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Civil War Series

The Battle of Shiloh

   

SHERMAN ATTACKED

South of Shiloh Church Col. Jesse Appler's 53rd Ohio Infantry camped at the northern end of Rea field. Like all of the regiments in Sherman's division, the 53rd was green. Colonel Appler had awakened long before sunrise. Hearing the firing in the Fraley field, he called the regiment into line and notified division headquarters. A messenger returned with Sherman's caustic reply, "you must be badly scared over there."

At 7 A.M. Sherman and his staff rode into Rea field. As he looked south through his binoculars at a body of enemy troops in the distance, he remarked that there might be a sharp skirmish. An officer then abruptly called his attention to the right. Sherman viewed a line of Confederate skirmishers emerging from the woods lining the creek to the west. Throwing up his hand, Sherman exclaimed: "My God, we are attacked!" Shots rang out and the general's orderly fell dead from his horse. Sherman instructed Appler to hold his ground and then galloped off to mobilize the rest of his division.

MAJOR GENERAL BRAXTON BRAGG (LC)

BRIGADIER GENERAL PATRICK R. CLEBURNE (LC)

Advancing through the swampy thickets choking the valley of Shiloh Branch were the troops of thirty-four-year-old Irish-born Patrick R. Cleburne. His regiments became separated as they struggled forward through the boggy morass. Cleburne himself was unceremoniously thrown from his horse into the mud. Clearing the ravine, two of his regiments on the right of the brigade line, the 6th Mississippi and 23rd Tennessee Infantry, advanced eastward unsupported against the 53rd Ohio's position. They "moved as quietly and steadily as on dress parade, a magnificent sight," noted one of Appler's men.

The two Confederate regiments met a hail of bullets from Appler's regiment and the rest of Col. Jesse Hildebrand's infantry brigade posted in line to the north. Also, severe blasts of Union artillery fire from Waterhouse's Battery E, 1st Illinois Light Artillery, deployed in front of its camp on a knoll along the northern end of Rea field, and Barrett's Battery B, 1st Illinois Light Artillery, located four hundred yards northwest at Shiloh Church, tore huge holes in the Confederate formations. When under the murderous Federal crossfire, the 23rd Tennessee broke and fled, the men of the 6th Mississippi attempted two additional solo assaults. By the time the smoke cleared, some 300 of the regiment's 425 men lay dead and wounded in Rea field, a staggering 70.5 percent. At the very moment when Appler's troops were winning the brief, murderous engagement, the colonel suddenly cried out: "Retreat, and save yourselves!" The Buckeyes fled north in disorder, with Appler in the lead. "We would have held them there but Colonel Appler simply 'traveled' and cried 'retreat,'" Sgt. Milton Bosworth of the 53rd disgustedly related. Falling back across East Branch ravine of Shiloh Creek, Appler reformed part of the regiment behind the brigade of Col. Julius Raith, ordered forward by Maj. Gen. John McClernand to reinforce Sherman. Appler's men continued to combat the Confederates for about another hour, when the shaken colonel again lost his nerve and ordered another retreat. Fleeing northward, most of the 53rd Ohio fled toward the landing. For Appler the war was over; he was later cashiered out of the army.

WATERHOUSE'S BATTERY AT SHILOH. (BL)

PAINTING BY DON TROIANI, MEN OF ARKANSAS. IN THE HEAT OF BATTLE, ALBERT SIDNEY JOHNSTON WAS ON THE FRONT WITH HIS VOLUNTEERS. SEVERAL TIMES HE RALLIED PANICKED AND DISORGANIZED REGIMENTS. (COURTESY HISTORICAL ART PRINTS, LTD., SOUTHBURY, CT)

Despite being reinforced by Raith's brigade, by 9:30, as more Confederate brigades were thrown into the fray, Jesse Hildebrand's brigade began to fall apart. The defense of Sherman's left now rested on two artillerists from Chicago—twenty-eight-year-old Capt. Samuel Barrett and twenty-nine-year-old Capt. Allen C. Waterhouse. Astride the Corinth road near the church, Barrett's battery held firm as its infantry support on the left faded, while Waterhouse continued to defend the northern end of Rea field southeast of the church. According to one Union gunner, Colonel Hildebrand just "sat down on a log near me and cried like a child at the cowardice of his men, whom he was unable to rally."

Initially, Ralph Buckland's brigade, occupying Sherman's center, had held both the numerical and terrain advantage in the fight against the left segment of Cleburne's brigade. Even so, when Cleburne's Confederates exploded from a creek bottom, Buckland's line was hit with such a force that Lieut. Col. J. R. Parker of the 48th Ohio admitted for a short time his men wavered. The Federals held firm, however, driving Cleburne's disorganized regiments back into the woods bordering Shiloh Creek.

MAJOR GENERAL JOHN A. MCCLERNAND (USAMHI)

At 8:30, elements of the second Confederate battle line, part of the corps commanded by the martinet Braxton Bragg, slammed against Sherman's position. Already the Southern lines were beginning to intermingle and command line of authority was rapidly disappearing. Brig. Gen. Patton Anderson's brigade of Bragg's corps assaulted Waterhouse's battery but was subjected to a terrible enfilade fire from Barrett's guns. At 9:00 Col. Robert M. Russell's and Brig. Gen. Bushrod Johnson's brigades, of Polk's corps, joined in the chaotic fray below the church. About to be overwhelmed, Waterhouse's cannoneers hastily withdrew their guns, but not before three pieces were captured.

After the collapse of Prentiss's division, Sidney Johnston directed five Confederate brigades to advance north and west behind Peabody's captured camp. This mass movement turned Sherman's left flank, helped break up Hildebrand's brigade, and forced Sherman to abandon his camps. The Union general ordered Buckland and Col. John A. McDowell, whose brigade anchored Sherman's right to Owl Creek, to retire their commands upon McClernand's division. General McClernand, a prominent U.S. congressman from Illinois, had deployed his division in line of battle along the Hamburg-Purdy road, a quarter-mile behind Sherman's initial front. Suffering from a nasty hand wound, for nearly three hours Sherman had put up a stubborn defense at the church. He told an aide: "Tell Grant if he has any men to spare I can use them; if not I will do the best I can. We are holding them pretty well just now—pretty well—but its hot as hell."

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