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Civil War Series

The Battle of Shiloh

   

GRANT'S LAST LINE

Throughout the afternoon, Grant had been working to build a last-ditch perimeter to defend the landing. The semicircular line stretched from the mouth of Dill Branch on the left, anchored on the river where the Federal wooden gunboats Lexington and Tyler patrolled. From the river the new Union front extended a mile and a half west-northwest to the Savannah-Hamburg (River) road on the right, where the line overlooked and defended the flooded confluence of Owl and Snake Creeks. Keeping the River road open was vital for the arrival of Lew Wallace's belated division, which a frustrated Grant had been expecting to cross over "Wallace's" bridge spanning Snake Creek for several hours. The surviving Union infantry were massed along this line. Sherman commanded the right and McClernand the center. Closer to the landing the remnants of William Wallace's, Hurlbut's, and Colonel Stuart's men completed the Union front. Portions of two regiments of Brig. Gen. Jacob Ammen's brigade, of Bull Nelson's division, arrived in time to be ferried across the river and placed in position on the extreme left late in the afternoon.


(click on image for a PDF version)
GRANT'S LAST LINE, APRIL 6 4 P.M-DARK
Pond and Wharton's Texas Rangers are repulsed near Mulberry field, while the bulk of Beauregard's army maneuvers against the Hornets' Nest. Left isolated by the uncoordinated withdrawal of the Union left and right, William Wallace and Prentiss retreat. This disorganized withdrawal is rapidly surrounded. Wallace is mortally wounded and Prentiss with 2,250 soldiers surrenders at 5:30. By late afternoon, Grant establishes a new front to hold Pittsburg Landing and the Hamburg-Savannah road. As Nelson ferries the river to reinforce Grant, several Confederate organizations advance toward the Union front, but only Chalmers and Jackson attack across Dill Branch ravine. Massed artillery posted on the heights west of the landing and supported by Union gunboats
Lexington and Tyler repulse the charge. Darkness ends the fighting. Lew Wallace crosses Snake Creek at 7 P.M. and files into line on the Union right. Exhausted and disorganized, the Confederates retire beyond the Hamburg-Purdy road and bivouac in captured Union camps. Only Pond, who bivouacs in Jones field, and cavalry under Brewer, Wharton, and Forrest, remain forward during the night.

Col. Joseph D. Webster, Grant's chief of staff, who at 2:30 had been ordered by Grant to establish a defense of the landing, strengthened the line by massing fifty-one cannon, including Madison's Illinois battery of five 24-pounder heavy siege cannon. The fifty-one-year-old Dartmouth graduate was a veteran of the Mexican War and worked as a civil engineer after he resigned from the Regular Army. To get anywhere near the landing, the Confederates would have to break through Webster's guns.

Confederate general Withers believed the line, though formidable, could be breached. Two of his brigades, Jackson's and Chalmers's, positioned south of the broad valley of Dill Branch near the river, were readied for one final assault. "Without ammunition and with only their bayonets to rely on, steadily my men advanced under a heavy fire from light batteries, siege guns, and gunboats," reported General Jackson. Crossing the deep, brush-choked ravine, Jackson's Texans and Alabamians managed to reach the northern slope. There the men could go no farther and, once forced to ground, had to shelter along the slope.

MADISON'S ILLINOIS SIEGE GUN BATTERY ON GRANT'S LAST LINE. THIS PHOTO WAS TAKEN A FEW DAYS AFTER THE BATTLE. (USAMHI)

Chalmers's troops, on Jackson's right, also encountered the fire of Grant's last line near the mouth of Dill Branch. "Our men struggled vainly to ascend the hill, which was very steep, making charge after charge without success," concluded Chalmers. Gage's Alabama Battery, organized in Mobile, deployed its six guns south of the ravine to support Chalmers's attack. Within moments after firing only a few supporting rounds for the attack, however, the Confederate battery was smothered up by a severe Union gunboat and field battery bombardment. Gage pulled out quickly, forced to leave one gun disabled by the accurate Union barrage that poured forth from Grant's last line.

Undismayed by the brutal fire, General Withers dispatched staff officers to summon reinforcements. He was thus astonished when Jackson's troops began withdrawing from the field. "[I] sent [orders] to arrest the commanding officers and for the troops to be promptly placed in a position for charging the batteries," the division commander later noted. Withers soon received information that the orders to retire had come from a higher authority—straight from General Beauregard at army headquarters.

A SKETCH OF GRANT'S LAST LINE, BY CIVIL WAR ARTIST HENRY LOVIE FOR FRANK LESLIE'S ILLUSTRATED NEWSPAPER. (PRINT COLLECTION. MIRIAM AND IRA D. WALLACH DIVISION OF ARTS. NY PUBLIC LIBRARY)
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