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Shiloh
and the Western Campaign of 1862

Edward Cunningham, edited by Gary D. Joiner and Timothy B. Smith

Format: Paperback, 520 pages
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ISBN: 978-1-932714-34-0
On Sale: June 2009

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30 original maps, 62 photos

The bloody and decisive two-day battle of Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862) changed the entire course of the American Civil War. The stunning Northern victory thrust Union commander Ulysses S. Grant into the national spotlight, claimed the life of Confederate commander Albert S. Johnston, and forever buried the notion that the Civil War would be a short conflict. Read More...

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Introduction

CIVIL WAR BOOKS CONTINUE to be published at an astounding clip on nearly every topic imaginable. Campaign and battle studies, especially those eschewing social history and take a more traditional military approach, remain very popular with students of the war. Some combats, like the fighting at Gettysburg in the summer of 1863, attract hundreds of writers on every imaginable aspect of the fighting. Others, like the horrific early-war battle of Shiloh, catch the attention of far fewer scribes. Given the latter battle's complexity, fascinating cast of characters, and obvious importance to the course of the war, it is difficult to account fully for this lopsided disparity.

Some readers will likely inquire (and with some justification) what makes the publication of a forty-year-old dissertation on the subject of Shiloh worthwhile? And what could possibly be inside a decades-old document that can be touted as new material?

There are good reasons behind the decision to publish Dr. Cunningham's Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862. For starters, Shiloh is the exception to the rule mentioned above. It has been the recipient of only four scholarly book-length battle studies. Only three of these are academically "modern": Wiley Swords' Shiloh: Bloody April (1974), James Lee McDonough's Shiloh-In Hell Before Night (1977), and Larry J. Daniel's Shiloh: The Battle That Changed the Civil War (1997). The fourth entry to this rather exclusive group was the first to appear in print more than a century ago, David W. Reed's The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged (1902). There is definitely plenty of elbow room available for another book on the subject.

We also firmly believe Dr. Cunningham's work is the best overall account of the Shiloh battle. Reed's study has an early familiarity with the subject seldom seen elsewhere, but it is in no way comprehensive. Sword's book is the best tactical study of the four. McDonough's account makes for good reading, but offers little tactical detail. Daniel's work breaks ground with his "new military history" slant. Each of these books has its strengths and weaknesses, just as all books do. We believe Dr. Cunningham's dissertation offers the strengths of each of these works without their associated weaknesses-a feat he managed to accomplish before three of these authors ever put pen to paper.

Writing in 1989, revered and long-time Shiloh Chief Ranger George Reaves observed that Cunningham's unpublished dissertation "is the most detailed analysis of the campaign and the battle." It is also an extremely well written piece of scholarship (which is not the case with the vast majority of dissertations). His work might be described as a significantly expanded and in-depth version of McDonough's work. Cunningham, however, finished his study more than a decade before McDonough's book appeared. [1]

Perhaps most important, Dr. Cunningham's dissertation deserves publication because the passage of forty years has not, as some might initially believe, dated his efforts. Indeed, readers will quickly discover it is still a fresh and vivid player in Shiloh historiography.

Dr. Cunningham espoused in his 1960s-era dissertation many new ideas about the fighting that were not widely accepted (or even seriously considered) until very recently. Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862 was forty years (an eternity in Civil War historiography) ahead of its time. It is not, therefore, simply an older treatment of the battle dusted off and repackaged for a wider audience. Shiloh historiography is just now catching up with Cunningham.

Historical writing on Shiloh falls into four distinct schools of thought. The first school, post-battle to the late 1880s, is comprised of a recounting of the battle by its participants. The second school of thought-which is the dominant school even today-began with the establishment of the park in 1894. With access to published reports, accounts penned by the veterans, and the battlefield itself, this school insisted that the keys to the battle were the Hornet's Nest and Sunken Road. A more recent third school argued it was Albert Sidney Johnston's death-and not the struggle in the Hornet's Nest-that determined the fate of the battle. The fourth and final school, which is just emerging and quite revisionist in nature, takes a new and almost radical approach to understanding the combat at Shiloh. This school argues that neither the Hornet's Nest nor Johnston's death was the key to the battle. Rather, it was a misunderstanding of the enemy's positions, deployment, and a failure to understand the battlefield's geography that resulted in the Confederate defeat; simply put, Johnston, et. al., fought the battle incorrectly. [2]

The first school of Shiloh historiography, the Veterans' School, spanned three decades and consisted of hundreds of works. Large numbers of soldiers, from privates to general officers, wrote about their experiences in the battle. Newspapers ran weekly serials, as did Century magazine and several others. Old soldiers like Confederate Sam Watkins put their memories on paper for distribution, while more famous personages like U. S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and P. G. T. Beauregard received large sums of money for their recollections. Veterans' organizations such as army societies published many reminiscences, as did state historical societies. The flood of information that emerged during these thirty-plus years following the war was simply immense. [3]

David W. Reed, a Shiloh veteran of the Union Army of the Tennessee and Shiloh National Military Park's first historian, dominated the next period called the Reed School. Appointed in 1895 by Secretary of War Daniel S. Lamont, Reed became the chief historian of the battle. His efforts at marking the field, writing about the battle, and interpreting the events of April 1862 combined to produce a major school of thought that has dominated Shiloh historiography to this day. Reed's findings became manifest on the battlefield, in newspaper accounts, in journal articles, and in two books.

The first volume reflecting this was a history of his regiment, the Twelfth Iowa Infantry. The book emphasized the regiment's activities in the battle, with the Hornet's Nest and Sunken Road playing the major role. With the second book, The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged, Reed produced the first volume dealing specifically with the battle itself. Published for the Shiloh commission by the Government Printing Office in 1902, Reed's study contained a general overview of the campaign as well as detailed actions of each unit down to the brigade level. He also included orders of battle and casualty tables. Veterans received a free copy, and when the supply was exhausted by 1909, a new edition was produced. The 1909 version incorporated new knowledge and corrected errors in the first edition. When that supply dwindled, the commission reprinted the 1909 edition four years later. [4]

After the National Park Service took control of the battlefield in 1933, the agency's historians helped institutionalize Reed's thesis. In a 1950s handbook written by park historian Albert Dillahunty, the Hornet's Nest message gained further widespread attention. Sold at Shiloh, these small books gave a short overview of the battle in which the Hornet's Nest was emphasized over other sectors of the battlefield. Likewise, the park's 1956 film, Shiloh: Portrait of a Battle, heavily concentrated on the Hornet's Nest, leaving other actions relatively untouched. This film has been shown to millions of visitors throughout the decades, and is still being shown at the visitor center when this book went to press. [5]

It was not until the late 1970s that an academic historian published a book on the battle. A professor at David Lipscomb College in Nashville, James Lee McDonough produced Shiloh: In Hell Before Night (1977). McDonough's entertainingly written book utilized primary and secondary sources and was well received by the Civil War reading community. Although it is not deep on tactical detail, it is laced with human-interest stories and remains useful to the study of the battle. Its appearance played a major role in the perpetuation of the Reed School. Reed developed the idea and the park service interpreted it; McDonough's work reinforced and carried the Reed thesis to scholars and public alike. [6]

Paralleling the academic emergence of the Hornet's Nest thesis was a smaller yet equally important school of thought centering on Albert Sidney Johnston's death at Shiloh. One of the few major books on the battle is Wiley Sword's Shiloh: Bloody April, which first appeared in 1974 (with a revised 2001 edition). Sword argued that Johnston's death at Shiloh was the key factor in determining ultimate victory and defeat. Although the impact of what has been called the Sword School has not been as significant on popular opinion as the Reed thesis, Sword's Shiloh has played an important role in determining how others interpret the battle. [7]

The Johnston death thesis propounded by Sword appeared earlier in the Veterans' School, most notably in the writings of Johnston's son, William Preston Johnston. The thesis gained scholarly credence when the first academic biography of Johnston appeared. In 1964, Charles P. Roland published Albert Sidney Johnston: Soldier of Three Republics. This respected work portrayed Johnston's life in an objective and clearly presented manner. Roland did not excuse Johnston's mistakes, but he did emphasize that other commanders new to war made similar mistakes. They lived to learn from their sins, a luxury Johnston did not enjoy. Roland argued that if Johnston had lived, he might have provided the Confederacy with an equal to Robert E. Lee in the Western Theater. Sword's major 1974 battle study reinforced the Johnston "mystique." [8]

An emerging revisionist school of thought incorporates within it the arguments about the Hornet's Nest and Johnston's fatal wounding, but reaches new conclusions about the meaning and significance of these events. This line of thinking is the first to use the battlefield as a major source. The battlefield holds the key to understanding what happened at Shiloh, not only because of the relatively undisturbed terrain but also because of the vast array of troop position monuments and tablets erected by the veterans themselves. Thus, in many ways the field itself provides historians with as much or more insight into the action than simple reports, letters, and diaries. Indeed, most of these revisionist works cite battlefield tablets and monuments in their footnotes.

The revisionist school is also the first to challenge former schools in both matter of interpretation and questions of fact. This school explores, for example, the number of charges launched against the Hornet's Nest, the number of artillery pieces in Confederate Brigadier General Daniel Ruggles' line, and the effects of terrain on the outcome of the battle.

Finally, the recent revisionist manner in examining Shiloh is the first to attempt to place the battle in the complete context of Civil War history. Former schools dealt only with the tactical and strategic context of Shiloh. This school also looks at the political as well as the postwar Civil War memory of the nation as a whole. The result is a fresh, if not yet completely coherent, interpretation of the battle.

Readers well versed in Shiloh literature will be familiar with the revisionist works of Larry Daniel, Stacy Allen, and Timothy B. Smith. Daniel broke new ground when he published Shiloh: The Battle that changed the Civil War (1997). Most important, Daniel incorporated Washington's and Richmond's views of the operations in his coverage of the preliminary strategic campaign leading up to the tactical action. In addition to the political context, Daniel also evaluated the battle from the viewpoint of other eyes, such as those in major cities like New Orleans and Chicago, and even those watching from afar in foreign nations. Daniel's study capably placed the battle in its correct political and social light. [9]

Also in 1997, Shiloh's Chief Ranger Stacy D. Allen published a revisionist account of Shiloh in two widely-circulated issues of Blue and Gray Magazine. These issues also contained fresh interpretations of the battle. Allen was able to document only seven attacks in five hours against the Hornet's Nest position. He noted also that these charges were made in the least populated area of the battlefield. When most of the attacks took place, he explained, the "vast majority of the brigades [Confederate and Union] were actively engaged on either the left or the right flank." As far as Allen is concerned, for the majority of the day the Hornet's Nest was not the critical point on the battlefield. Allen also reached the conclusion that the Confederate command authority (most notably Johnston) misread the Union deployment at Pittsburg Landing in the context of the geography of the site. [10]

Timothy B. Smith has written two revisionist books that carry on the earlier work of this school. This Great Battlefield of Shiloh: History, Memory, and the Establishment of a Civil War National Military Park (2004) looked at the establishment of the battlefield park and how that effort shaped how modern historians and readers alike view the battle of Shiloh. In a memory study, a field that is becoming quite popular, Smith argued that David W. Reed's work in building the park created the dominant school of thought centering on the importance of the Hornet's Nest. Smith's next book, The Untold Story of Shiloh: The Battle and the Battlefield (2006), was a collection of essays delving into a variety of topics, including myths of Shiloh and the historiography of the battle. Both works continued the emerging revisionist treatment of the battle. [11]

The foundations for this nascent revisionist school were poured several decades ago. In 1966, Otis Edward Cunningham graduated from Louisiana State University with a Ph.D. in history. Working under Dr. T. Harry Williams, Cunningham wrote his dissertation "Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862," a detailed study that focused largely on the battle itself. [12]

Although Cunningham's excellent work predated both McDonough and Sword, his dissertation laden with original interpretations was universally ignored by historians in the 1970s. Neither McDonough nor Sword cited Cunningham in their bibliographies. As a result, the revisionist school launched by Cunningham in the 1960s took a thirty-year sabbatical. It would not be resuscitated until the 1990s, when historians Daniel, Allen, and Smith began taking a serious interest in this groundbreaking dissertation and incorporating it into their own research. [13]

Dr. Cunningham examined the old stories related by Reed and the veterans and invigorated them with a unique freshness not found anywhere else. He located previously untapped sources rich with personal anecdotes and peppered his narrative with them to enliven his work. His study also made positive historiographical advances in the study of Shiloh. Unlike many historians, Cunningham was never content to merely accept the standard version of events. Instead, he carefully studied the sources and analyzed what they revealed. For example, he was the first historian to question the existence of sixty-two Confederate cannon in Ruggles' artillery-studded line. By carefully examining battery reports and other documentation, Cunningham was able to account for and confirm only fifty-one artillery pieces in the line. Apparently, Reed had not taken into consideration the losses suffered by some of the Confederate batteries earlier in the day. [14]

Another of Dr. Cunningham's contributions was the manner in which he dealt with the Hornet's Nest thesis, which by this time was deeply ingrained in the American consciousness. He was the first historian to publicly challenge the idea that the Sunken Road was sunken. He did so by quoting extensively from the participants' own letters and diaries and concluded that the nature of the road was not what gave the Union forces a decided advantage. He believed it was the open fields of fire on the flanks and the impenetrable thicket at the Hornet's Nest that made the Sunken Road position almost impregnable. Moreover, where the Reed School counted as many as twelve or thirteen different charges against the Sunken Road line, Cunningham documented only seven (and perhaps eight), a calculation with which most modern historians agree. [15]

Unlike most historians writing before and after him, Cunningham's study is a much more contextual look at the battle. He emphasized places other than the handful of famous sites like the Hornet's Nest, Peach Orchard, and Bloody Pond. The fighting around the Crossroads (where the Hamburg-Purdy and Corinth-Pittsburg roads intersect) offers a prime example.

Today's readers of the Civil War are the most informed in history, and yet even most diehard Civil War buffs will draw a blank when asked if they know anything about the fighting at the Crossroads on the Shiloh battlefield. Cunningham spent fully as much ink on the western side of the battlefield around the Crossroads (an entire chapter) as he did on any other part of the field. He detailed the fighting in that sector and gave it the attention it deserved. The combat waged there is now recognized as more important to the outcome of the battle than previously believed. It should be kept in mind that Cunningham was emphasizing that area of the battlefield forty years ago.

Dr. Cunningham's treatment of the second day at Shiloh, while not as in-depth as his first day's narrative, was in the 1960s the most detailed anyone had written on the April 7 fighting. His unique east-to-west divisional organization methodology is in our view easier to understand than other treatments of the fighting.

Once the combat wrapped up on the Shiloh battlefield, Cunningham refused to end his study there, as most historians have done. Instead, he followed the armies south into Mississippi, treating the siege of Corinth for what it was: a vital part of the Shiloh operation. His decision to do so provides readers with a much broader and richer context of the Shiloh operation.

The footnotes in Cunningham's dissertation explain the uniqueness of his early methodology. He delved deeply into the battle reports, soldiers' letters, newspapers, and postwar reminiscences, but he also walked the field and documented action and troop positions by using the monuments and markers on the battlefield. Few other historians, before or since, have made such an effort. Even Reed, who placed the monuments and tablets, became mired in the detail and was unable to completely see the larger picture.

It should now be clear why Dr. Cunningham's dissertation, important though overlooked in its time, is worthy of publication today. With the new revisionist school less than a decade old and just emerging into the academic world, Cunningham still has much to share with interested readers. His work is not forty years dated; rather, it was four decades ahead of its time, and Shiloh historiography has just begun to catch up with his path-breaking work.

* * *

Edward Cunningham was one of the bright young scholars of the mid-1960s. He was born Otis Edward Cunningham in McComb City, Mississippi, on July 20, 1940. He received his elementary and secondary education in the public schools of Pike County, Mississippi, and Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana.

In 1957, he entered Southwest Mississippi Junior College before transferring to Southeastern Louisiana College in Hammond, Louisiana, the following year, where he completed work on his B.A. degree in 1960. In September of that year he was admitted to Louisiana State University's Department of History graduate program and received his Master's degree in 1962. From 1962-1964 he was a graduate assistant at LSU, working toward his Ph.D. in American History. In September 1964, even while he was laboring to complete his dissertation, he joined the faculty of the University of Tennessee at Martin (UTM) in Martin, Tennessee, as an assistant professor of history. Whenever he could spare the time, he made the trip two hours south to visit the battlefield at Shiloh.

Dr. Cunningham taught at several schools across the nation, including Tulane University, and taught overseas to military men stationed abroad. He published only one book, The Port Hudson Campaign, 1862-1863 (LSU, 1963). Unfortunately, Dr. Cunningham's career and life came to a premature end with his death on March 2, 1997. [16]

* * *

Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862 is valuable in its original form because it provides a snapshot of what Dr. Cunningham was thinking and how he wrote in 1966. The overriding principle we followed in preparing this study for publication was to let Cunningham's pen tell the story. It is inappropriate to attempt to speak for someone who can no longer speak for himself. Thus, with a few very minor exceptions (discussed at length below), what you are about to read was entirely written by Dr. Cunningham, who was an exceptionally fine researcher and writer (which made our job much easier). Light stylistic alterations were made in the main text to correct slight irregularities and minor issues of grammar and style (changing the designation of Sherman's Division to lower case, for example). We left his entire set of footnotes intact, but we have added new material that has come to light over the years.

Our additions to the footnotes are clearly designated by the use of the following symbol: || Everything written after || is entirely our own work (the editors); anything before || was from the original dissertation. Any changes made to the original footnotes were purely stylistic in nature (changing roman numerals to Arabic, for example).

Some additional changes were made to the main text, and these require some explanation. The most basic changes came in the form of misspellings, which we simply changed without noting any difference. For example, Dr. Cunningham consistently spelled Lloyd Tilghman as Tilgham. He likewise spelled Charles Whittlesey as Whittlessley, and Fraley Field as Farley Field. These corrections needed to be made, and we saw no need to alert the reader in a footnote each time we did so.

Dr. Cunningham also made a few errors of fact. For example, he referenced William "Bull" Nelson as Samuel Nelson, confused Cairo for Paducah as the city at the confluence of the Tennessee and Ohio rivers, and accidently promoted 6th Iowa Captain Daniel Iseminger to the rank of colonel. On a few occasions, he also misstated some of the regimental numbers. None of these minor errors could be allowed to stand, but we did not believe each occurrence warranted an explanation in a footnote.

On some occasions, Dr. Cunningham did not include first names for some of the characters in his human interest stories. This is understandable, because finding the names of some of these men in 1966 would have been a monumental research task. Today, however, it is quite easy with the National Park Service's "Civil War Soldier and Sailor System" on the Internet. With that tool we found most, but not all, of the missing first names and simply inserted them into the text.

Dr. Cunningham made several statements of interpretation, some of which we agree with and some with which we do not. For instance, we believe Cunningham was on firm ground when he argued that General P. G. T. Beauregard could not have taken Grant's last line on the evening of April 6, but do not necessarily agree with his claim that Lew Wallace would have been better off had he continued on his original march and suddenly appeared behind enemy lines. Whether we agree with his analysis and interpretation, of course, is not the issue. These are not facts that can be disputed, but issues over which many historians can and do disagree. On matters of this sort we left his original interpretation but indicated what we believe in the footnotes, usually including what more recent Shiloh scholars have to say on the matter.

There were, however, some errors we could not allow to pass that required more extensive treatment in the footnotes. For example, Dr. Cunningham asserted that Colonel Everett Peabody's patrol (led by Major James Powell) marched out the Corinth-Pittsburg Landing Road toward Fraley Field. We now know with certainty that Powell led his patrol along what is today called Reconnoitering Road. We changed the text and alerted the reader in the footnote. Dr. Cunningham's claim that Julius Raith's brigade moved all the way forward to the 53rd Ohio camp in Rhea Field was incorrect, as were his conclusions that James Veatch's first battle position was 200 yards behind John McClernand's line at the Crossroads and that the Confederates penetrated Ralph Buckland's first line at Shiloh Church. In each of these instances we corrected the text and alerted the reader in a footnote, complete with citations that support our position and usually with additional information about what other recent historians have said about the issue. However, mistakes like these were few and far between. Dr. Cunningham knew his subject extremely well.

Only one major alteration was performed on the original dissertation. In his chapter dealing with the Peach Orchard fighting, Dr. Cunningham inserted an unusual paragraph just two or three sentences long that completely unraveled the time line of the action he was describing. Its removal did not delete any material of significance. It is possible the paragraph was a holdover from an earlier draft and overlooked. Regardless, its removal is fully noted in the appropriate footnote.

In discussing Dr. Cunningham's study, the late George Reaves, one of the all-time authorities on the battle of Shiloh, together with co-author Joseph Allen Frank, wrote: "[W]e believe this dissertation deserves a better fate than remaining a manuscript on microfilm." We obviously agree.

We hope our goal of presenting Edward Cunningham's work on Shiloh to the general public will please readers, spark ongoing vigorous debate, and broaden the knowledge of this great but terrible battle that is so special in the hearts of many people. [17]

Gary D. Joiner, Shreveport, Louisiana
Timothy B. Smith, Adamsville, Tennessee

Notes:

1. Joseph Allen Frank and George A. Reaves, "Seeing the Elephant": Raw Recruits at the Battle of Shiloh (Westport: Green wood Press, 1989), 15.
2. Much of the following material is adapted from Timothy B. Smith, "Historians and the Battle of Shiloh: One Hundred and Forty Years of Controversy" Tennessee Historical Quarterly 63 (Winter 2003): 332-353. This article was also reprinted in Timothy B. Smith, The Untold Story of Shiloh: The Battle and the Battle field (Knox ville: University of Tennessee Press, 2006), 1-19.
3. For a good example of these works, see Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel, eds., Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Being For the Most Part Contributions By Union and Confederate Officers: Based upon "The Century" War Series, 4 vols. (New York: Century Company, 18841887).
4. David W. Reed, Campaigns and Battles of the Twelfth Regiment Iowa Veteran Volunteer Infantry: From Organization, September, 1861, to Muster-Out, January 20, 1866 (np: np, nd); David W. Reed, The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1902); David W. Reed, The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged, 2nd edition.(Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1909).
5. Albert Dillahunty, Shiloh National Military Park, Tennessee (Washington, DC: National Park Service, 1955); Shiloh: Portrait of a Battle (Shiloh: Shiloh National Military Park, 1954).
6. James Lee McDonough, Shiloh: In Hell Before Night (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1977).
7. Wiley Sword, Shiloh: Bloody April (New York: William Mar row and Co., 1974); Wiley Sword, Shiloh: Bloody April, Revised Edition (Dayton, Ohio: Morning side Book shop, 2001).
8. Charles P. Roland, Albert Sidney Johnston: Soldier of Three Republics (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964).
9. Larry J. Daniel, Shiloh: The Battle That Changed the Civil War (New York: Simon and Shuster, 1997).
10. Stacy D. Allen, "Shiloh! The Campaign and First Day's Battle," Blue and Gray 14 (Winter 1997), 54.
11. Timothy B. Smith, This Great Battle field of Shiloh: History, Memory, and the Establishment of a Civil War National Military Park (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2004); see also Smith, The Untold Story of Shiloh.
12. O. E. Cunningham, "Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862" (Ph.D. diss., Louisiana State University, 1966).
13. Ibid.
14. Ibid., 397-398.
15. Ibid., 331-362.
16. Edward Cunningham, The Port Hudson Campaign, 1862-1863 (Baton Rouge: Louisi ana State University Press, 1963).
17. Frank and Reaves, "Seeing the Elephant,".

 

Chapter 7

Surprise

For as long as there have been wars and armies, soldiers have grumbled over the prospect of early morning patrols. On that quiet Sunday morning more than a century ago, the men of the Twenty-fifth Missouri [1] and the Twelfth Michigan were no exception. Routed out of their beds sometime after midnight, the troops stumbled around, gathering up their guns, cartridge belts, overcoats, and wadding up their blankets before falling into formation. Why a patrol at this time of night? Some officer was worried about the Rebels, so the enlisted men would have it taken out on them.

The worried officer was Colonel Everett Peabody. Disturbed by the events of Saturday, he decided some kind of large scale reconnaissance was an absolute necessity. Just after midnight, scouts from the Twenty- fifth Missouri led by Major James Powell located a party of Confederate troops several miles from the Union army camped at Pittsburg Landing. Returning from the scout, Powell reported the Confederates' presence to Peabody. The colonel decided to send Major Powell back with a large enough detachment to ascertain exactly what the Southerners were up to and how many there were. [2]

Around 3:00 a.m., three companies from the Twenty-fifth Missouri (B, led by Captain Joseph Schmitz; E, Captain Simon F. Evans; H, Captain Hamilton Dill, a Mexican War veteran), plus a detachment from the Twelfth Michigan Infantry pulled out of their encampments and headed out along a farm road that led into the main Corinth-Pittsburg Landing Road. The patrol was Peabody's own responsibility, and as the men slipped away into the distance down the road, the colonel remarked to an aide that he would not live to see the result of it. He was nearly right-in less than four hours he lay on the battlefield, a bullet through his head. [3]

The night was "balmy" and "perfectly still." [4] The soldiers had only the pale light of the moon and the faint stars to guide them down the well-worn wagon road. Stumbling in the wagon ruts, and occasionally sinking in the thick layers of Tennessee mud on the "road's surface," the two hundred Union volunteers filed slowly down the road in the direction of the state line, unaware of their nearby rendezvous with destiny. [5]

Progress was slow and halting, the men frequently muttering and cursing after being bumped by the musket barrels of their comrades. Frequently the unlucky troopers straggled off the road into the darkness, or they bogged down in the mud. Upon one occasion a party of Michiganders became confused and almost shot up some of the Twenty-fifth, mistaking them for Confederates. [6] The thick clusters of trees along the farm road added to the murky darkness, shutting out what little light there was from the heavens above. Passing just beyond the edge of the Rhea field, Major Powell met Captain A. W. McCormick, of the Seventy-seventh Ohio, who was commanding Colonel Hildebrand's advance picket post. Telling Captain McCormick of his orders, Major Powell quickly directed his men to resume their march, heading on up the road. [7] After more than an hour of marching and cursing, the patrol had moved less than two miles.

In a million homes across America, in the strange semi-light that prevailed in the dawn, there occurred the first gradual stirrings of Sunday morning. Housewives were up, making breakfast gruel or oatmeal, while teenage sons and daughters milked the cows or took care of other household chores in preparation for dressing and making the long trip to Sunday morning services; but along the farm road no one thought of church services or hymn singing. There were no sounds of pots and pans or the gentle lowing of cattle; but, instead, the harsh tramp, tramp, slosh, slosh of men marching. [8]

Across the skyline the first vague traces of light were appearing. In this misty half-light, the advance of Major Powell's reconnaissance force suddenly stumbled upon the outpost of the Confederate army. A shot rang out, then a second, and still a third-as the men of Brewer's Alabama cavalry suddenly realized the Yankees were upon them.

Scrambling to their horses, the Alabamans quickly galloped away in the direction of Major A. B. Hardcastle's Third Mississippi Battalion on picket duty. To the advancing Federals, the Alabamans appeared to be ghost-like horsemen, moving mysteriously through the trees, a poor target along a musket sight....


Notes:

1. Many members of the Twenty-fifth Missouri had taken part in the siege of Lexington, Missouri, in September of the previous year. Everett Peabody had commanded the regiment there. Battles and Leaders; Monaghan, Civil War on the Western Border, 187-194; Charles Morton, "A Boy at Shiloh," Personal Recollections of the War of the Rebellion: Addresses Delivered Before the Commandery of the State of New York, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, 3rd Series, (New York: 1907). Colonel Peabody was a native of Massachusetts, a Harvard graduate, and a civil engineer by profession. Charles Morton, "Opening of the Battle of Shiloh."
2. Ibid.
3. Joseph Ruff, "Civil War Experiences of A German Emigrant as Told by the Late Joseph Ruff of Albion," The Michigan Magazine of History 27 (Winter 1943). Morton, "A Boy at Shiloh." For years standard history works have maintained that the reconnaissance patrol under Major Powell that went out to engage the Confederates, or at least to locate them that morning, consisted of three companies of soldiers from the Twenty-fifth Missouri. This is generally based on the report of the Twenty-fifth Missouri in the Official Records. This, however, is incorrect. A detachment from the Twelfth Michigan went with the Missourians on the reconnaissance. Exactly why this was overlooked in the Official Records is not certain. Lieutenant Colonel Humphrey W. Woodyard, Twenty-first Missouri, does mention that the Twelfth Michigan had been engaged about the same time as the Twenty-first. Two members of the Twelfth Michigan specifically reported that they were engaged. Private Franklin Bailey, Company D, Twelfth Michigan, wrote a letter to his parents two days after the battle, in which he specifically stated that he and his company had taken part in this operation. Franklin H. Bailey Papers, Historical Collections of the University of Michigan. Private Charles Morton, Twenty-fifth Missouri, stated that two or three companies of the Twelfth Michigan accompanied Powell. Morton, "Opening of the Battle of Shiloh,". The presence of the Michigan troops with Powell's patrol was also confirmed by Edwin L. Hoburt, The Truth About Shiloh (Springfield: Illinois Register Publishing Company, 1909); William Swinton, The Twelve Decisive Battles of the Civil War (New York: Dick and Fitzgerald, 1867). J. G. Deuprae, "The Noxubee Squadron of the First Mississippi Cavalry," Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society (Jackson: Mississippi Historical Society (1908) also confirmed this. There is no regimental report for the Twelfth Michigan in the Official Records, and their role in the day's fighting is not specifically spelled out by any official account. Colonel Francis Quinn, who commanded the regiment, only turned in a brigade report. He said that "several companies were ordered out from the First Brigade." There is a report by Lieutenant Colonel William Graves, which does mention two companies of the Twelfth going out with the patrol. Robertson, Michigan in the War.
Despite the care taken to figure out which troops were involved, Dr. Cunningham confused the road on which the patrol marched. Today, there is no doubt that Powell's patrol took what is today known as the Reconnoitering Road, which at the time of the battle was a small field road. We have altered the original text to correct the oversight. See Reed, The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged.
4. D. Lloyd Jones, "The Battle of Shiloh," War Papers Read Before the Commandery of the State of Wisconsin, M. O. L. L. U. S., (Milwaukee: 1891).
5. Ruff, "Civil War Experiences of a German Emigrant."
Dr. Cunningham placed the patrol at 200 men, but Daniel, Shiloh, places the number at 400 while Sword, Shiloh, merely says "several hundred" Federals. McDonough, Shiloh, states "less than three hundred men."
6. Ibid.
7. Campaigns in Kentucky and Tennessee.
Dr. Cunningham again mentioned the patrol marching along the Corinth Road. We have slightly altered the text to correct the statement.
8. For a third and final time, Dr. Cunningham mentioned the patrol marching along the Corinth Road. We once again slightly altered the text to correct the statement.

 

Edward Cunningham

Edward Cunningham was one of the bright young scholars of the mid-1960s, earning his Ph.D. under the legendary Dr. T. Harry Williams at Louisiana State University...
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Gary D. Joiner

Gary D. Joiner, Ph.D. teaches history classes at LSU-Shreveport and is the owner of Precision Cartographics. Gary is the author of many articles and several books...
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Timothy B. Smith

Timothy Smith holds a Ph.D. from Mississippi State in history and works for the National Park Service as a ranger at Shiloh National Battlefield Park.
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