The importance of Shiloh and other battles were taught to children by soldiers and authors to convey education, appreciation, and meaning to youth during the Civil War.
In 1865, popular children's author William M. Thayer penned his second volume of A Youth's History of the Rebellion. His opening statements in the preface are as relevant today as they were then. "The radical reforms which the Rebellion has wrought, and their incalculable importance," he wrote, "render the period one of the most momentous in history; and it is peculiarly proper that our youth should be made as familiar as possible with the scenes of this great drama" (v). The semi-fictional book is narrated by "Uncle William" (presumably the author himself) to young family members Charlie, Ella, and Marcus. Wishing to learn more of their uncle's exploits in the war, the youth receive a detailed account of the entire conflict. Given the 150th anniversary of Shiloh, I thought it especially fitting to share some of this book in order to demonstrate how Unionists perceived the Battle of Shiloh while the war was still ongoing.
While the book is very sentimental and patriotic, it lacks much of the reconciliation rhetoric apparent in post-war books and memoirs. This offers contemporary readers a chance to comprehend the mindsets of civilians and how they wished to nurture the ideologies of their children during that time. Thayer's book places the importance of Union at the heart of his publication and does not hesitate to demean the Confederate cause. For instance, when the children characters of the book marvel at how some southerners marched barefoot, their uncle replies, “Yes: it shows a commendable zeal and determination on their part; and, in a good cause, I should admire to witness their efforts. But I don't think much of it in traitors. But I must not delay longer on this point. Next comes one of the bloodiest battles of the war."
“What?," the children ask.
The following is Uncle William's account of that defining battle:
“It is called the Battle of Pittsburg Landing, too is it not?” inquired Charlie.
“It is,” answered Uncle William.
“Pittsburg Landing is on the Tennessee River; and the term Shiloh is derived from an old church-edifice near which the battle was fought. I ought to state here, that another stronghold of the enemy was evacuated on the night of March 13 - their fortifications at New Madrid. Gen. Pope commanded an expedition capture this place, and quite a bloody contest was waged there for a time. When the place was re-enforced from Island No. 10, the Rebel force numbered nine thousand men. But they could not withstand the deadly assault of the Federal army; and on the night of March 13, during a terrific thunderstorm, they evacuated the place in great haste, leaving nearly everything behind. They spiked eighteen guns; but the spiking was done so hastily, that the spikes were readily removed from sixteen of them, and the Federals arranged to belch their fire upon Rebel gunboats, should any appear upon the river. In addition to the defensive works; mounting more than thirty heavy guns, the enemy had six gunboats, carrying from four to eight heavy guns each, anchored along the shore. The entrance to the town was thus commanded by sixty Rebel guns of heavy caliber. Most of these guns were captured, together with the magazines, filled with ammunition; several thousand stand of small-arms; and tents, horses, mules, wagons, and tools sufficient for an army of ten thousand men. We captured nearly six hundred prisoners, including seventeen officers. The Rebels fled so precipitately, that even the private baggage of officers, in some instances, was abandoned. They left a few of their dead unburied, and about one hundred sick soldiers. A hundred new-made graves were found within the fortifications. Their loss, in killed and wounded, was never fully known. Our loss was fifty-one.”
“Who commanded the Rebel fleet?” asked Charlie.
“Com. Hollins; and Gens. M'Cown, Stewart, and Gantt commanded their land forces. Two of the Ohio regiments, the Twenty-seventh and Thirty-ninth, were much exposed to the enemy's fire on the thirteenth day of March. It was supposed that one hundred shot and shell struck within four or five feet of the Thirty-ninth, without killing a man. This was so marvelous, that even a profane and thoughtless soldier was heard to say, ‘Well, it's no use talking; but God was with the Ohio boys yesterday.’ A single cannon-ball cut oft' the legs of three men in the Ohio Twenty-seventh. Another, half-spent, struck the ground, and bounded against a soldier's knapsack, knocked him over senseless and passed on; and yet the prostrate soldier rose uninjured. In two or three instances, shells exploded so near as to cover twenty men with dirt, doing no further injury. At this time, the Rebel army was concentrating at Corinth; and Gen. Grant was preparing to attack it there. For this purpose, he moved his forces to Pittsburg Landing, whence he designed to march on Corinth. A part of his army was conveyed thither by water; while Gen. Buell, with his corps of thirty thousand men, marched thither by land. Gen. Johnston commanded the Rebel army, though Gen. Beauregard led on the centre, and acted a conspicuous part in this campaign. Perceiving Gen. Grant's design, Beauregard conceived the plan of surprising him at Pittsburg Landing. His plan was to fall upon our army and capture or annihilate it before Gen. Buell could arrive with re-enforcements.”
“It was a good plan,” remarked Charlie, “I am a judge of good generalship.”
“Very good indeed,” responded Uncle William; and it proved well-nigh successful. But for the bad state of the roads, which delayed the enemy's march, he would have captured or destroyed Gen. Grant's army before the arrival of Gen. Buell. As it was, he came very near it. He marched to within four or five miles of Gen. Grant's encampment, and arrived there on Saturday, April 5. He bivouacked for the night, designing to take up his line of march by three o'clock in the morning, and astound our army by an attack at early dawn.”
“Did he do it?” inquired Ella.
“I am sorry to say that he did. Gen. Grant was not expecting an assault, so that he had not thrown out his cavalry pickets; and, almost the first announcememt of the enemy's presence was a volley of musketry and artillery pouring consternation and death into the federal camp.”
“What a pity that our pickets were not out!” exclaimed Ella.
“It was so; but our gallant army made the best of it that they could. The soldiers had scarcely time to rally in order; but they rushed into battle with the highest courage, and fought valiantly, though their ranks exhibited much confusion. It was a severe contest, and the slaughter of men on both sides was appalling. Our army was driven back, though the soldiers disputed every inch of ground. They fought at great disadvantage, being surprised, and unable to form in line of battle at the outset. Gradually they fell back to the river, as the conflict raged, under the protection of the gunboats, to await the arrival of Buell's corps. Couriers were dispatched in all haste, to hurry forward Buell’s command, and save our imperiled army.”
“Was Gen. Grant on the field?” asked Charlie.
“He was; and his presence inspirited the troops.”
“Did he have out no infantry pickets?”
“Yes: he had infantry pickets out, in small numbers; but they were not more than three-fourths of a mile from his advance. Stevenson, an officer of the Rebel army, of whom I have spoken before, says that Beauregard approached so near to Gen. Grant's pickets, that the Federal drums could be distinctly heard. He states also, that the Rebel commanders held a council of war on Saturday evening, and that Gen. Beauregard said, as it broke up. “Gentlemen, we sleep in the enemy's camp tomorrow night.”
“Did he sleep there?” inquired Henry.
“He did. Gen. Hardee led the advance of the Rebel army, which numbered forty-five thousand men; and thirty thousand more were expected to arrive under Gens. Price and Van Dorn. Early in the day, the Rebel general, Albert S. Johnston, rode up to Gen. Breckinridge, and said, ‘I will lead your brigade into the fight to-day; for I intend to show these Tennesseans and Kentuckians that I am no coward.' With this spirit, the enemy went into battle; but Gen. Johnston was not permitted to show the Kentuckians much bravery. For, before noon, he was struck by the fragment of a shell between his hip and knee, severing a large artery; and he bled to death. Stevenson was approaching him at the time, with a dispatch from Gen. Breckinridge. Gov. Harris, too, was nearby and reproached Gen. Johnston for not immediately alighting from his horse, and calling a surgeon to his aid. Gov. Harris was his brother-in-law, and chief of staff; and, of course, was more deeply interested in his welfare on that account. Gen. Johnston replied, ‘My life is nothing compared with the success of this charge: had I exclaimed that I was wounded, when the troops were passing, it might have created a panic and defeat.’ They lifted him from his horse; and, in ten minutes, he was dead. Stevenson then hastened to Beauregard with his dispatch.
“When he had read it, he said, ‘Why did you not take this to Gen. Johnston?’”
“I did, sir.”
“Did he tell you to bring it to me?”
“Gen. Johnston is dead, sir.”
“How do you know?”
“I saw him die ten minutes ago.”
“How was he killed?”
“Stevenson told him; whereupon Gen. Beauregard dictated two dispatches, one to Gov. Harris and. the other to Gen. Breckinridge, counseling them to conceal the death of Johnston. The Rebel army did not know of his death, until it retreated to Corinth. Stevenson was performing staff-duty for Gen. Breckinridge, and had two horses shot under him on that day. On going to a spring to fill his canteen, he saw a wounded Federal officer, a colonel of an Illinois regiment; and his slain horse was lying upon one of his shattered limbs. He looked up, imploringly, but hesitated to speak.
“You seem to be badly wounded, sir: will you have some water?” said Stevenson.
“Oh, yes,” he replied; but I feared to ask you for it.”
“Because I expected no favor from an enemy.”
Two other men came up, when they lifted the dead horse from the wounded man's limb, and passed on. Stevenson remained to place him in a comfortable position, by making him a bed of leaves. While he was doing this, the Union officer took out his watch and money, and, saying that someone might rob him if he kept them himself, offered them to his generous enemy; ‘for you are the only one,’ added the wounded man, ‘who has shown me kindness.’ Stevenson declined to receive them, rolled them up in one comer of his blanket, and adjusted them under his head.
“My friend, why this kindness to an enemy?” said the wounded man.
Stevenson replied, “I am not the enemy I seem,” at the same time pressing the sufferer's hand, and walking on. You will recollect that this Stevenson was impressed into the Rebel service, and afterwards escaped to our lines.”
“I remember what you said of him before,” answered Charlie. “Then Beauregard whipped Grant on that day?”
“We are obliged to admit that he did; and, if he had not ceased fighting an hour before sunset, he would have captured our army, or driven it into the river. Then the whole Federal transport-fleet of nearly one hundred boats would have fallen into the hands of the Rebels, one of the most fearful disasters that could have happened to our cause at that time. But God did not mean to give our enemies this great advantage.”
“Why didn’t Beauregard continue the battle?” asked Ella.
“Because he thought that he could easily capture or annihilate our army on the next morning. Besides, his soldiers were exhausted; and he expected that Gens. Price and Van Dorn would arrive, during the night, with twenty or thirty thousand fresh troops. Gens. Bragg and Breckinridge were anxious to continue the battle that night; but Beauregard would not yield."
“Their wisdom was superior to his at that time,” remarked Charlie.
“Yes: it was a happy thing for us, that Gen. Beauregard made that mistake. He had, indeed, been victorious on that day; and I can read to you his telegram to Richmond, at the close of that memorable day. Here it is:
“We have this morning attacked the enemy, in strong position, in front of Pittsburg; and, after a severe battle of ten hours, thanks to Almighty God I gained a complete victory, driving the enemy from every position. The loss on both sides is heavy, including our commander-in-chief; Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston, who fell gallantly leading his troops into the thickest of the fight.
P. G. T. BEAUREGARD,
“Then he told the truth in the telegram,” said Charlie.
“He did, for once, though he concealed the truth in his next dispatch. Gen. Buell re-enforced Gen. Grant, on that sabbath night, with thirty thousand men; and the tide of victory was turned against the Rebels. Until three o'clock in the afternoon of Monday, the battle raged with great violence; when our soldiers had regained the ground which they lost on the day before, and recaptured all their guns and, military stores, save what the enemy had sent to the rear.”
“Gen. Prentiss was captured by the Rebels, was he not?” said Charlie.
“He was captured, with nearly all his brigade, on the first day of the battle. We lost about four thousand prisoners, nearly two thousand killed, and eight thousand wounded. The Rebel 1088 in killed, wounded, and prisoners, exceeded fifteen thousand. Stevenson says, that the Rebels admitted a loss of from twelve to fifteen thousand on the first day of the battle. I will read to you Beauregard's telegram to Richmond, after the second day's fight, when he had retreated to Corinth.”
“Then he retreated to Corinth,” said Ella.
“At three o'clock on Monday, he resolved to retreat to that place; and soon his whole army, exhausted and demoralized, were on the way thither. The mud was very deep, and the rain poured down pitilessly upon them; and three hundred of their wounded died on their way. After entering Corinth, Beauregard telegraphed as follows, to Richmond:
“Corinth, Tuesday April 8, 1861
To the Secretary of War, Richmond:
We have gained a great and glorious victory, eight to ten thousand prisoners, and thirty-six pieces of cannon. Buell re-enforced Grant; and we retired to our intrenchments at Corinth, which we can hold. Loss heavy on both sides.
“What a lie!” exclaimed Marcus.
“Retired to Corinth!” said Charlie. “Got whipped, and had to run - that was the truth!”
“It was a very ingenious dispatch to cover up a defeat,” replied Uncle William. There were some interesting incidents in this battle worthy of being rehearsed. Gen. Gladden, who was in Gen. Bragg's command, had his arm shattered by a ball on Sunday; but he would not leave the field. He sent for a surgeon; and his arm was amputated on the field, after which he mounted his horse, and continued in the saddle to the end of the battle, and retreated to Corinth. On Wednesday, a second amputation of his arm was found necessary, close to the shoulder. Gen. Bragg sent a messenger to him, to learn that he would not be relieved of his command. His reply was:
“Give Gen. Bragg my compliments, and say that Gen. Gladden will only give up his command to go into his coffin.”
Within a few hours, lock-jaw set in; and he soon died. During Monday's fight, a most remarkable event happened, of which I must speak. Stevenson was an eye-witness to the scene, and records it in his book. Gen. Hindman, one of the most fearless and dashing Rebel generals, was leading his men in a fearful struggle, when a shell from a Rebel battery struck his horse in the breast, and passed into the body, where it exploded, blowing the animal into fragments, and sending his rider several feet into the air, without doing him any injury.”
“Gen. Hindman is blown to pieces,” shouted one of his men, supposing that he was killed.
“Shut up, there: I am worth two dead men yet,’ answered the general, springing to his feet as soon as he struck the ground. ‘Get me another horse.’”
Within five minutes, he was astride another horse, ready to make a dash.
“Wonderful, indeed!” said Ella.
“Almost too marvelous for belief,” added Charlie.
“There is no doubt of the truth of Stevenson's account,” answered Uncle William. He gives another fact that should not omit. When the Rebels were raising a force in East Tennessee, two brothers, by the name of Rowland, enlisted. Another brother, William H. Rowland, refused, and stood up for the Union. Subsequently he was forced into the Rebel army, but deserted to our lines at Fort Donelson. He joined our army, and fought for the Union at Shiloh, where the enemy captured him. Three days after the battle, he was shot at Corinth for desertion. On his way thither from Shiloh, an attempt was made by his two brothers and old comrades to kill him; but the guards interposed. On being brought out to be shot, he was allowed to speak to the multitude as he stood by his coffin; and he made a heroic address which I will read:
“FELLOW SOLDIERS, TENNESSEANS, - I was forced into Southern service against my will and against my conscience. I told them that I would desert the first chance I found, and I did it. I was always a Union man, and never denied it; and I joined the Union army to do all the damage that I could to the Confederates. I believe the Union cause is right, and will triumph. You can kill me but once, and I am not afraid to die in a good cause. My only request is, that you let my wife and family know that I died like a man in supporting my principles. My brothers there would shoot me, if they had a chance; but I forgive them. Now shoot me through the heart, that I may die instantly.”
“Noble Union man that he was,” said Ella.
“And deserves to have his name enrolled among the martyrs of liberty,” responded Uncle William.
“Did we lose many officers in the Battle of Shiloh?” inquired Charlie.
“Yes: some of our bravest fell. A few officers were wounded in their tents, when the surprise was made on sabbath morning; They lay there in agony, until our army drove back the enemy on Monday. Gen. Sherman is commended in Gen. Grant's report for his skill and bravery. He was in the thickest of the fight, and three horses were shot under him. It was estimated that two or three hundred of our horses were shot in this battle.”
“Did not the gunboats render any assistance?” inquired Ella.
“When our army was compelled to fall back on Sunday, the gunboats afforded the soldiers protection: they poured a deadly fire into the advancing foe, and kept up their fire at intervals through the night. An incident occurred at Shiloh, which shows the division that has been occasioned in families by this wicked Rebellion. Two Kentucky regiments met face to face in the heat of the contest and a soldier in the Federal regiment wounded and captured his brother in the Rebel regiment. Then he had to fire at a man near a tree, when the captured brother called out to him, and said, ‘Don't shoot there anymore, that's father!’ The sufferings of our wounded in this battle were greatly relieved by the presence and aid of two females, who volunteered their services at the commencement of the war, Mrs. Elmira Fales of Washington and Mrs. Harlan, wife of Senator Harlan, of Iowa. These two women, whose names will ever be associated with the fairest heroines of history by our wounded soldiers, lived six weeks in an ambulance at Pittsburg Landing and Corinth, dispensing such articles of comfort as the benevolence of friends contributed, and nursing the sufferers with the greatest tenderness and devotion.”
“Very few ladies could do that,” said Ella.
“Very few would do it, if they could!” responded Charlie.
“And they have not ceased their labors from that day to this. Mrs. Fales, particularly, has been on scores of battle-fields, and in many hospitals, where she has proved herself a Florence Nightingale, and won the admiration of sick and wounded officers and privates.”
“The victory at Pittsburg Landing was so decisive and encouraging, that the people of the loyal States were full of enthusiasm.”
But how important is the Battle of Shiloh to us today? Perhaps the sesquicentennial will answer or determine as much. Shiloh's importance was alive and relevant in the 1860s. How can we maintain this standard and convey its "incalculable importance" to new generations? Understanding the people and their time through writings similar to above is surely a good start. Above all, we can acknowledge that today's children can be as anxious to learn about history as those in 1865 were. All they require is the guidance.