DE ARAGON, Part 4 – Shiloh

by Robert M. Webb on March 23, 2012 · 1 comment

This is the fourth part in the series on Major Ramon T. de Aragon. This is his regiment’s involvement in the battle and we can make some assumptions about De Aragon’s activities. The assistant surgeon of the regiment, along with the medical steward, followed the troops onto the field and when they engaged the enemy, would find a sheltered location close by and set up an aid station. Litter bearers would bring the wounded there where they were given emergency treatment and then sent in the ambulances to the field hospitals to the rear.

 

Here is another excerpt from the EBook “DE ARAGON – The Chronicle of a Confederate Surgeon“, the highlight of which is the taking of Waterhouse’s Battery in Rhea Field by the 13th Tn Infantry:

 

Chapter 4

Shiloh

     In the aftermath of the Battle of Belmont, there was criticism in the North that the battle was unnecessary and that there were no appreciable results; this in spite of the glowing reports of victory sent to Washington by the Federal commanders involved. Only a few days following the conflict, Lincoln removed Fremont and replaced him with Major General Henry Wager Halleck. The Federal government was anxious to invade the Mid-South and on January 30, 1862 Halleck gave Grant permission for an expedition against Fort Henry on the Tennessee River.

     Grant’s gunboats attacked Fort Henry on February 6, and forced a surrender. Grant then marched overland to Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River. A bitter fight ensued on February 15. After abortive attempts by the Confederate commanders to break out, Brigadier General Simon Bolivar Buckner was left to surrender his fifteen thousand men to Grant.

      Pierre Gustav Toutant de Beauregard, fifth ranking General of the Confederacy, “Hero of Fort Sumter,” and tactical commander at the Battle of Manassas Junction, Virginia arrived in Jackson, Tennessee on February 17, 1862. He had come to take charge of the defenses of the Mississippi River Valley. Having “ascertained conclusively” that the aim of the enemy was to cut off his communications in West Tennessee with the eastern and southern states, Beauregard set out to frustrate their plans by concentrating all available forces at Corinth, Mississippi. The strategic importance of Corinth was its location at the juncture of the Memphis & Charleston and the Mobile & Ohio Railroads, as well as its close proximity to the Tennessee River. Beauregard also put out a call to the governors of the states of Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida to furnish additional troops.

     On March 12, 1862, the great fortifications at Columbus, Kentucky were evacuated, that position having become untenable with the fall of Forts Henry and Donelson. Polk’s Army was split into two groups. McCown’s division of eight thousand along with A. P. Stewart’s brigade was assigned to defend New Madrid, Missouri and Island No. 10. The remaining seven thousand men, which included Private De Aragon’s regiment, were ordered along with Leonidas Polk to Humbolt, Tennessee to protect the railroads of the northwest part of the state.

     The 13th Tennessee Infantry moved to Union City, Tennessee and from there to Humbolt, arriving on March 12. There they were put into a new brigade structure consisting of the 13th, 12th, and 22nd Tennessee Infantries, the 11th Louisiana Infantry, and Bankhead’s Battery. The brigade was under the command of Colonel R. M. Russell of the 12th Tennessee. Benjamin Cheatham had been promoted to division commander prior to leaving Columbus, so the brigade was placed in Brigadier General Charles Clark’s Division.

     On March 13, McCown’s troops came under attack at New Madrid and on that day a series of messages concerning the 13th Tennessee Infantry was sent between the Confederate commanders:

Beauregard to Polk -“Send a brigade to McCown.”

Polk to McCown –“Russell’s Brigade will move at once via Memphis to Tiptonville to your support.”

Beauregard to Polk – “Suspend movements of troops to support McCown  . . .  enemy landing near Savannah.”

 

      Albert Sidney Johnston was also forced by the recent turn of events to abandon Kentucky and withdraw to Nashville, Tennessee. Union General Don Carlos Buell then advanced on Nashville with a force of fifty-five thousand. Johnston elected to leave Nashville to the Federals on February 18 and moved south to Murfreesborough in order to gather reinforcements. On learning that Halleck was sending troops to Savannah, Tennessee, it was Johnston’s decision to defend the railroads at Corinth and on February 28 he moved with his men in that direction, while creating the ruse that he was falling back to Chattanooga, Tennessee.

     Following the Federal victories in February, Halleck chose Savannah, Tennessee as the place to unite the two Federal forces under Buell and Grant. Grant moved to Savannah and the first of his troops disembarked at Pittsburg Landing, a short distance upstream  (south)  and on the opposite shore. This river boat landing consisted of a lone dilapidated storehouse. The road leading down to the river was no more than a ravine cut through the bluff, which towered one hundred feet above the shore.

     The first Union division commander to arrive was none other than Brigadier General William Tecumseh Sherman. He had been restored to duty late in December 1861 after being sent home to Ohio in November by Halleck “for the benefit of his health.” At that time, Halleck had pronounced him physically and mentally broken and unfit for duty.

     When Grant ordered all troops at Savannah across the river to Pittsburg Landing, he instructed Sherman to organize the forces there as he saw fit. Sherman chose a rough triangle of land formed by Lick Creek on the South, Snake Creek on the North, and Owl Creek to the West for the Union army’s campsite. Stuart’s Brigade of Sherman’s Division marched two miles inland to a point along the Hamburg – Savannah Road near Lick Creek Bridge. The remainder of Sherman’s troops marched along the main Corinth Road to a one room log Methodist church called Shiloh Meeting House. Shiloh is a Hebrew word meaning, ironically, “place of peace.”

     Hildebrand’s Brigade, consisting of three regiments – each fronting a different direction, was camped adjacent to Sherman’s headquarters near Shiloh church. The 53rd Ohio set up their tents four hundred yards in advance of and across a stream from their nearest neighbor to be near a clear spring. Brigadier General Benjamin Mayberry Prentiss’s 6th Division of raw recruits lined up on the left of Hildebrand’s Brigade.

     There were no fortifications built by the Federals as their commanders were thoroughly convinced that there was no danger. Most of the troops camped at the landing. Only Sherman’s Division covered the southern perimeter.

     Meanwhile, at Corinth, Confederate forces began to arrive in response to Beauregard’s call for troops. Governor Isham Harris of Tennessee pledged that he had not only ordered out every man in the state who was, and could be, armed, but he promised to lead them himself. Brigadier General Daniel Ruggles arrived with a brigade of Louisiana volunteers the day following the surrender of Fort Donelson and took command at Corinth. The eighth ranking General of the Confederacy, Major General Braxton Bragg, came with a large force and, traveling in advance of his troops, joined Beauregard in Jackson on March 2.

 

     The night of March 12, Confederate Cavalry observed Union Major General Lew Wallace and his division of some eighteen thousand disembarking at Crump’s Landing several miles north of Sherman’s position. This information was sent to Ruggles by 2:00 A. M. who in turn telegraphed Bragg and Beauregard. They mistakenly decided that this was Grant’s main force. Bragg went to Bethel Station, Tennessee, and the Confederate forces were ordered to concentrate there. By March 14, however, Bragg called off the emergency after scouts reported that Wallace had returned to the river after burning a bridge. Bragg was still suspicious of Grant’s intention’s and instructed Polk, who was now in route, to continue south with his people. Private De Aragon’s regiment arrived in Corinth, with the rest of Polk’s troops, on March 19.

     Ruggles telegraphed Bragg on March 16 that thirty thousand Federals were at Pittsburg Landing. Bragg moved his headquarters to Corinth and took command of the army on March 19, as Beauregard had been suffering from a respiratory infection since coming west.

     While Bragg was dealing with the changing events surrounding the Confederate troop buildup, the Union commanders were trying to develop their invasion plan. On March 16, Buell was ordered to march his Army of the Ohio the one hundred twenty-two miles overland from Nashville, to join Grant and his Army of the Tennessee at Pittsburg landing. The following day, Grant received word that twenty-six thousand Rebels were to attack south of Savannah. Confederate deserters brought in on March 27 reported that thirteen railroad carloads of troops had arrived at Corinth on the nineteenth. What they had seen was probably the arrival of Polk’s force  from Humbolt.

     Southern troops were now deployed along both of the railroads at Corinth. On March 23 Johnston and his force of thirteen thousand men arrived along with Beauregard. The army was then reorganized, and the troops that had come from all over the South, in response to Beauregard’s call, became the “Army of the Mississippi.” The command structure was as follows:

General Albert Sidney Johnston, Commanding

General P. G. T. Beauregard – 2nd In Command

Chief of Staff – Major General Braxton Bragg

1st Corps – Major General Leonidas Polk

2nd Corps – Major General Braxton Bragg

3rd Corps – Major General William J. Hardee

Reserve Corps – Major General George B. Crittenden

     Albert Sidney Johnston was the highest ranking field commander in the Confederacy, and was possibly the finest they had. A native of Kentucky, he was a graduate of West Point and had resigned his U. S. Army commission to become a Brigadier General in the army of the Republic of Texas. Johnston later returned to Kentucky, but when the Mexican War started he again enlisted in the U. S. Army. In 1855 he became Colonel of the U. S. 2nd Cavalry, one of two new regiments formed by a fellow native Kentuckian, U. S. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis. The Lieutenant Colonel of the 2nd Cavalry was none other than Robert E. Lee. In early 1861, Johnston had just arrived in California to assume command of the Department of the Pacific, when his adopted state of Texas seceded from the Union. On April 9 Johnston resigned from the U. S. army, determined to join the Confederate cause.

 

     Shortly after the reorganization of the army at Corinth, Crittenden was arrested for drunkenness and removed. Former Vice-President of the United States, Confederate Brigadier General John Cabell Breckenridge, was given command of the reserve corps.

     Brigadier General Bushrod Johnson arrived at Bethel Station in the middle of March, and it was he that reported the threat of attack from Lew Wallace’s Federal force. This compelled the Confederate command to send Cheatham to Bethel Station to take control of the situation. He took Brigadier General W. H. Stephens’ brigade with him and arrived on April 1. After his arrival, there was a clash between Confederate and Federal pickets in Bushrod Johnson’s front at Purdy, Tennessee, some three miles away. Cheatham advanced in that direction on April 4 to reconnoiter the roads. This movement of troops thoroughly alarmed Union Colonel Charles R. Wood at Adamsville, who commanded a brigade of Lew Wallace’s Division. Wallace responded by sending his other two brigades from Stoney Lonesome, located to the West of Crump’s Landing, to Wood’s support.

     This series of events propelled Johnston into action and he determined to give battle. Word was received on April 2 that Buell had crossed the Duck River at Columbia, Tennessee after being delayed by Confederate Cavalry, and was in motion toward Savannah with a force of  thirty  thousand. Although his army was still very much disorganized and the preparations for  battle still incomplete, Johnston wished to attack Grant before he could be reinforced.

     Johnston was in command of the army, but it was Beauregard who actually produced the plan of battle. It was apparently not intended that the army should take and hold Pittsburg Landing, but rather engage in what might be called a large scale raid. In Beauregard’s post battle report he stated:

      “By a rapid and vigorous attack on Grant, it was expected he would be beaten back or captured in time to enable us to profit by the victory and remove to the rear all stores and munitions that fall into our hands.”

 At 1:00 a. m. on April 3, preliminary orders were given to move. The order to the corps commanders was to have their commands in hand ready to advance by 6:00 a.m., with three days cooked rations in the men’s haversacks and one hundred rounds of ammo issued to each.

     Johnston issued a message to the men in the ranks, which was read to each unit:

“Headquarters Army of the Mississippi,

                                                                       Corinth, Miss., April 3, 1862

“Soldiers of the Army of the Mississippi:

     I have put you in motion to offer battle to the invaders of your country. With the resolution and disciplined valor becoming men fighting, as you are, for all worth living or dying for, you can but march to a decisive victory over agrarian mercenaries, sent to subjugate and despoil you of your liberties, property, and your honor. Remember the dependence of your mothers, your wives, your sisters, and our children on the result. Remember the fair, broad, abounding land, the happy homes, and ties that will be desolated by your defeat. The eyes and hopes of 8,000,000 of people rest upon you. You are expected to show yourselves worthy of your valor and lineage; worthy of the women of the South, whose noble devotion in this war has never been exceeded in any time. With such incentives to brave deeds and with the trust that God is with us your generals will lead you confidently to the combat, assured of success.”

A. S. Johnston,

General, Commanding.”

     So Johnston’s army of some forty-four thousand men began the monumental task of moving to the point of attack. They immediately got off to a bad start because Polk’s troops clogged the streets of Corinth, preventing an orderly departure. After some delay, the army began the march toward the enemy, with Hardee’s Corps in the lead and Polk’s Corps next in line on  RidgeRoad. Bragg’s and Breckenridge’s Corps left by another road in the direction of Monterey, Tennessee. Cheatham’s Division at Bethel Station was to join the Corps in route.

     Private De Aragon’s regiment stopped for the night on Ridge Road some nine miles north of Corinth. On the morning of April 4, Polk was told to follow one-half hour behind Hardee until his corps reached a house owned by a man named Mickey, located where the Monterey – Purdy Road intersected with Ridge Road. There they were to halt and allow Bragg’s Corps, which was coming from Monterey, to fall in line behind Hardee. The troops reached Mickey’s house about dark and halted for the night after making only six or seven miles. They were now two and one-half miles from the proposed line of battle.

     The plan was to attack the enemy at dawn on April 5. A huge storm struck at 2:00 a. m. but by 3:00 a. m. Polk’s men were under arms and waiting on the road with the storm still raging. They waited in place while Bragg’s Corps moved into line in their front. The morning came and went and it was 2:00 p. m. before Bragg’s Corps had passed. While they were waiting in line Polk’s new battle flags were unfurled for the men. Hardee deployed his corps in line of  battle within two miles of Shiloh Church. Skirmishers of S. A. M. Wood’s Brigade, of Hardee’s Corps, occupied Fraley Field,  just south of the Shiloh Church. They waited in place all day, and then were told to camp where they were.

     At 4:00 p. m. Polk’s Corps was in position one and one-half miles in the rear of Bragg’s line of battle. Since leaving Corinth on April 3, they had traveled no more than eighteen miles. Bragg and Beauregard met to discuss the situation, and since there was now no hope of following the timetable that the battle plan called for, both agreed it best to retire to Corinth with the army, without engaging the enemy. Polk was called to Beauregard’s headquarters and met with him and Bragg. In Polk’s colorful language, he described the meeting:

      “He (Beauregard) said with some feeling, ““I am very much disappointed at the delay which has occurred in getting the troops into position.””I replied, “”So am I sir; but so far as I am concerned my orders are to form on another line, and that line must first be established.””  He said he regretted the delay exceedingly, as it would make it necessary to forego the attack altogether; that our success depended upon our surprising the enemy; that this was now impossible, and we must fall back to Corinth.”

 

     Johnston arrived during this heated exchange, followed shortly by Breckinridge and Cheatham. There the six generals held a council of war in the middle of the road. Johnston asked Polk’s opinion and he replied that his troops were in good shape and eager for the fight. After listening to each of the other’s comments, Johnston abruptly said:

 “Gentleman, we shall attack at daylight tomorrow.”

      The Army of the Mississippi was now deployed in line of battle with Hardee’s Corps first, Bragg’s Corps second, and Polk’s Corps third. Breckinridge’s corps was in reserve. Each corps was formed in “column of brigades,” and in Polk’s Corps, Clark’s Division was placed in front of Cheatham’s. Johnston’s original attack plan called for a formation with corps abreast – Polk left, Hardee center, Bragg right, and Breckinridge in reserve. However, Beauregard’s adjutant, Colonel Thomas Jordan, drew up battle plans utilizing Beauregard’s notes and Napoleon’s order for the “Battle of Waterloo.” This called for an attack by succeeding waves of infantry, with each corps aligned one behind the other. According to one staff officer, the premise was that “no force the enemy could [amass] could cut through three double lines of Confederates.”  The intent was to turn the Federal left and cut him off from the river.

     Federal commanders Lew Wallace and Sherman had both received numerous reports of the presence of a large body of Rebels and they discounted them all – even after Federal troops made contact with the advance elements of Hardee’s Corps on April 4. Sherman was convinced that the Confederate generals would not give up the advantage of operating on the defensive. Colonel Jesse J. Appler of the 53rd Ohio turned out his regiment on April 5 after sighting a group of Confederate horsemen at the far end of Rhea field. When he notified Sherman of this, Sherman sent back this reply:

 “Take your damned regiment to Ohio. There is no enemy nearer than Corinth.”

      April 6, 1862 was a Sunday and in the early morning, the trees were shrouded by a white mist, which slowly crept away with the coming of the dawn. The front line of the Confederate advance, consisting of twenty-two regiments and two battalions – some nine thousand men, moved forward to the attack.

     In the Federal camps, reveille was sounded at 5:30 a. m. and as the sun was coming up, the sound of the first cannon was heard from the direction of Fraley field, one-half mile to the southwest. Sixteen pickets of the 53rd Ohio, posted at the south end of Rhea field, returned to report seeing a large enemy force advancing. Colonel Appler started to form his regiment but stopped, remembering the abuse he had received from Sherman the previous day. Suddenly a wounded man of the 25th Missouri (Federal) appeared from the woods to the south and shouted:

 “Get into line; the Rebels are coming.”

      Appler ordered the long roll to be sounded at 6:00 a. m. and his regiment began to form up. About that time, Major Ezra Taylor, Sherman’s chief of artillery, appeared on the field. He had eaten an early breakfast and was preparing for a ride along the divisional front when he heard the sounds of firing. Hastily, he rode to the camp of Captain A. C. Waterhouse’s Battery E, 1st Illinois Light Artillery. They were camped close behind the 53rd Ohio.

      Waterhouse’s battery consisted of four 3 ½ inch (3.67) and two 4 ½ inch (3.80) James rifled cannon. The men were new to the service and in the one week they had been in camp, had drilled but three times. They were still training their horses to the harness. Shortly before 7:00 a. m. the guns were already limbered and the horses harnessed in preparation for the regular Sunday morning inspection. Taylor ordered Waterhouse to deploy one section of 3 ½ inch guns forward one-hundred fifty yards across a stream to the edge of a country road near the 53rd Ohio’s camp. The rest of the battery went into position on the crown of the hill overlooking Rhea field.

     The advance section unlimbered among the scattered trees to the right and behind the 53rd Ohio. Sherman and his orderly rode onto Rhea field right after 7:00 a. m. and halted in front of the 53rd Ohio’s right flank. They were immediately fired upon from the trees lining a ravine fifty yards away on the west side of the field. This barrage came from skirmishers of the 15th Arkansas Infantry of Brigadier General Patrick Cleburne’s Brigade. Sherman’s orderly was killed and Sherman himself was wounded in the hand.

      As he left the field, Sherman ordered Appler to hold his position. When the men of the 53rd again looked to their front, however, what they saw, according to one of Appler’s officers, was the advancing lines of Hardee’s Corps which extended out of sight in either direction.

     Trigg’s Arkansas Battery opened fire on the 53rd Ohio’s position. The two forward guns of Waterhouse’s Battery fired once in response before pulling back to join the rest of their unit. Two other regiments of Cleburne’s Brigade, the 6th Mississippi Infantry and the 23rd Tennessee Infantry, charged the 53rd Ohio but were repulsed.

     Nevertheless, Appler ordered a retreat. The 53rd Ohio fell back through their camp where the noncombatants – servants, company cooks, and sutlers were still going about their business. As he ran by, Appler shouted an order to move all sick men to the rear, and from then on chaos reigned.

     Waterhouse’s Battery continued to fire on passing Confederate troops, but did not come under further attack for some time. Shortly after 8:00 a. m. Bragg’s line came up and promptly became entangled in the dense undergrowth on the west side of the Rhea field where it sloped down into the ravine. Only one brigade commanded by Patton Anderson showed up in the vicinity. After assessing the situation, Anderson elected to wait until help arrived. Hodgson’s 5th Company, Washington Artillery of New Orleans deployed west of Rhea field and fired on the Federal battery.

     By this time, Polk’s Corps was coming up, and although it came under fire from Union artillery on the left, there were no immediate injuries. Russell’s Brigade was ordered forward to the support of Bragg’s center. They arrived at the south end of Rhea field shortly before 8:30 a. m. They were part of the third wave of the Confederate attack, but they had made better time than many of Bragg’s line by moving along the main Corinth road. As they entered the field, the men immediately came under fire from Waterhouse’s Battery. The 57th Ohio took position on the left of the battery. They and the 77th Ohio were the only regiments Sherman had left east of the main Corinth road.

      Bragg ordered division commander Clark to have Russell and Anderson charge the upper end of the field. The formations of the regiments of both brigades had become badly broken up in the bog at the edge of the field. Only a part of the 22nd Tennessee Infantry along with the 11th Louisiana Infantry made the initial charge up the hill and was driven back. As the officers attempted to rally their men, two regiments of Bushrod Johnson’s Brigade, the 154th Senior Tennessee Infantry and Blythe’s Mississippi Regiment, were brought into the attack. Johnson’s Brigade had also become disorganized in the swamp. The 154th, under Preston Smith, went up the hill, supported on the left by the remnants of the 22nd Tennessee and the 11th Louisiana. The canister fire from Waterhouse’s Battery cut them to pieces.

     Private De Aragon’s regiment, the 13th Tennessee Infantry, along with the 12th Tennessee Infantry, had become separated from the rest of Russell’s Brigade while crossing the marsh which lay between the main Corinth road and Rhea field. When they came out of the trees on the southwest edge of the field, the men were told to lie down. The latest attempt to take the Federal artillery had failed and Bragg, spying the 13th Tennessee Infantry, ordered Clark to take the regiment and charge the battery. Just as the sun was rising above the horizon, Clark rode up and addressed Colonel Vaughan, telling him that Mark’s 11th Louisiana Regiment had just been repulsed and asked:

 “Can you take that battery yonder, which is annoying our troops so much?”

 Vaughan, having unlimited confidence in his men, replied:

 “We can take it.”

      Vaughan took the regiment in a wide circle to the east, which kept them under cover of the hill at the upper end of the field. They passed through the camp of the 53rd Ohio where they came under heavy fire. Vaughan abruptly turned the regiment to the left and they moved down the ravine between the tents of the 53rd Ohio and 57th Ohio Infantries, putting the 57th Ohio in flight. Waterhouse turned his guns and began blazing at the Tennesseans. Meanwhile, Captain Marshall T. Polk’s Tennessee Battery deployed two guns and began firing canister at Waterhouse’s Battery and Waterhouse himself was wounded by a volley from the 13th Tennessee. The Federal battery then pulled back about one hundred yards to a hill where they had their camp. They were by now supported by only two companies of Illinois Infantry that had come up from Union Major General McClernand’s camps.

     Vaughan ordered the men of the 13th Tennessee to charge in double-time. They advanced about three hundred yards across the field and by a mistake by Major Winfield, which proved a fortunate one, the regiment divided – part going left and four companies going right. In this way the enemy battery was flanked on both sides.

     Waterhouse’s Battery was now firing to both the front and rear. They fired canister and grape point blank into the mass of Confederates driving up the hill. With the rest of Russell’s Brigade approaching from the right and Private De Aragon’s regiment closing on the left, Union Lieutenant John A. Fitch ordered a retreat. The men and horses of the Federal battery were falling so fast that not all the guns could be removed. Along the crest near the battery’s camp, the 13th Tennessee burst through the three remaining cannon with a shout.

     Vaughan described the scene:

      “But, though, for a moment checked, nothing daunted, our officers and men gallantly stood their ground, and poured into the ranks of the enemy such deadly volleys as to cause them to waver, and then with the ““Rebel Yell”“ rushed so impetuously upon them that they could no longer stand, precipitately fleeing and leaving his battery and dead and wounded on the field.”

      A Federal officer some two hundred yards away, saw the men of the 13th as they jumped on the captured guns and “yelled like crazy men.” This was too much for another Federal officer who grabbed a musket and shot down the 13th Tennessee Infantry’s color bearer as he raised the flag over one of the guns. The flag was soon replaced. The men of the regiment, now low on ammo, helped themselves to the supplies left in the enemy camps.

     The 77th Ohio Infantry was driven back, leaving Sherman’s left smashed. At 10:10 a. m., after five hours of fighting, he pulled his division back from Shiloh Church. Prentiss’s Division, on Sherman’s left, had been routed by 9:00 a. m. and those men were running for the landing.

      Union Brigadier General Stephen A. Hurlbut arrived from the direction of Pittsburg Landing with two brigades and deployed in a field one-half mile in the rear of  Prentiss’s camp – his left in front of a peach orchard. Upon grasping the size of the Southern forces in his front, he fell back to a sunken road to his rear. Prentiss had rallied portions of his division and aligned them on the right of Hurlbut. On Prentiss’s right and facing Duncan field were two brigades of W. H. L. Wallace’s division. Wallace was in position by 10:00 a. m. and his right extended across the Corinth Road. The Union line of eleven thousand three hundred men, entrenched in the sunken road, formed a great semicircle.

     A little before 2:00 p. m. a bayonet charge on the Confederate right was led by the highest ranking field General in the Confederacy – Albert Sidney Johnston, a former Vice-President of the United States – John C. Breckenridge, and the Governor of Tennessee – Isham G. Harris. Included in the attack were Stephen’s, Statham’s, Bowen’s, and two regiments of Jackson’s, Brigades. They assaulted Hurlbut’s Brigades at the peach orchard.

     After the charge, no one noticed that Johnston was wounded behind the knee joint of the right leg, cutting the artery. By the time he was found, faint from loss of blood, it was too late. He died at 2:30 p. m. The Federal line had been pushed back, but a lull came to the battle as word of Johnston’s death spread. The Confederate commanders failed to exploit the open corridor to the landing that was now open in their front.

     Braxton Bragg was in a foul mood as he contemplated the Union line. He was offended by the lack of organization exhibited by the Confederate forces. Finding a brigade standing idle, he ordered the officer in command, Colonel Randall Lee Gibson, to strike that part of  the enemy line held by Prentiss. Gibson took his command across ground so thick with “scrub oak” that it was almost impossible to walk through. The entrenched Federals hit them with a fire so fierce that the place was dubbed the “Hornet’s Nest.”Twice more Bragg ordered them to charge, but they were repulsed each time.

     It was by then 3:00 p. m., and the Federal line was bent back in an arch and was confronted on three sides by Southern troops. Prentiss was determined to hold as he had been promised by Grant that Lew Wallace and his force would arrive at any time. At 4:00 p. m., however, Wallace was still several miles away to the North.

     The 7th Illinois Infantry started advancing across Duncan field during a lull in the fighting which occurred around 3:00 p. m. They had been sent forward by Colonel Thomas W. Sweeney for a reconnaissance. They reported Confederates in their front in very large force with lines extending beyond the 7th Illinois’ flanks. At 4:00 p. m. Sweeney ordered his brigade forward to the Joseph Duncan farmhouse in mid field next to the Corinth Road, where they had some protection provided by cotton bales piled in the yard. They immediately came under fire from two batteries of artillery – Ketchum’s Alabama and Hubbard’s Arkansas.

     Confederate Brigadier General Daniel Ruggles advanced with the army advising all unengaged regiments and batteries to move to the sound of the heaviest fighting. After viewing the carnage at the Hornet’s Nest, he concluded it would take something more than infantry to break the Federal line. He gathered all his available staff and told them to “bring forward all the field guns they could collect from the left toward the right as rapidly as possible . . . ”

     As a result, by 4:00 p.m. Ruggles had produced the largest concentration of artillery ever seen in North America. A line of cannon, placed nearly hub to hub, ran from the Corinth Road south, then southeast along the edge of Duncan field. Across the field from the Hornet’s Nest, the line consisted of five batteries and one section; Cobb’s Kentucky, Byrne’s Kentucky, Thrall’s section of Hubbard’s Arkansas, Swett’s Mississippi, Trigg’s Arkansas, and Robert’s Arkansas batteries.

     To their left and facing Duncan’s farm were the remaining six batteries; Rutledge’s Tennessee, Robertson’s Alabama, Stanford’s Mississippi, Bankhead’s Tennessee, Hodgson’s Washington Battery of Louisiana, and Ketchum’s Alabama batteries. Private De Aragon’s regiment was ordered up and stood in support of Stanford’s Mississippi Battery. By 5:00 p. m. sixty-two guns were firing at the Federal line entrenched on the sunken road.

      While the Federal line was pinned down by the storm of shot and shell, Confederate troops attacked on both the left and right flanks.  During this attack, Leonidas Polk came up on the north side of the Corinth Road with part of Russell’s Brigade and the 38th Tennessee Infantry. Union General W. H. L. Wallace was mortally wounded at this time and at 5:00 p. m. the entire Confederate line rushed to the attack, routing the Federals and sending them running for the river. Union General Prentiss surrendered with some two thousand men to Private T. M. Simms of the 22nd Tennessee Infantry and was brought to Colonel Russell shortly after 5:00 p. m.

     The 13th Tennessee Infantry, now reunited with the rest of Russell’s Brigade, advanced toward the river. As the sun was sinking in the West, five Federal siege guns on the high bluff overlooking the landing opened fire. They caused the  ground to quake and the deepening darkness was lit with the flashes from their muzzles. Enemy gunboats in the river joined in the barrage, but because of  the steep bluffs, their shells passed harmlessly overhead.

      Somewhere between 5:00 and 6:00 p. m. Beauregard, now in command of the Southern forces, made the decision to stop the fighting because of the disorganization of his army, and his belief that the enemy was beaten. The 13th Tennessee, under orders, retired from the riverbank and bivouacked for the night in one of the enemy’s deserted camps (that of the 11th Illinois Infantry) which was well supplied with quartermaster’s stores, commissary supplies and sutler’s goods. The men fell asleep to the song of the gunboats’ shells whistling through the night, thinking that victory had been won. They were disappointed on awakening to find that Buell had arrived and had crossed the river during the night with his whole army, which was now drawn up in line against them.

     In addition to Buell’s people, Lew Wallace had finally arrived with his division. Together, on the morning of April 7, they presented a formidable force of fresh troops against the battle weary Rebels. Nevertheless, the men of Private De Aragon’s regiment formed up by early dawn and, in Vaughan’s words, “moved forward to meet the enemy as proudly and defiantly as on the day before.” They took their position with Russell’s Brigade at Jones’ field on the far left of the Confederate line, and with the rest of their division, were the first to meet the enemy.

     At 11:00 a. m. Bragg put Russell’s Brigade, the remains of Trabue’s Brigade, and Cobb’s Battery at the north end of Duncan field, just a few hundred feet from the place where the 13th Tennessee had stood in support of the artillery on the previous day. The enemy formed in line of battle perpendicular to and a little behind the left flank of the 13th and placed an artillery battery there. They opened up such a terrible fire of grape shot and canister that the regiment was forced to retire beyond the next ridge. They advanced again, but were beaten back once more. By this time, all the Confederate forces were engaged and there was tremendous fighting along the entire line. They held the enemy at bay until noon, but the struggle being unequal, the Southern forces gradually fell back. At 3:00 p. m. Beauregard ordered the army to withdraw.


***

Check out the Siege of Petersburg Online for daily posts on battle accounts in newspaper articles, diary entries, letters and more!

What are your Top 10 Gettysburg Books? See what a panel of bloggers said recently.

Want to read some interesting Civil War content from amateurs and pros alike? Check out the Top 10 Civil War Blogs and Top 10 Civil War Blogs: 11-20.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Doug Campbell February 16, 2017 at 9:15 pm

My great-great grandfather, Andrew Jackson Masters, was there as a private in the 77th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. A close relative of his (a brother or uncle, I haven’t researched it yet) died there.
Thanks for the blog. I find it very interesting. I was wondering about the disposition of the 77th Ohio at the battle.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: