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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.