The Second Day at Shiloh.
By a Staff Officer.
THE highest romance in military life centres in a succoring army. The sturdy heart of England throbbed responsive to the tread of Bulow's lesions — the fortunes of consular France rested on Dessaix's eagles — the hopes and fears of the loyal North marched with Buell's columns, surging to the red field of Shiloh.
Sunday morning, April 5, 1862, came beautiful and bright. The soft spring sunshine bathed valley and hill in mellow splendor. Our Division was early on the march. As its head was debouching out of the valley of Indian Creek heavy indistinct mutterings, as of distant thunder, came from a southwesterly direction. The
829air was calm, the sky cloudless — it could be no April storm — it must mean battle. When this became evident to the men, a shout, stern, defiant, and eager, broke along the lines, filling the distant woods, and rolling grandly from front to rear. A halt was ordered; three days rations and sixty additional rounds of ammunition a man were issued, and all baggage was taken off to be left behind. Terrill's battery galloped to the front, to be dragged by hand, if need be, over impassable places. Soon the troops were again in motion. Over fields where the road was impracticable or blocked by other troops, across swamps and morasses, through streams breast-high, the Division pushed for twenty-two miles, till just at nightfall it arrived at Savannah.
I had been ordered forward to the river, to prepare for the embarkation of the troops. Every thing was in confusion. I could find no General to whom to report. Generals Grant and Buell had gone by steamboat to Pittsburg Landing; General C. E. Smith, the commander of the army, was lying upon his death-bed; General Nelson, with his Division, had already gone, without orders, by land to the battlefield, ten miles distant. Guides reported this route impracticable in the darkness. Steamboats were landing and pushing out without any apparent object; officers were hurrying hither and thither, confused and excited; skulkers from the battlefield were relating deeds of personal prowess, mingled with tales of disaster to our arms; artillery was rumbling, bands playing, drums beating, trains, empty and loaded, choked and jammed in the streets. Above and through all this din swelled the awful cadence of the distant battle. Through the discordant crowd, like a crimson thread, flowing in rapidly augmenting numbers from the steamboats to the hospitals, came the wounded, calm, quiet, and uncomplaining. It was the carnival of rumor, rumor direful, rumor hopeful; but toward night we settled sadly into the clear conviction that our army had sustained a reverse.
As the afternoon waned the sky became overcast. Lightning, red and lurid, flashed in the west, while the thunder, surly and threatening, added its deep bass to the battle's roar. The bivouac fires were gleaming brightly as I returned in the settling gloom to the Division, encamped upon the outskirts of the village, with embarking orders. Critten den's Division must go first. We waited impatiently for our time. As it grew darker the roar of the battle ceased; only now and then a throb of sound breaking the silence. The two armies rested to renew the battle on the morrow. Ours sad and defeated; theirs hopeful and exultant.
Some time after dark the gun-boats opened fire, slow and measured. This told us that our cause was not altogether desperate — that fresh troops might restore the battle. The command to "fall in" was hailed with cheers loud and defiant. Standing in column of company, sweeping the broad road from side to side, that splendid division, 9000 bayonets strong, high in hope, health, and discipline, with the moon scudding the clouds, lighting up the bronzed faces of the men, and glimmering on their muskets, presented a spectacle I shall never forget. Before we reached the river the storm burst, the April rain coming down in torrents. In the gloom, blinded by lightning flashes, the troops stumbled and groped their way down the slippery Banks to the spectral steamboats. Although standing in the streets like drenched cattle nearly all night long, the men took their India-rubber blankets from their manly shoulders to wrap up and preserve their trusty rifles and priceless ammunition from the storm.
That night was an agony of rumor — rumors of defeat, of panic, of men rushing into the river, of the annihilation of our army, of terms of surrender proposed and discussed. But two facts gave us comfort. Nelson, though panting and breathless, after surmounting obstacles of every kind, had arrived in time to take part in the last struggle of the evening; and the enemy had just, at dark, been repulsed within twenty feet of Sherman's semicircle of blazing batteries. We hugged the hopes these facts suggested to our dripping bosoms with delicious pleasure. All that long and miserable night, at short intervals, we heard the solemn thunder of that gun-boat cannon swelling high above the howling storm — a nation's minute-gun.
Before morning one brigade and two regiments of another were embarked. With the latter, on the steamer Tigress, the General and Staff went. Weary and heart-sick, I clambered into an upper berth, and, although the rain dripped through the leaky roof in rivulets, I soon slept. I awoke with a start, fearing I had slumbered too long. Day was just breaking. The boat was still under way. There was no tumult of battle. Even the gun-boat had ceased firing with the approach of light. Hope — that main-stay of the soldier in his darkest moods — began to whisper, "No battle to-day; the enemy have fallen back." The rain was falling in mist; the fog clung to the dank forests, veiling their recesses in obscurity; the steel-gray sky was cold, cheerless, and depressing. Upon the right bank, as we went up, here and there a soldier in our uniform, without arms, could be seen wandering listlessly along the shore. Soon we saw squads of our cavalry on picket, an assurance that the disorganization of our army was net complete.
As we were eating our breakfast upon the boiler deck a fierce rattle of musketry came from
830a point of woods above the landing, which was now in plain sight. Soon it grew into the full volume of a well-sustained infantry tight. As we neared the shore, mingled with these crashes of musketry came the strains of the Sixteenth Infantry band, performing a gem from "II Trovatore" — death and rejoicing borne to us upon the same wave of sound. At the landing-place confusion was worse than confounded. Rations, forage, and ammunition were trampled into the mire by an excited and surging crowd. Officers were rushing about, endeavoring to collect the stragglers of their commands and lead them into the rapidly-increasing battle. Trains were huddled together in sheltered places; ambulances, with their bleeding loads, were coming to the steamboats; sutlers, camp-followers, and even women were adding their voices to the Babel of sound. Thousands of soldiers, panic-stricken, were hiding under the bank, and, not satisfied with their own infamy, were discouraging our troops newly arrived. How we loathed them! Yet the glory of Raymond, Jackson, Blackwater, and Vicksburg gleams upon the bayonets of these same men; and I am convinced now we thought too harshly of them then. Providence, in His inscrutable ways, permitted these men, thirty months later, to pay the debt of Shiloh with compound interest, when, gathering from the plains and savannas of the Southwest, they marched with eager feet to our relief in beleaguered Chattanooga, and with their brawny shoulders helped bear our banners up the blazing heights of Mission Mountain. But at Pittsburg Landing, that memorable day, only the long ranks of dead ranged for recognition or burial at the hospital on the hill-side were calm and free from distracting panic.
The First Brigade, after pushing its way through the throng at the river with the point of the bayonet, was already forming on the crest of the hill. Now and then we heard the pattering sound of bullets, stragglers from the leaden storm above, falling upon the roofs of the boats. Our horses were quickly disembarked, and with the First Brigade in columns closed in mass, leaving orders for the rest of the Division to follow as soon as landed, we moved toward the point indicated by the firing. Directly we saw evidences of close and terrible fighting. Artillery horses dead, cannon dismounted, caissons abandoned, muskets broken, accoutrements torn and bloody, appeared every where. The first dead soldier we saw had fallen in the road; our artillery had crushed and mangled his limbs, and ground him into the mire. He lay a bloody, loathsome mass, the scraps of his blue uniform furnishing the only distinguishable evidence that a hero there had died. At this sight I saw many a manly fellow gulp down his heart, which swelled too closely into his throat. Near him lay a slender rebel boy — his face in the mud, his brown hair floating in a bloody pool. Soon a dead Major, then a Colonel, then the lamented "Wallace; yet alive, were passed in quick and sickening succession. The gray gloaming of the misty morning gave a ghostly pallor to the faces of the dead. The disordered hair, dripping from the night's rain, the distorted and passion-marked faces, the stony, glaring eyes, the blue lips, the glistening teeth, the shriveled and contracted hands, the wild agony of pain and passion in the attitudes of the dead — all the horrid circumstances with which death surrounds the brave when torn from life in the whirlwind of battle, were seen as we marched over the field, the beseeching cries of the wounded from their bloody and miry beds meanwhile saluting our ears and cutting to our hearts. Never, perhaps, did raw men go into battle under such discouraging auspices as did this Division. There was every thing to depress, nothing to inspirit; and yet determination was written upon their pale faces. They knew too well that defeat was death, with that foaming river at their backs. Their hope was in God, the justice of their cause, and in their own stout hearts.
In a deserted camp, where two long lines of muskets stood stacked — evidences of disaster and surrender the day before — the battalions were deployed. The quiet obedience and intelligent execution of all orders gave an earnest of what those regiments were yet to do that day. Nelson, upon the far left, was heavily engaged. Mendenhal, of Crittenden's Division, was thundering nearer. Sharp skirmishing in the dense wood beyond an open field in our immediate front showed the rebels to be there also. In this field was a peach-orchard in full bloom — spring's scarlet offering to the heroic dead. Further to the left was a group of farm-buildings. In a few moments our skirmishers were driven out of the woods to the edge of the field, then over it, under cover of our lines. Then the enemy began to show themselves in serried front. The command "Ready!" ran along our line. The ominous click of three thousand musketlocks was the response. All stood awaiting the shock. Soon that dingy gray line had become well defined; three flags floated not three hundred yards distant, sinister with star and bar. For what was our commander waiting? Perhaps to decoy the rebels into the open field. They, also wary, halted, and prepared to fire. Then came a deafening crash, the flame from our avenging muskets leaping almost half-way across the field. The sound had scarcely readied its full volume when it was answered by another. Then the roar of battle swelled over all, seemingly filling the firmament. Still, under all this noise, we could hear the spitz, spitz, sping of the hurtling bullets, and their crackling sound among the undergrowth, until the air darkened with missiles. The line swept back and forth like an undulating thread; there it shrank for a moment; here it bowed toward the enemy. At one time a company of regular recruits gave way in a body; but all the officers of the battalion joined, and with their sabres drove it back into line.
The brigade had been engaged an hour — it seemed to me but a few minutes — when the rebel
831line began to waver. How the cheer that then went up lingers in my memory still! It was the first paean of victory raised by the "Army of the Cumberland." But the exultation was premature. The rebels were only relieving their regiments. The battle waxed hotter as their fresh men opened fire. They planted a battery under cover of the houses, and began enfilading our line with canister. Where was Terrill to answer this new and annoying enemy? He had been taken by mistake to General Nelson. His bell-toned Napoleons were already ringing loud and clear far to the left. Upon the bayonet, that right arm of infantry, we must therefore rely.
"Cease firing — fix bayonets!" rang from wing to wing. As the bristling shafts of steel were fixed on to the smoking barrels with a deadly clang, the blood rushed to the heart, a sickly pallor overspread the faces of the men — a pallor not from fear, but intense determination. The men needed no further command. With an impulse higher than all discipline they rushed forward, a tumultuous tide. Over the field, through the orchard, into the woods around the houses, like an avalanche they dashed, overthrowing the battery, and grinding the rebel line to powder. Through a belt of woods, over another field, they pressed on, driving the broken rebels, until, beaten and panting, they took refuge under cover of their reserves upon the further side of "Sherman's Drill-Ground."
This was the first decided success of the day; our advance threatened the rebel line of retreat. Nelson was bravely holding his own, with Terrill's help; while Crittenden, though stoutly fighting, was calling for reinforcements.
As we passed through the orchard, lying with his shoulders propped against a peach-tree, I saw the mangled form of one of my best-loved classmates dressed in rebel uniform. The mist gathered in his silken beard showed he had died the day before. The pitiless rain had fallen on his upturned face all night. A smile beautified his features, while his eyes seemed gazing far to the southward, as if there an anxious mother were waiting for words of hope from that war-swept field. A cannon-ball had partly severed a branch of the tree. Flower-laden, it fell in scarlet festoons about his head — a fitting pall for his gallant, pure-hearted, yet erring nature. In the lull that followed this contest, while our troops were re-forming their broken ranks, I found leisure to wrap his body in a blanket, and to place it where the artillery and cavalry would not trample his already shattered form — determined that if God spared me and gave us the victory I would pay the last sad offices of respect to his memory.
We had changed direction to the left, following the refluent rebel force. This exposed our right flank. The wily Beauregard was not slow in taking advantage of this fact. Massing three batteries and a full division of infantry, he launched them against our right. Athwart our line at nearly right angles they came with fierce determination, yelling and exultant. Their eighteen guns, hurling death into our ranks, elicited no response, for we had no artillery to reply. All eyes turned to that long line of advancing, flashing steel. The Second Brigade, which had just landed from the boats, was placed upon our right flank, the men lying on their faces in the edge of the field, concealed by the dense undergrowth. A regiment was thrown forward to seize a point of water-oaks, which shouldered out into the open field. In "column in mass" it attempted the perilous mission, dashing on at the double-quick. But reaching the range of rebel fire, a tornado of canister, round-shot, shrapnel, and bullets staggered it. It attempted to deploy, to answer fire with fire. Human flesh and blood could no more endure. It came recoiling back, leaving a mosaic of blue bodies to mark its rugged path. This encouraged the rebels, who swept steadily onward, furious for their prey, contemptuously returning with straggling shots the fire the First Brigade had opened upon them. Little did they think of the reception prepared for them. The Second Brigade, four regiments, 2700 strong, which had not fired a shot, were lying in the thicket at the field's edge. Nearer and still nearer came the advancing column, until within half-musket range. Still all was silent on our right. Fearing some guile, they threw a few shells into the wood. But this developed nothing. Obviously reassured, they began wheeling upon their right regiment as a pivot, in order to more completely envelop the flank of the First Brigade. This manoeuvre insured their destruction, for it turned their own flank to the ambushed thicket. The men of the Second Brigade quietly fixed bayonets while lying down.
"Up — one volley — and at them!" Struck as by a thunder-bolt, that blow followed by a storm of bayonet-thrusts, the proud column went rolling backward, followed by our men. When the smoke lifted the field was clear of "gray backs." We had won the field and the Corinth road by one volley.
But still our men kept pressing the enemy back, back into the deep wood beyond, until their blue coats were lost in its bosky recesses as they streamed onward. We heard a cry of disappointment and surprise from part of our line; the musketry began to swell from the woods in deeper chorus. We could hear the voices of our officers checking their men. Midway our line became entangled in a swamp. The Thirty-fourth Illinois dashed in with their muskets held high over their heads, but the water, running up to their belts, drove them back; they could not afford to lose their ammunition. The regiments to the right and left dared not advance until it passed this obstacle, for our disjointed line would have been at the mercy of the enemy's "offensive return." This check gave them a moment to rally. Their consummate commander, knowing that any further advance on this road would cut his army off from retreat, concentrated all his available force for
832an overwhelming attack upon our line at this point. At others the battle virtually ceased. Far in the "dim aisles" the gray mass of the enemy could be seen marshaling for the final struggle. In three lines of triple steel they came at last — no stratagem this time — dogged, determined fighting, with stern and desperate purpose. The soldiers of both armies seemed to comprehend the importance of the crisis. Our men felt assured, that if they could quickly reach Shiloh church, whose dusky gable, with its yellow flag, they saw through the vistas of the forest, a surrender of the enemy would make a fitting close to the glory of the day. The rebels believed that if they could regain the Corinth road, and rout the right, victory again would crown their standard. Each man clutched his musket more firmly, awaiting the shook. It came in awful grandeur. Full twenty thousand muskets bellowed in competing echoes. The wood seemed swept by fire. Our men bravely breasted the storm, but the odds were fearful. The ammunition of the First Brigade was rapidly giving out; soon the last cartridge was expended. The Third Brigade, the only Union reserve on the field, must go in. But it was only 12 o'clock, and the power of the rebels yet unbroken, By right of companies, under a galling fire, the First Brigade retired, and the Third took its place. This movement was supposed by the rebels to mean retreat. A yell, wild and hopeful, rose from their lines — their muskets cracked more deadly still. Their artillery enfilading our front was making fearful havoc. A battery, more impudent than the rest, pushed up to the further edge of the swamp, dashing canister into the faces of the Thirty-fourth Illinois, fighting up to its knees in water. That battery well knew it was protected from the avenging bayonets of our men by that impassable sheet of water. Their lines, constantly relieved by fresh regiments, were firing more rapidly than ours. There was difficulty in procuring ammunition. The First Brigade, so sorely needed, must lie idle. Kirk and Gibson, brigade commanders, were both wounded; Bass had gone back to die; Levanway had dyed the waters of the swamp with his life's-blood. But no man wavered. In the breach of that awful field stood the throbbing hearts of those two brigades, the only bulwark between our army and destruction. Suddenly — far to our extreme left, above the horrid tumult — we heard something rushing as a great wind. Bursting from the woods over the field to our support Mendenhal dashed in — his horses full of foam and smoke, the clay flying in tangents from his swiftly whirring wheels. He galloped into battery on the rebel flank. Soon his roaring Rodmans added their sonorous music to the medley. Like a whirlwind Terrill followed. His Virginian blood was up. "Nearer, nearer; give them double canister into their very faces!" he shouted to his drivers. The rebels did not take this tamely, but turned with fierce rage upon the batteries. A Missouri regiment came down on Terrill. Pitilessly he hurled a storm of fire and iron into their faces. But steadily and with even tread they still advanced. All the cannoneers were killed at one piece. Terrill and a corporal worked the gun alone, until an unknown but gallant infantry sergeant volunteered to help. Terrill, grimly standing at the vent, shouted, "Canister! canister!" Quick as light the sergeant flew to the caisson. Loaded with three charges he came back to the gun, when, struck full in the forehead, he fell dead, his body rolling to the feet of the corporal. He, brave fellow, faltered not, but drove the three charges home. Terrill's quick eye for a moment swept along the smoke-grimed piece. Then came a blinding flash, a stunning crack. Prone in their breasts the iron tempest struck the advancing regiment, blowing some from the very muzzle of the gun. They staggered, reeled; then Missouri's pride and chivalry broke, and like a shattered wave ebbed back, sweeping the supporting regiments with them. Our battery, our Division was saved. Surely, in the annals o f this conflict, that sergeant's deed must ever stand ablaze with glory! The Seventy-seventh Pennsylvania regiment, the only venture the Keystone State had on the field that day, dashed in after the recoiling rebel regiments. The First Brigade, with replenished boxes, came up at the run. The whole Division charged, sweeping over lines and guns. Through Huriburt's, Prentice's, and Sherman's camps, we drove the enemy past the old church, over the stream beyond. Our first battle was won. The intellect of Beauregard was no match for the genius of Grant. Three divisions of infantry, with 12 pieces of artillery, routed the entire rebel army, restored our fortunes in the West, and turned defeat into victory; capturing of their artillery, and recapturing of ours twenty pieces. That night, in the pelting rain, upon the bloody ground, without tents or blankets, the Division slept, hungry, exhausted, and sad; for 900 manly forms, one-tenth of our entire number, lay dead or dying, and maimed.
To me a mournful task remained unperformed. Far over the field — for we had driven the rebels five miles — I must ride to bury my friend. Darkness almost impenetrable had settled in the woods, only relieved here and there by the nickering glimmer of the ambulance lanterns, as the surgeons were gathering up the wounded. In the midst of conflict the soul is racked by all the horrible impressions that mutilated and mangled humanity can excite. But these emotions are nothing compared with the deep revulsion which the silence and gloom a night after battle suggested. Our jaded horses sank above the fetlocks in the miry roads. Progress was slow, often impeded by the dead blocking the way. It was the saddest ride — the saddest night of my life.
The houses near the peach orchard were already filled with wounded. There we found a spade, and with it hollowed out a grave. No matter now. He sleeps under a spreading oak
833and in a soldier's grave, with a miniature — a fair, girlish face — resting on his breast.
Since that sanguinary day the blood of our Division has been sprinkled like water upon four other fields; but soldiers and officers refer to Shiloh as the most terrible of them all. Even the memories of that awful struggle by the Southern "River of Death" grow dim at the recollection of Shiloh — our first and bloodiest battle.