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Annals of The War

Chapters of unwritten history

David Stuart’s Brigade at Shiloh

An Official Report Not Hitherto Published Which Throws Some Light On the Details of a Battle That Has Been the Subject of Much Comment and Controversy.

There seems to be no end to the publication of statements, which should, if true, goes to make up the history of the battle of Shiloh—The bloodiest, the closest hand-to-hand flight of the war. As Ignorant, contradictory and impossible as statement and writing could possible be, they have heretofore and still find place in the columns of papers whose constituents were in that bloody battle, and are greatly wronged by them.

To Illustrate, a recent issue of an Illinois paper states that General Prentiss; division held the extreme left on Sunday morning. The old tale is repeated that men were bayoneted in their tents, and it is stated as a matter of fact “that the great misfortune of the day was the retreat of General Sherman’s division on the right,” and that this necessitated the surrender of Prentiss. The truth is that on the morning of the 6th the whole of our front was held by Sherman’s division, except the left center, which was occupied by Prentiss. The extreme left was held by Stuart’s brigade—the Second by Sherman’s division. The line on the right rested on Owl creek and the left upon Lick Creek.

You cannot understand the battle of Sunday unless you know the history of the whole front previous to and at its commencement. General Sherman has furnished in his report an account of the operations of his First, Third and Fourth Brigades. He says: “My Second brigade (Colonel Stuart) was detached near two miles from my headquarters.

He had to fight his own battle on Sunday, as the enemy interposed between him and General Prentiss early in the day. Colonel Stuart was wounded severely and yet reported for duty on Monday morning, but was compelled to leave when the command devolved on Colonel T. Kilby Smith, Fifty-fourth Ohio, who was always in the thickest of the fight and led the brigade handsomely. I have not yet received Colonel Stuart’s report of the operations of his brigade during the time he was detached.” (Vide Senate executive documents and report as published in lives of Grant and Sherman).

The report of Colonel Stuart furnishes an account of the operations of the Second brigade. Your readers will thus have official materials, written with great ability and candor, from which to obtain the true history of the battle of the right and left of the Federal front. It cannot be written or known without them. The official report has thus a general importance.

Value of the Report

It has also a local interest in this that it conveys an official account of the services and behavior of two Ohio regiments, one of which performed no inconsiderable part in the struggle which prevented the enemy from reaching the landing by turning our left. It contains important truthful evidence on the allegation so persistently made that we were surprised. It seems proper that the report which I send should be published at this late day in your paper, if only as an addenda to the account compiled by Colonel De Haas, which all have read with so much interest.

That it may be more readily with due respect to that gentleman’s statement, I will recapitulate the position on the return of the expedition which was sent under General Sherman to destroy the roadway and bridge of the Memphis and Charleston road, between Iuka and Burnsville. General Sherman’s division landed at Pittsburgh. Foiled by the elements in their most furious and effective force, we returned and landed for the purpose of giving battle and driving the enemy from his stronghold at Corinth.

The movement against the Memphis and Charleston road had failed and that of Lew Wallace, from Crump’s Landing to Bethel, was ineffectual. Their object was to cut off two of the enemy’s sources of supplies and reinforcements. Nothing was left but to approach, engage and drive Beauregard from Corinth. This was the purpose of the landing on the 17th of March. The lamented General C.F. Smith, in command of the expedition, ordered General Sherman to take the advance. The advance involved the occupation of the principal military positions between the two creeks, which would cover the flanks of the army when it should have arrived.

Between our position and that of the enemy was a dense forest, traversed by ravines. From our right two roads led to Monterey and thence three roads to Corinth. From the extreme left the Purdy road, crossing Lick creek, came into the Farmington and Corinth road. The bank road, from the south end of Pea ridge, crossed Lick creek at Grier’s and came out at the ford. These were the principal roads. Sherman’s division was not large enough to occupy the whole line, hence he placed the First, Third and fourth brigades on the right and the Second brigade on the extreme left. This position they were in on Sunday morning, the interval between the Second and Third brigades having been filled by Prentiss. The position held by the Second was importance.

Had the brigade fallen short one single half hour in doing its whole dangerous, sacrificing duty, the enemy would have reached Pittsburgh Landing, been in our rear and that bloody field of Shiloh been lost. With a loss of two-thirds its real fighting numbers, having fired all of their own and their dead and wounded comrades; ammunition, the remnant of the brigade fell back to the batteries in good order. The report itself gives it detail the account of the day’s work, which this explanation of positions will make plainer to those not familiar with the field, and to whom I would cite the able work of Le Compte De Paris. The killed and wounded of the brigade were five hundred and eight-seven: of the Fifty-fourth Ohio, one hundred and ninety-five.

The writer, in ma and prolonged interviews with General Beauregard and other Confederate officers, has found that it was before this line that General Albert Sidney Johnston received his mortal wound. General Beauregard and his subalterns were confounded by the pertinacity with which the thinned and rapidly thinning ranks held their position. Ten thousand or more in their front, it would seem they could at once be overwhelmed. The command was supposed by the rebels to be the advanced skirmish line of a large body of troops in the rear. To this error and to the desperate gallantry of this small body of raw recruits-more thank half of whom died at their post-the country owes the repulse of Sunday.

 

Colonel Stuart’s Report

 

Headquarters 2nd Brigade, 5th Division,

Camp Shiloh, April 10,1962.

Captain J. H. Hammond, A. A. General

Sir: I have the honor to submit a report of the part taken by the Second Brigade of General Sherman’s division in the engagement of the 6th and 7th instant. The brigade, coposed of the Fifty-fifth Illinois, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Malmborg; the Fifty-fourth Ohio, Colonel Thomas Kilby Smith, and the Seventy-first Ohio, Colonel R. Mason, occupied the extreme left of the advance; General Prentiss’ division on my right and front. In obedience to General Sherman’s orders I kept a company at and in the vicinity of the ford of Lick creek, on the Hamburg road, and another in the vicinity of the “bank road” (coming in on the hills opposite and southeast of my encampment), as picket guard, and on his order on Saturday, sent six companies out on the Hamburg road with a squadron of cavalry (The cavalry being the 4th Illinois Cavalry) sent forward by General McClernand to reconnoiter beyond Hamburg. The disposition of my pickets was reported to, and approved by, General Sherman. At 7:30 on Sunday morning I received a verbal message from General Prentiss that the enemy were in his front in force. Soon after my pickets sent in word that a force, with artillery, was advancing on the bank road. In a very short time I discovered the pelican flag advancing in the rear of General Prentiss’ headquarters. I dispatched my adjutant (Loomis, of the Fifty-fourth Ohio) to General Hurlburt, who occupied with his division the rear of the center, to inform him that General Prentiss’ left was turned, and to ask him to advance his force. The reply was that he would advance immediately. Within fifteen minutes General Hurlburt sent forward a battery, which took position on the road immediately by Colonel Manson’s (Seventy-First Illinois, as I remember) formed in line on the right of his battery. Observing these dispositions and expecting that the remainder of Hurlburt’s division would be up quickly, I established my line of battle accordingly, with the right of the Seventy-first Ohio resting opposite the eastern extremity of the camp of the Fifty-fifth Illinois-- the Fifty-fifth regiment next on the left and the Fifty-fourth beyond, facing the south. I had two companies of the Fifty-fifty Illinois and two companies of the Fifty-fourth Ohio detached as skirmishers in the hills opposite and across the creek or ravine, where the enemy was endeavoring to plant a battery, covered by a much larger force of skirmishers. From a convenient position on the brow of the hill or band north of the creek with my glass I could observe all their movements. Having succeeded in planting their battery in a commanding position the opened a fire of shell upon us, under cover of which the infantry advanced upon us diagonally from the left of Prentiss’ division, and also from the right of their battery. I hastened in person to the battery I had left half an hour before in front of Colonel Mason’s tent to order them further to the east in front of my headquarters, where they would have had a splendid fire as well upon the enemy’s battery as upon the advancing infantry. The battery had left without firing a gun, and the battalion on its right had disappeared. For above a quarter of a mile to my right no soldier could be seen.

 

The Enemy's Advance

 

A large body of the enemy’s troops were advancing due north toward Mason’s camp, and I saw them the position of my brigade was inevitable flanked by an overwhelming and unopposed force. Hastening back to my brigade I found the enemy rapidly advancing on its front. The Seventy-first Ohio had fallen back under the shelling of the enemy’s guns to some position (as I am informed by Colonel Mason) “about one hundred and fifty yards in the rear and re-formed on a ridge of ground very defensible for the infantry,” but I could not find them, and I had no intimation as to where they had gone. Before I could change position the Fifty-fifty Illinois and Fifty-fourth Ohio were engaged, but as soon as possible I withdrew them to a position on the brow of a hill, and my first line diagonally—from northwest to southeast. At this point I had not to exceed eight hundred men of the Fifty-fifth Illinois and Fifty-fourth Ohio. I saw nothing more of the Seventy-first regiment through the fight.

The enemy’s force of five regiments of infantry and a battery of four guns, which had been moving on our right flank, were here brought to a stand and formed a line of battle. A body of cavalry was sent off on our (then) right toward our rear to harass or cut off our retreat. A part of the force, which had attacked our first front, were disposed with a view of flanking us on our present left. Against this latter force (moving through a ravine, which had its mouth just below and in the rear of our extreme left) I sent a detachment of Zouaves (Fifty-fourth Ohio) under Major, Fisher, by whom they were held in a check during the fight. The engagement opened, the enemy’s line and our line being established at a distance of one hundred and fifty yards apart. At this point we fought and held them for upward of two hours. The enemy’s lines were within the edge of a grove pretty well defended by trees. The space between us was an open, level and smooth field. The disposition of their forces was made deliberately and occupied fully fifteen minutes after we came upon the ground.

 

The Order to Fall Back

 

Inadequate as I knew my force to be I was encouraged to fight it and hold my position, first with the object of detaining the enemy’s force from advancing toward the river, and secondly because I received a message from General McArthur (who appeared in person somewhere in my vicinity) to hold my position and that he would support me on my right. I could not find the Seventy-first Ohio regiment, and had less than eight hundred men under my command. During the action we observed a battery planted southeast of us in a commanding position to enfilade our line. It was employed, however, with little, beyond threatening effect—the firing being too high. We had received no support on our right, as promised by General McArthur. We had emptied the cartridge boxes of the killed and wounded and our ammunition was exhausted. Our fire was so slackened from this cause and our losses that I was apprehensive of a forward movement of the enemy, who could easily have overwhelmed us and thrown us into ruinous confusion.

With the advice of Colonel Smith, of the Fifty-fourth Ohio, and Lieutenant Colonel Malmborg, commanding the Fifty-fifth Illinois, I gave the order to fall back through the ravine and reform on a hill to our right. I led the remnant of my brigade to good order to the point selected. When we reached it the enemy had advanced on our left with their battery and were on a commanding position within six hundred yards. They opened fire of shell upon us, which compelled me to move on still further, sheltering the command as well as possible by various and circuitous paths till we reached a cavalry camp, where the brigade was re-formed.

On our way we were joined by a small remnant of the Seventy-first, under command of Adjutant Hart of that regiment (some seventeen or eighteen men). Finding I was beyond the line of the enemy, after consultation I ordered the brigade march to the rear toward the landing in preference to sending for ammunition, which I apprehended would not reach us. Within a quarter of a mile of the batteries the brigade was halted by an officer of General Grant’s staff who stated that ammunition was being sent back, and ordered that every fragment of regiments moving toward the landing should be stopped. Suffering from a wound I had received in my should before the termination of our fight I turned the command over to Colonel Thomas Kilby Smith, of the Fifty-fourth Ohio (the next in rank), and proceeded to the landing to learn the extent of my injury. Meanwhile, General Grant, passing, ordered a line to be formed near the batteries.

 

Colonel Smith in Command

On Monday morning the brigade took the field under command of Colonel Smith. Its conduct was under the observation of the general himself. I was not able to do more than to make an effort to excite the enthusiasm of the men and lead them to the field when they were ordered forward into the action. I turned the command over to Colonel smith soon after. The experience of Sunday left me under no apprehension as to the fate of the brigade, if coolness, deliberation and personal bravery on his part could save it from loss or disgrace. Colonel Smith, from the beginning to the end of the engagement on Sunday, was constantly at his post, rallying, encouraging and fighting his men under incessant fire, regardless of personal safety. I was under great obligations to Lieutenant Colonel Malmborg, whose military education

And experience was of great importance to me. Comprehending at a glance the purpose and object of every movement of the enemy, he was able to advise me promptly and intelligently as to the disposition of my men. He was cool, observant, discreet and brave and of important service to me. * * *

D. Stuart, Colonel Commanding.

(Official.) J. H. Hammond, A. A. G.

 

The Army Chaplain

 

His Difficulties and Embarrassment—Unworthy

Men Who Wore the Cloth

BY EDWIN B. RAFFENSPERGER

Chaplain of the Fourteenth Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Concerning no other officer in the army has there been such violent denunciation and gross misrepresentation. The historian has not yet appeared who is able fully to vindicate the army chaplain or to set forth his relation to the war in its true light. In the very nature of things this is now impossible. His case cannot be properly adjudicated before ordinary courts, but must be referred to the grand final assize. The spiritual government to which he belongs is unlike the governments of this world, and yet his engagement to serve the republic in the hour of its peril was based on his status in the church militant. Among right-minded men it was impossible for any one to become a chaplain who had forfeited his character as a minister of religion. It must be admitted, however, that the army “regulations” were somewhat loose on this particular subject. The language is: “One chaplain shall be allowed to each regiment of the army, to be appointed by the colonel on the nomination of the company commanders. None but regularly ordained ministers of some Christian denomination, however, shall be eligible to appointment, and the wishes and wants of the soldiers of the regiment shall be allowed their full and due weight in making the selection.”

 

The Qualifications for a Commission

 

Nothing is said in this requirement of the present standing of the candidate for the office. If the applicant could prove that he had once been “regularly ordained” by some “Christian denomination,” he was “eligible,” and wicked or designing men could thus legally induct into the service of the government to act as chaplain one who was entirely unfit for the office, and without even a good character in his denomination. Here is a delicate question; but, were proof required, it could easily be shown that chaplains of demoralizing antecedents were sometimes forced upon our soldiers. This may, indeed, be regarded as the “Fons et origo malorum.”

If the “Blue Book: had been more explicit and exacting in respect to qualifications, the army would not have been crushed by the influence of the few whose conduct brought reproach upon the whole class. The proverb, “like priest, like people,” evidently means something; but is it not suggestive of a thousand cruel judgments concerning a class of humble army servants, called chaplains? The world is entirely too willing to use them as scapegoats, and insists on placing on their already overburdened shoulders some thins for which they ought not to furnish transportation. People look with much more complacency on the sins of the pew than on the sins of the pulpit. A deviation from a “bee line” on the part of a preacher is not a wholesome thing for the cause of religion. If he were found guilty of a misdemeanor, the whole fraternity must pass under a cloud of suspicion.

Among the saddest things of the late war might be enumerated the damages sustained by the gentlemen of our cloth for which the government is too poor to make adequate indemnification. As a test of human character war is, indeed, “like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap.” Some of us went into it apparently whole and came out of it far from the kind of scars made by sword, ball or shell; but somehow, daring the past fifteen years it hasn’t gone as well with us a before the war. The exigencies of those sad years on the tented field brought into pitiable notoriety all out peculiarities and weaknesses. As we all held the same rank we were regarded as birds of a feather, and the popular idea was that the acts of one or our number would certainly be indorsed by all the rest. And so it came to pass that all the chaplains were regarded as scapegoats for the sins of a few. Alas, those were trying days for preachers. That which served as good medicine in one locality proved a deadly poison in another.

One man spoke and he gave offense. Another man held his tongue and he gave offense. If the voice of one was “still for war” he was sure to anger the peace party of the North. If he studied the things that made for peace he was sure to anger the war party! If he tried the experiment of sitting on a fence he found the rail very uncomfortable. Many a house was divided. One day a kind Christian man reasoned with his son—a soldier in the Union army—on the inhumanity of throwing Greek fire into Charleston. He regarded this species of warfare as a relic of barbarism! What was his horror at hearing in reply: “All right, father. Greek fire for rebels and hell fire for rebel sympathizers.” The old peace saint on the placid Maumee held his breath and said no more.

 

Good Chaplains Scarce

 

It was difficult to find the right sort of men for instructors of our soldiers in the high duties of religion. The government made ample provision for the support of chaplains. In rank and emolument we were as captains of cavalry. No wonder that many an obscure and unworthy preacher, out of employment, was tempted by poverty and the devil to seek a chaplainry. Personal and political influence not infrequently determined the selection of this officer. Man, therefore, went into the contest who were entirely unfit for their high mission. The sayings and doings of these men soon brought reproach on the profession. With all the advantages afforded by kind and obliging commanders it was very difficult for the faithful chaplain to do what his heart prompted for the benefit of the soldiers.

The weather, the location and many other causes conspired sometimes for weeks to prevent a preaching service, when nothing could have pleased the chaplain more than the privilege of preaching to the soldiers every day. By some, who cared not for religion, the chaplain was regarded simply as the fifth wheel of a wagon. Soldiers were quick to notice and ready to communicate to each other all the bad conduct of those who dishonored the office. We fell in with some whose previous history was decidedly bad. Before the war they had forfeited their standing in the church, but now they performed their functions as ministers without re-proof from any one.

A Case might be cited where the superior officers, when reminded that the chaplain was unworthy of the office, coolly replied that they had elected him just because he was a man of easy virtue, and they wanted no restraint upon their habits! This chaplain, like his fellow officers in the regiment, was frequently under the influence of liquor. The miserable creature shocked the feelings of the poor soldiers, who needed and wanted a religious counselor and guide. On one occasion I received a message at midnight from a dying soldier belonging to another regiment. The messenger said it was half a mile over to the farmhouse where the poor man and a few others were under the treatment of the surgeon. They wanted a minister to go over and pray with the one who was so near death.

Why not send for your chaplain?” “Because,” was the touching reply, “this is no time for a drunken preacher to be fooling around a dying man.” That very night this unworthy official had made an attempt to go his rounds among the sick but was so much intoxicated that the soldiers asked him to leave the room!

 

Some of the chaplains seemed to glory in their ability to do and say strange things. One was especially useful in helping to get up a fine regiment. He promoted a war spirit by his preaching, and could find something to favor enlistments in a text of the Bible! One Monday morning he was asked to repeat the text on which he had preached a “war sermon” the day before. What was the surprise of his questioner to hear that it was: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting Life.” “But, Brother P---, that was not a war text.” “Well, what if it wasn’t. I gave it a war turn, notwithstanding.”

The nicknames applied to sundry of our class were significant. In those days one heard of the “horse trading chaplain,” the “dandy chaplain,” the “drinking chaplain,” the “swearing chaplain,” the “fighting chaplain.” The eccentricities of these “wandering stars” were generously placed to the credit of the whole fraternity. If one preacher does these things of course the rest will do them also!

 

Exaggerated Stories

 

It was the easiest thing in the world to get up a false report about a chaplain. The boys never got tired of telling how a brave little Englishman, who was a chaplain, acted one night when the “long roll” was heard, and when in the darkness the soldiers were called to fall into line. The chaplain, who is naturally excitable, was, perhaps, on this occasion more so than usual. It was his first night in camp. He had gone to bed, as was customary in the days of peace, but now he felt that no time was to be lost and that it was now more important for him to talk to the boys about trusting in God. And doing well their work as soldiers than it was for him to be equipped as for dress parade. It was a trying occasion.

By Thomas Kiley Smith, Brigadier General United States Volunteers