A Tennessee Narrative Continues
Battle of Shiloh
April the 1st finds the Iowa 3rd Infantry with 150,000 other troops quietly in camp on the Tennessee River, Hardin County Tennessee, but making preparations to act upon the defensive or aggressive in a very short time. The Rebel’s army at Corinth, Mississippi is being augmented daily by troops arriving by railway from different parts of the Confederacy.
Major General Grant arrived and commenced reviewing the troops at this point on the 2nd. He reviewed the 4th Division, of which we form a part, on Tuesday the 2nd inst. The review took place one mile from our camp in an open field, and was truly a grand scene. The division consists of 16 regiments of infantry, one of cavalry, and two batteries of artillery. The division is commanded by Acting-Major General Hurlbut.
The troops belonging to this division are mostly from Illinois and Ohio, a few from Iowa, the Iowa 3rd Infantry occupying the extreme right of the division. &c &c &c
A Terrible Battle
It appears to be a fact beyond doubt that the enemy is concentrating a large force at Corinth, Mississippi for the purpose of making one more bold stand against the federal army at this place. On Friday evening the 4th, our outposts were attacked by two regiments of the enemy. Quite a brisk engagement took place; wherein, several were killed and wounded on both sides. The enemy retreated toward Corinth.
This was a signal for a battle, which I think, will soon be forgot not and it would appear from this that the enemy will be the attacking force. Our army is still being augmented by the arrival of fresh troops. If a battle takes place here between the two majestic armies, the loss of life will be immense.
Saturday the 5th, everything is quiet in our division, but what is going on along our lines, I cannot tell, but I presume the commanding general is on the look out and will be ready for any emergency whatever. Our army here is very large, and no doubt the enemy is equally strong.
April 16th A.D., 62, what a change since I last took up my pen. A terrible battle has been fought and a great victory has been won by the great federal army at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee.
Alas! We Soon Found Who Were to Fall
On the evening of the 5th, everything appeared to be quiet along our lines. Our regiment had dress parade at the usual hour (5 P.M.). A chaplain’s order was read announcing that we would assemble the next day (Sabbath) at 11 o’clock for divine service. The evening was pleasant and all appeared to be happy. Little did we think that the Sabbath, soon to dawn upon us, would be a day to be remembered by generations yet unborn; is the day on which began one of the greatest battle ever fought on the American continent up to that time.
The morning of the 6th was pleasant. We were preparing for morning inspection when volleys of musketry and the roaring of cannon louder than thunder grated our ears; informing us that a day of trial had come in which many were to fall. But who would bite the dust, we then knew not. Alas! We soon found who were to fall.
Our camps were alarmed. Our outposts driven in; no time was to be lost. The long roll was beat. ‘Fall in!’ was the cry that met every ear. In a moment companies were formed, and soon regiments were forming into their respective brigades, and brigades into divisions - thus forming the great army which fought the terrible battle on the 6th and 7th of April A.D., 1862 at Pittsburgh Landing, Tennessee River.
After forming our battalion, we took our position on the right of the 4th Division commanded by Acting-Major General [Stephen A.] Hurlbut. Colonel Williams of the 3rd Iowa, acting-brigadier general of the 1st Brigade. Our position was on the right of this brigade, our division occupying the center of the line of battle.
We met the enemy one mile from our camp, where a short engagement took place between our forces and the enemy, but we maintained our position driving the enemy back from their position, then we moved our position to the left a short distance where we again formed a line and lay down on the ground so that we might not expense ourselves unnecessarily to the shot and shell of the enemy, which was coming from the enemy’s batteries almost as thick as hail, but their range was too high to do much executions.
City Guards of New Orleans
The position of the 3rd Iowa Infantry was at the upper end of a large field. In the meantime our battery was brought to bear upon that of the enemy. The firing was terrible. The two batteries being in sight of each other, this lasted for one half hour when the enemy’s battery was silenced. The fighting was not up the center alone. Our lines, some six miles long, were engaged by the enemy. One continual blaze of fire and a roar of musketry and cannon was kept up from 6 o’clock in the morning till 3 P.M. - almost without cessation at any point along the entire line.
About 11 o’clock P.M. the City Guards of New Orleans, 17th Louisiana, charged in an open field upon our regiment. We remained lying in perfect silence until they approached within 150 yards of our line.
When we opened upon them with a volley of musketry, it appeared to me as though half of them fell the first fire, and it was but a moment when there was none to be seen on the field but the dead and dying. The ground was literally covered with bodies. In many places they were lying one upon the other, but few of them escaped with their lives. Such a sight I never before witnessed and may God grant another such may never be fought on this continent, by a civilized and enlightened people, is my prayer.
The enemy’s batteries threw shell and shot thick and fast, but many fell short, while others went far above us, some exploding high in the air making quite a flash followed by a loud report. Many struck among the trees tearing them to pieces killing birds and squirrels, which happened to be upon them.
At one time we heard a shell coming directly toward us; it passed over our company and exploded in a treetop a few rods to our rear, on which was a squirrel. Although I was in a place of extreme danger, men falling upon every hand, yet I had to laugh at the action of the poor little animal. It appears to be frightened almost to death, running and jumping from branch apparently not knowing what to do (I have heard quite a number of soldiers remarking since that birds and small animals became very tame as the battle raged. They would come so close that you could touch them).
Cutting Our Little Regiment Terribly
But during this time our batteries were not silent, their shot and shell with telling effect in the enemy’s ranks, making terrible destruction among them. On several occasions I saw our cannon balls strike trees cutting the tops of them and they [sic] falling upon the lines of the enemy making great havoc among them.
The battle continued to rage with great fury along the line, but the hardest fighting was on our left wing. The enemy appeared to be trying to outflank us and force back our left wing. This they failed to do, then, they rallied and made a desperate charge upon our center, apparently with a determination to brake through our lines; in this they failed also.
Never did men hold a position with more gallantry than did the brave troops on the center. The enemy again turned upon our left. The fighting on our left was terrible. The superior force of the enemy at this point compelled to give way under a heavy fire from the enemy, slowly and gradually did our men fall back but not without keeping up a brisk firing.
Soon our right began to give way (And I would say here that my position being in the center I could tell precisely how things were going judging from the sound of the firing I could tell just when we were gaining or losing ground). Still we maintained our position without losing ground until about 3 ½ o’clock P.M. when our right and left had given away so far that we were near being surrounded. (It was at this junction that the Iowa 3rd, 12th, and 11th Regiments were taken prisoners.)
An order was given to fall back; this we did for three hundred yards where we again made a stand. But finding that the enemy was fast flanking us, we were ordered to fall back double quick.
It was not until this moment that I saw our real danger. The enemy was in full view on both sides of us coming fast upon us pouring in a cross fire, and one from the rear cutting our little regiment terribly, surrounding and taking many prisoners, who were unable to make their escape. For ¾ of a mile we had to pass under a raking fire from our right, left and rear. We had done great executions during the day and lost but very few men in killed or wounded until this retreat began, when many of our brave little band fell on the field, where they remained till the next day.
Shiloh - A Requiem
Skimming lightly, wheeling still,
The swallows fly low
Over the field in clouded days,
The forest-field of Shiloh –
Over the field where April rain
Solaced the parched ones stretched in pain
Through the pause of night
That followed the Sunday fight
Around the church of Shiloh –
The church so lone, the log-built one,
That echoed to many a parting groan
And natural prayer
Of dying foemen mingled there –
Foemen at morn, but friends at eve –
Fame or country least their care:
(What like a bullet can undeceived!)
But now they lie low,
While over them the swallows skim,
And all is hushed at Shiloh –