Battle of Shiloh, April 1862

--by Brigadier-General Benjamin M. Prentiss, 1862
[source: America, Vol. 8, pages 103-106]

[NOTE: Benjamin Mayberry Prentiss was a volunteer officer under General Grant. He commanded the Sixth Division at the Battle of Shiloh, TN, April 6-7, 1862. This account is from his official report. Of the 62,500 Union soldiers at Shiloh, 13,000 were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. Of those Union soldiers who surrendered, 2,280 surrendered with Prentiss.]

At three o'clock on the morning of Sunday, April 6, 1862, Colonel David Moore, Twenty-first Missouri, with five companies of his infantry regiment, proceeded to the front, and at break of day the advance pickets were driven in. Whereupon Colonel Moore pushed forward and engaged the enemy's advance, commanded by General Hardee. At this stage a messenger was sent to my headquarters, calling for the balance of the Twenty-fifth Missouri, which was promptly sent forward. This information received, I at once ordered the entire force into line, and the remaining regiments of the First Brigade, commanded by Colonel Everett Peabody, consisting of the Twenty-fifth Missouri, Sixteenth Wisconsin, and Twelfth Michigan Infantry, were advanced well to the front. I forthwith at this juncture communicated the fact of the attack in force to Major- General Smith and Brigadier-General S. A. Hurlbut.

Shortly before six o'clock, Colonel Moore having been severely wounded, his regiment commenced falling back, reaching our front line about six o'clock, the enemy being close upon his rear. Hereupon the entire force, excepting only the Sixteenth Iowa, which had been sent to the field the day before without ammunition, and the cavalry, which was held in readiness to the rear, was advanced to the extreme front, and thrown out alternately to the right and left.

Shortly after six o'clock the entire line was under fire, receiving the assault made by the entire force of the enemy, advancing in three columns simultaneously upon our left, center and right. This position was held until the enemy had passed our right flank, this movement being effected by reason of the falling back of some regiment to our right not belonging to the division.

Perceiving the enemy was flanking me, I ordered the division to retire in line of battle to the color line of our encampment, at the same time communicating to Generals Smith and Hurlbut the fact of the falling back, and asking for reinforcements.

Being again assailed, in position described, by an overwhelming force, and not being able longer to hold the ground against the enemy, I ordered the division to fall back to the line occupied by General Hurlbut, and at 9:05 a.m. reformed to the right of General Hurlbut, and to the left of Brigadier-General W. H. L. Wallace, who I found in command of the division assigned to Major-General Smith. At this point the Twenty-third Missouri Infantry, commanded by Colonel Tindall, which had just disembarked from a transport, and had been ordered to report to me as a part of the Sixth Division, joined me. This regiment I immediately assigned to position on the left. My battery (Fifth Ohio) was posted to the right on the road.

At about 10 o'clock my line was again assailed, and finding my command greatly reduced by reason of casualties and because of the falling back of many of the men to the river, they being panic-stricken -- a majority of them having now for the first time been exposed to fire -- I communicated with General W. H. L. Wallace, who sent to my assistance the Eighth Iowa Infantry, commanded by Colonel J. L. Geddes.

After having once driven the enemy back from this position Major-General U. S. Grant appeared upon the field. I exhibited to him the disposition of my entire force, which disposition received his commendation, and I received my final orders, which were to maintain that position at all hazards. This position I did maintain until 4 o'clock p.m., when General Hurlbut, being overpowered, was forced to retire. I was then compelled to change front with the Twenty-third Missouri, Twenty-first Missouri, Eighteenth Wisconsin, Eighteenth Missouri, and part of the Twelfth Michigan, occupying a portion of the ground vacated by General Hurlbut. I was in constant communication with Generals Hurlbut and Wallace during the day, and both of them were aware of the importance of holding our position until night. When the gallant Hurlbut was forced to retire General Wallace and myself consulted, and agreed to hold our positions at all hazards, believing that we could thus save the army from destruction; we having been now informed for the first time that all others had fallen back to the vicinity of the river. A few minutes after General W. H. L. Wallace received the wound of which he shortly afterwards died. Upon the fall of General Wallace, his division, excepting the Eighth Iowa, Colonel Geddes, acting with me, and the Fourteenth Iowa, Colonel Shaw; Twelfth Iowa, Colonel Woods, and Fifty-eighth Illinois, Colonel Lynch, retired from the field.

Perceiving that I was about to be surrounded, and having dispatched my aide, Lieutenant Edwin Moore, for reinforcements, I determined to assail the enemy, which had passed between me and the river, charging upon him with my entire force. I found him advancing in mass, completely encircling my command, and nothing was left but to harass him and retard his progress so long as might be possible. This I did until 5:30 p.m., when, finding that further resistance must result in the slaughter of every man in the command, I had to yield the fight. The enemy succeeded in capturing myself and 2,200 rank and file, many of them being wounded.

For the story of one man who fought at the Battle of Shiloh, click here:
Frank Reed, a.k.a. Tom Doyle

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