On the 9th of March pickets (guards on duty around camp) got driven into camp with Texas Rangers firing on them, at which time several regiments were sent out to skirmish, releasing several hundred shots. The men had four wounded and counted seven that they’d killed and collected into a pile — others were killed and wounded including a rebel officer who they took as a prisoner.
On March 18th, Battalion A got it’s orders to march two days chasing rebels toward Columbia Tennessee, stopping over to deal with a bridge of the Duck River which had been burned. They were so close to retreating rebels on that march that they saw some of them set fire to the bridge and almost saved it. The bridge could not be mounted though, once set ablaze.
The river couldn’t be crossed for mud, and so they had to park, letting the fire find its way out. They sent scouts down river to see if a fording place could be found, but no suitable crossing could be located. They had met another barrier produced by the sabotage of fleeing Confederates, and there was little to do but to rebuild again.
The Battalion knew they were flanked along their path with divisions about eight miles to the east and another to the west heading in the same southward direction. They estimated that these marching herds contained about one hundred and twenty-five thousand troops in four division — all chasing perhaps twenty thousand poorly trained and armed, reckless, undisciplined and poorly provisioned southern boys.
By the 27th of March they had made no further progress toward Alabama, having recollected the troops at the Duck River and been about building a three hundred foot replacement as fast as they could. It was Spring — woods were green and pastures were up so that cattle could feed.
Camped as they were, townspeople came into camp as usual, some of them seeking protection or attempting to join the cause. Locals sometimes claimed that the Union soldiers treated them better than the unruly rebels had. Rumors came into camp about the taking of Richmond and New Orleans, and about the fight at Pea Ridge.
To Pittsburg Landing and the Battle of Shiloh
The men moved out to Camp Stanton, near Columbia Tennessee by March 31, and by April 4 had been sent on toward the bloody battlefield of Shilo at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee — on the banks of the Tennessee River six miles from the Mississippi line and ten miles from Alabama.
[Figure 21 Battle of Shiloh – or Pittsburgh Landing April 6&7, 1862]
[Figure 22: Thure de Thulstrup’s Battle of Shiloh]
Pittsburg Landing was a very small spot that at the time only seemed inconsequential, but it was to become by far the bloodiest field of the war to date. A one room log church built after Southern Methodists had split over the question of slavery became the center of one of the bloodiest battles of the war.
Figure 23: Battle of Pittsburg Landing]
Five miles from the landing was a church which became the center of the battle. General William T. Sherman encamped his division along the ridge on either side of the church. It was along this same ridge where he was first attacked by the Confederates on the first day of battle. He succeeded in holding the ridge for about two hours before he was forced to withdraw.
[Figure 24: Sunday Afternoon, April 6, 1862 Pittburg Landing, Tennessee River]
As soon as Sherman withdrew, Confederate General P.G. T. Beauregard established his headquarters at the church itself. He held the position until the Confederates began their retreat on the second day. After the battle, the church was reportedly torn down by the Union troops and the logs used to build bridges when the movement upon Corinth began.
Figure 25: Reconstructed log church at Shiloh, TN.]
On the 6th of April, the first day of battle, Battalion A was sixteen miles from Savannah, with the battlegrounds of Shilo ten miles up a river. Men could hear the unending roar of cannons in the background. Before drawing closer to that theatre of war they were marched down river and halted three miles from Savannah. Here they built a camp where they’d leave all of their possessions but one blanket, a canteen, and a shoulder bag (haversack). Having fed their horses, they then proceeded up the river in the dark of night with a hard driving rain.
The river was full of boats, and those with infantry and gunboats got priority and went ahead. They saw a boatload of six hundred wounded coming downriver to the hospital and they heard that there were orders that the hospital should prepare for six thousand more.
Onto the Field
Just as Battery A went onto the field on what was to be the second and last day of the battle, the forces of General Buell had received substantial reinforcements — not only saving the Union from a loss past the thousands already dead, but triggering the rebels to fall back and go off the field.
It was just minutes before noon on that final day of the battle that Battery A unloaded their boats and crawled up the banks to take their position in line. Musketry roared and cannons boomed as none of the men had ever heard before.
Just as the men of the Battery assumed their positions, rebels were beginning to retreat in mass. Several of the men took bullet holes through their clothes, and one lost a finger, but miraculously, the only soldier wounded from Battery A was not in the fight. They were on the killing fields; they saw the blood and knew the horror. For weeks they would have to continue living on and holding those grounds, moving from them for the stench — but Battalion A had been spared the horrendous losses of other Union troops, and the slaughter that visited unprepared rebels.
The battlefield at Shilo was seven miles long and five miles wide. Some of the ground had been lost and won back over three times. Doctors on either side were special targets for capture, some of them taken and retaken by various sides as many as six times during the fight.
[Figure 26: Waiting to go on the field]
The men weren’t sure the total numbers of casualties on all sides, but bodies lay everywhere. Casualties had been high, with nearly eighteen hundreds killed and over eight thousand wounded on each side — although those numbers don’t seem solid since history notes another nearly 4,000 captured or just plain missing. An uncounted but massive number of horses lay about. Death littered the ground in all directions for miles. Every log house, shed and corn crib was filled with wounded and dead.
A great many of the wounded lay on the cold and rainy field from Sunday until Wednesday without any care. The men had packed light, and so there were no tents for the survivors to protect themselves from the horror for days.
Men wrote letters, trying to get their experiences down on paper, but were not allowed to send any mail to the outside world for ten days after the battle. Letters then and for many days, often short and bereft of details when they were read, made obvious how long the men remained shocked.
The Horror Sinking In
[Figure 27: Burning dead horses near peach orchard at Pittsburg Landing]
Later, letters sometimes provided shocking bits of information the men had picked up from captured prisoners. Once the guns were drawn down, rebels and their captors talked. Rebels told soldiers that about one-third of their men had enlisted only eight or twelve days prior to the battle, and some as short a time as two days. These men had not been drilled or trained, and did not know how to fight. New recruits were badly provisioned and had with them only light bread and biscuits while regular soldiers had crackers and meat with them. Many of the prisoners had been raised on these bloody fields. In the lull for days following this storm, the boys of Battery A watched as local women came onto the field to claim their husbands.
“All that saw this fight say there were bodies enough laying on an acre so thick that one could walk all over it stepping from one body to another.”
“Who will forget the scene, as the Battery landed? Coming from all directions from the field of slaughter, were men, returning with limbs mangled, bleeding — others, red with gore, groaning from wounds in the face, neck, hands, and other parts of the body; while many were panic stricken, moving hurriedly back for safety, towards the river. Gunboats were on the flanks of the army, shelling the enemy. The terrible mutterings of those heavy guns shook the earth till she fairly trembled. With this spectacle of horror as an introduction, the Battery unflinchingly advanced.”
The stench of death in the area was unbearable to survivors, requiring several moves of camp away from unclaimed remains on the battlefield. For many days there was little clearing of the battlefield. There were many macabre scenes.
In surveying the area the troop stumbled the campsite of an Illinois regiment which had been taken as prisoners by the rebels — and then slaughtered while having breakfast — a dozen dead men lying about with plates in one hand and knife and fork in the other — the sick all killed and more than half of the well ones.
A small group of the men ran across a tree several rebels had crawled up to die, took a deck of cards and stuck them in their hands to create a tableau.
The battalion’s doctor saw another cadaver with a cigar stuck in his mouth.
Battery A settled after a day or two in an area about four miles from the landing near forty to sixty steamboats – one or two of which were taken in the middle of the night by rebels, Confederate flags hoisted and set afloat, stuck on sand bars.
Some twenty days were spent in this vicinity holding the ground and dealing with a few local skirmishes. Pickets extended out about five miles from camp and saw little action for the first week or so. Rebel forces had retreated — toward Corinth, a distance of twenty miles, and it was soon heard that they might be retreating even from there.