cowered beneath its banks.
General Sherman and his staff mounted their horses, and as they
galloped past the Fifty-third Ohio, which was getting into line, one of
the officers called out to him not to go any farther, for the rebel
army was just beyond the rising ground. The general made use of some
expression about not getting frightened at a reconnoisance, and went
ahead. As he reached the slight elevation he beheld the Confederate
army sweeping down upon him. Their skirmish line fired at him, killing
his orderly. He realized at last that he was in the presence of a
hostile army. From that moment he did everything that mortal man could
do to retrieve his fatal mistake. Wounded twice, several horses
successively killed under him, chaos and defeat all around, yet his
clear intelligence and steady courage stamped him a born leader of men.
The other generals and officers yielded to his superior force and
obeyed his orders. He was everywhere, encouraging, threatening,
organizing, and succeeded in establishing a tolerable line in the rear
of his camps.

General Prentiss' troops were more demoralized than Sherman's. Whole
regiments broke away, and were not reorganized until after the battle.
A tide of fugitives set in toward the landing, carrying demoralization
and terror with them.

Our camp was so far back that we heard nothing of this early uproar.
The morning was a beautiful one, and after our early breakfast I
started down the little creek, hunting for some first flowers of
spring. I had scarcely got out of sight of camp, when the firing toward
the front, though faintly heard, seemed too steady to be caused by the
pernicious habit which prevailed of the pickets firing off their guns
on returning from duty, preparatory to cleaning them. A sense of
apprehension took possession of me. Presently artillery was heard, and
then I turned toward camp, getting more alarmed at every step. When I
reached camp a startled look was on every countenance. The musketry
firing had become loud and general, and whole batteries of artillery
were joining in the dreadful chorus. The men rushed to their tents and
seized their guns, but as yet no order to fall in was given. Nearer and
nearer sounded the din of a tremendous conflict. Presently the long
roll was heard from the regiments on our right. A staff officer came
galloping up, spoke a word to the Major in command, the order to fall
in was shouted, the drummers began to beat the long roll, and it was
taken up by the regiments on our left. The men, with pale faces, wild
eyes, compressed lips, quickly accoutered themselves for battle. The
shouts of the officers, the rolling of the drums, the hurrying to and
fro of the men, the uproar of approaching but unexpected battle, all
together produced sensations which cannot be described. Soon, teams
with shouting drivers came tearing along the road toward the landing.
Crowds of fugitives and men slightly wounded went hurrying past in the
same direction. Uproar and turmoil were all around; but we, having got
into line, stood quietly with scarcely a word spoken. Each man was
struggling with himself and nerving himself for what bid fair to be a
dreadful conflict. What thoughts of home and kindred and all that makes
life dear come to one at such a moment.

Presently a staff officer rode up, the command to march was given, and
with the movement came some relief to the mental and moral strain. As
we passed in front of the Forty-first Illinois, a field officer of that
regiment, in a clear, ringing voice, was speaking to his men, and
announced that if any man left the ranks on pretense of caring for the
wounded he should be shot on the spot; that the wounded must be left
till the fight was over. His men cheered him, and we took up the cheer.
Blood was beginning to flow through our veins again, and we could even
comment to one another upon the sneaks who remained in camp, on
pretense of being sick. As we moved toward the front the fugitives and
the wounded increased in numbers. Poor wretches, horribly mutilated,
would drop down, unable to go farther. Wagons full of wounded, filling
the air with their groans, went hurrying by. As we approached the scene
of conflict, we moved off to the left of the line of the rear-ward
going crowd, crossed a small field and halted in the open woods beyond.
As we halted, we saw right in front of us, but about three hundred or
four hundred yards off, a dense line of Confederate infantry, quietly
standing in ranks. In our excitement, and without a word of command, we
turned loose and with our smooth bore muskets opened fire upon them.
After three or four rounds, the absurdity of firing at the enemy at
that distance with our guns dawned upon us, and we stopped. As the
smoke cleared up we saw the enemy still there, not having budged or
fired a shot in return. But though our action was absurd, it was a
relief to us to do something, and we were rapidly becoming toned up to
the point of steady endurance.

As we gazed at the enemy so coolly standing there, an Ohio battery of
artillery came galloping up in our rear, and what followed I don't
believe was equalled by anything of the kind during the war. As the
artillery came up we moved off by the right flank a few steps, to let
it come in between us and the Illinois regiment next on our left. Where
we were standing was in open, low-limbed oak timber. The line of
Southern infantry was in tolerably plain view through the openings in
the woods, and were still standing quietly. Of course, we all turned
our heads away from them to look at the finely equipped battery, as it
came galloping from the rear to our left flank, its officers shouting
directions to the riders where to stop their guns. It was the work of
but an instant to bring every gun into position. Like a flash the
gunners leaped from their seats and unlimbered the cannon. The fine
six-horse teams began turning round with the caissons, charges were
being rammed home, and the guns pointed toward the dense ranks of the
enemy, when, from right in front, a dense puff of smoke, a tearing of
shot and shell through the trees, a roar from half a dozen cannon,
hitherto unseen, and our brave battery was knocked into smithereens.
Great limbs of trees, torn off by cannon shot, came down on horse and
rider, crushing them to earth. Shot and shell struck cannon, upsetting
them; caissons exploded them. Not a shot was fired from our side.

But how those astounded artillery men--those of them who could run at
all--did scamper out of there. Like Mark Twain's dog, they may be
running yet. At least, it is certain that no attempt was ever made to
reorganize that battery--it was literally wiped out then and there.

This made us feel mightily uncomfortable--in fact, we had been feeling
quite uncomfortable all the morning. It did not particularly add to the
cheerfulness of the prospect, to reflect that our division was the
reserve of the army, and should not be called into action, ordinarily,
until towards the close of the battle; while here we were, early in the
forenoon, face to face with the enemy, our battery of artillery gobbled
up at one mouthful, and the rest of the army in great strait,
certainly, and probably demoralized.

One of the cannon shot had gone through our Colonel's horse, and the
rider had been carried off the field. Colonel Pugh, of the Forty-first
Illinois, then took command of the brigade, about-faced us, and marched
us back across the little field, and halted us just behind the fence,
the enemy during this maneuver leaving us wholly undisturbed.

The rails were thrown down and we lay flat upon the ground, while
another battery came up and opened on the enemy, who had moved up
almost to the wreck of our first battery.

Here, then, began a fierce artillery duel. Shot and shell went over us
and crashing through the trees to the rear of us, and I suppose that
shot and shell went crashing through the trees above the enemy; but if
they didn't suffer any more from shot and shell than we did, there was
a great waste of powder and iron that day. But how a fellow does hug
the ground under such circumstances! As a shell goes whistling over him
he flattens out, and presses himself into the earth, almost. Pity the
sorrows of a big fat man under such a fire.

Later in the war we should have dug holes for ourselves with bayonets.
We must have lain there hugging the ground for more than two hours,
with now and then an intermission, listening to the flight of dreaded
missiles above us; but, as nobody in our immediate neighborhood was
hurt, we at length voted the performance of the artillery to be, on the
whole, rather fine. During intermissions, while the scenes were
shifting, as it were, we began to feel a disposition to talk and joke
over the situation.

The reason why we were not subjected to an infantry fire, was because
the enemy's forces, tangled in the wooded country, and in places beaten
back by the stubborn gallantry of our surprised but not demoralized
men, needed to be reorganized. All the Southern accounts agree that
their brigades and divisions had become mixed in apparently hopeless
confusion. The battlefield was so extensive that fighting was going on
at some point all the time, so that at no time was there a complete
cessation of the roar of artillery or the rattle of musketry.

Two or three times General Hurlbut came riding along our line; and
once, during a lull, General Grant and staff came slowly riding by, the
General with a cigar in his mouth, and apparently as cool and
unconcerned as if inspection was the sole purpose of visiting us. The
General's apparent indifference had, undoubtedly, a good influence on
the men. They saw him undisturbed, and felt assured that the worst was
over, and the attack had spent its force. This must have been soon
after he reached the field; for, upon hearing the roar of battle in the
morning at Savannah he went aboard a steamer, came up the river eight
or nine miles, and did not reach the scene of action much, if any,
before 10 o'clock. By that time, Sherman, McClernand and Prentiss had
been driven more than a mile beyond their camps, and with such of their
command as they could hold together had formed on the flanks of the two
reserve divisions of Hurlbut and W. H. L. Wallace, who had moved
forward beyond their own camps to meet them.

While General Johnston and his adjutants were reorganizing their
command after their first great triumph, to complete the conquest so
well begun, Grant and his generals were attempting to organize
resistance out of defeat, to establish their lines, to connect the
divisions with each other, and improve the situation of the different
commands by seizing the most favorable ground. Sherman and McClernand,
with what remained of their divisions, were on the extreme right;
W. H. L. Wallace, whose division had not yet come into action, on their
left, and on the left center of our army; Prentiss on his left. Then
came Hurlbut; then a small force under Stuart, on the extreme left of
our line.

Fortunately for us, General Johnston's plan was to attack our left. If,
when he was ready to renew the battle, he had assailed our right, where
were Sherman's and McClernand's divisions, who had already done almost
as much as flesh and blood could stand, nothing would have stopped him,
and by two o'clock we should have been where we were at dark--that is,
huddled about the landing. Then there would have been nothing to do but
to surrender. Happily, most happily, when he renewed the assaults upon
our lines, it was upon those portions manned by reserve divisions,
troops that had not been seriously engaged, and had had time to steady
their nerves, and to select favorable positions.

As for myself and comrades, we had become accustomed to the situation
somewhat. The lull in the fighting in our immediate vicinity, and the
reports which reached us that matters were now progressing favorably on
the rest of the field, reassured us. We were becoming quite easy in
mind. I had always made it a rule to keep a supply of sugar and some
hard tack in my haversack, ready for an emergency. It stood me in good
stead just then, for I alone had something besides fighting for lunch.
I nibbled my hard tack, and ate my sugar with comfort and satisfaction,
for I don't believe three men of our regiment were hurt by this
artillery fire upon us, which had been kept up with more or less fury
for two or three hours.

One of the little episodes of the battle happened about this time. We
noticed that a Confederate, seated on one of the abandoned cannon I
have mentioned, was leisurely taking an observation. He was out of
range of our guns, but our First Lieutenant got a rifle from a man who
happened to have one, took deliberate aim, and Johnny Reb tumbled.

But soon after noon the Confederate forces were ready to hurl
themselves on our lines. There had been more or less fighting on our
right all the time, but now Johnston had collected his troops and
massed them in front of the Union army's left. Language is inadequate
to give an idea of the situation. Cannon and musketry roared and
rattled, not in volleys, but in one continual din. Charge after charge
was made upon the Union lines, and every time repulsed. By
concentrating the main body of his troops on our left, General Johnston
was superior there to us in numbers, and there was no one upon whom we
could call for help. General Lew Wallace had not taken the precaution
to learn the roads between his division at Crump's Landing and the main
body, and he and his 7,000 men were lost in the woods, instead of being
where they could support us in this our dire extremity. The left wing
of our brigade was the Hornet's Nest, mentioned in the Southern
accounts of the battle. On the immediate right of my regiment was
timber with growth of underbrush, and the dreadful conflict set the
woods on fire, burning the dead and the wounded who could not crawl
away. At one point not burned over, I noticed, after the battle, a
strip of low underbrush which had evidently been the scene of a most
desperate contest. Large patches of brush had been cut off by bullets
at about as high as a man's waist, as if mowed with a scythe, and I
could not find in the whole thicket a bush which had not at some part
of it been touched by a ball. Of course, human beings could not exist
in such a scene, save by closely hugging the ground, or screening
themselves behind trees.

Hour after hour passed. Time and again the Confederate hordes threw
themselves on our lines, and were repulsed; but our ranks were becoming
dangerously thinned. If a few thousand troops could have been brought
from Lew Wallace's division to our sorely-tried left the battle would
have been won. His failure to reach us was fatal.

Yet, during all this terrible ordeal through which our comrades on the
immediate right and the left of us were passing, we were left
undisturbed until about two o'clock. Then there came from the woods on
the other side of the field, to the edge of it, and then came trotting
across it, as fine looking a body of men as I ever expect to see under
arms. They came with their guns at what soldiers call right shoulder
shift. Lying on the ground there, with the rails of the fence thrown
down in front of us, we beheld them, as they started in beautiful line;
then increasing their speed as they neared our side of the field, they
came on till they reached the range of our smooth bore guns, loaded
with buck and ball. Then we rose with a volley right in their faces. Of
course, the smoke then entirely obscured the vision, but with eager,
bloodthirsty energy, we loaded and fired our muskets at the top of our
speed, aiming low, until, from not noticing any return fire, the word
passed along from man to man to stop firing. As the smoke rose so that
we could see over the field, that splendid body of men presented to my
eyes more the appearance of a wind-row of hay than anything else. They
seemed to be piled up on each other in a long row across the field.
Probably the obscurity caused by the smoke, as well as the slight slope
of the ground towards us, accounted for this piled up appearance, for
it was something which could not possibly occur. But the slaughter had
been fearful. Here and there you could see a squad of men running off
out of range; now and then a man lying down, probably wounded or
stunned, would rise and try to run, soon to tumble from the shots we
sent after him. After the action I went all over the field of battle,
visiting every part of it; but in no place was there anything like the
number of dead upon the same space of ground as here in this little
field. Our old fashioned guns, loaded as they were, and at such close
quarters, had done fearful execution. This is undoubtedly the same
field General Grant speaks of in the Century article, but he is
mistaken when he speaks of the dead being from both sides. There were
no Union dead in that field.

Our casualties were small. In our little set of college boys only one,
was hurt; he receiving a wound in the leg, which caused its amputation.
The bayonet of my gun was shot off, but possibly that was done by some
man behind me, firing just as I threw the muzzle of my gun into his
way. I didn't notice it until, in loading my gun, I struck my hand
against the jagged end of the broken piece.

The Confederates had all they wanted of charging across the field, and
let us alone. But just to our left General Johnston had personally
organized and started a heavy assaulting column. Overwhelmed by
numbers, the Forty-first and Thirty-second Illinois gave way from the
position they had so tenaciously held, but one of their last shots
mortally wounded the Confederate general. The gallant Lieutenant-Colonel
of the Forty-first, whom we had cheered as we moved out in the morning,
was killed, and his regiment, broken and cut to pieces, did not renew
the fight. Making that break in our line, after four or five hours of
as hard fighting as ever occurred on this continent, was the turning
point of the day. American had met American in fair, stand-up fight,
and our side was beaten, because we could not reinforce the point which
was assailed by the concentrated forces of the enemy.

Of course, the giving way on our left necessitated our abandoning the
side of the field from whence we had annihilated an assaulting column.
We moved back a short distance in the woods, and a crowd of our enemies
promptly occupied the position we had left. Then began the first real,
prolonged fighting experienced by our regiment that day. Our success in
crushing the first attack had exhilarated us. We had tasted blood and
were thoroughly aroused. Screening ourselves behind every log and tree,
all broken into squads, the enemy broken up likewise, we gave back shot
for shot and yell for yell. The very madness of bloodthirstiness
possessed us. To kill, to exterminate the beings in front of us was our
whole desire. Such energy and force was too much for our enemies, and
ere long we saw squads of them rising from the ground and running away.
Again there was no foe in our front. Ammunition was getting short, but
happily a wagon came up with cartridges, and we took advantage of the
lull to fill our boxes. We had not yet lost many men and were full of
fight.

This contest exploded all my notions derived from histories and
pictures, of the way men stand up in the presence of the enemy. Unless
in making an assault or moving forward, both sides hugged the ground as
closely as they possibly could and still handle their guns. I doubt if
a human being could have existed three minutes, if standing erect in
open ground under such a fire as we here experienced. As for myself, at
the beginning I jumped behind a little sapling not more than six inches
in diameter, and instantly about six men ranged themselves behind me,
one behind the other. I thought they would certainly shoot my ears off,
and I would be in luck if the side of my head didn't go. The reports of
their guns were deafening. A savage remonstrance was unheeded. I was
behind a sapling and proposed to stay there. They were behind me and
proposed to stay there.

The sapling did me a good turn, small as it was. It caught some Rebel
bullets, as I ascertained for a certainty afterwards. I fancied at the
time that I heard the spat of the bullets as they struck.

Here my particular chum was wounded by a spent ball, and crawled off
the field. I can see him yet, writhing at my feet, grasping the leaves
and sticks in the horrible pain which the blow from a spent ball
inflicts. A bullet struck the top of the forehead of the wit of the
company, plowing along the skull without breaking it. His dazed
expression, as he turned instinctively to crawl to the rear, was so
comical as to cause a laugh even there.

The lull caused by the death of General Johnston did not last long, and
again on our left flank great masses of the enemy appeared, and we had
to fall back two or three hundred yards.

Then began another fight. But this time the odds were overwhelmingly
against us. At it we went, but in front and quartering on the left
thick masses of the enemy slowly but steadily advanced upon us. This
time it was a log I got behind, kneeling, loading and firing into the
dense ranks of the enemy advancing right in front, eager to kill, kill!
I lost thought of companions, until a ball struck me fair in the side,
just under the arm, knocking me over. I felt it go clear through my
body, struggled on the ground with the effect of the blow for an
instant, recovered myself, sprang to my feet, saw I was alone, my
comrades already on the run, the enemy close in on the left as well as
front--saw it all at a glance, felt I was mortally wounded, and--took
to my heels. Run! such time was never made before; overhauled my
companions in no time; passed them; began to wonder that a man shot
through the body could run so fast, and to suspect that perhaps I was
not mortally wounded after all; felt for the hole the ball had made,
found it in the blouse and shirt, bad bruise on the ribs, nothing
more--spent ball; never relaxed my speed; saw everything around--see it
yet. I see the enemy close in on the flank, pouring in their fire at
short range. I see our men running for their lives, men every instant
tumbling forward limp on their faces, men falling wounded and rolling
on the ground, the falling bullets raising little puffs of dust on
apparently every foot of ground, a bullet through my hair, a bullet
through my trousers. I hear the cruel _iz_, _iz_, of the minie balls
everywhere. Ahead I see artillery galloping for the landing, and crowds
of men running with almost equal speed, and all in the same direction.
I even see the purple tinge given by the setting sun to the dust and
smoke of battle. I see unutterable defeat, the success of the
rebellion, a great catastrophe, a moral and physical cataclysm.

No doubt, in less time than it takes to recall these impressions, we
ran out of this horrible gauntlet--a party who shall be nameless still
in the lead of the regiment.

Before getting out of it we crossed our camp ground, and here one of
our college set, the captain of the company fell, with several holes
through his body, while two others of our set were wounded. In that
short race at least one-third of our little command were stricken down.

Immediately behind us the Confederates closed in, and the brave General
Prentiss and the gallant remains of his command were cut off and
surrendered. As we passed out of range of the enemy's fire we mingled
with the masses of troops skurrying towards the landing, all semblance
of organization lost. It was a great crowd of beaten troops. Pell-mell
we rushed towards the landing. As we approached it we saw a row of
siege guns, manned and ready for action, while a dense mass of
unorganized infantry were rallied to their support. No doubt they were
men from every regiment on the field, rallied by brave officers for the
last and final stand.

We passed them--or, at least, I did. As I reached the top of the bluff
I saw, marching up, in well dressed lines, the advance of General
Nelson's division of Buell's army, then being ferried across the river.
They moved up the bluff and took part in repulsing the last, rather
feeble assault made at dark by a small portion of the enemy, though the
main defense was made by brave men collected from every quarter of the
field, determined to fight to the last.

As for myself, I was alone in the crowd. My regiment was thoroughly
scattered. I was considerably hurt and demoralized, and didn't take a
hand in the last repulse of the enemy. Darkness came on, and then, for
the first time since morning, the horrid din of fire-arms ceased. An
examination showed that the ball, though it had hit me fair on the rib,
was so far spent that it only made a bad bruise and respiration
painful. A requisition on the sugar and hard tack followed, and then,
as I happened to be near an old house filled with wounded, most of the
night was spent in carrying them water.

Every fifteen minutes the horizon was lighted up by the flash of a
great gun from one of our gunboats, as it sent a shell over towards the
Confederate bivouacs in the woods. General Lew Wallace's division at
last reached the battle field, and was placed by General Grant on the
right, preparatory to renewing the fight in the morning. All night long
the fresh divisions of Buell's army were being ferried across the
river, and placed in position. A light rain came on, putting out the
fires kindled by the battle.

The next morning the contest was begun by Wallace's division of Buell's
army. The remnants of Grant's army that had any fight left in them,
slowly collected together on the right.

My own regiment, when I found its colors, had as many men together,
probably, as any in Hurlbut's division, but there could not have been
more than one hundred and fifty. It was the same, I suspect, with every
regiment that had been hotly engaged. The men were thoroughly
scattered. Soldiers of pluck joined us who could not find their own
command, and no doubt some of ours joined other regiments.

When our general was again about to lead our division to the front, I
was only too glad to avail myself of permission to join a body of men
to support a battery in reserve. Badly bruised, sore and worn out, I
sat or lay on the ground near the guns, while Monday's battle
progressed, the sound of it getting farther and farther away. About two
o'clock we saw the cavalry moving to the front, and knew the enemy had
retreated.

That night, as we collected on our old camp ground, what eager
inquiries were made! With what welcome did we greet each new arrival;
how excitedly the events of the last two days were discussed! We found
that from the fourteen in our tent, one was killed, one mortally
wounded, and seven others more or less severely wounded, only five
escaping unhurt. This proportion, of course, was very unusual. The
regiment itself, which had not lost many in the first two fights we
made, was still, on account of the disastrous retreat under a flank
fire, one of the heaviest losers, in proportion to the numbers engaged,
in the whole army.

The feeling in the army after the battle was very bitter. All felt that
even a few hours' notice of the impending attack, spent in preparation
to receive it, would have been ample to have enabled us to give the
Confederates such a reception as Beauregard feared and expected, and to
have defeated them. It was long before General Grant regained the
confidence of the army and country that he lost that day. He and
Sherman here learned a lesson that they never forgot, but they learned
it at fearful cost to the country and to us.

It has been many times claimed that Buell's opportune arrival Sunday
night saved Grant and his army from annihilation on Monday. This is
probably correct. Still, it is possible, that without this aid, the
arrival on the ground of Lew Wallace's fresh and strong division, to
aid the thousands of brave men determined to fight to the last, would
have resulted in the repulse of an enemy which had suffered so severely
on Sunday.

But I have long been inclined to agree with these Southerners, who
contend, that if the gallant Johnston had not been killed so early in
the afternoon, our defeat would have been accomplished long enough
before dark, to have rendered our reinforcements useless.

One word more, as to the numbers of the armies engaged on Sunday. A
careful comparison of the returns will show that at the beginning the
two armies were about equally matched in numbers; but by the time our
stampeded men had got out of the way, and the two reserve divisions
were in line with the remnants of the three other divisions, the
preponderance was largely with the Confederates. They could choose
their own point of attack, and we had no reserve with which to
strengthen a shattered line.

The literature of the battle is quite extensive. The Count of Paris
gives in his history the best preliminary description; but as a whole,
and making reasonable allowances, the best account yet written is
contained in the life of Albert Sidney Johnston, by his son. The
account by General Force, contained in the Scribner series of
"Campaigns of the Civil War," is good.

But no study of the battle can be complete without the aid of General
Buell's articles in the Century Magazine, and the maps of the field,
which he has so carefully prepared.

What were the results of this first great battle of the war? Its
influence upon the gigantic contest which was to be waged for three
years longer was probably not great. It was too near a drawn battle.
But if it was necessary to demonstrate to the world and to ourselves
the courage of our people, that generations of peace and peaceful
pursuits had not one whit lessened the force or the enthusiasm of the
race that peopled this Western Continent, then here was demonstration
the most positive.

The people of the South for the first time realized the nature of the
conflict they had provoked. Until this campaign, the great mass of the
Southerners could not be made to believe that the students and farmers
and mechanics and merchants of the North loved their country and its
institutions more than they loved the gains of peace; nay, more than
they loved their lives. They saw here an army of young men representing
their kindred of the North, fighting, not for their own homes and
firesides, but for the perpetuity of the Nation, with a courage and
pertinacity which showed that this generation was resolved to transmit
what it had received from the fathers of the country. They saw this
army attacked at every disadvantage, rally at the call of a chief
worthy of it, and who was a type of its character and its lofty
motives, and then bravely endure a storm unparalleled on this
continent.

The thousands of youthful dead left on that bloody battlefield
demonstrated that we have a country and a race worthy to take the lead
in the march of human advancement.


WARREN OLNEY.





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