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HISTORY OF THE 23rd MISSOURI VOLUNTEER INFANTRY
AND
THE BATTLE OF SHILOH
APRIL 6-7, 1862


The Division of a Nation and a Call To Arms

The secession of the southern states and the beginning of the Civil War came as no more a surprise to the residents of Harrison and Mercer Counties than it did to the rest of the nation. Tempers had been brewing for almost a decade, and you didn't have to look "back east" to see what it was doing to the nation. John Brown, who would later become a chapter in history for his raid on Harper's Ferry, got his start by hacking pro-slavery Missourians to death just south of Kansas City. Missouri men from as close as Platte, Buchanan and Andrew Counties were crossing the border into Kansas to kidnap free blacks and bring them to Missouri where they were sold into bondage. St Joseph started forming pro-southern "Home Guard" units almost immediately. There were even a few slave owners in Harrison and Mercer Counties.

President Lincoln
President Lincoln
Everyone from the poorest Mercer County farmer to President Abraham Lincoln realized that Missouri would be among the "border" states where feelings and loyalties would be divided. Missouri Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson called for a vote on the issue of secession in February of 1861, but this only confirmed what everyone already knew. One-third of the votes were for remaining in the Union, one-third was for secession and joining the Confederacy and one-third voted to remain in the Union, but not participate in any conflict against a rebellion. In short, they wanted to be left alone and let the "eastern" states fight it out. That desire was no longer an option after the firing on Ft Sumter.

In April, 1861 President Lincoln called for 75,000 troops to put down the rebellion. Missouri was expected to recruit, supply and equip four regiments totaling approximately 4,000 men. Governor Jackson, a southerner and supporter of the Confederacy, responded with a message of his own:

Executive Department of Missouri

Jefferson City, April 17, 1861


To the Hon. Simon Cameron, Secretary of War, Washington, D.C.

Sir: Your dispatch of the 15th inst., making a call on Missouri for four regiments of men for immediate services has been received. There can be, I apprehend, no doubt but these men are intended to form a part of the President's army to make war upon the people of the seceded States. Your requisition, in my judgment, is illegal, unconstitutional and revolutionary in its objects, inhuman and diabolical, and cannot be complied with. Not one man will the State of Missouri furnish to carry on such an unholy crusade.


C. F. Jackson

Governor of Missouri

Jackson's tenure as the Governor of Missouri would be short-lived. He and many other pro-southern legislators would soon abandon Jefferson City, and would actually (and illegally) declare Missouri to have seceded from the Union and a part of the Confederate States of America. Missouri would become the only state with a symbolic star on both the U.S. and Confederate flags.

In Harrison and Mercer Counties where loyalties leaned far more to the Union side, groups were quickly formed and meetings held to voice support for the Union and to make whatever preparations needed to defend it. Those with pro-southern feelings were quickly outnumbered, although a few managed to voice their opinions. Most of the pro-southern men of military age quickly and quietly left the area and went south to join Confederate units. Ironically, many of these men would face their former neighbors on the battlefield of Shiloh.

The first significant meeting in Harrison County was held in Bethany on June 3, 1861 where a resolution was adopted which stated the feelings of those in attendance. This resolution was, for the most part, a plea to the citizens of Harrison County to stay calm and remain at peace, but also authorized the formation of local militia units for the purpose of "home protection and defense...against all lawless and unauthorized acts of all persons from whatsoever source they may come." They also chose to include an article in the resolution that can be looked upon in several ways. It stated: "That we feel justified in stating as a truth, although some persons may have private orders to leave, no person has been forced to leave the country by the citizens of Harrison County on account of political opinions or sentiments." In other words, pro-southerners were not forced out, they chose to leave.

Among the prominent residents of Harrison County who spoke at this meeting were S. C. Allen, Samuel Downey, William G. Lewis, D. J. Heaston, and E. Hubbard. Each wa described as "vigorous and eloquent" while addressing "the necessity of adhering to the national union."

Similar meetings were held at Mount Moriah, Eagleville, and Cainsville and on July 13, 1861, the men of the county formed a "Home Guard" regiment estimated at over 1,000 men. Henry O. Nevill was elected Colonel of the Regiment, George Burris, Sr. was Lt. Colonel and William P. Robinson, Major.

Things were developing in much the same manner in Mercer County. Communities and townships organized local militia units almost as soon as the guns fired on Ft Sumter. A "battalion" of sorts was formed with A. O. Nigh elected as its commander. Companies were commanded by Isaac Smalley, Eli Bruner, Jacob Bain, Elisha Vanderpool, C. P. Loveland, Isaiah Guyman, J. D. Randall and James Bradley. As was the case in Harrison County, these units were formed to protect the lives and property of Mercer County...not to march off to some far-away battlefield.

By the summer of 1861, the young men of Mercer and Harrison Counties were enlisting into the regular Federal army and Jacob Tyndall, a prominent resident of Trenton in Grundy County, was recruiting men from several northern Missouri counties. Recruiting offices were opened in Bethany, Princeton and Spickard as well as in towns in Sullivan, Putnam, Livingston, Daviess, Linn and Grundy Counties. From a historical and genealogical perspective, it would be a mistake to think that all the men who would form the 23rd Missouri would come from these few counties. Men would often travel great distances (for the time) to enlist in regiments that contained friends and relatives, and records indicate that men from as far away as Nodaway County chose to join the 23rd Missouri while several "hopped the line" from counties in southern Iowa to join the Missouri regiment.

It should also be noted that the 23rd Missouri was just one of the units that received men from Mercer and Harrison Counties. In the initial months of the war, 424 men from Mercer County volunteered for enrolled Federal service. Of these, 116 enlisted in the 23rd Missouri Infantry, one joined the 25th Infantry, 79 joined the 27th Infantry, one went to the 13th Infantry, and 67 enlisted with the 35th Infantry. Seventy-seven men from Mercer County joined the 2nd Missouri Cavalry, 12 joined the 7th Cavalry (not to be confused with Custer's unit), 2 went into the 11th Cavalry and 69 enlisted with the 12th Cavalry. In many cases, the choice between entering the Infantry or Cavalry depended on whether or not the individual owned his own horse, which was required. In addition to the regular army units, an additional 228 men from Mercer County enrolled in local militia units.

Most of the men of Mercer County who joined the 23rd Missouri Infantry did so with Companies A and C. Company A was organized at Wintersville in Sullivan County with about half the men being from Mercer County. J. T. Dunlap was elected Captain and J. C. Webb and William Seaman became Lieutenants. Company C was recruited from men in southern Mercer County and northern Grundy County, with Jacob Trumbo elected as Captain and J. H. Munn and J. P. Martin as Lieutenants.

Men from Harrison County seemed to have preferred the 23rd Missouri, although some did join other regiments including the 35th Missouri Infantry, 2nd Missouri Cavalry, 43rd Infantry and the 12th Cavalry. But the 23rd Missouri Infantry was clearly the unit of choice in Harrison County. Two full companies and parts of others were formed by Harrison County men during the summer of 1861. Company D elected Bethany resident William Perrin Robinson as its Captain, John A. Fischer as First Lieutenant and Lafayette Cornwall as Second Lieutenant. Sergeants were George Yoder, Samuel Moore, George Derr, Robert Oxford and Ezeriah Hulse. Capt. Wm. P. Robinson
Capt. Wm. P. Robinson

Company E elected Archibald Montgomery as Captain, W. R. Simms as First Lieutenant and George W. Brown as Second Lieutenant. Non-commissioned officers were John A. Martin, Spotwood Thomas, Jonathan Smith, John S. Jackson, James Johnson, Richard Goucher, James Heath, Hanley Webb, James Blankenship, John Gordon, Andrew Rupe, George Crume, and Orlin Butler.

By the early fall of 1861, enough men had enlisted to establish a full Regiment. The group was assembled at Chillicothe and was mustered into regular Federal service as the 23rd Missouri Infantry in September of 1861. The unit was transported to Macon City in October, then back to Chillicothe in November where they spent the rest of the winter. In March of 1862, the 23rd Missouri was assigned to the Department of Missouri and was ordered to St. Louis.

Gen. Benjamin Prentiss
Gen. Benjamin Prentiss
In March, 1862, the 23rd Missouri was reassigned to the 6th Division of the Army of the Tennessee, under the command of Brigadier General Benjamin Prentiss and was immediately ordered south to link up with the rest of the Army of the Tennessee under Major General Ulysses S. Grant. The men of the 23rd Missouri had been in the army for just six months, and most of that time had been spent just a few miles from home. On April 1st, with their new uniforms and rifles, they were loaded onto riverboats that would take them straight toward one of the fiercest battles of the war. They were heading for a little spot on the banks of the Tennessee River called Pittsburg Landing, near a little place called Shiloh.

The Fight for Tennessee

The Army of West Tennessee under Major General Ulysses S. Grant was feeling pretty good about themselves by the early days of April, 1862. They had captured Forts Henry and Donelson in February and had pushed Confederate General Albert Johnston's Army of Mississippi out of the state of Tennessee and into northern Mississippi. Grant was now ordered to move his 58,000 man army south, join up with the 55,000 men of General Don Carlos Buell's Army of Ohio, and crush Johnston's Confederates where they were camped near Corinth in northern Mississippi. johnstongard
Gen. Albert Johnston

Grant's first problem was that an army traveling by river moves much faster than an army moving by foot. Almost immediately after leaving their post in Nashville, Buell's forces were slowed by retreating Confederates who burned bridges and put up token resistance along the way. No major fighting occurred, but leading units often came under fire from sharpshooters and small groups. To make matters worse, it began to rain. Roads became soft, which slowed supply trains. Small streams rose which made crossing more difficult and time consuming. By the evening of April 4th, most of Grants Army was in place along the west bluffs of the Tennessee River at Pittsburg Landing. Buell's Army still had a two-day march.

The second factor which led to the battle at Shiloh was Johnston's refusal to simply sit at Corinth and let a force of more than 100,000 Union troops attack him. The Confederates had a little more than 55,000 troops in northern Mississippi, but less than 44,000 were able to march and fight. Sickness and two major battles had taken their toll. But a surprise attack by 40,000 against 50,000 is still better than being attacked by 100,000. But he had to get to Pittsburg Landing before Buell. Johnston called a meeting with his second-in-command, General G. T. Beauregard and his Corps Commanders, Generals John Breckinridge, Leonidas Polk, Braxton Bragg and W. J. Hardee. beauregard
Gen. G. T. Beauregard

Johnston's Corps Commanders were an interesting lot with diverse backgrounds, motivations and capabilities. Breckinridge was a politician who had been Vice-president of the United States under Buchanan and a Presidential candidate in 1860. He now led a corps of almost 6,500 men, but had never led troops in battle. Polk had attended West Point, but had resigned his commission soon after graduation to become an Episcopal Bishop. His corps numbered just over 9,000. Hardee, whose corps numbered just under 7,000, was a good officer and tactician who had served as Commandant of Cadets at West Point before the war. By far the most experienced Corps Commander under Johnston was Major General Braxton Bragg. Bragg was a West Point graduate who had served with distinction in the Mexican War. Bragg has been described as "forceful in the extreme" and was highly confident, but had gained a reputation in both armies as belligerent, argumentative and inflexible.

Gen. Bragg
Gen. Braxton Bragg
On the evening of April 2nd, Johnston received word that Buell's Army of the Ohio had passed the major obstacles between Nashville and Pittsburg Landing and was now making good time. Johnston's window of opportunity was closing and he began having second thoughts. Perhaps his army was too beaten and worn to mount a major offensive. Maybe it would be better to continue south into more friendly territory where they would have a chance to dig in, heal their wounds and recruit new men for a push against Grant and the Union. Always the fighter and routinely insubordinate, General Bragg exploded! They had Grant right where they wanted him! His army was, for the most part, surrounded by heavy timber and hills on three sides which would make a surprise attack possible. The fourth side was blocked by the Tennessee River which was far too wide to cross without boats or pontoons. Granted, the Yanks had arrived by boat, but most of those had departed and those that remained were not sufficient to evacuate 50,000 troops and supplies. They had to move on Grant now and beat him at Pittsburg Landing before Buell arrived. Johnston finally agreed and ordered his Corps Commanders to prepare to move out. They would march north at dawn, April 3rd.

A third factor that was developing into the fight at Shiloh was the total lack of concern or preparation on the part of the Federal commanders. Grant would later admit that he gave no thought to a Confederate attack. He had sent a message to General Halleck in St Louis saying "I have scarcely the faintest idea of an attack being made upon us." This opinion was shared by the majority of his Army, from Division Commanders right down to the lowest Privates on picket duty. They were camped, waiting to move. They were not entrenched, preparing for an attack.

Shiloh Map
Click for larger map
Perhaps the most "nonchalant" of Grant's staff was William T. Sherman who commanded the 4th Division. Like Grant, Sherman believed the chance of attack was remote and he made little if any effort to fortify his position with entrenchment. His men were simply positioned as they arrived and told to make camp with tents and full supplies. He also positioned his regiments as they arrived, which resulted in the forward positions being occupied by troops who had never seen battle. "Green" troops would make up more than 75% of the right flank of the Union lines, including the forward pickets. Sherman established his headquarters at the crossroads near a one-room log church called "Shiloh". The bloody battle that was to come would take the name of this church which means "place of peace".

Fighting Stubbornness, Delays and the Weather

Johnston's plan to move north on the 3rd and attack on the 4th quickly stalled. Two roads led from Corinth to Pittsburg Landing and Johnston planned to use both of them to move north as quickly as possible.

Just twenty miles separated the two armies, but Johnston and his army began having setbacks from the start. For some reason, General Hardee refused to advance without written orders, even though he was at the staff meeting and knew the plan full well. To make matters worse, Hardee's Corps was to lead the advance, so no one moved until he did. By the time Johnston was told that Hardee was waiting for orders and scribbled out the orders, it was almost noon. There was still time to get to the landing before dawn.

Late on the 4th a cold rain began to fall. By late evening it was coming down in torrents. Everything slowed to a crawl. The tramp of thousands of feet turned the dirt roads to deep mud and wagons sunk to the hubs. It was becoming obvious that an attack would not take place on the 4th. The same rain that had delayed Buell's arrival now threatened Johnston's plans for an attack. Still the Confederates pressed on and the leading elements of Hardee's Corps arrived just south of the Union lines late on the 4th.

Amazingly, more delays in the Confederates arrival occurred when Braxton Bragg literally lost an entire division! They had taken a wrong turn from the main road and Bragg had no idea where they were. Johnston sent message after message ordering Bragg to get his divisions into position behind Hardee. Bragg became angrier and angrier as he sent back messages saying he would do so just as soon as he found them. He finally had to send out search parties who found the division wandering around lost in the darkness.

Darkness had fallen and the heavy clouds totally blocked out any light from the moon. Everything stopped. Bragg's Corps was in three different pieces, with only his command element being anywhere close to where they were supposed to be. One division had stopped before reaching Hardee's Corps because of the darkness and the "lost" division was still a good three hours march from the rest of the Corps. Johnston's chances of attacking on the 5th with his full Army was falling apart.

On the morning of the 5th, Johnston waited for a message from Bragg that his corps was in position, but that message never came. By noon he was beside himself. He looked at his watch and yelled, "This is no way to fight a war!" He rode to the rear and found that Bragg's "lost" division was blocked by Polk's entire Corps. They had somehow managed to march in a circle and were now behind the third element of the Army. Johnston cleared the road and Bragg's final division moved forward. By the time this division was in position, the sun was setting on another day. Johnston was trembling with anger, but resigned himself to the fact that the battle would have to be put off until the 6th. His army was in place. 40,000 Confederates were poised within two miles of the Federal camps. Word was passed to remain silent. There would be no fires or hot food in the Rebel lines.

Sherman and Grant were not the only commanders with inexperienced troops, and most of the front line Confederates had no idea they were that close to the Federal camps. Men yelled to each other, sang songs and tested their rifles by firing shots at passing deer. Bugles sounded and drums beat as officers rushed from company to company to hush the men. General Beauregard convinced himself that the Union troops had surely heard all the noise and were now digging entrenchments and building fortifications and that the attack would surely fail. "They will be entrenched to the eyes!" he yelled during a command meeting. He argued vehemently that the attack should be called off and that the army should return to Corinth where defensive positions already existed. Johnston heard him out, then closed the meeting by saying, "Gentlemen, we will attack at dawn."

Amazingly, all the commotion made by the Confederates had not the least effect on the Union troops. Regiments, brigades, and entire divisions had been positioned and encamped haphazardly as they arrived, and most simply thought that all the noise was coming from other Union troops. Privates played cards and wrote letters home while colonels and generals smoked cigars and drank from engraved flasks. It appears that only one Federal officer with any rank whatsoever was suspicious of the activities to his south. During the late afternoon of April 5th, Colonel Jesse Appler saw men moving across a ridge less than a mile away and sent a detachment of the 53rd Ohio to investigate. The group ran into the lead pickets of Hardee's Confederates and exchanged a few shots, but did not become fully engaged. They reported the confrontation to Appler who immediately rode to Sherman's headquarters and advised the General that the Confederates were less than a mile from his line. Sherman exploded, accusing Appler's men of being lost and of firing at other Federal troops and dismissed Appler by saying, "Take your damned regiment back to Ohio! There is no enemy nearer than Corinth!" In reality, only 100 yards of dense brush and timber now separated the front lines of the two armies.

General Grant was not ready for a full battle, nor did he expect one. None of the reports of suspicious activities or skirmishes were sent to him, and the last thing he had told his division commanders was that they were waiting for Buell's army to arrive before proceeding to Corinth. Division commanders had passed this information on to their brigade commanders who then passed it along to the regimental commanders. Many, including General Prentiss, took these instructions as meaning that a confrontation should be avoided and he so instructed his subordinates.

As is often the case, the situation and the perception of it was a little different on the front lines than it was in the rear headquarters. By 3:00 on the morning of the 6th, there was simply too much activity along the Confederate line to ignore. Colonel Everett Peabody commanded a Brigade under Prentiss which consisted of the 21st and 25th Missouri Infantry, along with the 16th Wisconsin and the 12th Michigan. He could clearly see campfires in front of him and knew full well that his men were on the front line of the Federal forces. Although limited in military experience, Peabody was a 31 year old Harvard graduate who was far from being a stupid man. It didn't take a Harvard education to figure out that if the entire Union army was behind him, those camp fires in front of him had to be Rebel camps. He sent a message to Prentiss informing him of his belief but got no reply. Believing it to be in the best interest of everyone involved, Peabody sent 300 men of the 25th Missouri to scout the area and find out who was out there and their number.

As dawn was breaking over the wooded hills, the detachment of the 25th Missouri encountered the 3rd Mississippi under Major Aaron B. Hardcastle and opened fire. Surprised, the Confederates began falling back and retreated to a brushy ridge where they established a defensive line and waited for the Missourians. As the 25th made their way through the brush, the Confederates fired a volley that killed Lt Frederick Klinger. Klinger became the first man killed at the battle of Shiloh.

Colonel Peabody could hear the firing and soon received a message that the detachment was engaged with a rebel force of unknown strength and were taking casualties. He ordered three more companies, totaling less than 300 men, to move forward and either help route the Confederates or assist in the withdrawal of the Federals.

The news and noise of the skirmish had also made its way to the Confederate commanders. The difference was that Albert Johnston was ready for the fight. He had wanted it for two days. He now had his army in place, he knew where the enemy was and he had a fresh new day in which to fight the battle. Where Peabody had sent an additional 300 additional troops to support the line, Johnston sent an army of 40,000. He ordered Lt. General William J. Hardee to hit the Federal line with the full strength of the Third Corps while Generals Bragg and Polk would split their forces and move around to the Federal flanks. The majority of Johnston's army would strike in the very center of the unit line.

The 25th Missouri were still engaged with the detachment of Hardee's Corps when the first wave of Confederates swarmed through the trees and over the ridge. The Federal line broke immediately with many of the men dropping their guns and simply running for their lives. Men along the main Federal camps suddenly saw their friends, neighbors and brothers burst through the timber at a dead run, many of them screaming that the entire Confederate army was coming through the brush. They weren't far from being wrong. As the gunfire came closer and closer to Prentiss' headquarters, he found Peabody and demanded an explanation. When told of the engagement, Prentiss asked Peabody if he had provoked the attack. Peabody admitted he had sent out a patrol, to which Prentiss replied, "Colonel Peabody, I will hold you responsible for bringing on this engagement." Peabody informed his commanding general that he was always responsible for his actions, mounted his horse and rode back to the battle. Prentiss would never see Colonel Everett Peabody again. He would be dead on the battlefield within a few hours. The Battle of Shiloh had begun. peabody
Col. Peabody

Thrown Into Hell

The 23rd Missouri Infantry began arriving at Pittsburg Landing on the evening of April 4th, 1862 and was camped on a ridge overlooking the river. The men had been loaded onto at least four steamers for the trip from St Louis and it would take more than a day for all of them to arrive. Colonel Jacob Tindall reported to General Grant and was instructed to make himself and the regiment available to Brig Gen Prentiss for assignment with his 6th Division. However, Grant did not tell Tindall when to report to Prentiss. Tindall felt is first priority was to insure the safe and orderly arrival of the entire regiment before contacting Prentiss for orders, and this may have been exactly what Grant told him to do. The boat containing the final companies of the 23rd wouldn't arrive at Pittsburg landing until shortly after sunrise on the morning of the 6th.

The men of the 23rd must have been wondering what they had gotten themselves into as they camped on the night of April 5th. Having arrived too late to be assigned to a Brigade, the 23rd remained officially "Unattached", but made up a Brigade strength force along with the 15th Iowa Infantry, 18th Wisconsin Infantry, a battery of artillery from Minnesota and Ohio, and eight companies of the 11th Illinois Cavalry. Prentiss commanded two other brigades which included the 21st and 25th Missouri in the First Brigade and the 18th Missouri in the Second Brigade.

The sounds of battle were ringing across the hills and through the trees as the final elements of the 23rd Missouri arrived at Pittsburg Landing. Many were sick from the motion of the boats as they fought the current of the Tennessee river, and probably would have liked to just flop down on the cool April grass, but that wasn't going to happen. As Colonel Tindall formed his regiment, he received a message from General Prentiss to move his regiment forward at all haste. As the regiment began to move out, an old Sergeant who had seen the sites of battle during the Mexican War told his young followers, "Fill your canteens, boys. Some of you will be in Hell before nightfall and you'll want the water."

As the 23rd moved forward, messages were being sent back to Sherman and Grant. Even though he could clearly hear the sounds of battle, Sherman still refused to believe that a major confrontation was in progress. When advised by a messenger of Colonel Appler that a major Confederate force was attacking, Sherman simply shook his head and said, "You must be badly scared over there."

Prentiss, on the other hand, was fully aware of the situation. He ordered every available man into a line on Sherman's left, but at least half of them were still making the two mile march from the landing. Federal lines began to fall back. General Prentiss and his command staff were forced to fall back as the rebels swarmed out of the timber and into their camp. Men in blue were running for their lives through the ditches and timber toward Pittsburg landing. As the men of the 23rd Missouri moved forward, they began to encounter these men. Some were bloody with wounds, whether they be from Confederate bullets or from running through brush. Most were wild-eyed and warned of what was ahead. The 23rd marched on.

On the right side of the Federal line, it was becoming impossible for Sherman to believe a major fight was not in progress. He mounted his horse and with his staff and an orderly, Private Thomas Holliday of the 2nd Illinois Cavalry, went forward to evaluate the situation himself. He could see the Confederates moving through the trees in front of him, but saw no major force. He could hear the sounds of a major confrontation to his left, but the heavy brush and timber obstructed his view. Lt Eustace Ball glanced to his right and was shocked to see hundreds of Confederates emerge from the trees less than 50 yards away. "General! Look right!", he yelled, as the Confederates began crouching into a firing line. Sherman had just enough time to glance over and raise his hand before the Confederates fired a volley. Buckshot struck Sherman's hand. Private Holliday, who was right next to him, fell dead from his horse. "My God," Sherman yelled, "We are attacked!" Sherman turned to Appler and shouted, "Hold your position. We will support you." Appler could only watch in amazement as Sherman rode off and the Confederates continued to advance.

sunkenroad
Sunken Road
In the center of the Federal line, Prentiss watched as his line began to crumble. Peabody and Miller's brigades were pushed back approximately 200 yards through the brush as the Confederates continued to advance. Just as it seemed the entire federal line would be routed, reinforcements began arriving from the landing. They were rushed forward to strengthen the line that now extended along an old farm road that cut through the heavy brush. Years of use and erosion had formed banks on each side of the road. It would become known as "Sunken Road".

By 8:00 on the morning of the 6th, Prentiss' division seemed to have a good hold on the line, but Hardee was bringing up more Confederates. The 23rd Missouri arrived just before 9:00 and was ordered to the left end of Prentiss' line between the brigades of Peabody and Miller. Although still technically unattached, Colonel Tindall was instructed to take his orders and directions from Colonel Peabody. The firing was hot and heavy when the 23rd took their positions in the brush along the sunken road. It was about to get hotter and heavier.

The 23rd arrived at the sunken road at just about the same time that Hardee's reinforcements also arrived. Two full brigades under Brig. Generals Wood and Hindman began attacking through the trees in waves of gray. Each attack was met with a blast of muskets from Prentiss' line. Johnston ordered a bayonet charge, hoping the onrush would push the Federals from their position. It failed, but not without heavy loss to both sides. Colonel Everett Peabody, bleeding from at least four wounds, was riding along the lines yelling commands and encouragement to his troops when a musket ball crashed through his head, killing him instantly. Another Confederate attack, and another series of blasts from the Union muskets. Continuous fire and several attacks were made on the sunken road, but the Federal line and the 23rd held. The Confederates began shelling the far right wing of the line with cannon fire in hopes of routing the Federals from their positions, but the cannons could not be brought close enough to effectively fire on the units in the sunken road. It did, however, have an effect on Sherman's position on the right. Under the cover provided by the artillery, Confederate infantry moved forward and began routing the Federals. The right flank of the Union line was collapsing.

General Grant had made his way from Savannah and had crossed the Tennessee River at Pittsburg Landing. He now made his way to the front where he found Sherman's men in an almost desperate rush to escape the Confederate onslaught and Prentiss' line was weakening. Sherman, watching his line disintegrate and his men die, turned to Grant and said, "Send help if you can. If not, we will hold as long as possible." Sherman's division would collapse within the hour.

At about 10:00, the men at the sunken road braced themselves for another Confederate attack, but it didn't come. The front line of Confederates that were overtaking Sherman's camps had stopped to feast on the breakfast that had been left on many of the Union fires. The halt in action on the Confederate left seemed to flow along the entire line, and the attacks on the 23rd and the sunken road ceased. Prentiss took the opportunity to gather up some of his scattered regiments and regroup before the Confederates could strike again. The trees and brush along the sunken road was now a sea of blue, numbering at least 6,000 men and several cannons had been positioned on small hills to the rear at the extreme right end of the line. They were beat up and bloody, but they were still holding the line.

Confederate commander Albert Johnston rode to the front, puzzled by the sudden lack of activity. He became livid when he found his lead element sitting among the Federal tents, eating and gathering up souvenirs. Even though many of his men hadn't eaten in over 24 hours, Johnston was not about to lose the advantage he now possessed, and he issued orders to resume the attack immediately. The renewed attack quickly crushed the remaining elements of Sherman's division, which quickly broke and began streaming back toward the landing. A doctor in Sherman's command had established a field hospital in an area he felt would be well behind the lines. Within minutes of the renewed assault, men waiting to be treated for wounds were being hit by more bullets. One soldier who was waiting to be treated looked up at the doctor and exclaimed, "This is a hell of a place for a hospital!" The doctor quickly gathered his equipment and headed for the landing.

cannonBack at the sunken road, Confederate General Hardee had relinquished command to General Bragg who had been ordered to break that Union line at all costs. Bragg, who by nature was aggressive and often overbearing, was determined to drive the Federals to the banks of the Tennessee River, but didn't know for sure how he was going to do it. He ordered Colonel Randall Gibson to take his First Brigade and attack the center of the Federal line at the sunken road and to continue to attack until he either captured, routed or destroyed Prentiss' men.

At about 12:30, Colonel Gibson ordered the first assault on the sunken road. The Federals responded with cannon fire until the Confederates were within a few yards, then opened up with a hail of musket balls. The Confederates fell back, regrouped, fired a volley and charged again. As entire companies fell, more were brought up to charge the Federal position. Tree limbs were shattered by cannon balls and exploding shells. Bark was torn off by musket fire and thrown through the air like shrapnel. Both sides were being torn apart, but the Confederates were still unable to break the Union line. Wounded Confederates made their way to the comrades in the rear and told of the carnage on the line. They told of the blood and the bodies along the old road, and the sound of the bullets whizzing through the trees. They said it sounded like a swarm of hornets passing over their heads, and soon the sunken road had a new nickname. It would go down in the history of the Civil War...and in the history of the 23rd Missouri Infantry...as "The Hornet's Nest".

By 2:30 in the afternoon, Gibson's brigade was all but shattered. Bragg ordered more men forward and told Gibson to continue the attack. More attacks were made on the Hornet's Nest, but the Federals continued to hold. The 23rd Missouri and their comrades were doing quite well for themselves, but there was not time for celebration. More Confederates came and more volleys were fired. But Prentiss and his command had a serious problem of which most were totally unaware. Both wings of the Union line were beginning to collapse. While Bragg seemed focused on the center of the Union line at the sunken road, General Johnston had sent several brigades under General Breckenridge to attack the Federal flank at a peach orchard at the far left end of the Union line. This was more open country which allowed more accurate cannon fire, and the Union troops under General W. H. L. Wallace were getting shelled unmercifully. Col. Gibson
Col. Randall Lee Gibson

Things were even worse for the Federals on the far right end of the line. Most of Sherman's men were now in a full scale retreat to the river, stopping only briefly to form a line and fire a volley at the advancing Confederates. It barely slowed them down. Many of the men simply threw down their rifles and ran. By 3:00 in the afternoon, there were more Federal soldiers at the river bank of Pittsburg Landing than were fighting on the front lines against the onrushing Confederates. The entire Federal line was crumbling.

General Grant watched as thousands of men came pouring out of the timber in full retreat. From the various directions from which they came, it was clear that his entire line was falling back and that it was just a matter of time before his entire army was trapped along the banks of the Tennessee River. He sent a messenger to find Sherman, but the timber was so dense and the situation in such disorder that finding Sherman was impossible. Grant mounted his horse and rode toward the center of the fighting to find General Prentiss.

Grant found Prentiss at the Hornet's Nest. It was easy to find. All he had to do was go in the direction of the sound of battle. Prentiss' men were still holding the center of the line. Grant quickly informed Prentiss of the situation and that Sherman's men were in full retreat and Wallace's line was weak. If the Confederates managed to break through in the center, their entire army could sweep across the ridge and trap the entire 30,000 man army at the river. Grant ordered Prentiss to hold his position "at all hazards". In other words, Prentiss, the 23rd Missouri Infantry and men of a few other Regiments, were expected to fight and die if necessary to allow time for Grant and the majority of the army to escape across the river to safety. The 6th Division would be the sacrificial lamb. At the beginning of the day Prentiss had commanded over 5,000 men. Many had been routed during the initial morning attack and were now back at the Landing. Others had been wounded during the day's fight and were now being treated in the rear. Hundreds more lay dead along the fence and the sunken road. Only about 2,000 remained to hold off what must have seemed like the entire Confederate army.

Gen. Wallace
Gen. Lewis Wallace
Prentiss could hear the firing on both sides of his line and knew that the wings were falling back rapidly. Battle that had been on his left a few hours ago was now more behind him than beside him. But still they held. More attacks came against the sunken road and the Hornet's Nest. Still they held. Men fell and were taken to the rear. The line held on. Finally, at about 4:00, it was obvious that the main focus of the Confederate attack was against his front. Prentiss ordered what was left of his division to fall back about 300 yards to the crest of a ridge. Many of the men used the opportunity to fall back a little farther than Prentiss had intended and didn't stop until they were at the river, but most stopped at the ridge and formed another firing line. The 23rd Missouri had been initially been placed on the far left end of Prentiss' line. To their left had been units under General Wallace. Wallace's Division was now in full retreat, and what was left of the 23rd Missouri was now on the far left end of the Federal line.

fireball The Confederates continued to attack in waves. By 5:00 the 23rd Missouri was receiving heavy fire from not only the attacks from the front, but from their left side. At about 5:15, a private was wounded and was told to go to the rear and find a field hospital. His captain was surprised a few minutes later to see him stumbling back through the trees. When asked why he wasn't back at the rear, the private exclaimed, "This damned fight ain't got no rear!" The 23rd Missouri and the Division under General Benjamin Prentiss were surrounded.

The end of the fighting for the 23rd at Shiloh came at about 5:30. General Prentiss knew that he had done all he could do. Further resistance would only result in the needless slaughter of his men. There weren't many left as it was. Prentiss instructed an orderly to strike the colors and go with a white flag to the Confederates and advise them that the fight was over. Word of the surrender began to spread through both lines. Firing began to decrease. Men took a deep breath. Wounds were dressed and men searched for canteens. Colonel William T. Shaw commanded the 14th Iowa. He later wrote that he knew exactly when the Battle of Shiloh ended for him. He had been knocked out by a low tree limb while leading his troops to their last defensive position, and when he regained consciousness saw a private of the 9th Mississippi standing over him. In a mild and calm voice, the Confederate said, "Colonel, I think you will have to surrender." Shaw looked at his watch. It was 5:45. The 8th Iowa Infantry was the last Regiment to surrender. They laid down their arms at about 6:00. Prentiss' Surrender
Prentiss' Surrender

The 23rd Missouri had been engaged with the enemy for more than eight full hours. They had withstood almost constant firing and at least six full scale assaults. They had held their position through cannon fire and bayonet attacks. They had held the very heart of the Hornets Nest "at all hazards" and had given Grant enough time to pull the bulk of his army back to Pittsburg Landing where they had established a solid defensive line. Many had been killed. Most had received some type of wound. Half the regiment were now prisoners of the Confederates. An almost calming silence began to fall over the battlefield of Shiloh.

By 6:00 on the evening of April 6, 1862, both sides had seen all the fighting they wanted for one day. On the Union side, Grant was consumed with trying to get the thousands of panicked men calmed down and into a defense position along the ridge at Pittsburg Landing. He was relieved to see the first elements of General Don Carlos Buell's 40,000 man Army arrive on the banks of the Tennessee and ordered that they immediately begin crossing the river to defend against the attack he was sure would come.

The Confederates had their own problems and focus. General Albert Sydney Johnston had been killed in the fighting near the Peach Orchard and General P. T. G. Beauregard had assumed command. His main problem was that the day's fighting had caused his army to become so mixed that locating and organizing specific regiments and divisions was now impossible. To make the reorganization even more difficult, many of the Confederates had simply stopped to rest. Many had been fighting for nearly twelve hours and took the opportunity to search for food and water. Most made no effort to regroup. Most were just dead tired.

In fact, most of the men on both sides were totally exhausted. Sherman mounted his horse and began riding through the mass of men at the landing shouting orders and insults at them in an attempt to reorganize them and prepare for another attack. Grant would later write that he believed most of these men "would have preferred to be shot where they lay than to take up their arms and return to the fight."

By dusk, men of Buell's lead elements were crossing the river and forming along the bluff. The sight of these fresh troops had a calming and inspiring effect on the rest of Grant's Army and a formidable defensive line was established. Beauregard received word of the arrival of Buell's army and knew that he had to attack quickly if he was going to defeat Grant and his army. He ordered Bragg to regroup every available man and push toward Pittsburg Landing. Bragg sent messages to every unit commander he could locate, but efforts to follow the order were half-hearted at best. A few assaults were made against the Federal lines but they were quickly and easily repelled. As darkness began to fall, Bragg received a message from Beauregard that he could scarcely believe. It read: "The General directs that the pursuit be stopped; the victory is sufficiently complete; it is needless to expose our men to the fire of the gunboats."

Bragg was livid! "Is a victory ever sufficient?", he exclaimed. Many of the Confederate commanders could not believe the order. In truth, the order was probably the best thing the Confederates could have done. They would have been attacking an ever-growing force as Buell's men arrived; it was getting dark, and they had also sustained heavy losses. What Bragg perceived as an opportunity could have been devastating to the Confederates. The two armies formed lines one-half mile apart and settled in for the night. Then it began to rain. If anyone had any desire to continue the fight through the night, it was soon washed away.

Thousands upon thousands of Buell's Federals arrived at Pittsburg Landing through the night and the fighting that took place on the morning of April 7th was one-sided. Grant now commanded over 40,000 troops along the ridge at Pittsburg Landing...half of them fresh. The Confederates could only raise about 20,000 men and most of these were tired and short of ammunition. Everywhere the two forces collided, the Confederates fell back. No major engagements took place, but the day was filled with short, brief, but deadly encounters. By 3:00 in the afternoon of the 7th, even Beauregard and Bragg could see that they were badly outnumbered and that a withdrawal had to be made. Confederate units regrouped and began moving south, but most of the men were so badly tired that they traveled only a few miles before they simply stopped without orders and began making camp. General Grant later wrote that he had known exactly where the Confederates were, but that his men were "too much fatigued to pursue". The rains had turned the heavily traveled roads and trails into a mess of mud which made moving cannons almost impossible. Grant ordered his army to reform and establish camps near Pittsburg Landing.

The hills, ditches and timber around little Shiloh Church was now covered with the dead and dying. None of the men who fought there that day had ever seen anything like the battle they had waged and most would never see such carnage again. Each side had lost nearly 1,700 men killed and over 8,000 from each side were wounded. The Federals had suffered over 21 percent casualties in dead, wounded, captured or missing. The Confederates casualties numbered nearly 27 percent. Nearly half of the men of the 23rd Missouri were now prisoners of the Confederate Army and were marched south toward Corinth, Mississippi. Some would be sent on by train to the Confederate Prison Camp at Macon, Georgia. Some would be paroled and sent back to the Union lines where they would wait in St Louis for orders of exchange.

After Shiloh

The number of men of the 23rd Missouri who were shipped to the POW camp at Macon, Georgia, has never been accurately determined, but it appears that at least 100 were loaded onto trains at Corinth, Mississippi and sent east. How they were selected from the mass of Union prisoners is also unclear. For many of them, the real hardships were just beginning. For some, the end of their lives was at hand.

Camp Oglethorpe had been established at the old fairgrounds at Macon to receive Union prisoners of war, much to the chagrin of the local population. The general feeling of the residents was voiced in early 1862 by a city newspaper which stated, "We barely have sufficient food and necessities for our own peoples. Now our government desires us to house and feed those who invade us." It was initially built to hold 500 prisoners, but early Confederate victories had already swelled the number of prisoners to almost 2,000. As was the case with almost every prisoner camp on both sides, diseases ran rampant with men dying every day of dysentery. Disease, the weather, mosquitoes and lack of food and water took their toll on the prisoners, including the men of the 23rd Missouri. Several died and were buried in the constantly growing camp graveyard. For the most part, those of the 23rd at Camp Oglethorpe were lucky. They were imprisoned only a few months before being exchanged.

Most of the men of the 23rd who were captured at Shiloh were paroled and sent to St Louis to await exchange. Some were discharged due to disabilities while most performed various duties until the formal exchange was made and they returned to regular duty. Ironically, some suffered the same fate as their comrades at Camp Oglethorpe and died of disease in St. Louis.

The 23rd continued to fight until the very close of the war. Its ranks were replenished by men from across northern Missouri and from as far away as Tennessee. They were reformed and assigned to Major General William T. Sherman on his march to the sea before being officially mustered out of the service at Louisville, Kentucky on July 18, 1865. Officially, the 23rd Missouri lost 236 men during the war. Unofficially, the number is closer to 400. Many were discharged after the Battle of Shiloh and returned home, only to die of complications months or even years later.

General Benjamin Prentiss became known as "The Hero of the Hornet's Nest" and would be cheered for his leadership and bravery in northern newspapers from St Louis to New York. After being formally exchanged, he was promoted to Major General and commanded much of the Federal forces in Missouri and Arkansas. He commanded the Union forces in several engagements including a decisive victory over the Confederates at Helena, Arkansas on July 4, 1863. He resigned his commission later that year and returned to his home in Quincy, Illinois. He was appointed Postmaster of Bethany, Missouri in 1889 and remained a prominent citizen in Harrison County until his death on February 8, 1901. He is buried with his wife and several members of his family at Miriam Cemetery in Bethany.

Most events in history are open to debate as to their significance and effect. The Battle of Shiloh, General Benjamin Prentiss, and the 23rd Missouri are no different and are all open to individual interpretation and evaluation. The battle itself was initially claimed as a victory by both sides, but it can easily be argued that neither side really gained a decisive victory. General Hallack, who commanded all Federal forces in the west, was so concerned about Grant's actions and the near loss of his army at Shiloh that he relieved Grant of command and ordered him back to St Louis where he stayed for several months before necessity forced his reinstatement. Although the Union army did go on and defeat the Confederates at Corinth, it was not the decisive victory Grant had envisioned before April 6th. The war in the west would continue for two more years.

General Prentiss received his share of criticism for his actions at Shiloh and could never quite escape from the shadow of his surrender. Most of those who voiced their damnation of the General had no idea what the conditions were like at Shiloh and had never witnessed the terrors and horrors of battle. Their voices were soon squashed by those who defended Prentiss and his reputation as "The Hero of the Hornet's Nest" grew to the point that he was nearly a living legend by the time he died in 1901. Dozens of boys with the first or middle name of Prentiss would soon be born to the men who had fought with the 23rd and other units under his command.

As far as the men of the 23rd was concerned, the end of the war brought a return to a life that most thought they would never see again. Justices of the peace and area ministers were kept busy performing marriages as these young men returned home to their sweethearts and loved ones. Most tried to put aside the memories of what they had seen and went back to the farms and small towns from which they had left. Some gathered their families and moved farther west to Kansas, California and Oregon. They soon began forming GAR posts where they could gather, play some cards, do a little drinking and talk about their days in the war.

The 23rd Missouri Infantry has a proud history. The Battle of Shiloh alone is enough to make it so. They held the very center of a line that had to be held. They fought off wave after wave of attacking Confederates while cannon fire crashed over their heads and their friends and brothers died beside them. Few battles in the Civil War was as chaotic, terrifying or as devastating as was the fighting in the Hornet's Nest, but the 23rd held its ground and fought on. There is no doubt that the 23rd was a instrumental in holding off the Confederate forces long enough for Grant to regroup and establish a defensive line until reenforced from Buell's army. It is impossible to say what would have happened if the center line at the Hornet's Nest had given way before it did, but it is by no means a stretch to say that the 23rd Missouri Infantry played a key roll in the survival of Grant and his entire army. The 23rd Missouri did not win the Civil War. No single unit did, but they more than did their part.

Union Flag
Union Flag
Those of us who spend much of our time researching our family histories and doing genealogy often find ourselves in area cemeteries. Every once in a while we come across a military stone that reads "23rd MO INF". They are scattered in many of our cemeteries. Take just a moment. Pause and feel proud, whether they are your ancestors or not. There's no need to whisper a "Thank you." They wouldn't have expected it anyway, but feel proud of what they did, for what they endured, and for their loss and sacrifice. That's all they would have wanted anyway.

Dedicated to the men of the 23rd Missouri Infantry.

Phil Stewart

23rd MO Volunteer Infantry Roster

Gen. Grant's Report

Gen. Sherman's Report

Gen. Prentiss' Report

Capt. Montgomery's Letter

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