We recently passed the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh which prompts me to discuss a quotation which bothers me. Anyone who has read a modern book on Shiloh has probably seen some variation on “Take your damned regiment back to Ohio. There is no enemy closer than Corinth.” Allegedly this statement was the message conveyed by a staff officer from General Sherman to the Colonel of the 53rd Ohio the day before the battle.
Is the quote believable? The same day that the remark was supposedly made Sherman wrote a report of an encounter with the enemy that had occurred the previous afternoon. His report states that “I infer that the enemy is in some considerable force at Pea Ridge”. Thus it is clear that Sherman knew there was enemy closer than Corinth. So why would he say “no enemy closer than Corinth”?
Where did the quote come from? Sherman never claimed to have said it and was dead before it appeared in print. It first appeared in a paper read by Ephraim C. Dawes in the early 1890s at a meeting of the Ohio Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS). His paper was later published as “My First Day Under Fire at Shiloh” appearing in several collections of essays about the war. Dawes had been a staff officer in the 53rd Ohio at the time of the battle. Why did he wait until 30 years after the battle, and just after Sherman’s death, to tell his tale?
To me the quote doesn’t fit with what Sherman was reporting on April 5 and the fact that it only surfaced long after the event makes its veracity even more doubtful. Yet authors repeatedly use this quote with certainty. Why? My impression is that the quote is used to give credence to the claim that Sherman was clueless about the enemy presence. Whatever the reason, it seems to have been accepted too readily.