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A Trip to Pittsburg Battle Field

Updated: Jun 9

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One of the most often neglected and overlooked aspects of Civil War battles is the aftermath. The nation was utterly stunned at the devastation that was wrought at Pittsburg Landing, Tennesse, mostly known to us now as the Battle of Shiloh. With the advent of river transportation via steamboats, trips could be made rather quickly from cities on the Ohio River to the battlefield of southern Tennessee. For a steamboat travelling from Evansville, Indiana to the scene of battle, the journey may only take two or three days. The community of Evansville, Indiana and the surrounding area banded together in a way to support their local soldiers wounded during the battle of April 6 and 7, 1862, just a mere days after the close of fighting. As you read the following account from the Evansville Daily Journal, be mindful that I did not change any of the grammar or spelling mistakes made in the original article. Also, you may notice that the author has a strong love for the use of commas.

Evansville Daily Journal

April 16, 1862

The River Journey

The steamer Charley Bowen having been chartered by the citizens of Evansville, in conjunction with a Sanitary Commission from Indianapolis, under the direction of Mr. Holloway, the confidential Secretary of Gov. Morton, left this city on Thursday last, to relieve Indianians wounded in the battle of Pittsburg. The boat left the landing about 10 o'clock, with a large party of physicians and nurses and an immense supply of hospital stores, and proceeded down the river with unusual rapidity, as if conscious of the errand of mercy on which she was bent, and the necessity of arriving at the earliest practicable moment at the scene of the terrible struggle. "She moved the waters a thing of life." Nothing of interest occurred on the passage down.

We met a steamer, just above Paducah, with some 320 wounded on board, whose destination we were informed was Evansville. The City of Memphis had arrived at Paducah prior to our arrival. She had on board about 500 wounded men. All her decks were jammed. The roof itself was covered with suffering soldiers, over whom canvas was spread to protect them from [illegible].

At Paducah we were greeted with the most exaggerated and exciting rumors, concerning the battle, whose vicinity we were visiting. It was impossible, however, to obtain any information that was at all satisfactory. It was stated that two Johnstons (Bushrod and Sidney A.) were both killed; that Bragg and Breckinridge were all also dead; and that Beauregard was wounded and a prisoner. Genl. Buell, it was claimed, had surrounded the rebels and given them two hours to accept or reject terms of unconditional surrender. It was emphatically asserted that our loss in killed and wounded would exceed 10,000, and that the country for miles in the vicinity of Pittsburg was strewn with the dead and dying.

We remained at Paducah but a few minutes, leaving there a little before daylight Friday morning. Shortly after entering the Tennessee River, we met the steamer Minnahaha with 400 wounded soldiers on board, and soon afterwards the A.D. January, with 500 more. Neither of these boats required assistance, they said, The Minnehaha was bound for St. Louis and the A.D. January was said to be on her way to Louisville.

Our boat reached Fort Henry about ten o'clock. Here the first evidence of the sanguinary battle met our gaze, for the wounded on the different boats we met could not be seen from our steamer as we passed them.

Twelve bodies, cold and stiff in death, were lying upon the river bank, with their glassy and staring eyes upturned towards heaven, where, we trust, their spirits had taken flight. Two or three soldiers were busily engaged, near by, in making boxes in which to bury the dead. The soldiers had died of their wounds on their way down the river and were left at Fort Henry. We scrutinized their vacant countenances but recognized no familiar face. We inquired their names, their regiment, their native State. Nobody knew. Poor fellows; some affectionate households will read that loved ones had fallen in the deadly strife, but they will be unable to ascertain where those loved ones are sleeping.

At Fort Henry, our party, which had felt quite buoyant over the information received at Paducah, was proportionately depressed, by the rumors furnished by the commandant of the Post. The rumors were no longer roseate with victory but ominous with defeat. The rebels, so far from being surrounded, had advanced two miles witih the design of attacking our forces. They had received large reinforcements, including the forces under Price and Van Dorn; rebel troops from all parts of the Confederacy were pouring into Corinth, while our army was beyond the reach of immediate assistance. It was with unpleasant and anxious forebodings we left the fort and proceeded on our journey. Our party manifested a willingness to share the fate of the army even in disaster, and were only anxious to relieve suffering to the extent of its ability.

A short distance above Fort Henry, the body of a Union soldier was seen floating in the river. It was not discovered until the boat had passed, and it was thought best to hurry on to the relief of the living that to waste time in burying the dead.

Arrival at Pittsburg Landing

During the day, our party organized for systematic work on arriving at Pittsburg. The hospital stores were unpacked, assorted, and each package properly marked, so as to be ready for immediate use. The corps of physicians and nurses were classified, so that the work would go on harmoniously, as follows:

Dr. Slaughter, of Warrick county, to be assisted by Messrs. A.M. Phelps and John Handy of Newburg, and Wm. Bedford, of Evansville.

Dr. Mulhausen, of Evansville, with Wm Reitz as nurse.

Dr. Harvey, of Hendricks county, with R.A. Bowney as nurse.

Dr. Johnson, of Henderson, Ky, with Ira Delano, of Henderson, and A.H. Talbott as nurses.

Dr. Preston, of Putnam county, with E.R. Kercheval, of Greencastle, as nurses.

Dr. Hurd, of Benton county, with S. Kirkpatrick, G.S. Orth, and J. Riddle as nurses.

Dr. Powers, of Tippecanoe county, with J.P. Luse and George Widick as nurses.

Drs. Keller, Stinson, Morgan, Kress, Ronalds, and Conn, of Vanderburgh, county, aided respectively by Messrs. B.F. Norton, Wm. Jervis, S.K. Leavitt, C.A. Stark, R.S. Hornbrook, D. Gresham, and F.M. Thayer, as assitants.

Drs. Rooker, Bullard, Fishback, and Basset, of Marion County, with Messrs. L.S. Clark and T Hoover as assistants.

Drs. Patton, Hamlin, Hamilton, and Sillman, of Gibson county, with J.G. Urie, C.E. Marsh, J. Rosencrans, and S.S. Cook, of Evansville, as nurses.

Dr. Stoneman, of Hamilton county, with H.C. Short as nurse.

Dr. Whittaker, of -------- county, with T. Roush as nurse.

Dr. Todd, of ------- county, with ------ as nurse.

Quartermaster Vajon, of Indianapolis, was placed in charge of the supplies, and Messrs. John New, George Foster, Wm. E. French, James Taylor, Charles Redden, J.G. Given, and Wm. Mc----rny, appointed to assist him.

On Friday evening, a general class meeting was held on the boat, presided over by Prof. Fletcher, with inimitable grace and success. In calling the meeting to order, he cautioned those on board against certain indiscretions which those accompanying smiliar expeditions were liable to commit; and then spoke complimentary of the Char---- [illegible] -- that the time might come when future generations would earnestly endeavor to secure pieces of her timbers out of which to manufacture canes and snuff boxes, as mementoes of the active part of the little steamer had taken in the Great Rebellion.

Patriotic speeches were then made by nearly every gentleman on board, and the enthusiasm and fervor of the passengers were worked up to a high pitch. Every minister present spoke his willingness to pray for the Union or fight for the Union, "as the case might be," and as two or three remained on the battlefield when the Bowen left, we should not be surprised if they designed putting their professions into practice. From the determination expressed in their countenance as they gave expression to their thoughts, we are confident the rebels would find them true "sons of thunder."

The Bowen arrived at Pittsburg Landing before daylight on Saturday morning. It had been raining, off and on, all day Friday and Friday night, and it was quite evident, even before going ashore, that the roads must but in the most wretched condition.

Learning that Major Ellston of the Indiana Eleventh was on board a steamer lying next to the Bowen after she had landed, a party of visited him for the purpose of gaining some information as to the actual situation of affairs. To our great relief, he informed us that our army was in no such critical condition as we were induced to believe at Fort Henry. We then called at Gen. Grant's headquarters on the Jesse K. Bell, under the impression that we would have to get a pass to visit the different regiments. No body seemed to be stirring on board the General's boat, except one or two watchmen. A sleepy aid informed us that if we called in the course of a couple of hours we could obtain the passes. We did so, and were then informed by another "Aid" that no passes were necessary unless we designed going beyond the "lines" of our army, and he didn't think that would be safe. We next called on Col. Charles Cruft of the 31st Indiana, who was on board the Fanny Bullitt suffering from two or three severe wounds. Notwithstanding his wounds, Col. Cruft kept the field until the rebels were driven back on Monday, and was unwilling to leave his regiment so long as there was prospect of another engagement. He kindly furnished us a diagram of the battle field for our inspection, which is the best that we have seen. He also read to us the "General Order" of Sidney A. Johnston, issued on the morning of the 3d, and which was read to each regiment of the rebels prior to marching out of Corinth. The order pointed out the necessity of driving the invading army into the Tennessee river; expressed the utmost confidence that such would be the result of the struggle, and assured them that victory would perch upon their banners, if they proved true to themselves and the cause in which they were fighting. The confidence and enthusiasm of the rebel troops were unbounded, and they went into the fight feeling assured that they would achieve an easy victory.

The Battlefield

Veatch's Brigade

At the breakfast table we met Major Foster, Surgeon Walker and Quartermaster Foster of the 25th Indiana, looking little the worse for the terrible scenes though which they had just passed. All three escaped without a scratch, though badly exposed. Immediately after breakfast, accompanied by these officers, we visited the camp of the 25th. We were pleased to find the boys "full of fight," although they had suffered great loss in the battle on Sunday. Here we also had the pleasure of meeting Gen. Veatch, who commanded a brigade consisting of the 14th, 15th, and 46th Illinois regiments, and the 25th Indiana, during the fight on Sunday, without having it disorganized, and without losing the batteries of artillery assigned to its care. The loss of the brigade was severe. We doubt if any other brigade in the army suffered more. The total number of killed was 124, wounded 530, missing 72. the brigade made four or five distinct "stands" during the day, each time holding the rebels at bay, until, outflanked by numbers, it would be compelled to fall back and take a new position. Yet, in all the reports furnished the Cincinnati papers we have not seen the name of this brigade mentioned.

If you would like to read John W. Foster's account of the fighting at Shiloh, click here.

Major Foster having kindly furnished us a horse, we proceeded to visit a portion of the battle field, with Col. Veatch's Orderly, Lieut. Bruner as our guide. The Lieut. had passed through the battles of Sunday and Monday with great gallantry, transmitting Gen. Veatch's orders with coolness and correctness, undisturbed by the scream of shells or whistle of cannon balls and bullets. We found him withal a most entertaining companion, who could very distinctly point out the various phase which the battle assumed on Sunday. During this ride the rain poured own in torrents.

From a personal examination of the ground and repeated conversations with the commanders of various regiments that participated in the battle on Sunday, we are convinced that the Cincinnati Gazette's correspondent, "Agate," has furnished by far the most correct account of the battle yet published, though that is defective in many particulars.

The position of the various division of the General Grant's army prior to the battle indicate that the Commanding General considered an attack on the part of the rebels out of the question. The raw, green regiments, as they arrived at Pittsburg, were formed into a new division under the command of Gen. Prentiss and placed at the front of a gap between Sherman's and McClernand's divisions, and virtually composed the advance guard of the army in that direction. These raw troops appear to have been unacquainted with the caution which --- [illegible]--- warnings they received daily that the rebels were advancing in force. Gen. Prentiss neglected to have strong pickets in a proper position to prevent a surprise, and with an infatuation most unaccountable laughed at every warning of impending danger. On Friday night the rebels made quite a demonstration, actually dashing at one of our batteries, which they were with difficulty prevented from capturing. So far as we could learn Gen. Sherman was equally incredulous as to the danger of an attack. An Ohio Major of cavalry, who reported the rebels to be advancing in force, was laughed at and his fears ridiculed by the General and staff, who pronounced the idea that the rebels would attack, as absurd in the extreme. General Grant, equally blind, was quietly resting at Savannah several miles below, apparently without anything particular on hand.

On Sunday morning, when Gen. Prentiss' pickets were driven in he sent out three companies to ascertain what was the matter. These, coming unexpectedly upon a column of rebels, were fired upon and mostly killed. The remainder turning, fled in wild dismay to their camps, hotly pursued by the rebel army. Before the raw troops could be drawn up in line, the rebels were in their camp, and scene of confusion and panic ensued. Pell mell the pursuers and pursed swept down towards Sherman's division, which was also surprised and made no effectual stand. Desultory volleys and scattering shots were fire, not nothing like a determined resistance seems to have been made by either of these divisions. By this time the long roll was sounded through the camps, and Hurlburt's, McClernand's and Wallace's divisions were quickly in line of battle. Hurlburt's division promptly advanced to the relief of Prentiss' and Sherman's shattered and panic-stricken forces and, for the first time, the rebels were taught they had a foe to encounter. McClernand's division was next assailed with great impetuosity and fury. It struggled manfully against the superior numbers, but was gradually forced back, and soon its camp was in the hands of the rebels, and the entire front line was driven in, leaving only Hurlburt's and Brigadier Genl. W.H.L. Wallace's divisions to stem the onward tide of exulting rebels.

The generalship displayed by the leaders of the rebel army extorted praise from our hard pressed soldiers. The rebel army made the attack in the shape of a T, either wing being reinforced from the centre as it manifested weakness or signs of giving way. In addition to his soldiers, Gen. Beauregard had 2,000 men detached for the sole purpose of taking the wounded from the battle field as they fell, and thus avoid the necessity of soldiers breaking ranks to look after their comrades. With white bands or strings around their arms to designate their business, they were prompt in all parts of the battle field, and the system with which their operations were conducted may account for the fact that so few of the rebel wounded fell into our hands.

In passing over the battle field on Saturday, evidences of the sanguinary struggle were still visible on every hand. The trees and shrubs were all shattered and cut down, the ground was ploughed by the cannon balls, horses were lying in every direction, and guns dismounted, and fragments of caissons scattered about, indicated how terrible and destructive had been the fire of artillery. The rebel batteries were under the immediate direction of Gen. Bragg, of "a little more grape" notoriety, and were served with great skill and accuracy. The range of the guns was most excellent, few shots striking the trees above seven feet, and a great many ranging but one of two feet, from the ground. How our men withstood such a cannonade is most remarkable.

Passing, with Lieut. Bruner, through Gen. McClernand's encampment, we noticed that the tents were all perforated with bullets, with here and there huge rents in the canvas, indicating where the cannon balls passed through. The rebels slept comfortably in these tents on Sunday night, while their lawful owners lay upon their arms, exposed to the pitiless peltings of a soaking rain. So confident were they enemy that they would retain possession of the camps, that they destroyed no tents, and did not damage to their contents, beyond rifling some officers' trunks and appropriating all they contained.

It was during the hottest of the struggle on this, the right wing of our army, that Gen. Veatch was ordered to McClernand's assistance. With a battery of 24-pound howitzers he advanced promptly to the rescue , and fought with that division until it was forced back towards the river by overwhelming numbers. The fire of the huge guns seemed to produce little effect on the rebel columns. The ranks promptly closed the gaps made by grape and canister and musketry, and on they swept, irresistible as an avalanche.

The Battlefield

Lew Wallace's Division

From McClernand's, we rode to General Wallace's, division, over ground the whole of which had been the battle field. Indeed it has been estimated that the battle field proper was at least six miles square, almost every foot of which had been contested at some time during the two day's fighting. We found Gen. Wallace's division, but no camp. It, with all of Gen. Buell's army had been without tents during the week, exposed to the rain, which had been unceasing since the fight. But the exposure and inconvenience of their position had no effect on the spirits of the boys. They were cheerful and expressed a willingness to try the rebels another tussle. The Indiana Eleventh and 24th were but a little distance apart. We called on Col's McGinnis and Hovey and found them making the best out of their situations. Colonel Hovey made a narrow escape during the battle of Monday ---[illegible]--- duck his head to prevent its striking him. As it was, it just roughed the top of his cap, knocking it back on his head and passed harmlessly on. Lieut. Col. Gerber observing the shrewd dodge of the Colonel, turned to the regiment and proposed three cheers for the Colonel which were given with a will. Shortly afterwards poor Gerber himself was struck with a cannon shot and instantly killed.

It has been asserted that Gen. Lew Wallace, in marching to the relief of the divisions struggling against such odds, took the wrong road, and consequently failed to appear in time to render any assistance on Sunday. This is not strictly correct. On hearing the firing, Gen. Wallace left his camp at Crump's Landing and took a road that would have brought him in proper position had our forces maintained the position they held at the commencement of the fight. But on arriving near the scene of conflict, he found our lines driven back at every point, and his men, instead of facing, were actually in the rear of the enemy. Realizing the danger of his position, Gen. Wallace rapidly withdrew his division, and making a retrograde march to Crump's Landing, advanced again by another road, reaching Pittsburg Landing about five o'clock Sunday evening, in time to cooperate with Gen. Buell's forces in the attack next day.

The Battlefield

Lauman's Brigade

Having spent a couple of hours quite pleasantly in the camps of the 11th, 23d and 24th regiments and obtaining correct lists of their killed and wounded, we started for the camp of the 31st, arriving there about the middle of the afternoon. While Adjutant Ross was copying a list of casualties in his regiment, a in company with Lieutenant Wood, we visited that part of the battle field in which the 31st and 44th Indiana regiments participated. It was the fortune of these regiments to oppose the forces under Gen. Beauregard, who commanded the left wing of the rebel army. The position taken by Gen. Lauman's brigade, of which they formed a part, was well adapted for defense, and most nobly did his men defend it. The 31st and 44th lay behind the crown of a little knoll, along which ran a road towards Hamburg, for three or four hours, repulsing ever assault of the rebels with the most terrible slaughter. The thick undergrowth was mowed down by the musketry like grass by the scythe. In saplings one or two inches in diameter, we counted from twenty-five to fifty musket shots. We doubt if anyting like such a fire of musketry was ever seen on this or any other continent. But while these brave regiments were so steadily defending their positions, it was not without loss on their part. The 44th, which went into the battle 475 strong, had thirty four killed an d178 wounded, or nearly half the entire force engaged. The 31st also suffered severely, but not to the same extent. These regiments held their position until the retreat of all the other divisions rendered it untenable when they fell back in good order, and took their position in the last line of defense formed late in the evening. So far as we could learn, the 25th, 31st, and 44th were the only Indiana regiments engaged in the fight of Sunday, all three are rightly entitled to have "Pittsburg" inscribed upon their banners.

If you would like to read the experiences of a soldier in the 17th Kentucky of Lauman's Brigade, click here.

The Evidence of Brutal Combat

Having passed over a considerable portion of the battle field, we returned to the camp of the 25th, put up our horse and started for the boat afoot. The mud was at least knee deep most of the way, and the half mile between the camp and boat was the most toilsome walk we ever made. Through this mire and rain the soldiers had to carry their rations on their backs from the landing to the various camps, and a man would have to be hungry indeed to earn his bread at such an expense of wind and muscle.

Most of the dead on the field of battle had been buried --- only here and there a secessionist corpse might be seen awaiting internment. Dead horses were being collected in the various camps, covered with brush and burned. The stench was quite offensive, though not as much so as we anticipated. A hot, clear sun, however, must create a horrid stench, as many of the dead bodies were thinly covered with earth.

Sketch by Adolph Metzner, 32nd Indiana shortly after the close of the battle.

The Second Day's Fight

We have made no attempt to describe the battle of the 6th and 7th in detail. That has been done by correspondents who were on the ground. The fight of Monday was commenced early in the morning and lasted till 4 o'clock in the afternoon, when the firing seems to have ceased as if by mutual consent. Several Indiana regiments displayed great gallantry during this day's struggle. Among others we might mention the 9th, which took one or two batteries with the bayonet, the 11th, 23d and 24th of Wallace's division, the 29th, 20th and 32d, Col. Willich's regiment, which fought with unusual gallantry, the Colonel himself receive a severe wound, though not rendering him unfit for duty; the 6th Indiana and 36th also bore a noble part in the struggle. Co. Bass of the 30th Regiment was mortally wounded, and when the Bowen left Paducah on Sunday night was not expected to live till morning.

Capt. Thompson, formerly of this city, commanded a battery in the fight of Monday, which attracted the admiration of the whole army by its gallantry and skill. The brigade, of which it formed a part, went into the fight with many misgivings, and fears were freely expressed that it would fail the min their time of need. To their great surprise and joy, Capt. Thompson and his men dealt such destruction among the rebels that they were continually forced back, one or two rebel batteries were placed hora de combat, and amid the cheers of its supporters, the young battery created constant havoc in the rebel ranks. the 11th and 24th Indiana and 9th Missouri desire no more efficient artillery than Thompson's. battery.

End of the Journey

Great activity had been manifested by the physicians and Nurses during the day and when night came, over 100 suffering volunteers were comfortably bedded on the Bowen, most of whom had their wounds carefully dressed.

Several officers took dinner on the boat, among others Gen. Garfield of Ohio, Col. Willick of Indiana and his adjutant Schmidt of this city.

The Charley Bowen having received all the wounded that could be comfortably provided for, left on Sunday morning and arrived here without accident Monday evening at 5 o'clock. To the officers and crew of the Bowen all on board were greatly indebted for their kindness and attention to their comfort under the most embarrassing circumstances. The Charley has added another claim to the support of this community which we trust she may ever receive.

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