Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant

Johnston’s cavalry meanwhile had been well out towards our
front, and occasional encounters occurred between it and our
outposts. On the 1st of April this cavalry became bold and
approached our lines, showing that an advance of some kind was
contemplated. On the 2d Johnston left Corinth in force to
attack my army. On the 4th his cavalry dashed down and captured
a small picket guard of six or seven men, stationed some five
miles out from Pittsburg on the Corinth road. Colonel Buckland
sent relief to the guard at once and soon followed in person
with an entire regiment, and General Sherman followed Buckland
taking the remainder of a brigade. The pursuit was kept up for
some three miles beyond the point where the picket guard had
been captured, and after nightfall Sherman returned to camp and
reported to me by letter what had occurred.

At this time a large body of the enemy was hovering to the west
of us, along the line of the Mobile and Ohio railroad. My
apprehension was much greater for the safety of Crump’s landing
than it was for Pittsburg. I had no apprehension that the enemy
could really capture either place. But I feared it was possible
that he might make a rapid dash upon Crump’s and destroy our
transports and stores, most of which were kept at that point,
and then retreat before Wallace could be reinforced. Lew.
Wallace’s position I regarded as so well chosen that he was not

At this time I generally spent the day at Pittsburg and returned
to Savannah in the evening. I was intending to remove my
headquarters to Pittsburg, but Buell was expected daily and
would come in at Savannah. I remained at this point, therefore,
a few days longer than I otherwise should have done, in order to
meet him on his arrival. The skirmishing in our front, however,
had been so continuous from about the 3d of April that I did not
leave Pittsburg each night until an hour when I felt there would
be no further danger before the morning.

On Friday the 4th, the day of Buckland’s advance, I was very
much injured by my horse falling with me, and on me, while I was
trying to get to the front where firing had been heard. The
night was one of impenetrable darkness, with rain pouring down
in torrents; nothing was visible to the eye except as revealed
by the frequent flashes of lightning. Under these circumstances
I had to trust to the horse, without guidance, to keep the
road. I had not gone far, however, when I met General W. H. L.
Wallace and Colonel (afterwards General) McPherson coming from
the direction of the front. They said all was quiet so far as
the enemy was concerned. On the way back to the boat my horse’s
feet slipped from under him, and he fell with my leg under his
body. The extreme softness of the ground, from the excessive
rains of the few preceding days, no doubt saved me from a severe
injury and protracted lameness. As it was, my ankle was very
much injured, so much so that my boot had to be cut off. For
two or three days after I was unable to walk except with

On the 5th General Nelson, with a division of Buell’s army,
arrived at Savannah and I ordered him to move up the east bank
of the river, to be in a position where he could be ferried over
to Crump’s landing or Pittsburg as occasion required. I had
learned that General Buell himself would be at Savannah the next
day, and desired to meet me on his arrival. Affairs at Pittsburg
landing had been such for several days that I did not want to be
away during the day. I determined, therefore, to take a very
early breakfast and ride out to meet Buell, and thus save
time. He had arrived on the evening of the 5th, but had not
advised me of the fact and I was not aware of it until some time
after. While I was at breakfast, however, heavy firing was heard
in the direction of Pittsburg landing, and I hastened there,
sending a hurried note to Buell informing him of the reason why
I could not meet him at Savannah. On the way up the river I
directed the dispatch-boat to run in close to Crump’s landing,
so that I could communicate with General Lew. Wallace. I found
him waiting on a boat apparently expecting to see me, and I
directed him to get his troops in line ready to execute any
orders he might receive. He replied that his troops were
already under arms and prepared to move.

Up to that time I had felt by no means certain that Crump’s
landing might not be the point of attack. On reaching the
front, however, about eight A.M., I found that the attack on
Pittsburg was unmistakable, and that nothing more than a small
guard, to protect our transports and stores, was needed at
Crump’s. Captain Baxter, a quartermaster on my staff, was
accordingly directed to go back and order General Wallace to
march immediately to Pittsburg by the road nearest the river.
Captain Baxter made a memorandum of this order. About one P.M.,
not hearing from Wallace and being much in need of
reinforcements, I sent two more of my staff, Colonel McPherson
and Captain Rowley, to bring him up with his division. They
reported finding him marching towards Purdy, Bethel, or some
point west from the river, and farther from Pittsburg by several
miles than when he started. The road from his first position to
Pittsburg landing was direct and near the river. Between the
two points a bridge had been built across Snake Creek by our
troops, at which Wallace’s command had assisted, expressly to
enable the troops at the two places to support each other in
case of need. Wallace did not arrive in time to take part in
the first day’s fight. General Wallace has since claimed that
the order delivered to him by Captain Baxter was simply to join
the right of the army, and that the road over which he marched
would have taken him to the road from Pittsburg to Purdy where
it crosses Owl Creek on the right of Sherman; but this is not
where I had ordered him nor where I wanted him to go.

I never could see and do not now see why any order was necessary
further than to direct him to come to Pittsburg landing, without
specifying by what route. His was one of three veteran
divisions that had been in battle, and its absence was severely
felt. Later in the war General Wallace would not have made the
mistake that he committed on the 6th of April, 1862. I presume
his idea was that by taking the route he did he would be able to
come around on the flank or rear of the enemy, and thus perform
an act of heroism that would redound to the credit of his
command, as well as to the benefit of his country.

Some two or three miles from Pittsburg landing was a log
meeting-house called Shiloh. It stood on the ridge which
divides the waters of Snake and Lick creeks, the former emptying
into the Tennessee just north of Pittsburg landing, and the
latter south. This point was the key to our position and was
held by Sherman. His division was at that time wholly raw, no
part of it ever having been in an engagement; but I thought this
deficiency was more than made up by the superiority of the
commander. McClernand was on Sherman’s left, with troops that
had been engaged at forts Henry and Donelson and were therefore
veterans so far as western troops had become such at that stage
of the war. Next to McClernand came Prentiss with a raw
division, and on the extreme left, Stuart with one brigade of
Sherman’s division. Hurlbut was in rear of Prentiss, massed,
and in reserve at the time of the onset. The division of
General C. F. Smith was on the right, also in reserve. General
Smith was still sick in bed at Savannah, but within hearing of
our guns. His services would no doubt have been of inestimable
value had his health permitted his presence. The command of his
division devolved upon Brigadier-General W. H. L. Wallace, a most
estimable and able officer; a veteran too, for he had served a
year in the Mexican war and had been with his command at Henry
and Donelson. Wallace was mortally wounded in the first day’s
engagement, and with the change of commanders thus necessarily
effected in the heat of battle the efficiency of his division
was much weakened.

The position of our troops made a continuous line from Lick
Creek on the left to Owl Creek, a branch of Snake Creek, on the
right, facing nearly south and possibly a little west. The
water in all these streams was very high at the time and
contributed to protect our flanks. The enemy was compelled,
therefore, to attack directly in front. This he did with great
vigor, inflicting heavy losses on the National side, but
suffering much heavier on his own.

The Confederate assaults were made with such a disregard of
losses on their own side that our line of tents soon fell into
their hands. The ground on which the battle was fought was
undulating, heavily timbered with scattered clearings, the woods
giving some protection to the troops on both sides. There was
also considerable underbrush. A number of attempts were made by
the enemy to turn our right flank, where Sherman was posted, but
every effort was repulsed with heavy loss. But the front attack
was kept up so vigorously that, to prevent the success of these
attempts to get on our flanks, the National troops were
compelled, several times, to take positions to the rear nearer
Pittsburg landing. When the firing ceased at night the National
line was all of a mile in rear of the position it had occupied in
the morning.

In one of the backward moves, on the 6th, the division commanded
by General Prentiss did not fall back with the others. This left
his flanks exposed and enabled the enemy to capture him with
about 2,200 of his officers and men. General Badeau gives four
o’clock of the 6th as about the time this capture took place. He
may be right as to the time, but my recollection is that the hour
was later. General Prentiss himself gave the hour as half-past
five. I was with him, as I was with each of the division
commanders that day, several times, and my recollection is that
the last time I was with him was about half-past four, when his
division was standing up firmly and the General was as cool as
if expecting victory. But no matter whether it was four or
later, the story that he and his command were surprised and
captured in their camps is without any foundation whatever. If
it had been true, as currently reported at the time and yet
believed by thousands of people, that Prentiss and his division
had been captured in their beds, there would not have been an
all-day struggle, with the loss of thousands killed and wounded
on the Confederate side.

With the single exception of a few minutes after the capture of
Prentiss, a continuous and unbroken line was maintained all day
from Snake Creek or its tributaries on the right to Lick Creek
or the Tennessee on the left above Pittsburg.

There was no hour during the day when there was not heavy firing
and generally hard fighting at some point on the line, but seldom
at all points at the same time. It was a case of Southern dash
against Northern pluck and endurance. Three of the five
divisions engaged on Sunday were entirely raw, and many of the
men had only received their arms on the way from their States to
the field. Many of them had arrived but a day or two before and
were hardly able to load their muskets according to the
manual. Their officers were equally ignorant of their duties.
Under these circumstances it is not astonishing that many of the
regiments broke at the first fire. In two cases, as I now
remember, colonels led their regiments from the field on first
hearing the whistle of the enemy’s bullets. In these cases the
colonels were constitutional cowards, unfit for any military
position; but not so the officers and men led out of danger by
them. Better troops never went upon a battle-field than many of
these, officers and men, afterwards proved themselves to be, who
fled panic stricken at the first whistle of bullets and shell at

During the whole of Sunday I was continuously engaged in passing
from one part of the field to another, giving directions to
division commanders. In thus moving along the line, however, I
never deemed it important to stay long with Sherman. Although
his troops were then under fire for the first time, their
commander, by his constant presence with them, inspired a
confidence in officers and men that enabled them to render
services on that bloody battle-field worthy of the best of
veterans. McClernand was next to Sherman, and the hardest
fighting was in front of these two divisions. McClernand told
me on that day, the 6th, that he profited much by having so able
a commander supporting him. A casualty to Sherman that would
have taken him from the field that day would have been a sad one
for the troops engaged at Shiloh. And how near we came to this!
On the 6th Sherman was shot twice, once in the hand, once in the
shoulder, the ball cutting his coat and making a slight wound,
and a third ball passed through his hat. In addition to this he
had several horses shot during the day.

The nature of this battle was such that cavalry could not be
used in front; I therefore formed ours into line in rear, to
stop stragglers–of whom there were many. When there would be
enough of them to make a show, and after they had recovered from
their fright, they would be sent to reinforce some part of the
line which needed support, without regard to their companies,
regiments or brigades.

On one occasion during the day I rode back as far as the river
and met General Buell, who had just arrived; I do not remember
the hour, but at that time there probably were as many as four
or five thousand stragglers lying under cover of the river
bluff, panic-stricken, most of whom would have been shot where
they lay, without resistance, before they would have taken
muskets and marched to the front to protect themselves. This
meeting between General Buell and myself was on the
dispatch-boat used to run between the landing and Savannah. It
was brief, and related specially to his getting his troops over
the river. As we left the boat together, Buell’s attention was
attracted by the men lying under cover of the river bank. I saw
him berating them and trying to shame them into joining their
regiments. He even threatened them with shells from the
gunboats near by. But it was all to no effect. Most of these
men afterward proved themselves as gallant as any of those who
saved the battle from which they had deserted. I have no doubt
that this sight impressed General Buell with the idea that a
line of retreat would be a good thing just then. If he had come
in by the front instead of through the stragglers in the rear, he
would have thought and felt differently. Could he have come
through the Confederate rear, he would have witnessed there a
scene similar to that at our own. The distant rear of an army
engaged in battle is not the best place from which to judge
correctly what is going on in front. Later in the war, while
occupying the country between the Tennessee and the Mississippi,
I learned that the panic in the Confederate lines had not
differed much from that within our own. Some of the country
people estimated the stragglers from Johnston’s army as high as
20,000. Of course this was an exaggeration.

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