The army at Pittsburg landing - injured
by A fall - the Confederate
at Shiloh - the first
day’s fight at Shiloh - general
Sherman - condition
of the army - close of
the first day’s fight - the
second day’s fight
- retreat and defeat of
When I reassumed command on the 17th
of March I found the army divided, about half being
on the east bank of the Tennessee at Savannah, while
one division was at Crump’s landing on the west
bank about four miles higher up, and the remainder
at Pittsburg landing, five miles above Crump’s.
The enemy was in force at Corinth, the junction of
the two most important railroads in the Mississippi
valley - one connecting Memphis and the Mississippi
River with the East, and the other leading south to
all the cotton states. Still another railroad
connects Corinth with Jackson, in west Tennessee.
If we obtained possession of Corinth the enemy would
have no railroad for the transportation of armies or
supplies until that running east from Vicksburg was
reached. It was the great strategic position
at the West between the Tennessee and the Mississippi
rivers and between Nashville and Vicksburg.
I at once put all the troops at Savannah
in motion for Pittsburg landing, knowing that the
enemy was fortifying at Corinth and collecting an
army there under Johnston. It was my expectation
to march against that army as soon as Buell, who had
been ordered to reinforce me with the Army of the
Ohio, should arrive; and the west bank of the river
was the place to start from. Pittsburg is only
about twenty miles from Corinth, and Hamburg landing,
four miles further up the river, is a mile or two
nearer. I had not been in command long before
I selected Hamburg as the place to put the Army of
the Ohio when it arrived. The roads from Pittsburg
and Hamburg to Corinth converge some eight miles out.
This disposition of the troops would have given additional
roads to march over when the advance commenced, within
supporting distance of each other.
Before I arrived at Savannah, Sherman,
who had joined the Army of the Tennessee and been
placed in command of a division, had made an expedition
on steamers convoyed by gunboats to the neighborhood
of Eastport, thirty miles south, for the purpose of
destroying the railroad east of Corinth. The
rains had been so heavy for some time before that
the low-lands had become impassable swamps. Sherman
debarked his troops and started out to accomplish
the object of the expedition; but the river was rising
so rapidly that the back-water up the small tributaries
threatened to cut off the possibility of getting back
to the boats, and the expedition had to return without
reaching the railroad. The guns had to be hauled
by hand through the water to get back to the boats.
On the 17th of March the army on the
Tennessee River consisted of five divisions, commanded
respectively by Generals C. F. Smith, McClernand,
L. Wallace, Hurlbut and Sherman. General W. H.
L. Wallace was temporarily in command of Smith’s
division, General Smith, as I have said, being confined
to his bed. Reinforcements were arriving daily
and as they came up they were organized, first into
brigades, then into a division, and the command given
to General Prentiss, who had been ordered to report
to me. General Buell was on his way from Nashville
with 40,000 veterans. On the 19th of March he
was at Columbia, Tennessee, eighty-five miles from
Pittsburg. When all reinforcements should have
arrived I expected to take the initiative by marching
on Corinth, and had no expectation of needing fortifications,
though this subject was taken into consideration.
McPherson, my only military engineer, was directed
to lay out a line to intrench. He did so, but
reported that it would have to be made in rear of the
line of encampment as it then ran. The new line,
while it would be nearer the river, was yet too far
away from the Tennessee, or even from the creeks, to
be easily supplied with water, and in case of attack
these creeks would be in the hands of the enemy.
The fact is, I regarded the campaign we were engaged
in as an offensive one and had no idea that the enemy
would leave strong intrenchments to take the initiative
when he knew he would be attacked where he was if
he remained. This view, however, did not prevent
every precaution being taken and every effort made
to keep advised of all movements of the enemy.
Johnston’s cavalry meanwhile
had been well out towards our front, and occasional
encounters occurred between it and our outposts.
On the 1st of April this cavalry became bold and
approached our lines, showing that an advance of some
kind was contemplated. On the 2d Johnston left
Corinth in force to attack my army. On the 4th
his cavalry dashed down and captured a small picket
guard of six or seven men, stationed some five miles
out from Pittsburg on the Corinth road. Colonel
Buckland sent relief to the guard at once and soon
followed in person with an entire regiment, and General
Sherman followed Buckland taking the remainder of
a brigade. The pursuit was kept up for some three
miles beyond the point where the picket guard had
been captured, and after nightfall Sherman returned
to camp and reported to me by letter what had occurred.
At this time a large body of the enemy
was hovering to the west of us, along the line of
the Mobile and Ohio railroad. My apprehension
was much greater for the safety of Crump’s landing
than it was for Pittsburg. I had no apprehension
that the enemy could really capture either place.
But I feared it was possible that he might make a
rapid dash upon Crump’s and destroy our transports
and stores, most of which were kept at that point,
and then retreat before Wallace could be reinforced.
Lew. Wallace’s position I regarded as so
well chosen that he was not removed.
At this time I generally spent the
day at Pittsburg and returned to Savannah in the evening.
I was intending to remove my headquarters to Pittsburg,
but Buell was expected daily and would come in at Savannah.
I remained at this point, therefore, a few days longer
than I otherwise should have done, in order to meet
him on his arrival. The skirmishing in our front,
however, had been so continuous from about the 3d of
April that I did not leave Pittsburg each night until
an hour when I felt there would be no further danger
before the morning.
On Friday the 4th, the day of Buckland’s
advance, I was very much injured by my horse falling
with me, and on me, while I was trying to get to the
front where firing had been heard. The night
was one of impenetrable darkness, with rain pouring
down in torrents; nothing was visible to the eye except
as revealed by the frequent flashes of lightning.
Under these circumstances I had to trust to the horse,
without guidance, to keep the road. I had not
gone far, however, when I met General W. H. L. Wallace
and Colonel (afterwards General) McPherson coming
from the direction of the front. They said all
was quiet so far as the enemy was concerned.
On the way back to the boat my horse’s feet
slipped from under him, and he fell with my leg under
his body. The extreme softness of the ground,
from the excessive rains of the few preceding days,
no doubt saved me from a severe injury and protracted
lameness. As it was, my ankle was very much injured,
so much so that my boot had to be cut off. For
two or three days after I was unable to walk except
On the 5th General Nelson, with a
division of Buell’s army, arrived at Savannah
and I ordered him to move up the east bank of the river,
to be in a position where he could be ferried over
to Crump’s landing or Pittsburg as occasion
required. I had learned that General Buell himself
would be at Savannah the next day, and desired to meet
me on his arrival. Affairs at Pittsburg landing
had been such for several days that I did not want
to be away during the day. I determined, therefore,
to take a very early breakfast and ride out to meet
Buell, and thus save time. He had arrived on
the evening of the 5th, but had not advised me of
the fact and I was not aware of it until some time
after. While I was at breakfast, however, heavy
firing was heard in the direction of Pittsburg landing,
and I hastened there, sending a hurried note to Buell
informing him of the reason why I could not meet him
at Savannah. On the way up the river I directed
the dispatch-boat to run in close to Crump’s
landing, so that I could communicate with General Lew.
Wallace. I found him waiting on a boat apparently
expecting to see me, and I directed him to get his
troops in line ready to execute any orders he might
receive. He replied that his troops were already
under arms and prepared to move.
Up to that time I had felt by no means
certain that Crump’s landing might not be the
point of attack. On reaching the front, however,
about eight A.M., I found that the attack on Pittsburg
was unmistakable, and that nothing more than a small
guard, to protect our transports and stores, was needed
at Crump’s. Captain Baxter, a quartermaster
on my staff, was accordingly directed to go back and
order General Wallace to march immediately to Pittsburg
by the road nearest the river. Captain Baxter
made a memorandum of this order. About one P.M.,
not hearing from Wallace and being much in need of
reinforcements, I sent two more of my staff, Colonel
McPherson and Captain Rowley, to bring him up with
his division. They reported finding him marching
towards Purdy, Bethel, or some point west from the
river, and farther from Pittsburg by several miles
than when he started. The road from his first
position to Pittsburg landing was direct and near
the river. Between the two points a bridge had
been built across Snake Creek by our troops, at which
Wallace’s command had assisted, expressly to
enable the troops at the two places to support each
other in case of need. Wallace did not arrive
in time to take part in the first day’s fight.
General Wallace has since claimed that the order
delivered to him by Captain Baxter was simply to join
the right of the army, and that the road over which
he marched would have taken him to the road from Pittsburg
to Purdy where it crosses Owl Creek on the right of
Sherman; but this is not where I had ordered him nor
where I wanted him to go.
I never could see and do not now see
why any order was necessary further than to direct
him to come to Pittsburg landing, without specifying
by what route. His was one of three veteran
divisions that had been in battle, and its absence
was severely felt. Later in the war General
Wallace would not have made the mistake that he committed
on the 6th of April, 1862. I presume his idea
was that by taking the route he did he would be able
to come around on the flank or rear of the enemy, and
thus perform an act of heroism that would redound
to the credit of his command, as well as to the benefit
of his country.
Some two or three miles from Pittsburg
landing was a log meeting-house called Shiloh.
It stood on the ridge which divides the waters of
Snake and Lick creeks, the former emptying into the
Tennessee just north of Pittsburg landing, and the
latter south. This point was the key to our
position and was held by Sherman. His division
was at that time wholly raw, no part of it ever having
been in an engagement; but I thought this deficiency
was more than made up by the superiority of the commander.
McClernand was on Sherman’s left, with troops
that had been engaged at forts Henry and Donelson
and were therefore veterans so far as western troops
had become such at that stage of the war. Next
to McClernand came Prentiss with a raw division, and
on the extreme left, Stuart with one brigade of Sherman’s
division. Hurlbut was in rear of Prentiss, massed,
and in reserve at the time of the onset. The
division of General C. F. Smith was on the right,
also in reserve. General Smith was still sick
in bed at Savannah, but within hearing of our guns.
His services would no doubt have been of inestimable
value had his health permitted his presence.
The command of his division devolved upon Brigadier-General
W. H. L. Wallace, a most estimable and able officer;
a veteran too, for he had served a year in the Mexican
war and had been with his command at Henry and Donelson.
Wallace was mortally wounded in the first day’s
engagement, and with the change of commanders thus
necessarily effected in the heat of battle the efficiency
of his division was much weakened.
The position of our troops made a
continuous line from Lick Creek on the left to Owl
Creek, a branch of Snake Creek, on the right, facing
nearly south and possibly a little west. The
water in all these streams was very high at the time
and contributed to protect our flanks. The enemy
was compelled, therefore, to attack directly in front.
This he did with great vigor, inflicting heavy losses
on the National side, but suffering much heavier on
The Confederate assaults were made
with such a disregard of losses on their own side
that our line of tents soon fell into their hands.
The ground on which the battle was fought was undulating,
heavily timbered with scattered clearings, the woods
giving some protection to the troops on both sides.
There was also considerable underbrush. A number
of attempts were made by the enemy to turn our right
flank, where Sherman was posted, but every effort
was repulsed with heavy loss. But the front
attack was kept up so vigorously that, to prevent the
success of these attempts to get on our flanks, the
National troops were compelled, several times, to
take positions to the rear nearer Pittsburg landing.
When the firing ceased at night the National line was
all of a mile in rear of the position it had occupied
in the morning.
In one of the backward moves, on the
6th, the division commanded by General Prentiss did
not fall back with the others. This left his
flanks exposed and enabled the enemy to capture him
with about 2,200 of his officers and men. General
Badeau gives four o’clock of the 6th as about
the time this capture took place. He may be right
as to the time, but my recollection is that the hour
was later. General Prentiss himself gave the
hour as half-past five. I was with him, as I
was with each of the division commanders that day,
several times, and my recollection is that the last
time I was with him was about half-past four, when
his division was standing up firmly and the General
was as cool as if expecting victory. But no
matter whether it was four or later, the story that
he and his command were surprised and captured in
their camps is without any foundation whatever.
If it had been true, as currently reported at the
time and yet believed by thousands of people, that
Prentiss and his division had been captured in their
beds, there would not have been an all-day struggle,
with the loss of thousands killed and wounded on the
With the single exception of a few
minutes after the capture of Prentiss, a continuous
and unbroken line was maintained all day from Snake
Creek or its tributaries on the right to Lick Creek
or the Tennessee on the left above Pittsburg.
There was no hour during the day when
there was not heavy firing and generally hard fighting
at some point on the line, but seldom at all points
at the same time. It was a case of Southern dash
against Northern pluck and endurance. Three
of the five divisions engaged on Sunday were entirely
raw, and many of the men had only received their arms
on the way from their States to the field. Many
of them had arrived but a day or two before and were
hardly able to load their muskets according to the
manual. Their officers were equally ignorant
of their duties. Under these circumstances it
is not astonishing that many of the regiments broke
at the first fire. In two cases, as I now remember,
colonels led their regiments from the field on first
hearing the whistle of the enemy’s bullets.
In these cases the colonels were constitutional cowards,
unfit for any military position; but not so the officers
and men led out of danger by them. Better troops
never went upon a battle-field than many of these,
officers and men, afterwards proved themselves to
be, who fled panic stricken at the first whistle of
bullets and shell at Shiloh.
During the whole of Sunday I was continuously
engaged in passing from one part of the field to another,
giving directions to division commanders. In
thus moving along the line, however, I never deemed
it important to stay long with Sherman. Although
his troops were then under fire for the first time,
their commander, by his constant presence with them,
inspired a confidence in officers and men that enabled
them to render services on that bloody battle-field
worthy of the best of veterans. McClernand was
next to Sherman, and the hardest fighting was in front
of these two divisions. McClernand told me on
that day, the 6th, that he profited much by having
so able a commander supporting him. A casualty
to Sherman that would have taken him from the field
that day would have been a sad one for the troops
engaged at Shiloh. And how near we came to this!
On the 6th Sherman was shot twice, once in the hand,
once in the shoulder, the ball cutting his coat and
making a slight wound, and a third ball passed through
his hat. In addition to this he had several
horses shot during the day.
The nature of this battle was such
that cavalry could not be used in front; I therefore
formed ours into line in rear, to stop stragglers - of
whom there were many. When there would be enough
of them to make a show, and after they had recovered
from their fright, they would be sent to reinforce
some part of the line which needed support, without
regard to their companies, regiments or brigades.
On one occasion during the day I rode
back as far as the river and met General Buell, who
had just arrived; I do not remember the hour, but at
that time there probably were as many as four or five
thousand stragglers lying under cover of the river
bluff, panic-stricken, most of whom would have been
shot where they lay, without resistance, before they
would have taken muskets and marched to the front to
protect themselves. This meeting between General
Buell and myself was on the dispatch-boat used to
run between the landing and Savannah. It was
brief, and related specially to his getting his troops
over the river. As we left the boat together,
Buell’s attention was attracted by the men lying
under cover of the river bank. I saw him berating
them and trying to shame them into joining their regiments.
He even threatened them with shells from the gunboats
near by. But it was all to no effect. Most
of these men afterward proved themselves as gallant
as any of those who saved the battle from which they
had deserted. I have no doubt that this sight
impressed General Buell with the idea that a line of
retreat would be a good thing just then. If
he had come in by the front instead of through the
stragglers in the rear, he would have thought and felt
differently. Could he have come through the Confederate
rear, he would have witnessed there a scene similar
to that at our own. The distant rear of an army
engaged in battle is not the best place from which
to judge correctly what is going on in front.
Later in the war, while occupying the country between
the Tennessee and the Mississippi, I learned that
the panic in the Confederate lines had not differed
much from that within our own. Some of the country
people estimated the stragglers from Johnston’s
army as high as 20,000. Of course this was an
The situation at the close of Sunday
was as follows: along the top of the bluff just
south of the log-house which stood at Pittsburg landing,
Colonel J. D. Webster, of my staff, had arranged twenty
or more pieces of artillery facing south or up the
river. This line of artillery was on the crest
of a hill overlooking a deep ravine opening into the
Tennessee. Hurlbut with his division intact was
on the right of this artillery, extending west and
possibly a little north. McClernand came next
in the general line, looking more to the west.
His division was complete in its organization and
ready for any duty. Sherman came next, his right
extending to Snake Creek. His command, like the
other two, was complete in its organization and ready,
like its chief, for any service it might be called
upon to render. All three divisions were, as
a matter of course, more or less shattered and depleted
in numbers from the terrible battle of the day.
The division of W. H. L. Wallace, as much from the
disorder arising from changes of division and brigade
commanders, under heavy fire, as from any other cause,
had lost its organization and did not occupy a place
in the line as a division. Prentiss’ command
was gone as a division, many of its members having
been killed, wounded or captured, but it had rendered
valiant services before its final dispersal, and had
contributed a good share to the defence of Shiloh.
The right of my line rested near the
bank of Snake Creek, a short distance above the bridge
which had been built by the troops for the purpose
of connecting Crump’s landing and Pittsburg landing.
Sherman had posted some troops in a log-house and
out-buildings which overlooked both the bridge over
which Wallace was expected and the creek above that
point. In this last position Sherman was frequently
attacked before night, but held the point until he
voluntarily abandoned it to advance in order to make
room for Lew. Wallace, who came up after dark.
There was, as I have said, a deep
ravine in front of our left. The Tennessee River
was very high and there was water to a considerable
depth in the ravine. Here the enemy made a last
desperate effort to turn our flank, but was repelled.
The gunboats Tyler and Lexington, Gwin and Shirk
commanding, with the artillery under Webster, aided
the army and effectually checked their further progress.
Before any of Buell’s troops had reached the
west bank of the Tennessee, firing had almost entirely
ceased; anything like an attempt on the part of the
enemy to advance had absolutely ceased. There
was some artillery firing from an unseen enemy, some
of his shells passing beyond us; but I do not remember
that there was the whistle of a single musket-ball
heard. As his troops arrived in the dusk General
Buell marched several of his regiments part way down
the face of the hill where they fired briskly for
some minutes, but I do not think a single man engaged
in this firing received an injury. The attack
had spent its force.
General Lew. Wallace, with 5,000
effective men, arrived after firing had ceased for
the day, and was placed on the right. Thus night
came, Wallace came, and the advance of Nelson’s
division came; but none - unless night - in
time to be of material service to the gallant men who
saved Shiloh on that first day against large odds.
Buell’s loss on the 6th of April was two men
killed and one wounded, all members of the 36th Indiana
infantry. The Army of the Tennessee lost on that
day at least 7,000 men. The presence of two
or three regiments of Buell’s army on the west
bank before firing ceased had not the slightest effect
in preventing the capture of Pittsburg landing.
So confident was I before firing had
ceased on the 6th that the next day would bring victory
to our arms if we could only take the initiative,
that I visited each division commander in person before
any reinforcements had reached the field. I
directed them to throw out heavy lines of skirmishers
in the morning as soon as they could see, and push
them forward until they found the enemy, following
with their entire divisions in supporting distance,
and to engage the enemy as soon as found. To
Sherman I told the story of the assault at Fort Donelson,
and said that the same tactics would win at Shiloh.
Victory was assured when Wallace arrived, even if
there had been no other support. I was glad,
however, to see the reinforcements of Buell and credit
them with doing all there was for them to do.
During the night of the 6th the remainder
of Nelson’s division, Buell’s army crossed
the river and were ready to advance in the morning,
forming the left wing. Two other divisions,
Crittenden’s and McCook’s, came up the
river from Savannah in the transports and were on the
west bank early on the 7th. Buell commanded them
in person. My command was thus nearly doubled
in numbers and efficiency.
During the night rain fell in torrents
and our troops were exposed to the storm without shelter.
I made my headquarters under a tree a few hundred
yards back from the river bank. My ankle was
so much swollen from the fall of my horse the Friday
night preceding, and the bruise was so painful, that
I could get no rest.
The drenching rain would have precluded
the possibility of sleep without this additional cause.
Some time after midnight, growing restive under the
storm and the continuous pain, I moved back to the
log-house under the bank. This had been taken
as a hospital, and all night wounded men were being
brought in, their wounds dressed, a leg or an arm amputated
as the case might require, and everything being done
to save life or alleviate suffering. The sight
was more unendurable than encountering the enemy’s
fire, and I returned to my tree in the rain.
The advance on the morning of the
7th developed the enemy in the camps occupied by our
troops before the battle began, more than a mile back
from the most advanced position of the Confederates
on the day before. It is known now that they
had not yet learned of the arrival of Buell’s
command. Possibly they fell back so far to get
the shelter of our tents during the rain, and also
to get away from the shells that were dropped upon
them by the gunboats every fifteen minutes during the
The position of the Union troops on
the morning of the 7th was as follows: General
Lew. Wallace on the right; Sherman on his left;
then McClernand and then Hurlbut. Nelson, of
Buell’s army, was on our extreme left, next
to the river.
Crittenden was next in line after
Nelson and on his right, McCook followed and formed
the extreme right of Buell’s command. My
old command thus formed the right wing, while the
troops directly under Buell constituted the left wing
of the army. These relative positions were retained
during the entire day, or until the enemy was driven
from the field.
In a very short time the battle became
general all along the line. This day everything
was favorable to the Union side. We had now become
the attacking party. The enemy was driven back
all day as we had been the day before until finally
he beat a precipitate retreat. The last point
held by him was near the road leading from the landing
to Corinth on the left of Sherman and right of McClernand.
About three o’clock being near that point
and seeing that the enemy was giving way everywhere
else I gathered up a couple of regiments or parts
of regiments from troops near by formed them in
line of battle and marched them forward going in
front myself to prevent premature or long-range firing.
At this point there was a clearing between us and
the enemy favorable for charging although exposed.
I knew the enemy were ready to break and only wanted
a little encouragement from us to go quickly and join
their friends who had started earlier. After
marching to within musket-range I stopped and let
the troops pass. The command charge was
given and was executed with loud cheers and with
a run; when the last of the enemy broke.