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Battle of Pittsburg Landing—Mitchell's Campaign-Siege of
While these events were transpiring on the Mississippi a battle of much grander proportions was raging on the banks of the Tennessee. The rebel line of defense, extending from Columbus eastward through Forts Henry and Donelson to the Alleghanies, having been broken by federal forces the enemy fell back and established a new one farther south ward on the Memphis and Charleston railroad. This great thoroughfare runs eastward from Memphis through Corinth, Florence, Huntsville, Chattanooga and other important places, hence the rebels regarded its defense essential to the preservation of Northern Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. The Union forces, after having secured possession of the Tennessee, kept it open by means of gunboats as far as Eastport, Mississippi, and made it the base of operations. The rebel authorities aware of the tremendous issues at stake, commenced concentrating all their available forces at Corinth, situated at the intersection of the Memphis and Charleston and the Ohio and Mobile railroads. Johnson after his escape from Donelson, led his forces through Nashville to this strategic point, and hither also came Price from Western Arkansas, Bragg from Pensacola, and Polk from Columbus.
For the purpose of tapping this great central line of transportation reaching from the Mississippi to the sea, on which the rebels were rallying, Halleck ordered forward the different divis. ions of the Union army. About the middle of March Grant, with the conquerors of Donelson, moved forward to Savannah, when the division of Lew. Wallace was thrown across the river at Crumps landing, about 2 miles above, and those of Prentiss, Smith and McClernand at Pittsburg landing, 5 miles higher up the stream. Buel, who with a separate army from the department of the Ohio, had taken possession of Nashville, and on learning in the meantime the destination of Johnson also started to co-operate with the forces on the Tennessee.
Pittsburgh Landing, where most of Grant's army was now posted, was the point of debarkation for Corinth, Purdy and some other towns on the west side of the river. The bank here rises to a height of 80 feet and is cloven by ravines, through one of which the Corinth road ascends to the general level of the coun49
try where it sends off branches to neighboring towns. From the river an irregular plateau sweeps inland, bounded on the north and west by Snake Creek, on the south by Lick creek, both small streams, emptying into the Tennessee 5 miles apart, one below and the other above the landing. Variegated with ravines and ridges, partly wooded and partly cultivated, it lay like a picture in a frame, green with the opening verdure of April. Three miles from the landing, on the Corinth road, near the centre of the field, was a small church styled Shiloh, from which the subsequent battle received its name. On the 4th of March Grant had been
superseded by C. F. Smith, one of his commanders, who shortly · afterwards was attacked by a fatal disease, when his division was transferred to W. H. L. Wallace and Grant was re-instated.
Sunday morning, April 6th, the several divisions of his army were situated as follows: Commencing on the right near the river below, and sweeping round in the form of an irregular semi-circle to the river above were the divisions of W. H. L. Wallace, McClernand, Sherman, Prentiss and Hurlbut, while that of Lew. Wallace was still at Crump's Landing. The confederate army consisted of 3 corps and the following principal officers: A. Sidney Johnson, first in command, P. T. G. Beauregard second, and Polk, Bragg and Hardee, corps commanders. It was well known in the rebel camp that Buell was rapidly advancing from Nashville to reinforce Grant, and it was determined to attack and defeat the latter before he was strengthened. By the aid of spies Johnson was apprised of the daily progress made by Buell, and when on the 3d of April bis junction with Grant became imminent, he started with all his available forces for Pittsburg Landing. Owing to bad roads the whole day was consumed in reaching the Union outposts, and after some slight skirmishing the army encamped with the expectation of making an attack on the morrow. Fortunately a severe storm fell the next day and the contemplated attack was postponed till the Sabbath morning following. Buell in the meantime pushed forward with all possible dispatch over the muddy roads and gained a day, which, as the sequel shows, was of vital importance. The rebels, although unable to make an attack moved up to to within a mile of the Union pickets, and though some skirmish. ing had occurred, their presence in force was unsuspected.
As previously arranged, with the early gray of the Sabbath's dawn, the confederate army started across the narrow belts of woods which separated them from the unsuspecting federals. On emerging from the timber such was the impetuosity of their onset they swooped down in compact masses on our advanced outposts before the small force which had been sent out to reconnoi. tre could return and apprise them of their danger. So sudden and complete was the surprise of the federals that some of them were overtaken preparing for breakfast, some sitting listlessly in their tents, while others still wrapt in unconscious slumbers, were bayoneted before they had time to rise from their beds. Prentiss and Sherman who were considerably in advance, thus rudely awakened by the thunders of battle, immediately dispatched messengers to the other divisions to apprise them of the enemy's approach and request their co-operation. The latter by his stirring appeals and the reckless exposure of his person in the
midst of the greatest dangers, succeeded in restoring confidence, and his divisions, in which were the 40th and 55th Illinois, half dressed, fell into line. The sudden charge of the foe and the want of preparation to receive him, caused one of his brigades to fall back in confusion and McClernand came up with the 11th, 30th and 43d Illinois to fill the gap. Convinced from the roar of cannon that the engagement was becoming general, he apprised Hurlburtof Prentiss' danger and requested his assistance. The contest along Sherman's line became desperate and bloody, the rebels dashing up to the very muzzles of Waterhouse's guns, and in a hand to hand fight, contending for their possession. Although further re-inforced by the 14th, 15th and 46th Illinois from Hurlburt's division and Schwartz's, Dressers, Taylor's and McAlister's batteries from McClernand's, his battered and bleeding forces were driven from their position and their camp despoiled by the the shouting enemy. By his protracted stand and frightful sacrifice of men the enemy was, however, partially checked and the army escaped the calamity of being driven into the TenDessee.
In the meantime the division of Prentiss, containing the 61st Illinois, had become involved and almost annihilated. At the first intimation of danger, he hastily formed his line, but unfortunately it was in an open field. The enemy soon came streaming through the woods, and taking advantage of the shelter they afforded, poured volley after volley into the ranks of the exposeil troops and covered the field with their slain. While Prentiss stubbornly refused to retire before this wasting slaughter. Hardee massing his impetuous brigades, forced them through the gap between him and Sherman, and flanked him on the right, while Jackson with his Mississippi fire-eaters, sweeping round in an opposite direction, turned his left. Hurlburt hastened to his assistance but came too late. Batteries were immediately opened on both sides of the division, and ploughing a passage through it Prentiss and 3,000 men were surrounded and taken prisoners. As the captured troops were borne to the rear of the victorious foe, the remnant of the division, in a confused mass, was driven in the opposite direction.
We have seen that when the conflict commenced the convexity of the Union line was turned from the river, now, by the beating back of the center, it formed an arc in the direction of the stream. Prentiss and McClernand, constituting the two wings, still retained their positions, and Hurlbut moving to the center bad been forced back. The conflict had been fierce, territic, determined and bloody; great forest trees were riven into fragments by the incessant crash of artillery, and the fatal field lay ghastly with huge piles of victims. Grant, as at Donelson, was absent, and each command was compelled to act upon its own responsibility.
The division of McClernand, containing the 8th, 11th, 17th, 18th, 20th, 29th, 31st, 42d, 430, 45th, 48th and 49th Illinois, whichi had supported Sherman in the first onset of the battle, when the latter fell back, became exposed to a dangerous flank movement on the right. Dresser was ordered forward with his rifled guns to the vulnerable point, and for a time checked the intlowing tide of assailants. Schwartz and McAllister, in other parts of the line, rendered efficient aid, and rebel charge after charge was repulsed, but only to make room for fresh regiments to pour in and repeat them with redoubled fury. When at length it became necessary to retire before the overwhelming pressure, there were not artillery horses remaining alive sufficient to remove the batteries, and portions fell into the hands of the enemy. By 11 o'clock the division was driven back to a line with Hurlbut.
The division of the latter, comprising the 14th, 15th, 28th, 32d, 41st and 46th Illinois, as the others were falling back, took a position in the edge of a wood fronting an open field over which the enemy must pass to attack him. Thither also Sherman, with a faint hope of saving the army from annihilation, led the battered fragments of his command. The rebel officers, determined not to be checked in their advance toward the river, into which they proposed to hurl the defenders of the Union, threw forward their victorious legions with almost resistless momentum. Three times they emerged from the timber on the opposite side of the open space, and three times were they swept back by the hurri. cane of fire which met them, leaving their gory track covered with the dead and dying. Gallantly leading his columns in these tremendous charges, Johnson was pierced with a ball, and stretching out his arms fell on one of his aids and expired. Undeterred by loss of men or leader, fresh regiments dashed into the deadly vortex with renewed vigor, and finally exhausted and overwhelmed by numbers, the federals were compelled to retire and join their discomfited companions in the rear.
After Prentiss had been driven from his position. the onset of the enemy fell with tremendous force on the 7th, 9th, 12th, 50th, 520, 57th and 58th Illinois, a part ef the division of W. H. L. Wal. lace, which had been moved to an advanced position in the Union line. Serving his batteries planted on commanding ridges with great skill, and his infantry fighting with the determination of battle-scarred veterans, four times he repulsed the enemy with terrific slaughter. The other divisions had, however, given way, and his also, under the concentrated fire of Polk's and Liardee's united columns, was compelled to yield,
compelled to yield, its brave commander falling mortally wounded in his attempts to resist the overwhelming flood. It was now 5 o'clock.
All day the battle had raged, but the field cleft by ravines and obstructed by timber, had rendered the contest irregular and indecisive. When it commenced Grant was at Savannah, and until his arrival on the field each division commander managed his own force to suit the exigencies of the engagement. There was little unity of action. Hearing the heavy and continuous booming of artillery, he hurried to the scene of conflict and arrived about 9 o'clock, but skillful generalship could not then avert the evil caused by surprise, nor screen him from the angry criticism which he encountered. In the desultory conflict the principal resistance was afforded by McClernand, W. H. L. Wallace and Hurlbut, the divisions of Sherman and Prentiss having become too much demoralized by the morning's surprise to render the aid which otherwise would have been furnished. Lew. Wallace, at Crump's Landing, had been ordered to form on the Union right, but unfortunately was misled by a change in the position of the army. What in the morning had been the
federal right was now the enemy's rear. Though apparently he might have hurled his fresh troops against the jaded enemy, doubled up his left and thus have given a more favorable issue to the contest, he retraced his steps, and moving along the river did not arrive till nightfall, when the battle was over.* Had the enemy known the vulnerable condition of our right and made his principal attack in that direction instead of the left, his success would doubtless have been more complete.
The tide of battle which had hitherto drifted adversely, was now to change. The exultant threat of treason, that it would overwhelm the defenders of the Republic in the dark waters of the Tennessee, was never to be executed; but, beaten and humbled, its minions were to be driven from the field. The army in the morning was extended out in a semi-circle of 5 miles; now it was in a compact body around the landing, and though bleeding and reduced in numbers, it still presented a bold front. There was a lull in the conflict, caused, perhaps, by preparations of the enemy for the final charge which was to execute his threat. This pause was also improved by our jaded and imperilled men. Fortunately there had been deposited on the bluff a number of siege guns and other heavy ordnance designed for future operations against Corinth. These with the fragments of field artillery which had escaped capture Col. Webster chief of Grant's staff hurriedly placed in position. This defense was rendered more effective by a deep ravine which, on the left separated the Union froin the Confederate army, the latter now concentrated in that direction. Hardly had our guns been mounted when a shower of projectiles, some of which exploded on the opposite bank of the river, announced his coming, and presently every avenue of approach was crowded by his dark masses of infantry; Streaming across the ravine they scaled the opposite gun-crowned slopes. But as soon as they had gained the summit they were met by a blinding fire and swept back bleeding into the gorge. Flushed, however, with previous success, they were easily rallied, and while they were advancing and recoiling in a series of final charges, the gun-boats Lexington and Tyler opened upon them with their heavy guns. All day they had been anxious spectators of the combat, moving restlessly up and down the river in vain seeking an opportunity to co-operate. Now, however, the foe was in range and they sent their pouderous shells screaming dismally and deathly into his ranks, opening huge gaps and exerting a moral effect upon the hostile army more fatal than the physical results of their death dealing explosions. The rebel officers tried in
• Wallace's arrival was awaited with all the anxiety which an imperiled condition of the army could inspire. The suspense increasing, about 3 o'clock a staff ofħcer rode up to the 20 battalion of the 4th Illinois cavalry and asked for volunteers to go on the perilous mission of meeting and urging upon him the inportance of hurrying forward his division. Lieut. Frank Fisk and Sergeant Henry Sturges immediately rode to the front and called for others to join them. A party of seven was soon formed, and dashing by the enemy's left in easy range of his musketry, and bounding over Owl Creek they found Wallace near its iutersection of the Corinth road, made known their errand, and advised a direct attack upon the enemy, He replied that his aruillery had not yet come up and the movement would leave it exposed and liable to capture. They also pointed out the elevated ground occupied by the rebels, and the impossibility of his using his artillery, and insisted that it was better to abandon his own guns than lose the advantage of an assault on the exposed rebel flank. These arguments were, however, rejected, and the heroic little band safely returned and reported the result. They were then instructed to ride among the soldiers and proclaim that Wallace was at hand with 10,000 fresh troops. The effect was electric, the loud answering shout of our almost overpowered men rising above the din of battle.