Memoirs of Henry Villard/Volume 1/Book 3
MEMOIRS OF HENRY VILLARD
IN CIVIL-WAR TIME: SHILOH
Kentucky in the Summer and Fall of 1861
I REACHED Louisville during the last week of August, 1861, and took a room at the Galt House, the largest and best hotel in the city, kept by Captain Silas Miller, well known throughout the Southwest as a successful commander of Ohio and Mississippi steamboats. He was a staunch and enthusiastic Unionist, owing to which his house was sought by the Kentucky loyalists and shunned by the rebel sympathizers. Louisville could boast of a good deal of commercial activity in ordinary times, but its business was then at a standstill from the stoppage of trade between North and South, and the almost entire cessation of steamboating on the Ohio. Many of the business men and the majority of the young men of the place had gone South to join their fate to that of the Confederacy. Hence, the streets wore a very quiet and even deserted look. The hotel, too, was almost empty. I had a few letters of introduction, one to Mr. Speed, the postmaster, a friend of President Lincoln and brother of the future Attorney-General, and another to a Northern family by the name of Cowan. Both led to very pleasant, though limited, social relations, as four-fifths of the upper class favored the South and showed the utmost animosity towards the loyal element. I also made the acquaintance of George D. Prentice, the poet-journalist, editor of the Louisville Journal, and of his principal assistants, with all of whom I was soon on such good terms that their editorial rooms became a familiar resort for me. Mr. Tyler, the agent of the New York Associated Press, a native of Massachusetts, and his wife likewise became my friends. They were elderly people, and had their peculiarities, but were very intelligent and ardent loyalists. His office was near the hotel, and it soon became my practice to visit it regularly after supper in order to learn and discuss the latest news.
The political situation in the State was stirring and threatening, and furnished ample material for correspondence. Ever since the secession of the cotton States, incessant efforts had been made by the local rebel sympathizers to make Kentucky join the Southern cause. The Governor, Magoffin, did everything in his power to bring this about. All through the winter and spring the outcome remained doubtful. Although secession sentiments prevailed among the upper classes, the majority of the people of the State were doubtless for the maintenance of the Union, but the loyal feeling was not strong enough for immediate, hearty, unconditional support of the Federal Government. There was a general disposition, indeed, even among the leading opponents of secession, to pronounce against the coercion of the rebellious States by force of arms, and to pursue a non-committal, selfish policy of neutrality between North and South, in order to protect the State from the horrors of civil war. Thus, they supported the rebel sympathizer in the gubernatorial chair in his direct refusal, in the name of the State, to furnish its quota of troops under the first call of President Lincoln for 75,000 men. They also approved the action of the Legislature in calling out a force of militia to prevent the “invasion” of its soil by either belligerent.
The Government at Washington was weak enough — mainly owing to Lincoln's tenderness for his native State — to bear with this undutifulness to the Union for a time, but the impracticability of such passiveness became gradually manifest. The incessant endeavors of Magoffin, Simon B. Buckner, the commander of the “State Guards” (the militia called out ostensibly to enforce neutrality, but ready to fight for the South), ex-Vice-President John C. Breckinridge, George B. Crittenden, Humphrey Marshall, and other conspirators to implicate the State in the Rebellion soon compelled a different course. The Union leaders recognized the necessity of active counter-efforts, and brought about the organization of their followers in clubs and military bodies. The Government had sent General Anderson, of Fort Sumter fame, to Cincinnati in May, on a secret mission for promoting the enlistment of volunteers from Kentucky and Virginia in the United States service. Simultaneously, William Nelson, a lieutenant in the United States Navy, a Kentuckian by birth, of unbounded loyal enthusiasm, to whom President Lincoln's attention had been called, was relieved from naval duty and permitted to go to his native State and take charge of the formal military organization of the Unionists. I had made his acquaintance in Washington through his brother, United States Minister to Chili under President Lincoln. He was thirty-six years old, over six feet high, with a mighty frame, a stentorian voice, a Jove-like head, of tireless, infectious energy, and altogether a remarkable personality. Under his direction, five thousand muskets, sent by the Government, were brought into the State and distributed among the “Home Guards,” as the loyalists were designated in distinction from the secessionist “State Guards.” Through the influence of General Anderson, nearly two thousand Kentucky Volunteers had been gathered in a camp on the Ohio side a short distance above Cincinnati, and formed into the First and Second Regiments of Kentucky Volunteers. Lovell H. Rousseau, a Louisville lawyer and politician, obtained authority to enlist a brigade of loyal Kentuckians, but likewise deemed it prudent to establish his recruiting camp outside of the State, just opposite Louisville on the Indiana side. These measures had strengthened the Union sentiment greatly and borne fruit in the August State election, which resulted in an overwhelming victory for the loyalists, three-quarters of the new Legislature being of their persuasion. Nelson thereupon immediately established a recruiting camp on his native soil, called Camp Dick Robinson, in the central part of the State, between Danville and Lexington, and soon had gathered several thousand men together.
Meantime, the rebel leaders had not been idle. The “State Guards” had been strengthened. Mass meetings of their sympathizers were to be held during August at different points, at which it was presumed the secession of the State would be openly proclaimed and carried out by simultaneous military movements upon the State capital. Governor Magoffin was to furnish the pretence for the outbreak by making a formal demand upon President Lincoln for a discontinuance of Federal recruiting in the State, which, of course, would be refused. But the growth of the Union feeling brought these schemes to naught, and, when I reached Louisville, it was so greatly in the ascendant that the rebel leaders despaired of their ability to provoke rebellion in the State, and sought to persuade the rebel Government to compel it to share the fate of the Confederacy through invasion.
On September 5, the first news indicating that these efforts had been successful arrived. General Gideon J. Pillow had crossed the Mississippi the day before from the Arkansas side, with six thousand men, and occupied the Kentucky town of Columbus. Two weeks later, the still more startling announcement came that Buckner had invaded the State from the South with a rebel force of five thousand men. He had appeared in Washington in August, where he pretended to be determined to remain neutral, but suddenly disappeared, and made his way to Richmond, where he obtained a commission as brigadier-general, and immediately returned to his State to assume direction of the offensive movement by which it was expected to reach the Ohio and capture Louisville with a rush. He came very near succeeding. He seized the north bound trains on the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, loaded them with his troops, and pushed on. But for the displacement of a rail by a loyalist, causing the wreck of a south-bound train and obstructing the traffic, he might have reached Louisville. As it was, he stopped at Elizabethtown, thirty-five miles from the city, and, hearing of the approach of Federal troops, became himself alarmed and ordered the railroad bridge over a fork of Salt River, in his front, to be burned. About the same time, intelligence was received of a third invasion from another direction. During the second week of September, General Zollicoffer had started with a division of eight to nine thousand men from Eastern Tennessee for the Cumberland Gap, and reached the Cumberland River about a week later. Thus the neutrality farce — it had been nothing else for months before — came to an end, and Kentucky became one of the theatres of the Civil War, and not the least bloody and devastated.
The rebel offensive against the State naturally led also to a radical change in the attitude of the Federal Government. Just before the occupation of Columbus, General Anderson had visited Washington for consultation, and he returned to Cincinnati with Brigadier-Generals W. T. Sherman and George H. Thomas, who were to serve under him. General Thomas was at once sent to take command of the camp formed by Nelson, and General Sherman to St. Louis to solicit aid for Kentucky from General Frémont. General Anderson himself assumed active command in Kentucky, transferring his headquarters to Louisville. My friend Captain Fry came with him as assistant adjutant-general. General Sherman also reported there to him on his return from the West.
The news of the rebel advances toward the centre of the State produced great excitement and, to tell the truth, consternation and fright in Louisville. Everybody believed that Buckner would make as fast as possible for the Ohio River, and Zollicoffer would lose no time in making for the State capital. There were practically no troops available for contesting such movements but the half-drilled volunteers in Rousseau's and Nelson's camps. I had visited both, and knew that they were very far from being ready to take the field. Indeed, they were not half as efficient as the three-months' men in the Bull Run campaign. Help was telegraphed for and promised by the Federal Government and by the Governors of Ohio and Indiana. But as none could be expected immediately, and as General Anderson fortunately had timely warning of Buckner's contemplated coup de main, he at once ordered Sherman to take Rousseau's men and the Louisville Home Guards, numbering in all about twenty-five hundred, and move them by rail to a commanding position known as Muldraugh's Hill, about twenty-eight miles south of the city, on the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. This was promptly done, and that point occupied and fortified as well as possible. Union scouting parties sent out from it ascertained, a few days later, the reassuring fact that Buckner had fallen back to Bowling Green on Green River. Zollicoffer's intended march northward from the Cumberland River to the Blue Grass region, the heart of the State, was also stopped by the counter-movements of General Thomas. Evidently, both sides had exaggerated ideas of each other's strength, and each was afraid of being attacked by the other. Yet I could not help thinking at the time, and still am of the opinion, that, if Buckner and Zollicoffer had really pushed vigorously on, they had a good chance of compelling the at least temporary abandonment of Kentucky by the Federal Government and getting possession of the important city of Louisville and the main railroad artery connecting the Ohio River with the South.
Thus I was thoroughly disappointed in my expectation that active operations would give me plenty of interesting work. The rebels made themselves as secure and comfortable as possible at Bowling Green and in front of the Cumberland Gap, and their opponents no longer looked for the appearance of the enemy “at any moment,” but settled down to the work of drilling, disciplining, clothing, and equipping for the winter the Union forces already on the ground, and the reinforcements they steadily received by the arrival of newly-enlisted Ohio and Indiana regiments. By the end of September, nothing was left for me to do but to watch the curious developments in Washington and in Louisville, which I will now describe, in connection with military affairs in Kentucky.
Owing to his age and feeble health, General Anderson found himself unequal to the work and responsibility of his command, and asked to be relieved from duty soon after he had moved his headquarters to Louisville. His wish was reluctantly granted by President Lincoln, and a formal order to that effect issued by the War Department on October 7, and General Sherman directed to take his place. The change was not favorable for me, for, while General Anderson was very accessible and communicative to representatives of the press, General Sherman looked upon them as a nuisance and a danger at headquarters and in the field, and acted toward them accordingly, then as throughout his great war career. I did not, of course, agree with him at that time as to my own calling, but candor constrains me to say that I had to admit in the end that he was entirely right. For what I then observed, on the one hand, of the natural eagerness of volunteer officers of all grades (of whom so many were aspiring politicians at home) to get themselves favorably noticed in the press, even at the cost of indiscretions, and, on the other hand, of the indifference of press-men to military interests in publishing army news, must lead any unprejudiced mind to the conclusion that the harm certain to be done by war correspondents far outweighs any good they can possibly do. If I were a commanding general I would not tolerate any of the tribe within my army lines.
Under the circumstances, it was perfectly useless to approach General Sherman formally as a news-gatherer. I was, however, brought in contact with him in another and more satisfactory way. He appeared every night, like myself, at about nine o clock, in the office of Mr. Tyler, to learn the news brought in the night Associated Press report. He knew me from the Bull Run campaign as a correspondent of the press. Furthermore, I had been especially commended to him by his brother John (then a member of the House, and subsequently Senator from Ohio and Secretary of the Treasury); and as we met on neutral ground and I asked him no questions, we were soon on very good terms. He was a great talker, and he liked nothing better than to express his mind upon the news as it came. There he sat, smoking a cigar (I hardly ever saw him without one), leaning back in a chair, with his thumbs in the armholes of his vest. Or he was pacing up and down the room, puffing away, with his head bent forward and his arms crossed behind his back. Every piece of military intelligence drew some comment from him, and it was easy to lead him into a long talk if the subject interested him. He expressed himself without any reserve about men and matters, trusting entirely to the good faith of his hearers, who, as a rule, consisted only of Mr. Tyler and myself. As will be readily believed, we found the hours thus spent in his company a great treat, although we did not dream of the celebrity the General was to achieve. I have often wished I had made notes of his sayings. His estimates of military and political leaders particularly would have been worth preserving. Nearly all of them proved to be correct.
In his conversations with us, he discussed also the political and military situation in Kentucky and his own task in connection with it, and I could not help thinking that, in so doing, he said more than was wise and proper. He openly confessed, after he had been assigned to the command of the department, that he had not wished it and was afraid of his new responsibilities. With the vivid imagination inherent to genius, he clearly saw how formidable were the difficulties of the part he was expected to play in the suppression of the Rebellion. They simply appalled him. He found himself in command of raw troops, not exceeding twenty thousand in number. He believed that they should be multiplied many times. He feared the rebel forces in the State largely outnumbered his own, and he could not rid himself of the apprehension that, if he should be attacked, he would have no chance of success. It was not really want of confidence in himself that brought him to this state of mind, but, as it seemed to me, his intense patriotism and despair of the preservation of the Union in view of the fanatical, blood thirsty hostility to it throughout the South. This dread took such hold of him that, as I was informed by those who were in hourly official intercourse with him, he literally brooded over it day and night. It made him lapse into long, silent moods even outside his headquarters. He lived at the Galt House, occupying rooms on the ground floor. He paced by the hour up and down the corridor leading to them, smoking and obviously absorbed in oppressive thoughts. He did this to such an extent that it was generally noticed and remarked upon by the guests and employees of the hotel. His strange ways led to gossip, and it was soon whispered about that he was suffering from mental depression.
Such was his condition when Secretary Cameron arrived in Louisville for a conference with him. The Secretary had been to St. Louis to remonstrate with General Frémont about his extravagances and arbitrary assumption of power, and came to see General Sherman, who seemed to the Washington authorities to stand very much in need of being brought to reason, in view of his highly exaggerated theories as to the forces required for the extinction of the Rebellion in the Mississippi Valley. Secretary Cameron had with him Samuel Wilkeson, the Washington correspondent of the New York Tribune — afterwards for nearly twenty years secretary of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company — whom he allowed to listen to his official and confidential conversations with the General, without, however, disclosing Wilkeson's journalistic character. The conference is fully described in Sherman's Memoirs. The General demonstrated on a map his strategic programme for subduing the Confederacy. He indicated the lines of operation which the several Federal armies in process of formation should follow in the South. He also made an estimate of the numerical strength they should possess, and contended that, to destroy the military power of the Confederacy in the rebel States watered by the Mississippi and its eastern and western tributaries, would require not less than two hundred thousand men. This contention was so contrary to, or rather in advance of, the then still prevailing ideas of the limited power of resistance of the Confederacy and the means necessary to overcome it, that it startled the Secretary and excited doubts as to the state of the General's mind. Wilkeson told me, indeed, immediately after the conference, that Cameron thought the General was unbalanced by exaggerated fears as to the rebel strength, and that it would not do to leave him in command.
This was a great bit of news, but, in the public interest, I did not feel free to use it. My friend Murat Halstead, editor of the Cincinnati Commercial, being very much attached to the Sherman family, I communicated it to him in a private letter the same evening. But Halstead could not resist the temptation of utilizing the sensational information for his paper. To my painful surprise and great indignation, he printed, in the first issue after receiving my letter, an editorial paragraph saying in substance that “the country would learn with surprise and regret that Brigadier-General Sherman had become insane.” Thus I was the innocent cause of the publication of this cruel misstatement, which resulted in so much annoyance and distress to the General and his friends. But the worst result of the conference was yet to come. In spite of the fact that Cameron had concealed Wilkeson's connection with the press, so that Sherman talked with much more freedom than he would otherwise have done, the Secretary allowed Wilkeson to print every detail of the talk in the Tribune, accompanied by sarcastic criticisms of the timorousness of the General and his absurd demands for troops, as evidenced by his requisition for two hundred thousand men, and also by broad insinuations that his mind was upset and that he could not safely be permitted to exercise an important command. This was an abominable outrage, and a striking illustration of the utter unconsciousness at the time, in ruling circles and withal in the public at large, of the detriment to public interests and especially to army discipline wrought by such scandalous improprieties. As was to be foreseen, General Sher man asked to be relieved from his command, and, early in November, his request was readily granted. In fact, it was the general impression that the design of the publication in the Tribune was to compel him to retire.
A new military department, “of the Ohio,” was formed, and Brigadier-General Don Carlos Buell placed in command, with headquarters at Louisville, where he assumed charge in the second week of November. He held the same views regarding war correspondents as General Sherman, and would not allow them to approach him on any ground. But I continued to enjoy the special advantage of having a friend at court in Captain Fry. General Buell, besides his aversion to members of the press, was by nature reserved, taciturn, and cold in his manners — just the opposite of General Sherman. He repelled rather than attracted not only his subordinates, but all who came in contact with him. He was the choice of General McClellan for the position, and, like him, was destined to prove a failure.
I have referred to the exaggerated estimates of the rebel forces in his front that warped General Sherman's judgment. Together with the unreadiness of the troops under him, it had given rise to his disinclination to think of an early offensive as at all possible. One of the motives of the Government in substituting General Buell for him was its desire that something should be done for the relief of the loyalists in East Tennessee, whose steadfast adherence to the Union, in spite of the merciless persecution and oppression practised toward them by the rebel Government, appealed most strongly to the sympathies of the Northern States, and for whose protection active measures were warmly advocated in the press and in Congress. President Lincoln's interest in their cause was enlisted by the constant pleadings of Andrew Johnson, Horace Maynard, and other leaders on their behalf. He evidenced this by one of the famous documents of the war, the sketch of a plan which he had prepared, in the latter part of September, for an advance into East Tennessee, and sent to the War Department as a positive command, as shown by the first words: “On or about the fifth of October, I wish a movement made to seize and hold a point on the railroad connecting Virginia and Tennessee near the mountain pass called Cumberland Gap.” The plan and the ways and means indicated for its execution were unquestionably sound, and proved, like similar emanations at later stages of the war, that Mr. Lincoln's perception of the military situation was a very creditable one.
It was expected that General Buell, upon whom the Commander-in-chief, General McClellan, had himself urged, in his verbal instructions, the necessity of prompt action, with the promise of reinforcements for that purpose, would not be long in starting an expedition for East Tennessee. But it soon turned out that he also was unwilling to take early action. The more his command was swelled by additional troops from the North, the less he apparently became inclined to take the field — this notwithstanding the eagerness of General George H. Thomas to go for Zollicoffer from central Kentucky. On November 25, McClellan repeated his previous oral and written instructions in the strongest language, saying in his letter: "I am still convinced that political and strategical considerations render a prompt movement in force on Eastern Tennessee imperative. . . . I think we owe it to our Union friends in East Tennessee to protect them at all hazards.” He followed up this letter two days later with a despatch: “I urge movement at once on Eastern Tennessee unless it is impossible.” But Buell did not budge. He pleaded that his troops were anything but ready to take the field. He described them as “little better than a mob.” The fact that he was being vainly urged to move became public, and he was attacked in the press and in Congress. But this did not influence him any more than the orders and remonstrances of his superiors. These continued to reach him by mail and wire, but he contrived to find excuses for not complying.
In the latter part of December, the pressure from Washington at last extracted from him the admission that he had never really thought a movement into East Tennessee advisable, and that his programme was a defensive one in an eastern and an offensive one in a western direction. Finally, President Lincoln lost his long-tried patience, and on January 4 wired him: “Please tell me the progress and condition of the movement in the direction of East Tennessee. Answer.” Buell, in his reply, amplified his previous admission that the East Tennessee movement had been decidedly against his judgment from the very first, as likely to render doubtful the success of “a movement against the great power of the Rebellion in the west, which is mainly arrayed on the line between Bowling Green and Columbus.” President Lincoln replied by mail, commencing his letter thus: “Your despatch of yesterday has been received and disappoints and distresses me,” and then argued that, in his judgment, the possession of the rail road between Virginia and East Tennessee seemed to him more important and more to be desired than that of Nashville. Next he lamented the sad fate of the loyalists, if left without help. “But my distress is,” he said, “that our friends in East Tennessee are being hanged and driven to despair.” “My despatch to you was sent with the knowledge of Senator Johnson and Representative Maynard, and they will be after me to know your answer, which I cannot safely show them.” This characteristic wail of the President, with the extraordinary ending, “I do not intend this to be an order in any sense, but merely to show you the grounds of my anxiety,” was followed by far more emphatic expressions from General McClellan. “I was extremely sorry,” he wrote to Buell, “to learn from your telegram to the President that you had from the beginning attached little or no importance to a movement into East Tennessee. I had not so understood your views, and it develops a radical difference between yours and mine, which I deeply regret.” He then gave his reasons for preferring a movement towards East Tennessee to one against Nashville, emphasizing the fact that “the latter would work a prejudicial change in my own plans.” On January 13, McClellan wrote again in a way that obliged Buell to promise to comply with the wishes of his superiors. Yet he failed to keep his promise promptly, further excusing himself by reason of want of transportation and the impracticability of the roads.
Meantime, the lack of stirring events and the absolute silence imposed by General Buell's orders upon correspondents in regard to the large army under his command, on penalty of expulsion from the department, made time hang rather heavily on my hands. My social relations were too limited, for the reasons already explained, to relieve the monotony of my daily life. Moreover, no public entertainments of any kind were going on in Louisville, owing to the state of war. But I had a pleasant interruption of my dull existence by spending Christmas week among my friends in Cincinnati. The continual inclemency of the weather added no little to the dreariness of those winter months, during which not a single personal incident worth recording occurred.
My usefulness to my employers would thus not have been very great but for the accidental discovery and exploitation of a new mine of valuable intelligence. The war having cut off all the former communications between the loyal and rebel States by mail and telegraph, railroad and steamboat, the Northern press was deprived of its regular supply of Southern news. Its scarcity very much increased the demand for and the value of it. The curiosity of the Northern public regarding current events in the South seemed to be even greater than about home affairs. It occurred to me during the fall that, what with the large number of Louisville people who had gone South to help the Confederates and their natural desire to hear from home and to be able to send tidings of themselves, some channel of intelligence might be opened. On close investigation I found out that there were men and women travelling regularly between Louisville and Nashville, who made it their business to carry letters, papers, and other things between the two points — a sort of “under ground railroad.” By paying liberally for them, I managed to receive through this agency all the leading papers in the South. With clippings from them, which I accompanied by proper comments, I made up regular budgets of Southern news, which became a highly prized feature of the Herald. None of its contemporaries was so well servedin this respect as long as I remained stationed in Louisville.
The Occupation of Nashville.—1862
THE quietude that reigned in Kentucky was suddenly broken in the latter part of January, 1862, by the collision between General Thomas and General Zollicoffer in what is known as the “battle of Mill Springs,” though it hardly deserved the name. Zollicoffer, having established himself on the north bank of the Cumberland River, on the road from the Gap to the central part of the State, caused a good deal of annoyance and suffering by sending raiding parties in different directions, as well as by repeated advances and retreats with his main body, which were met by counter-movements by the Federal brigade of General Schoepf, charged by General Thomas to watch the enemy. To put an end to these inflictions, Buell finally authorized Thomas to advance with his division toward the Cumberland. He reached a point ten miles from the rebel encampment on January 18, with part of his forces. The enemy was apprised of his approach, and decided to attack him before all his command had come up. The encounter took place on the following day. Zollicoffer having been killed early in the fight, the rebels lost their cohesion, and were beaten back after a struggle of several hours. They retreated in disorder to their fortified camp at Mill Springs. The Unionists followed them closely and surrounded their position during the night. In the morning it was discovered that the enemy had crossed the Cumberland in the darkness, leaving behind them twelve pieces of artillery, small arms, supplies, and their wounded. It was a very creditable victory for the Union cause, as the rebel strength was one-third greater than General Thomas's; and it had a great moral effect in the loyal States. The principal part in it was borne by the Ninth Ohio Regiment, commanded by Colonel Robert L. McCook. He was a prominent lawyer and partner of John B. Stallo, the well-known German leader at Cincinnati, and was one of the famous family of which no less than ten members, comprising the father and nine sons, bore arms during the war. The regiment had been recruited from among the Germans of Ohio, and was officered in part by ex-officers of the Prussian army, who had brought it up to a high degree of drill and discipline. Colonel McCook himself was wounded. The way to Cumberland Gap and into East Tennessee was now unobstructed, and Thomas was ready to push forward, but he received no orders to that effect, and remained on the Cumberland until the important developments in western Kentucky shortly afterwards changed the entire course of events.
Before speaking of these, it will be proper to describe the composition of Buell's army, whose coming experiences I was to share. It had gradually increased through the fall and winter, by steady reinforcements, until it numbered nearly seventy-two thousand men on the rolls, of whom about three-quarters were effective. They included nearly eighty-four infantry regiments, organized in the States of Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota; half a dozen regiments of cavalry from Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio; and twenty batteries of six guns each. They first were formed into brigades of four foot regiments and one battery each, numbered consecutively up to twenty-one, and subsequently into six divisions, of four and three brigades, with a cavalry regiment each. The division commanders were, in the order of the numbers of their divisions, Brigadier-Generals George H. Thomas, Alexander McDowell McCook, Ormsby M. Mitchel (a regular-army officer), William Nelson (who had been formally transferred in August from the navy to the army, with the rank of brigadier-general), Thomas L. Crittenden, and Thomas J. Wood (of the regular army). Among the brigade commanders figured a number who afterwards became well known, such as M. D. Manson, L. H. Rousseau, R. W. Johnson, J. S. Negley, J. B. Turchin, Jacob Ammen, W. B. Hazen, Charles Cruft, M. S. Hascall, and C. G. Harker. During the active operations that followed, I had the opportunity of making the acquaintance of nearly all of these commanders and entering into friendly relations with a number of them, which continued even after the close of the war.
All through November, December, and January there had been, as is shown by the printed official records, correspondence by wire and mail between the Government at Washington and Generals McClellan, Halleck (who had superseded Frémont as commander-in-chief of the military department comprising Missouri and Illinois), and Buell, regarding the future programme for combined action upon the Western theatre of war. As early as the latter half of November, Buell had expressed himself in a general way in favor of using the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers as offensive lines, with Nashville as the main objective-point. Halleck favored the line of the Tennessee alone, as the movements along two lines would require too much force. But Buell did not urge his general suggestion, nor submit any plans in detail. Hence the protracted discussion had led to no agreement or decision up to the end of January. Buell had, however, slowly crept with his forces nearer the rebel front at Bowling Green, and, at that time, his lines extended from near that place eastwardly to Glasgow, Columbia, and Somerset. He still believed that the rebel forces in his front under Albert Sidney Johnston outnumbered him, and, owing to this illusion, his every forward step was characterized by excessive caution. The truth was, that Johnston's command was only little more than one-third as strong as Buell's army.
The dissensions and hesitations of the commanding generals were brought to an end in an unexpected manner. At the close of January, General Grant, in command at Cairo, and Rear-Admiral Foote, commanding the fleet of river gunboats, succeeded, after several vain attempts, in extracting permission from General Halleck to attack and, if possible, capture Fort Henry, constructed by the rebels for the defence of the Tennessee River near its mouth. On February 6, the loyal public was made joyful by the laconic news from General Grant: “Fort Henry is ours,” with the hope-inspiring addition: “I shall take and destroy Fort Donelson on the eighth.” The latter fort was erected at a distance of only a day's march from Fort Henry to lock the Cumberland against Northern troops and gunboats. When Grant sent this confident despatch, he had no idea how difficult it would be to make good his word, and how important his success would be in really determining the whole course of the war in the Mississippi and Ohio valleys. The moment he received the news of the fall of Fort Henry, the rebel commander Johnston, at Bowling Green, realizing the danger it involved of the capture of Fort Donelson and of thereby having the centre of the rebel line from Bowling Green to Columbus pierced and his own left flank turned through the opening of the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers to the Federals, held a council of war, at which, on his recommendation, it was decided to abandon his long-held position in Kentucky for the protection of Tennessee, and to fight for that object at Fort Donelson. This resolution was carried out with admirable promptitude. Fourteen thousand infantry were at once detached, under the command of Generals Buckner and Floyd, for the reinforcement of Donelson, and sent by rail to Clarksville and thence the short distance down the river by boat. The remaining eight thousand of the twenty-two thousand men, all told, that Johnston's army actually consisted of, broke camp and fell back on Nashville. Donelson was further reinforced by four thousand men from General Pillow's command. This throwing of a heavy force into the fort was sound and justified by the circumstances, but it utterly miscarried, owing to the determined offensive of General Grant and the lack of fighting spirit in the garrison. On February 16, the Northern States were electrified by the astonishing tidings of the unconditional surrender of Donelson with fifteen thousand rebels (including General Buckner), twenty thousand stands of arms, forty-eight small and seventeen heavy guns, thousands of horses, and great quantities of commissary and quartermaster's stores.
This great triumph of General Grant not only raised the patriotic enthusiasm of the loyal people to the highest pitch, but instantly broke the spell of apprehension that had kept the Union commanders in the West on the defensive. The force of events carried them irresistibly along. It ended the conflict of their strategic theories by compelling them to take advantage of the unexpected achievement on the Cumberland, which did nothing less than open the way for the Union armies to the very heart of the Confederacy west of the Alleghanies.
Already the fall of Fort Henry had roused Halleck and Buell. They had early information of the abandonment of Bowling Green by the enemy, and correctly divined that Johnston meant to use his forces to save Donelson. Buell was ready enough to take up his former plan of moving up the two rivers. He took the initiative in supporting Grant's operations by ordering Cruft's 13th brigade, stationed at Calhoun on the lower Green River, to join Grant, which it did in time to participate in the attack on Donelson. He started eight additional unassigned regiments by water for the same purpose, and, in response to an appeal from Halleck, he ordered three of his divisions, under Thomas, Nelson, and Crittenden, to make as quickly as possible for Louisville and embark thence on steamboats down the Ohio for the Cumberland. They could not get under way from Louisville, however, until the day of the surrender of Donelson. In consequence of that event, the other three divisions of Buell were at once ordered to move in forced marches upon Nashville. Buell himself joined the advance of General Mitchel's division. The march was made so rapidly that some of the cavalry arrived at Edgefield on the north bank of the Cumberland, opposite Nashville, on the morning of Sunday, the 23d. General Buell himself did not reach the same point with the division, nine thousand strong, till the evening of the following day. He was met there by the mayor of Nashville and a committee of citizens, who reported the evacuation of the city by the Confederate forces, and obtained an appointment for the next morning for the formal surrender. The destruction by the rebels of the suspension bridge for ordinary traffic, as well as of the railroad bridge across the Cumberland, made it impossible for General Buell to enter the city immediately. This deprived him of the satisfaction of being the first Federal commander in the capital of Tennessee, for, early next morning, a fleet of boats, escorted by the gunboat Conestoga, came in sight with a large body of his own troops under command of General Nelson, who landed at once and took possession.
The inspiring news of the attack on Fort Donelson caused me much perplexity. I had been at the front a fortnight before the capture of Fort Henry, but returned to Louisville when I learned of the decision to send reinforcements to Grant by the river route, with a view to accompany them. General Nelson, whose division was to take part in that expedition, invited me to come on his boat. I accepted and expected to go on board on the morning of the 16th. But the reports from Donelson in the morning papers of that day indicated such confidence by General Grant in its impending fall that I concluded to wait another day before deciding upon my course, lest, by starting down the Ohio, I might be too late for the capture of the fort, and also miss some important movement by General Buell. I went early in the evening to the Associated Press office, and impatiently awaited, with half a dozen others, the night report. The very first sentence announced the surrender of Donelson, and made all present break out into shouts of delight. I congratulated myself on my wisdom in not going with General Nelson, but in the morning I was obliged to doubt whether I had chosen the better part, on learning that Buell, on hearing of Grant's success, had immediately put his army in motion for Nashville. My quandary was, however, solved on as certaining later in the day that, in addition to Nelson's division, the divisions of Generals Thomas and Crittenden had been ordered to embark as fast as possible for the Cumberland. Learning that I could not overtake Buell by land, I made up my mind to go by water. Fortunately, a boat started down the river the same evening, with quartermaster's and commissary's stores for Nelson's division. Captain Miller, of the Galt House, knew the captain, and introduced me to him, thanks to which I was very well taken care of on the trip. I left most of my belongings behind, and set out, wearing my campaign army-blue suit and a regulation overcoat.
We reached Fort Donelson the next morning. It lay in a bend of the river on steeply rising bluffs, about a hundred feet above the water. We found a great fleet of boats, including those having on board Nelson's command, which was waiting for telegraphic orders. It took us some hours to make a good landing, owing to the number of craft in the way, and it was nearly dark before I managed to find General Nelson. No orders had yet reached him. He repeated his invitation to come on his boat, but, seeing that it was very crowded, and being assured by him that my boat would follow him wherever he went, I thought it best not to change. We were kept stationary and uncertain as to our final destination for four days. But I found myself in the midst of striking scenes of actual war that made our stay most interesting. There was the Fort itself, a rectangular work, inclosing about one hundred acres, with high ramparts and well-protected water-batteries of heavy guns; its earthen embankments ploughed and torn by our gunboat fire. There were camps of Union soldiers and of rebel prisoners, but few of whom had yet been sent North. The great majority of the latter were only partially uniformed, or were wholly in civilian clothes, and presented a very motley, dirty, and anything but respect-inspiring appearance. I talked much with them, and found them very ready, as defeated soldiers always are, to blame and denounce their officers. There was a chaos of thousands of captured wagons, horses, and mules. Mournful was the sight of long rows of fresh graves containing the killed on both sides, and of the field-hospitals crowded with Federal and Confederate wounded. A striking border to this picture was formed by the score and more of side-wheel and stern-wheel steamboats and grim-looking gunboats, puffing, blowing, and whistling, loaded with human and other freight. Altogether, there was enough to see and describe to keep me fully occupied. In one respect I was, however, disappointed. I failed to see “Unconditional Surrender” Grant, as he did not leave his boat while we remained, and, not knowing anybody on it, I did not feel bold enough to go on board.
At last, on the afternoon of the fourth day, orders reached General Nelson to proceed up the river as far as Clarksville and there await further instructions. We immediately got under way, and reached our destination in a few hours. The banks were well settled and quite attractive. We anchored in the river, not far from the great bridge of the railroad from Louisville to Memphis. Again our patience was tried by lying still for more than twenty-four hours, after which, late in the afternoon of the twenty-fourth, the welcome report came that the way to Nashville was clear, and that we should start for that city at daybreak next morning.
Accordingly, our flotilla of seven boats, convoyed by the gunboat Conestoga, got in motion in single file up the river as soon as there was light enough to find the way. The valley proved to be quite picturesque. Bluffs of a very diversified character, now of solid, barren rock, and again heavily timbered, rose close to the banks or bordered wide bottoms forming rich plantations. Half an hour before reaching Nashville, we passed Fort Zollicoffer, an unfinished river-battery with eight guns in position, but deserted. Soon after, we caught sight of the imposing State capitol, standing upon the highest hill within the city limits. A little further, and the ruins of the two bridges connecting the city with the north bank of the river came into view, and in twenty minutes more we were tied to a wharf at the foot of one of the leading streets.
Nashville had then a population of less than twenty thousand. (It had more than eighty thousand in 1890.) It was compactly and regularly built up over an undulating area, rising rather steeply at first and then more gradually from the river to a broken plateau. The lower streets, as in all river-towns the world over, were devoted to business, and the upper ones to residential purposes. The site was crowned by the hill on which the great State-house — greater in size than in correct architectural style — occupied a most commanding position. The business buildings, as well as the private residences, were mostly made of brick and stone, and had a solid but unpretentious look, although the style and proportions of a number of the homes gave evidence of wealthy ownership. Altogether, the appearance of the place indicated considerable thrift, and impressed me more as that of a Northern than of a Southern city.
I was among the very first to jump ashore. We supposed General Buell to have taken possession, and were surprised to learn that we were the first “invaders” to enter the city. Having learned also that not a single Confederate soldier remained in it, I did not hesitate to set out alone to see the place and to gather information as to the local events previous to our arrival. In an hour I had walked through all the principal streets. I found the wholesale and retail stores and most of the better class of residences shut up. Very few whites, but plenty of blacks were visible. The State-house presented a curious sight. I discovered only one person — a colored doorkeeper — in the big edifice that had contained, but a few days before, the whole State Government and the State Legislature with all its throng of attendants. They had all “done gone” a week ago, as the sole occupant informed me. Not a door was locked, and a good many stood wide open, indicating a most rapid disappearance of the executive and legislative branches. They had adjourned as far west as was possible within the State limits, viz., to Memphis.
I next sought the American House, the leading hotel, in order to secure board and lodging. The house was open, but seemed utterly deserted. After much ringing of the office bell, a colored man appeared, who, on my inquiry for the proprietor, answered, with a broad grin: “Massa done gone souf.” Not a guest had been entertained for several days, and he could not tell what would be done with the hotel. But I boldly ordered him to show me the better rooms and selected the best one, which I told him to reserve against all comers till I returned. I hurried back to the boat, got my saddle-bag and said good-bye to the captain, and within half an hour had taken actual possession of the room. It was well I had acted thus promptly, for, by noon, the hotel swarmed with other correspondents and staff-officers. A quartermaster's clerk with hotel experience was put in charge, the chief cook hunted up, and, with the supplies found in the store-room and meat procured from a butcher, the caravansary was soon in full running order. In a few days the proprietor returned and resumed control.
I lost no time, after securing my quarters, in making for the office of the Daily American, the principal paper of the city. I purchased the back numbers for three weeks and found them a mine of interesting information. Especially were the full accounts of what happened in the city after the fall of Donelson of great value to me and to Captain Fry, Buell's chief of staff, to whom I lent them in the evening, as they gave him a clear idea of the rebel military movements throughout the South. I found one of the owners and some of the editors of the paper in the office. I introduced myself as a “Northern colleague,” and they were evidently very glad to have some one to consult with as to the course they should pursue. They had continued the publication up to that day, but were in doubt whether it would be safe and profitable for them to go on with it. I advised them to do so by all means, but to print only news from the North and South and local intelligence, without any editorials or biased comments. I assured them that the military authorities would allow this. They followed my suggestion and printed the paper right along. Within a few days, they were able to publish the Northern Associated Press reports, but their Southern news naturally became meagre.
According to appointment, the mayor, B. B. Cheatham, a member of the prominent family of that name, which played a conspicuous part on the Southern side during the Rebellion, called on General Buell, at Edgefield, with a deputation of leading citizens, shortly after our landing. He received assurances that, in view of the surrender of the city at discretion, all law-abiding persons and their property would receive the fullest protection from the Federal troops. Soon after the conference, General Buell crossed over with his staff on a boat, and established his headquarters in a commodious mansion abandoned by its owner. The transfer of the troops he had led also commenced, and on that and the next day about fifteen thousand “Yanks” marched through the streets to encampments selected for them in the suburbs. For ten days, additional arrivals took place to the number of thousands a day, including the divisions that had marched from Bowling Green, as well as those carried up the Cumberland by boats, and before the middle of March the whole of Buell's army was concentrated about Nashville. The only troops quartered in the city, however, were a large provost-marshal's guard, charged with preventing officers and soldiers from entering the city except on duty or with proper permits, which were only sparingly granted.
The mayor at once issued a proclamation announcing the promise of protection and maintenance of order by General Buell, and calling upon all citizens to resume their occupations, and especially to reopen all stores for business, which was gradually done. He also called on the farmers of the vicinity to resume bringing their supplies to the city markets. This was quite in contrast with the bombastic manifesto issued by the Governor of the State, Isham G. Harris, at Memphis, against the ruthless invaders of Tennessee's soil.
A brief account of what happened in Nashville after the fall of Donelson and before the advent of the Federals will be in place here. The rebel commander-in-chief, Johnston, reached Nashville ahead of his troops on February 17, and at once informed the State and city authorities of the impossibility of defending the city, and his direct intention of retreating with his forces beyond it. He expressed his fear at the same time that the Federal gunboats and troops might appear within a few hours. The suddenness and portentousness of this announcement, which immediately became known to the inhabitants, produced at once the deepest consternation among all classes. The measures adopted by the Confederate commander before abandoning the city to its fate intensified the general fright into a regular panic. In order to obstruct and delay the Federal pursuit, the destruction of the railroad and suspension bridges was ordered and carried out — a wanton, useless act, as the height of the river made its use by the largest boats practicable. This only increased the general scare, as indicating want of faith in the re-establishment of Confederate rule. The papers stated that “this brutal outrage upon the city was perpetrated against the earnest and persistent protest of the leading citizens.” Next in folly was the conduct of the officers of the rebel commissary and quartermaster's department, who hastily abandoned their posts, and, before doing so, threw open the magazines holding the immense stores of miscellaneous supplies for the Confederate army, and allowed the public to help themselves to them in order to prevent their falling into the hands of the enemy. Naturally, a wild scramble for this public prey ensued among the lower classes, and, as might have been expected, led to disorder and violence. A lawless, defiant mob had virtual possession of the city. The newspapers reported the street scenes that were en acted for several days as “beggaring description.” “The untiring energy of the mayor and city authorities was inadequate to keep down the selfish, grasping spirit from running riot.” “Irish laborers and negroes competed with ‘gentlemen’ in ‘toting’ off ‘hog,’ flour, sugar, crackers, clothing, and other things.” The Governor at the same time pranced about the streets on horseback, vainly appealing for volunteer help in removing the State records. At a subsequent investigation ordered by the Confederate Congress, it was proved that the loss to the rebel Government from this authorized plundering was over one million dollars, and that it was an entirely unwarranted and culpable waste of public property, as almost a whole week elapsed before the Federals appeared after the retreat of Johnston. The pillage was finally stopped by the energy of the rebel cavalry leader Forrest, who later attained such notoriety as a daring and successful raider. With a command of only forty men, he succeeded in restoring order after several days, and maintained it till our arrival compelled his retirement.
The panic manifested itself in a general effort to run away from the coming “ruthless Northern hordes.” The reckless falsehoods that had been circulated by the Southern press about the savage warfare waged by the Northern armies, now bore their natural fruit. Having been constantly told that slaughter, pillage, “booty and beauty” were their insatiate longing, thousands sought safety in instant flight, abandoning homes and business and taking with them only what they could carry on their persons or in vehicles. Even the many sick and wounded soldiers from the hospital swelled the tide. The general fear, in view of the fate of the bridges, that the city would be burned so that the “Yankees” might find another Moscow, had much to do with this needless hegira. There were, indeed, some crazy secessionists who openly proclaimed their purpose to fire every house in the city.
Two days after our landing, I had the satisfaction of getting my first view of “Unconditional Surrender” Grant. He had unexpectedly come up from Clarksville, by boat, for a conference with General Buell. I met him with his staff riding up to the latter's headquarters. I could not help feeling rather disappointed by the commonplace appearance of the man. He stayed only a few hours, but took time to see the city and to pay his respects to the widow of ex-President Polk, who made her home in a stately mansion on the finest residence street, and was one of the few Nashville gentlewomen not scared away by the dread of the Northern vandals. Mrs. Polk, while not concealing her Southern sympathies, received him in a very ladylike manner. Her behavior was very different from that experienced by the Grant party from other women, having the appearance of ladies, in passing through the streets. These “Yankee haters” went so far as to show their venom by spitting contemptuously, sticking out their tongues, and hissing like snakes. I can bear personal testimony that such low manifestations of viragoism were of frequent occurrence during the first weeks after the Federal occupation; but they gradually disappeared.
I am tempted to recall, in this connection, that Grant's visit to Nashville came very near bringing his career as a Federal commander to an early end. He undertook the trip without giving notice, as required by the general field orders, of his intended absence from his command to his immediate superior, General Halleck, who in very strong terms reported this neglect of duty to the War Department, which replied giving him authority to relieve the offender from duty and put him under arrest. Halleck had also wired a severe reprimand to Grant, on receiving which the latter asked to be relieved before the order to the same effect had come by mail from Washington. But the difficulty was made up, most fortunately for the Union cause.
I had plenty to do for a fortnight in writing up the “past and present.” Communication by mail and telegraph with the North was opened within forty-eight hours after Buell's advent, and the first week I sent letters daily, and the second every other day. Military and other affairs in and about the city had then, however, settled down to a regular routine, so that material grew very scarce. Not a shot had been fired by either side in occupying and retreating from Nashville, nor was any sound of war heard afterward, so complete had been the disappearance of the rebels from the adjacent portions of Tennessee. Unfortunately for the loyal cause, there was no unity of appreciation among the Federal commanders of the logical strategic consequences of the February victories, or proper recognition of the vital importance of following them up with enterprise and energy. They were engaged for weeks in telegraphing suggestions and counter-suggestions, and, before they had agreed among themselves whether it would be best to advance from Nashville or from middle Tennessee or down the Mississippi, the enemy's movements were again to determine their own. Thus Buell's army remained encamped about Nashville, making good use of the time, however, by assiduous drilling and by completing its field equipment. The Tennessee capital became a new base of operations, and supplies of every kind and of ammunition were accumulated as fast as possible by rail and river.
The monotony into which matters had fallen was relieved by the advent in Nashville, about the middle of March, of Andrew Johnson. As United States Senator from Tennessee, he had achieved great renown and popularity, upon the outbreak of the Rebellion, by his unswerving, passionate loyalty. On the fall of Nashville, President Lincoln nominated him brigadier-general of volunteers, and, on his immediate confirmation by the Senate, vested him with the special function of Military Governor for the State of Tennessee, which he was to exercise till a regular civil government, faithful to the Union, could be re-established. He took possession, very properly, of the capitol, and at once adopted very vigorous measures for the assertion of his authority and the protection of the loyalists in the State. One of his first acts was to call on the mayor and the city council to take the oath of loyalty to the Federal Government. They refused to do this, by a vote of sixteen to one, whereupon Governor Johnson issued an order removing them and appointing an “acting” mayor, who thenceforth administered the affairs of the city without the control of a council. I saw Johnson almost daily, and watched him closely, in his official and his private relations. My judgment of him was that, while he was doubtless a man of unusual natural parts, he had too violent a temper and was too much addicted to the common Southern habit of free indulgence in strong drink. These failings really unfitted him for his task, and he proved even then as little qualified for the proper fulfilment of high executive responsibilities as he did three years later when a national calamity made him an accidental President of the United States.
Another noted character, popularly known as “Parson Brownlow,” appeared about the same time at Nashville. He was a popular preacher in East Tennessee when the Rebellion broke out, and, upon the first active secession movements in the Cotton States, denounced them with extraordinary boldness, energy, and ability, from both the pulpit and the rostrum. He had all the fervor of a regular camp-meeting exhorter, and by his homely, stirring eloquence became the moral mainstay of loyalism in his native section. He defied the rebel sympathizers and authorities there with unflinching bravery, and, in spite of all threats, never ceased to stand up for the Union and denounce secession until he was arrested and imprisoned. After a confinement of several weeks, he was exchanged for a prominent rebel officer, on condition that he should leave East Tennessee. This brought him to Nashville. I was amazed to find in him a tall, thin, beardless, hectic man, who moved about with difficulty and spoke with a husky voice. But, while his bodily weakness was extreme, his strength of spirit seemed unabated. He was a very entertaining talker, and spoke most movingly, with flashing eyes and pointing finger, of the wrongs to himself and his fellow-Tennesseeans. He stayed only a few days in Nashville, and then took a boat for the North in response to pressing invitations to speak in the larger cities, including the national capital, which President Lincoln himself had urged him to visit. Later, he was elected United States Senator by the loyal legislature organizedby Andrew Johnson, and was admitted to the Senate.
The Battle of Shiloh.—1862
GENERAL A. S. JOHNSTON had fallen back at first from Nashville in a southeasterly direction, to Murfreesboro', where he strengthened his force by reinforcements from Kentucky and Tennessee to the number of nineteen thousand, and then moved by rail to the Memphis & Charleston Railroad and over this road to its junction with the Mobile & Ohio Railroad at Corinth, in the northeast corner of Mississippi. This railroad centre was selected as the point of concentration for all the available rebel forces west of the Appalachian Mountains, as from it they could be readily used for the protection of both the middle rebel States and the Mississippi Valley. At Corinth, Johnston found General Beauregard with ten thousand men, and their united command continued to receive accessions. The Union commanders became aware of the proposed rebel concentration early in March, and decided upon their future operations accordingly.
Very strong opinions have been expressed by competent critics, during and since the war, that it was a grave mistake of our military leaders to make for the point chosen by the enemy instead of drawing him away from it by strategic moves and compelling him to meet them upon a field chosen by themselves. It is not for me, however, to discuss the merits or demerits of what was to be known as the Shiloh campaign, but simply to record the fact that Generals Halleck and Buell reached an understanding that the latter's army should join that of General Grant at Savannah on the Tennessee River. The operations of the united armies were to be conducted under the chief command of General Halleck. The railroads being destroyed, there remained for General Buell only the long march from Nashville to Savannah, for which he accordingly prepared.
The orders for the march were issued on March 14. Five divisions — to wit, the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth, under Generals Thomas, McCook, Nelson, Crittenden, and Wood, aggregating thirty-seven thousand effective men — were to move under the direct command of General Buell, while the Third, under General Mitchel, and the newly-formed Seventh, under Brigadier-General G. W. Morgan, were to remain behind to protect Nashville and clear middle Tennessee of rebels, and to take possession of and repair the railroads in that portion of the State. The route to be followed led first in a southerly direction to the considerable towns of Franklin and Columbia, thence turned to the southwest as far as Lawrenceburg, and from this point almost due west through Waynesboro' to Savannah, a total distance of about one hundred and ten miles. On March 15, a cavalry force was sent to save the bridges at the two first-mentioned places, but they had already been destroyed. McCook's division started the next day as the head of the army. The Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and First divisions followed in the order mentioned, with an interval of a day between them.
I accompanied General McCook by invitation, messing with his division quartermaster. I was well mounted on a fine-looking, strong black horse that I had bought at a low price at Nashville. General Buell had no instructions to hasten, and hence we moved at a moderate pace. The marching, too, was easy at first, over the fine turnpikes from Nashville to Columbia. The country was rolling, picturesque, and well cultivated, the home of large slaveholders living in fine brick mansions on their broad plantations until frightened off by the invaders. The crossing of the stream at Franklin was not difficult, but when we reached Columbia, thirty-five miles from Nashville, on the third day, we were stopped by the swollen waters of the Duck River, which proved so wide and deep that we had the alternative of bridging it or of waiting for its subsidence. Strange to say, General Buell's army was not provided with any pontoons. The construction of a bridge being decided upon, General R. W. Johnson's brigade of McCook's division was detailed to erect it. The work was mainly performed by the numerous mechanics in the Thirty-second Indiana Regiment, entirely composed of Germans and commanded by Colonel August von Willich. He was descended from the old military family of that name in Prussia, and had been an artillery officer in the Prussian service until he embraced the revolutionary cause in 1848 and 1849. After its failure, he became an exile. He had brought his regiment up to a high point of drill and discipline. It was considered the best in Buell's army in these respects. I made the Colonel's acquaintance on this occasion, and found him a stern and most able and energetic soldier, with astonishingly radical political views for one of his antecedents. The personal relations then formed continued till his death, long after the close of the war.
The bridge construction delayed us ten days on Duck River, and thereby came near entailing disastrous consequences upon the Union cause that might have changed the outcome of the Civil War. As all Buell's advices from Halleck indicated that he (Buell) would meet Grant on the right bank of the Tennessee — that is, with the river be tween them and the enemy — he felt no apprehension as to Grant's safety before his junction with him. But, unknown to him, it had been decided to transfer Grant's command to the left bank at Pittsburg Landing, some eight miles above Savannah. This transposition, together with the knowledge of Buell's detention at Columbia, had determined A. S. Johnston and Beauregard to strike a blow at Grant before he was reinforced by Buell. The official records make it plain that they would thus have succeeded in overwhelming Grant at Shiloh and destroying his army but for the inspiration or foreboding of Buell's division commanders. The naval soldier, General Nelson, in his ever alert, anxious loyalty, grew fearful that Grant was in great danger from the rebel concentration at Corinth. He urged Buell in the last week of March to hurry to his relief as rapidly as possible, but failed to convince him of the need of any haste. His commander, moreover, pointed out the difficulty of resuming the march before the completion of the bridge over Duck River, which would be finished anyway in a few days. Nelson then offered to get his division over the river by fording it, as the river had rapidly fallen and reached its ordinary stage. Buell yielded to his earnest pleading for permission to try this, and even consented to his forming the advance in place of the Second Division, in case not only his infantry, but also his cavalry and artillery and trains, could be got across. The venturesome mariner immediately commenced his preparations, and on the 28th issued formal orders for the experiment. Reveille was sounded at four A.M. the next day, and in two hours his command was ready to move, with one day's rations in their haversacks.
Having obtained General Nelson's permission to accompany him, I was on the bank at six o'clock, a witness to very exciting and amusing scenes. As each infantry regiment reached the ford, the men, stripping off their pantaloons, rolled them up into small bundles which they carried on the points of their fixed bayonets. The cartridge-boxes were hung around their necks. The men then waded into the river, which was about one hundred and seventy-five feet wide at the ford, and made the passage without any difficulty, the bottom being hard and the greatest depth of water not exceeding three and one-half feet. Approaches having been made down the steep bank, the cavalry, artillery, and wagons effected the crossing also, with but small mishaps, and the whole division was safely encamped on the south bank before dark. The experiment was not repeated by the other troops, as the bridge was completed the next day and McCook's division made use of it on the second day. But the structure was narrow and not strong enough to bear great weight, so that much caution had to be used in moving the army over it. The passage took four days. Nelson's fording exploit was looked upon as an uncalled-for piece of bravado by his fellow-commanders and the rank and file of the army generally. But the two days' start he gained thereby for his division was to be a great boon to the Union cause.
The Fourth Division started early on the 29th en route for Savannah. Instead of hard turnpikes, we found now ordinary dirt roads, which the rain that had set in soon reduced to six and more inches of mud. They were so narrow that the fences on each side had to be thrown down to make room for the troops. The soil deteriorated, too, and the smaller size of the farms and the inferior cultivation indicated plainly that we were no longer in a region where the “peculiar institution” prevailed, but in the domain of the “poor whites.” It was very sparsely settled, and we passed only at long intervals a few struggling hamlets consisting of a small number of unpainted, shabby frame buildings. Even the so-called towns we came through — Lawrenceburg, Mount Pleasant, and Waynesboro' — were so small as not to deserve to be called even “villages,” and had a very thriftless, decayed appearance. Rain continued to fall and seemed to grow heavier from day to day. It made the march a very dreary and trying one to the troops. In spite of all efforts, no more than an average of ten miles a day could be accomplished, owing to the heaviness of the roads. As the trains followed in the rear of the division, the hardship of bivouacking without tents was imposed on all except the commanders and their staffs, who managed to occupy the few human habitations. I had a roof over me every night, but had to sleep on the bare floor.
Either before or after leaving Columbia, General Buell decided to make a halt for concentration and rest at Waynesboro', two days' easy march from Savannah, and advised Generals Halleck and Grant, and instructed his division commanders, accordingly. By a fortunate delay of the cavalry detail carrying the order, it failed to reach General Nelson. For some reason or other, the other division commanders also did not receive their orders before passing Waynesboro', so that General Buell's plan (regarding which Halleck wired him as late as April 5, “You are right about concentrating at Waynesboro'”) to stop there for a few days miscarried. Buell notified Grant on April 3 from his camp, seven miles south of Columbia, that he would come right through to Savannah with his leading division. He rode so rapidly with his staff that, on the evening of the following day, he could send a message to Grant three miles west of Waynesboro' (a field-telegraph line had been erected by an advance party), that he desired to meet him in Savannah the next day. He also asked for information about the position and strength of the enemy. Grant answered from Savannah on the 5th: “Your despatch just received. I will be here to meet you to-morrow. The enemy at and near Corinth from sixty to eighty thousand. Information deemed reliable.” This message constitutes indisputable proof that its author did not dream of the fearful struggle that burst upon him the next day.
In the meantime, Nelson pushed along with his division as fast as possible. His cavalry advance reached Savannah on the afternoon of April 3; himself and his staff, with whom I rode, and the leading brigade arrived early on the 5th. Savannah turned out to be no better than the villages we had passed. It was situated on elevated ground some distance from the river. As it was already crowded with various headquarters and surrounded by train-camps, camping-grounds for Nelson's division were selected about one and a half miles east of the place. Having hardly a dry thread on me, owing to the incessant rain, I concluded to ride to the river and try for quarters on one of the several boats made fast to the bank. Luckily, I succeeded in this, which meant not only a chance to dry my clothes, but also my first decent meal in almost a week and twelve hours' unbroken sleep in a good bed. General Buell, with his staff and body-guard, also reached Savannah on the evening of the 5th, but so late that he did not try to hunt up General Grant before his appointment with him for the next day, and simply notified him of his arrival.
Early in the morning, the report of musketry and artillery fire was heard from up the river. It was so heavy that General Buell felt sure a serious conflict had commenced. He hastened to Grant's headquarters only to find that he had already started up the river, leaving the following message for him:
Savannah, April 6 [Sunday], 1862.
Heavy firing is heard up the river, indicating plainly that an attack has been made upon our most advanced positions. I have been looking for this, but did not believe that the attack could be made before Monday or Tuesday. This necessitates my joining the forces up the river instead of meeting you to-day as I had contemplated. I have directed Nelson to move to the river with his division.
It must be admitted that, if Grant had really been “looking for this,” it was his duty as commander-in-chief to be with his troops and not miles away and separated from them by a river. His absence involved, indeed, the lack of unity of command, the most essential condition of success in battle, and actually compelled his division commanders to take care of themselves as best they could. When he reached the scene of the conflict, the worst blows had already been suffered by his forces.
The directions to General Nelson referred to in Grant's message were in the following form:
An attack having been made upon our forces, you will move your entire command to the river opposite Pittsburg Landing. You can easily obtain a guide in the village.
As General Buell had reported his arrival the night before to General Grant, the issue of this order direct to Nelson can be explained only on the theory that Grant failed to hear of Buell's presence. This is confirmed by the following message sent by Grant after he had learned in person the condition of his command at Pittsburg Landing, not to General Buell, but to the “Commanding Officer, Federal forces, near Pittsburg, Tennessee.”
General: The attack upon my forces has been very spirited from early this morning. The appearance of fresh troops on the field now would have a powerful effect, both by inspiring our men and disheartening the enemy. If you will get upon the field, leaving all baggage on the east bank of the river, it will be a move to our advantage and possibly save the day to us. The rebel force is estimated at over one hundred thousand men.
This appeal for help, as well as Grant's first message, fortunately reached Buell and made him alive to the necessity of promptly giving all possible aid to his fellow-commander. He at once sent peremptory orders to all the division commanders still en route (Crittenden was just arriving), to hurry on to the river with the utmost despatch. He next hunted up General Nelson (who, for some never explained reason, did not receive Grant's order till noon), and ordered him to move at once to Pittsburg. There was some delay, too, in finding a guide, so that the division did not get fully under way until after one. The road crossed a bottom partially under water, and was in so bad a condition that the artillery could not be moved over it at all. Even the infantry had to flounder all the way through mire, sometimes over a foot deep. But the officers and men struggled along most willingly, spurred on by the constantly increasing roar of battle, and by the inspiriting feeling that they were hurrying to the rescue of their brethren-in-arms. Yet it took them nearly four hours to accomplish the distance of seven miles, and it was nearly five o'clock when the head of Ammen's brigade, which had the lead, reached Pittsburg Landing.
The general belief at Savannah was at first that the firing we heard was incidental to a reconnoissance in force, or to a skirmish of outposts; but, as it grew more violent and continuous, the conviction spread that a general engagement was going on. Grant's second message determined General Buell to go at once to the scene of action with part of his staff, and for that purpose he luckily ordered the very boat on which I had taken up my abode to get up steam. It was, however, only between three and four P.M. that we got under way. We had not proceeded very far when we began to notice numbers of soldiers on the west bank, and became satisfied that they were skulkers from the fight. More and more of them came in sight, and when we were still some distance from our destination they had increased to frequent and thick crowds. But, as our boat turned towards the Landing, we saw before us a dense mass apparently numbering thousands. I was standing with Captain Fry, the chief of staff, on the upper deck, and, appalled at the sight, exclaimed to him: “Oh, heavens! Captain, here is Bull Run all over again!” We heard the unbroken roar of artillery as we steamed up, and, as we neared the scene of the struggle, the sounds of rapid musketry discharges also became distinct, and we could see the flight of shells from the heavy guns of the two Union gunboats in position just above the Landing. We shuddered when we perceived ball after ball from rebel guns fall on the top of the very bluff under which the multitude of fugitives had sought shelter — unmistakable, distressing evidence of the nearness of the enemy. Our first impression could not be other than that the rebels had swept Grant's forces from the field, and that those who had not been killed, wounded, or captured were cowering before us, awaiting their inevitable fate.
On landing, we were met by an overwhelming confirmation of our apprehensions. We found ourselves, indeed, amid an immense, panic-stricken, uncontrollable mob. There were between seven and ten thousand men, of all arms and of all ranks, from field officers downward, all apparently entirely bereft of soldierly spirit, with no sense of obedience left, and animated by the sole impulse of personal safety. A number of officers, mounted and on foot, were making strenuous efforts to re-form the disorganized and demoralized throng; but neither exhortations, orders, adjurations nor threats produced any effect. General Buell brought his authority into play, but was no more obeyed than the others. Nothing availed against the increasing fright caused by the rebel balls and bullets that now began to fall among the crowd, killing several. At this critical moment, hope was revived by the landing of Colonel Ammen's brigade of the Fourth Division, brought over by boat from the opposite bank. It was accompanied by General Nelson himself. With that Jupiter head on his herculean figure, mounted on a heavy charger, he looked the personification of Orlando Furioso, as he rode up through the packed crowds, waving his hat and shouting: “Fall in, boys, fall in and follow me. We shall whip them yet.” Finding this did no good, he drew his sword and commenced belaboring the poltroons around him, berating them at the same time with his stentorian voice, in language more forcible than polished. His extraordinary swearing indicated plainly that he had had great practice in that sort of admonition on the quarter-deck. Finding that this method also availed nothing, he applied to General Buell, who had waited for him at the Landing, for permission to drive the stragglers back at the point of the bayonet, and, if they resisted, to fire on them. But he was not allowed to resort to extreme measures.
Buell, without wasting time in trying to find Grant, as immediate action was necessary to prevent the enemy from reaching the river, joined Nelson in leading Ammen's brigade up the bluff. On reaching the plateau, it found itself directly under the fire of the hostile artillery. It was then between five and six o'clock, and the light was fast giving way to darkness. Two regiments of the brigade, the Sixth Ohio and the Thirty-sixth Indiana, were at once deployed and pushed forward. Their vigorous advance caused the rebel guns to retreat. They came close enough to the rebels in front to exchange several volleys with them. Their advance, together with the enfilading fire of the gunboats, checked the enemy. Night put an end to the battle.
I had followed Nelson's men to the top of the bluff, and remained there awaiting developments. I had as little idea of what had really happened to Grant's army as General Buell himself. Nor could I get any connected account out of the runaway officers I met. They had nothing to say except this: “We were surprised at breakfast by rebels four times as strong as ourselves;” “My regiment was cut all to pieces;” “We were ordered to retreat,” and such other excuses for knowing nothing. Grant's headquarters were said to be near, but I could not get to them before dark. I made my way back to the Landing, after the firing had ceased, thinking that my best plan would be to find shelter for the night — which threatened to be very trying, as a pouring rain had set in — on the boat on which I had come. But it had been ordered to help bring the remainder of Nelson's division and the other divisions of Buell's army across the river as fast as possible, and I had to wait nearly an hour before it returned from the opposite bank with a huge load of men. It took a long time to discharge them, and then I found to my great chagrin that I could not possibly get my horse on board again, so that I had to choose between abandoning him and passing the night as best I could on the bank. Of course, I faced the latter necessity. After spending some time along the Landing in vain attempts to find something to eat for myself and my animal, I decided to follow the next arrival from Crittenden's division, which followed Nelson's, wherever it might be led, so as to be at any rate at the front in the morning. In so doing, I luckily came by the bivouac of Nelson's headquarters, where I was made welcome by one of the staff to the partial shelter of a rubber blanket hung between two trees near a big log fire, and also to some hard-tack, cold bacon, and brandy and water. My horse was taken charge of by an orderly, but was neither fed nor unsaddled.
None of us attempted to sleep during that memorable, dismal night. Nor would sleep have been possible, as the gunboats sent roaring eight-inch shells over us every ten minutes (in pursuance of the recommendation of General Nelson), in the direction of the enemy, in order at least to deprive the rebels of rest. We sat around the fire, protected as much as possible from the incessant rain by waterproofs, discussing the disaster of the day and the chances for the morrow. Little being known as to the actual condition to which Grant's command had been reduced by its defeat, there was anything but confident expectation. On the contrary, all were very anxious about the outcome of the next twenty-four hours.
The movement of Buell's troops from the right to the left bank continued all night long. The commanders not only managed to get the full infantry force of Nelson and Crittenden's divisions, but also three batteries of artillery, across the river before daybreak. Even General McCook's division reached the front in the morning, after an extraordinary all-night march. Buell and the two first-mentioned division commanders labored as best they could in the darkness, being ignorant of the ground, to get the troops in proper position for an offensive movement as soon as it was light enough for it. With Nelson's staff, I was up and stirring at four on the morning of April 7. The General himself roused his command quietly by riding through the bivouac. At five, he was able to report to General Buell, by an aide-de-camp, that his line of battle with skirmishers in front was ready to move, and received orders to advance on the enemy. Crittenden advanced simultaneously on Nelson's right. I followed in the rear with the ambulances. At half-past five the first shots fell, and, in a few minutes, the musketry-firing was heavy, and presently hostile balls and shells were whizzing over us. Nelson was ordered to stop till Crittenden had closed up on his right and the two field batteries were brought up and put in position to answer effectively the artillery on the other side. Our divisions then moved on again, but were confronted, at about seven, by a strong rebel force that attempted to turn Nelson's left, and, though foiled in this, attacked him so vigorously, supported by a heavy fire from two batteries, that his command began to yield, when the enemy was checked by the well-directed fire of Mendenhall's regular battery. By eight o'clock the musketry and artillery fire from both sides combined into a terrific roar, and hissing and humming missiles flew thickly around us. It seemed as if Crittenden and Nelson were not strong enough to make headway against the bodies opposed to them. But, fortunately, Rousseau's brigade of McCook's division then reached the ground and was immediately formed in line on the right of Crittenden. The other brigades of the same division followed it closely and took up position on its left.
Our line now extended about a mile and a half. The ground in front of it consisted partly of open fields and partly of patches of wood, with thick undergrowth. It was almost level before Nelson, but broken by ravines before Crittenden and McCook. The right wing was not in touch, however, with Grant's command. About nine o'clock we were ready for another advance along the whole line. The battle was speedily raging again with great violence. From one end of the line to the other, the combat lasted for hours, with hardly a lull in the deafening discharge of small arms and guns. Although but a short distance in the rear of the fighting front and actually under fire, it was not possible for me to follow the course of the struggle from my position, owing to the character of the ground and the thickness of the atmosphere from the falling rain mixed with the dense powder-smoke that hung over the field. Nor could I expect to learn anything reliable and connected by remaining in one spot. A sort of field-hospital was established near by, to which the wounded were being brought, in steadily increasing numbers, presenting sights that made me heart-sick, as I had not seen human blood spilled since the battle of Bull Run. But what intelligence the carriers of stretchers, and the surgeons that passed to and fro, brought from the front confused rather than enlightened me. Hence I mounted and set out in search of Buell's and the division headquarters.
I soon found the former, but obtained only very scanty information. Then I tried to discover McCook, in whose direction the heaviest firing was heard. I met the General and staff at a critical moment. Rousseau's brigade, soon after being placed in line, had been vigorously attacked. It repelled the enemy and drove him some distance, capturing a battery. Its advance caused an opening in the line between McCook and Crittenden through which the rebels quickly attempted to push with a very strong force. Perceiving this danger, Colonel von Willich, with his Thirty-second Indiana Regiment, was ordered to strike them, and made a most gallant attack, first delivering several volleys and then charging with the bayonet. Von Willich's was followed by the other regiments of Gibson's brigade, but they were caught in a withering cross-fire and compelled to fall back in considerable confusion. General McCook was doing his best to check this untoward turn when I found him. Kirk's brigade was brought to the relief of Gibson, and stemmed the rebel advance till Rousseau's brigade had replenished its cartridge-boxes and could again take the offensive. Then the whole division once more advanced, and pressed the still vigorously fighting enemy steadily back till his resistance ended in retreat. During the desperate struggle of Gibson's and Kirk's brigades, there was a continuous whistling of bullets above and around us, and it was marvellous that none of the staff were wounded. McCook's part in the conflict was so severe that I felt sure he was bearing the brunt of it, and hence I remained with him till it closed. After the firing had ceased altogether, I hunted up successively Crittenden and Nelson, and only then learned that they, too, had been engaged right along in meeting hostile attacks and following them up with counter ones, resulting in a steady gain of ground. They forced the enemy finally into full retreat by a flank attack by the Fourth and a front one by the Fifth Division, supported by a concentric fire from three batteries. Crittenden's command captured seven field-pieces in this decisive movement. Just before the close of the fighting, two brigades of General Wood's Sixth Division appeared, one of which, Colonel Wagner's, was started in pursuit of the enemy, but stopped by order after following him about a mile.
My recollection is, that it was about four o'clock P.M. when the sound of battle had entirely died away, but, strange to say, no reference whatever to time is made in the official reports of General Buell and his division commanders. I am sure, at any rate, that it was daylight still for nearly two hours after the end of the battle, enabling me to gather many additional details of the contest relating to the engaged portion of the Army of the Ohio. I saw enough killed and wounded Unionists and rebels scattered over the battle-field to indicate heavy losses on both sides, but accurate figures were, of course, unobtainable on that day. The usual suffering of the wounded from thirst was alleviated by the heavy rain that was still falling, yet many meanings and cries for help reached my ears. Buell's troops had recovered the camps from which the rebels had driven Sherman's, McClernand's, Hurlbut's, Prentiss's, and Wallace's divisions of Grant's army the day before, but were not permitted to make themselves comfortable in them, and had to bivouac as best they could for another night. I was so very tired, wet, and hungry — my animal also being in an entirely fagged-out condition — that I made up my mind to find something better for us both than the scanty fare and wet ground that had been our lot for nearly thirty hours, and made for the Landing some time before dark. There were eight boats lying there, and great was my joy when I spied, standing on the bow of one of them, a division quartermaster whom I had become well acquainted with at Louisville. I hailed him, and he responded at once in the heartiest manner to my request for food and shelter for “man and beast.” My horse was turned over to a deck-hand. I was shown to a stateroom, and soon I sat down to a generous hot supper, to which I did the amplest justice. I was too exhausted for any brain work that evening, and sought sleep as early as possible.
After ten hours' solid, unconscious rest and a hearty breakfast, I was ready and eager for work. I had but partial material for a complete account of the two days' battle; hence my first object had to be, if there were no more fighting, to secure information regarding the experiences of Grant's army during the two days, and, if possible, also something about the enemy. By eight o'clock I was riding up the bluff again. The swarms of skulkers had almost disappeared, and in their place there was a great jam of ambulances, bringing wounded to the two hospital-boats, and army wagons loading provisions, forage, and ammunition. I proceeded first to Buell's headquarters. There I learned that Wood's two brigades had been ordered to resume the pursuit of the enemy and were already in motion, and that Sherman's division had received orders to the same effect. As I was anxious to obtain Sherman's version of the battle, and feared the pursuit might take him beyond reach, I rode immediately in search of him, and luckily succeeded in finding his camp. He was just ready to mount. On the first day he had been slightly wounded in the right hand, which was bandaged, but he would not allow this to interfere with his duties. He favored me with a succinct, clear, very frank, and strictly truthful account of his own varied fortunes on Sunday and Monday, as well as those of the other division commanders of Grant in their relations to him. These I then tried to hunt up, and to revisit McCook, Crittenden, and Nelson — a harder task than I had supposed, for rain was still pouring down, and the ground fought over everywhere had turned into mire from one to two feet deep. On Grant's line there was still a good deal of confusion. I did not get through with my tour of exploration till nearly three o'clock.
I had spent considerable time in studying — no, this is too strong an expression — in contemplating the “horrors of war,” as exemplified by the dreadful sights all over the battle-field. Once only, later in the war, did I behold a spectacle equally grim, shocking, and sickening. There was bloody evidence in every direction that the slaughter had been great. Neither the one side nor the other had removed its dead, and there they were, blue and gray, in their starkness, lying here singly and there literally in rows and heaps. I passed more than a thousand of them. It was morbid, perhaps, on my part, but I lingered to see the effect of sudden violent death on features and limbs. It surprised me that the faces of most of these victims of battle bore a peaceful, contented expression, and that many lay as though they had consciously stretched themselves out to sleep. But there were also many ghastly exceptions, with features repulsively distorted by pain and hatred. There seemed to be but few killed by heavy missiles. Hundreds of severely wounded were likewise still lying about — some in the last agonies, others awaiting quietly their fate, and, alas! many writhing and shrieking in torture from horrible wounds. There was a little frame church near where I had found Sherman, known as the Shiloh meeting-house (it gave its name to the battle), whose interior presented the most woeful scene in all this sadness. The seats for the worshippers had been removed, and on the floor were extended, in two rows, on the bare planks and without any cover over them, twenty-seven dead and dying rebels, officers and men. Not a human being was about to offer them tender mercies. They had been left to their fate, all being obviously beyond relief. Passing the field hospitals, other awful evidences of the bloody work forced themselves upon my observation in the form of piles of amputated limbs. No one as yet knew the extent of the casualties, but I was satisfied that there must have been between eight and ten thousand killed and wounded on our side, which estimate was not far from the actual figures.
I had made some inquiries as to telegraph and mail facilities at the different headquarters, and ascertained that of the former there were as yet none, and that even after they should be secured, newspaper correspondents would not be permitted to use them. As to mails, they would be sent by boats to Cairo, one of which was to start that evening. I stopped again at Buell's headquarters on my way to the Landing, and learned that Wood's pursuit had been continued for eight miles without coming up with the enemy. Sherman had struck the Confederate cavalry rear-guard and driven it back after a lively skirmish. He had obtained positive information that the rebel army was retreating to Corinth. As this rendered it certain that fighting would not occur for some days at least, the thought came to me that it would be a good plan, in order to save time in preparing and sending forward my account of the battle, to go down the river on the first boat, write out my report on the way, and mail it at Cairo on arrival. In pursuance of this, I asked my friend the quartermaster to get me a permit to go on the boat, and to take care of my horse till my return. He agreed to both, and by four o clock I was properly installed on the side-wheeler that was to leave the same evening for Cairo. I was already congratulating myself on my smartness in hitting upon this scheme, from which I expected a decided advantage in time over other correspondents, when I discovered that two other correspondents had been equally acute and were fellow-passengers. I made their acquaintance, and found them very pleasant companions. One of them was Whitelaw Reid, who achieved a considerable reputation as a war-correspondent, tried cotton-planting unsuccessfully after the war, and then returned to the journalistic profession. He became the regular Washington correspondent and part owner of the Cincinnati Gazette, and subsequently editor and owner of the New York Tribune, and United States Minister to France. As my colleagues had been with Grant's army and knew very little of Buell's part in the conflict, we helped each other by exchanging notes.
I repeat that I am not trying in these memoirs to write formal history, but to relate personal happenings and observations. Yet in this particular case it seems to me proper, in order to render the foregoing more complete and intelligible, to describe also what happened on the field previous to the appearance of Buell's army. In so doing, I shall not enter into details, but shall merely outline the preceding operations of Grant's command, for the double reason that this will be sufficient for a clearer comprehension of what I have written, and that nothing like accurate particulars have ever been available. With all the official reports before me, I do not hesitate to say that it is impossible to make up from them a lucid, full, and correct description of the battle. I do not believe that the official records of any other battle of the Civil War left so many points in doubt. In order to impart greater accuracy and perhaps some novelty to my sketch, I feel justified in availing myself also of the authoritative rebel accounts, and especially of General Beauregard's official report to the Richmond authorities. I make these references to my sources of information so that I may not be charged with pretending to greater personal knowledge of the battle than I actually acquired.
According to the rebel records, Beauregard, with the approval of his Government, decided and acted on the plan of foiling the supposed purpose of the Northern commanders of cutting the Confederacy in two through the destruction of the railroad lines of communication in southwestern Tennessee and northern Mississippi and Alabama, by rapidly concentrating all the available forces west of the Alleghanies at and about Corinth. He pushed this concentration very energetically, and, by the end of March, the commands of Generals A. S. Johnston, Polk, and Bragg and other troops sent by the governors of the States named were collected in that locality, to the aggregate number of forty thousand fighting men. General Johnston, by virtue of his superior rank, assumed chief command on reaching Corinth. He approved of the previously conceived plan of Beauregard described by the latter in his report on the battle (in which Johnston had been killed), to wit: "to assume the offensive and strike a sudden blow at the enemy in position under General Grant on the west bank of the Tennessee at Pittsburg and in the direction of Savannah, before he was reinforced by the army under General Buell, then known to be advancing for that purpose by rapid marches from Nashville via Columbia. By a rapid and vigorous attack on General Grant, it was expected he would be beaten back into his transports and the river, or captured in time to enable us to profit by the victory and remove to the rear all the stores and munitions that would fall into our hands in such an event before the arrival of General Buell on the scene." The proposed attack was bold and sound strategy, directly invited by General Grant's grave mistake in placing his command on the west bank and thus exposing it to attack, with the river between him and his expected reinforcements. This flagrant blunder, contrary to elementary strategic rules, appears the more inexcusable in view of Grant's belief, as expressed in his dispatches to Buell before quoted, that the rebel forces amounted to one hundred thousand, while he himself had, according to the official returns, not over forty thousand effectives, of which, as will be shown, only about thirty-three thousand became actually engaged.
The rebel commanders worked very industriously in getting ready for the attack, but, to quote again from Beauregard's report, “want of proper officers needful for the proper organization of divisions and brigades, and other difficulties in the way of an effective organization, delayed the movement until the night of the second [of April], when it was heard from a reliable quarter that the junction of the enemy was near at hand. It was then, at a late hour, determined that the attack should be attempted at once, incomplete and imperfect as were our preparations for such a grave and momentous venture, and, accordingly, the same night, at one o'clock on the morning of the third, formal orders to the commanders of corps were issued for the movement.”
The starting-points were Corinth and its immediate vicinity, averaging a distance of about twenty miles from the positions of the Federal forces. The rebel chiefs calculated to arrive near the latter on the fourth and assail them early on the fifth. If they had succeeded in this, they would doubtless, as the sequel showed, have accomplished their purpose and destroyed or captured the whole of Grant's command before Buell could have come to its rescue. Happily for the Union cause, the march of the Confederates took a day longer. I am sure these twenty-four hours weighed more decidedly in the balance of events than any other day in the course of the Civil War. It is not too much to say, indeed, that, but for this delay, Grant would not have become a great historical figure and the conqueror of Robert E. Lee, and the Rebellion might have succeeded. The fortunate loss of time was due to the double fact that the rebel troops were unused to marching, and that the roads were too narrow, and were rendered almost impassable by a heavy rainfall on the fourth.
The country between Corinth and Pittsburg Landing consists of an undulating table-land, mainly covered with dense woods and such thick underbrush as to render the passage of troops difficult. It was then little better than a wilderness, broken here and there only by small clearings of from forty to eighty acres, with clusters of log buildings indicating that a few settlers tried to extract a scanty living from the indifferent soil. A main road runs from Corinth due north for about fifteen miles, when it branches off into two roads, one to Pittsburg Landing and the other to Hamburg Landing, four miles above the former. The plateau gradually ascends between the two landings, and, some miles from the river, shows hill formations. Two streams, Owl and Lick Creeks, rise there, about three miles apart, and flow into the Tennessee. On the ground between them, the battle was fought.
The rebel advance did not reach the intersection of the two roads from Hamburg and Pittsburg, within a short distance of the Federal encampments, till late in the after noon of Saturday, April 5. General Johnston determined to attack as early as possible the next morning with his army in the following formation: three lines of battle en échelon, extending from Owl Creek on the left to Lick Creek on the right. The first line consisted of Hardee's corps, fully deployed with their artillery and cavalry in the rear of the wings. The second line included General Bragg's corps, and was similarly formed, five hundred yards from the first. General Polk's corps formed the third line at a distance of eight hundred yards from the second, in lines of brigades deployed with batteries in rear of each brigade, and the left wing supported by cavalry. Behind all came a reserve under General Breckinridge.
Thus the rebels stood ready, under able, energetic commanders, to fall with concentrated might upon the unsuspecting Union forces. There raged for a long time after the battle an acrimonious controversy in the press and in public forums over the question whether the rebel attack was a surprise to Grant's troops. While it was no doubt true that the Union pickets were on the alert, and that their firing gave a short warning to the Federal camps of the approach of the enemy before the hostile host was actually upon them, it is likewise incontestable that neither General Sherman, whose division held the most advanced position, nor General Grant, had the remotest suspicion that the whole rebel army was within artillery range of the former. Witnes Sherman's report by field-telegraph on that very Saturday afternoon to Grant: “All is quiet along my lines now. The enemy has cavalry in our front, and I think there are two regiments and one battery six miles out” (sic!). And still later in the day he reported further: “I do not apprehend anything like an attack upon our position.” Witness, further, Grant's dispatch to superior authority on the same day: “I have scarcely the faintest idea of an attack being made upon us, but will be prepared, should such a thing take place.”
It is hard to reconcile the actual situation of his command with this confident assurance that he “will be prepared.” The disconnected location of his six divisions on the west bank surely was not such as a cautious commander should allow if he thought an attack possible. Sherman's separate command had the most advanced position on the main road to Corinth, but his several brigades were spread out over too much ground. McClernand's was some distance in the rear of it; Prentiss's division was on Sherman's left, but not in close touch with it. Hurlbut's and W. H. L. Wallace's divisions were near Pittsburg Landing, from two to three miles from the others. Lew Wallace's division was from five to six miles away, at and about Cramp's Landing, below Pittsburg. It was not only the intervening distance, but also the broken nature of the ground separating the several camps, that made it impracticable to form quickly a connected defensive line. Still worse, the divisions formed entirely independent military units. In other words, no one division commander had authority over the other commanders. They all had to report to, and receive orders from, General Grant, who remained, as we have seen, at Savannah up to almost noon of the first day of battle—an unpardonable error, fraught, as it proved, with the greatest peril. Yet other faults of omission were chargeable to the Federal side. The approaches from Corinth were not properly guarded. No effort was made to protect the front against a sudden hostile offensive by field defences such as were so systematically and effectively used in the subsequent advances on Corinth and in all the later campaigns of the war. Last, not least, there lay special weakness in the fact that the very front divisions contained a number of entirely raw regiments which had had hardly any drilling and but limited knowledge of the use of their arms. Hence it was inevitable that, when the hostile array surged upon the camps like a flood tide, the instant effect was confusion, terror, and all but panic.
The rebel advance began before six A.M. By seven, the front line had reached the Federal advance-guard and firing commenced. Sherman even then did not apprehend a general attack, but sent word of the appearance of the enemy in force in his immediate front to Generals Prentiss, McClernand, and Hurlbut, asking the two latter—he could not “order” them—to get ready to support him and Prentiss respectively with their commands. While a fusillade was uninterruptedly going on between seven and eight along his line, it was only at eight that he became “satisfied for the first time,” to quote from his report, “that the enemy designed a determined attack upon our whole camp.” To meet it, he had succeeded in forming his division, which immediately became heavily engaged, and within an hour was forced, by the determined onsets of superior numbers, to give way in great disorder, the enemy driving it through its camps and far beyond, and capturing guns and many prisoners.
Meantime, Prentiss fared much worse. The main object of the rebel attack was to overwhelm the Federal left and thus open a short way to Grant's base of supplies at Pittsburg Landing. To that end, simultaneously with their move on Sherman, they threw upon Prentiss an even heavier mass. His resistance was of no more avail than Sherman's. His division was soon forced to yield, and was driven back through its own camp upon McClernand and Hurlbut. The “Alpine avalanche,” as Beauregard not unfitly calls it, rolled on and next struck McClernand. He had but two brigades with which to resist, having sent one early to the support of Sherman. Hurlbut came to his assistance, and the two, with parts of Prentiss's division, struggled with Sherman on their right through the forenoon and afternoon to stem the rebel progress. But they were compelled to retreat from position to position and fall back over miles of ground, nearer and nearer to the river. Between five and six o'clock, the rebel right had arrived within a few thousand feet of the river, and their shot and shell fell on the bluff rising from the Landing. Some of the rebel cavalry even reached the river a short distance above Pittsburg and watered their horses. At this most critical juncture, hope of salvation came with the appearance of General Nelson's brigade just in time to fill the unprotected space, on the left of Grant's retreat ing troops, through which the enemy was pushing for the Landing.
Assuming that Beauregard tells the truth in his report — and there is no good reason to doubt it — he did not know before dark on Sunday that the advance of Buell's army had actually reached the field, and was made aware of the fact only by the vigorous attacks on his right early next morning. He records his expectation, up to that discovery, of completing the Federal discomfiture on Monday, but admits that his “officers and men were exhausted by a combat of over twelve hours without food, and jaded by the march of the previous day through mud and water.” He adds: “During the night, the rain fell in torrents, adding to the discomfort and harassed condition of the men; the enemy, moreover, had broken their rest by a discharge, at measured intervals, of heavy shells thrown from the gunboats. Therefore, on the following morning, the troops under my command were not in a condition to cope with an equal force of fresh troops, armed and equipped like our adversary.” He claims that, notwithstanding this disparity, his troops withstood and repelled all offensive attempts on the second day up to one P.M., when he voluntarily withdrew from so “unequal a conflict.”
This claim is flatly contradicted by the official reports of General Buell and his division commanders. Moreover, the rebel archives contain a report from Beauregard's chief aide-de-camp to him, directly affirming that, notwithstanding the General's strenuous personal efforts in seizing and waving regimental flags to make his troops stand, they did not respond, but steadily yielded ground after eleven A.M. on Monday. It is beyond all question just as true that the rebels were compelled to retreat by the attack of the comparatively fresh Federal divisions, as that the latter saved what was left of Grant's army from capture or destruction. Its remnants were re-formed as well as possible, and, with Lew Wallace's division, which turned up at the close of Sunday's fighting, did their share on Monday on Buell's right in making the enemy yield up their encampments. But as they, together, hardly numbered more than fifteen thousand, of which nearly two thirds consisted of odds and ends of four divisions, no decisive offensive power could well be claimed for them.
Besides the physical exhaustion of the rebels on Sunday, other causes worked on their side to bring about their final failure. The most hurtful of these was no doubt the killing of their Commander-in-chief, General A. S. Johnston, between two and three P.M. on Sunday. While riding with the attacking columns, he was struck by several bullets, one of which cut an artery and made him bleed to death in fifteen minutes. His death was probably a greater blow to the Confederacy than the defeat of his purpose, for, according to the testimony of all who knew him personally, on the Southern as well as on the Northern side, there was the stuff for another Robert E. Lee in him, and he might have proved as formidable an antagonist on the western as the latter on the eastern theatre of war. Jefferson Davis fully recognized this in his official lament over the Confederacy's irreparable loss. Perhaps even the result at Shiloh would have been different if Johnston had lived. Leaving his admittedly inferior capacities as a strategist out of consideration, Beauregard was not in bodily condition for an energetic exercise of the chief command, being just convalescent from a severe two months illness.
Another cause appears from the admission of Beauregard in his report that “officers, non-commissioned officers and men abandoned their colors early in the first day to pillage the captured encampments,” and that “others retired shamefully from the field on both days, while the thunder of cannon and the roar and rattle of musketry told them that their brothers were being slaughtered by the fresh legions of the enemy.” The General claimed, on a later occasion, that the casualties on the first day and the admitted skulking of a portion of his command had reduced his fighting strength to twenty thousand on the second day, and this number may be accepted as correct. General Braxton Bragg complained as strongly of the straggling and plundering of his men, and ascribes to the weakness and confusion caused by it the failure to finish the battle on the first day.
Shiloh was one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. According to the official publications, Grant lost 1437 killed, 5679 wounded, and 2934 missing; Buell, 236 killed, 1816 wounded, and 88 missing — making a total of 1673 killed, 7495 wounded, and 3022 missing — while the rebel loss was 1728 killed, 8012 wounded, and 957 missing. Beauregard overestimated the total Federal loss at 20,000. As shown by some of my quotations, Beauregard's report had the fault of extravagant language, but it was far superior to Grant's in giving an intelligible account of the two days' fighting. In fact, Grant's is about as poor a production as the Rebellion brought forth in that line on the Northern side, and one cannot peruse it without wondering that the author of such a miserable screed ever attainedthe prominence he did.
The Siege of Corinth.—1862
THE boat on which I had secured passage for Cairo started down the river some hours after dark, and we reached our destination the following noon. I rose early in the morning and managed to write up my account of the battle completely before arriving, so that I felt free to rest and enjoy myself for two or three days, as far as it was possible, in the small, struggling, rough place which the town at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers then was. A pleasant surprise awaited me at the St. Charles Hotel, where I took quarters. I discovered among the guests A. D. Richardson, whom I had not seen since our parting at Denver in 1859. He had gone there again the following year to engage in newspaper work and “town-site speculations,” but, upon the outbreak of the Rebellion, had returned east to take the field as a war correspondent. He shared rooms with three colleagues, to whom he introduced me, and with whom I have kept up a pleasant and intimate acquaintance ever since. One of them was Thomas W. Knox, who had started a weekly paper with Richardson in the town of Golden City that had sprung up at the very point on Clear Creek where Greeley, Richardson, and I crossed. Knox, after the war, became a professional traveller and gatherer of material in various countries for books for young people, which brought him moderate fame and fortune. Another was Junius Henri Browne, the well-known writer, with whom my relations became closest; and the fourth, Richard T. Colburn, who, at the end of the war, followed for many years the well-paid occupation of editor of the publications of banking firms and railroad companies. The four associates had been on duty in Missouri, and were then watching the northern offensive operations on the Mississippi under General Pope. All proved very congenial companions, and I enjoyed my two days with them thoroughly. I then felt it my duty to go back to Pittsburg Landing, upon learning from a St. Louis paper that General Halleck would leave on April 10 for the front, to assume chief direction of the operations of Buell's and Grant's armies in person. After a pleasant trip on a quartermaster's boat, I found myself again with the army on the evening of April 11, my twenty-seventh birthday, which I celebrated, however, only in thought. I was made welcome by Chief-Quartermaster Gamage of McCook's division, and enjoyed his generous hospitality all through the operations against Corinth. General Halleck arrived on the same day with a large staff on a fine Mississippi steamboat.
The appearance of the new General-in-chief naturally excited much anxious curiosity among the commanders under him, and the development of his purposes was awaited with apprehensive expectation. It was generally supposed that he would deal vigorously with the many cases of incompetency and cowardice of officers, from major-generals down, that the battle had brought out. But he confined himself to a very limited weeding out among field and line officers. He perceived, however, at once the great demoralization in which the conflict had left Grant's command, and took drastic measures to improve its condition. On April 14, he issued the following order to General Grant:
Immediate and active measures must be taken to put your command in condition to resist another attack by the enemy. Fractions of batteries will be united temporarily under competent officers, supplied with ammunition and placed in position for active service. Divisions and brigades should, where necessary, be reorganized and put in position, and all stragglers returned to their companies and regiments. Your army is not now in condition to resist an attack. It must be made so without delay. Staff officers must be sent out to obtain returns from division commanders and assist in supplying all deficiencies.
When it is considered that Halleck found occasion to issue such an order a whole week after the end of the battle, it must be admitted that the sharp criticism and direct reprimand it contained were well deserved. It constitutes a formal record, never questioned, of the fact, confirmed by Grant's subsequent career, that, while he was a fighting strategist of the highest order, he was not strong either as a disciplinarian or as an organizer. The serious trouble between Halleck and Grant after the fall of Fort Donelson will be remembered. This order naturally produced another great strain in their relations. Halleck manifested his distrust of Grant's capacity as a commander soon afterwards in another striking way, to which I shall refer directly. That the order and what happened subsequently did not move General Grant to ask to be relieved from command, may seem surprising, but the Union cause was saved a second time from that misfortune.
Halleck was conscious that the resumption of the offensive against the enemy at the earliest possible moment was an absolute necessity. Like Grant, he overestimated the rebel strength; and what with this and the condition of Grant's troops, he determined to strengthen himself from every available quarter, and therefore ordered the whole force of General Pope, which was waiting for orders, to embark on boats on the Mississippi after its great success at New Madrid, as well as two divisions from Missouri, to Pittsburg, and, by April 20, he had a great army of fully one hundred thousand men under his immediate orders. By a special field order, the Army of the Tennessee was placed under the orders of General George H. Thomas (whose division was at the same time detached from the Army of the Ohio and made part of his new command), and constituted the right wing; the Army of the Ohio, under General Buell, the centre; and the Army of the Mississippi, under General Pope, the left wing. General Grant was relieved from command of the Army of the Tennessee, and made second in command of the grand army under Halleck. As we shall see, this really meant that Halleck had no use for him.
It continued to rain all through April, so that the roads were reduced to the worst possible condition. Bad enough before the battle, they now consisted of sticky mire so deep that no artillery or loaded wagons could be moved over them. They were only ordinary dirt roads, with no thing but the natural beds of clayish earth. Provisions, forage, and ammunition had to be carried to the camps on horses and mules. Thousands of men were therefore detailed to improve the existing roads by corduroying, ditching, and bridging swampy bottoms and streams, and, where they had become impassable, to make new approaches from Pittsburg Landing to the several camps. A vast amount of work of this kind was accomplished during the three weeks following the battle. The rainfall and the condition of the ground brought great discomfort to all in the camps. It was almost impossible to get dry and keep so. The result was a great deal of sickness, mainly in the form of dysentery. I was told by medical officers that nearly half of the officers and men had it. I had my share of the hardships, but fortunately kept well. Owing to the bad weather and the difficulty of locomotion, those days were very dull ones. There was no news to gather, and all I could do to kill time was to read newspapers and make visits to the army and division headquarters and to the Landing.
By the end of April, the disintegrating effect of the great fight had been repaired, the lost and destroyed equipments and armaments replaced, and the efficiency of the troops considerably increased by constant drilling and strict enforcement of discipline. Still, while there was a decided gain in the latter respect, Halleck's personal observation of the sad plight in which the rebel onslaught had left the Army of the Tennessee, made him distrust the reliability of his forces for either offence or defence. Hence when, for sanitary, strategic, and political reasons, a forward change of position could no longer be put off, he deemed it his duty to act with the utmost caution in approaching the rebel army, which he assumed to be not much, if at all, inferior in numbers to his own. This belief was based on an intercepted despatch from Beauregard to the Richmond War Department, dated Corinth, April 9, in which he stated his effective strength on that day to be thirty-five thousand, which General Van Dorn's command, on the way from Arkansas to join him, would raise to fifty thousand, and urgently asked for reinforcements, as he had eighty-five thousand Federals to confront. Later information received from Halleck led him to believe that Beauregard's appeal for help was being largely responded to. This curious tendency always to overestimate the enemy, that seemed to afflict, like an epidemic mental disease, most Union leaders, now also infected Halleck. He communicated his fears to Assistant Secretary of War Thomas A. Scott, who had arrived with General Pope, and who took it upon himself to recommend, as early as May 6, to the War Department to send, in view of the presumed large reinforcements that were reaching Beauregard, forty to fifty thousand more men to Halleck from the East. As this was not done, he repeated his recommendation several times, and finally induced Governor Morton of Indiana to urge the same measure strongly upon the Government. This led to a characteristic pathetic remonstrance from President Lincoln to Halleck, as follows:
May 24, 1862.—Several dispatches from Assistant Secretary Scott and one from Governor Morton, asking for reinforcements for you, have been received. I beg you to be assured we do the best we can. I mean to cast no blame when I tell you each of our commanders along our line from Richmond to Corinth supposes himself to be confronted by numbers superior to his own.
My dear General, I feel justified in relying very much on you. I believe you and the brave officers and men with you can and will get the victory at Corinth.
Halleck replied disingenuously on the next day:
I have asked for no reinforcements, but only whether any were to be sent to me. If any were to be sent, I would wait for them; if not, I would venture an attack. We are now in immediate presence of the enemy, and the battle may occur at any moment. I have every confidence that we shall succeed, but dislike to run any risk, and therefore have waited to ascertain if any more troops can be hoped for.
This was, of course, tantamount to saying: “I ought to have more troops, but, if I do not get them, the responsibility will not be with me.” And yet Beauregard took only 47,000 men away with him from Corinth, according to his official report to his War Department, the correctness of which figure cannot be doubted, while Halleck attributed to him from 85,000 to 120,000, as against 90,000 and 100,000 (or about twice as many as his antagonist) under his own orders. Accordingly, the advance became characterized by a determination to avoid risks as much as possible, by the most vigilant measures against hostile surprises, by a deliberate slowness of movement, and by the most careful selection and protection of the positions successively reached. Halleck was subsequently subjected to a great deal of severe criticism and even ridicule for his deliberateness in moving upon the enemy. But, after properly weighing all the reasons for his course, it is, in my judgment, only just to admit that it involved but little loss of time, and afforded absolute assurance against a repetition of the mishap of April 6.
A first forward movement along the whole line began on April 29. It brought the entire army about three miles nearer to Corinth — that is, to within an average distance of only twelve miles from the place. Short as the distance was, it required from four to six days to get over the intervening ground. New lines of communication had to be created, including the construction of two bridges over Lick Creek. I saw only the work of this kind done by the Army of the Ohio, but can testify to its extreme laboriousness and to the cheerful spirit with which officers and men accomplished it. Great was the vexation when an extra-heavy downpour on May 3 and 4 made all the water-courses rise, so as to again destroy much of the result of their efforts. The next onward change of location was made on May 7. Rain ceased the day before, and was followed by beautiful, warm, and clear weather, which rapidly dried the ground and roads, and rendered the task of the army much easier. The effect, too, was felt in the rapid reduction of the sick-list and a general revival of spirit and increase of energy. The second advance involved as much road-making as the first. By way of further precaution, in view of the greater nearness to the enemy, the whole front was strengthened, under orders from the Commander-in-chief, by abatis, barricades, rifle-pits, and breastworks. Another advance was ordered and accomplished on the 17th and 18th. The favorable weather reduced the necessary road- and bridge- building, but more work was devoted to the construction of field defences. Indeed, the army was made secure in regularly fortified camps.
The improved condition of the roads tempted me to extend the range of my observation beyond the lines of the Army of the Ohio. But, in order to do this, a general pass from the Commander-in-chief was indispensable, as otherwise I should have had to risk arrest and punishment within the lines of the other two armies. I rode twice to Halleck's headquarters to obtain such a pass, but met with a rebuff each time. Halleck considered newspaper correspondents with the armies as more dangerous than the enemy, and persistently refused to give them any countenance. Just then, too, he was, as I was told by one of his staff (a Washington acquaintance), very much irritated against the press generally by the tendency of the controversy waged in it over the battle of Shiloh. Nothing daunted by my failure, I bethought myself of the “second in chief command” — that is, of General Grant — and, making my way to his camp, readily succeeded in obtaining the desired passe-partout from his chief of staff, Lieutenant-Colonel Rawlins. I observed that a marked stillness prevailed at Grant's headquarters, contrasting greatly with the bustle perceivable about it before Halleck's advent. The fact was, that the “second in command” was confined to a very nominal part. His rôle during the “siege” was, indeed, that of a mere dummy upon a stage a show, but not a substance. As I ascertained on this and subsequent visits, General Grant's duties were confined to receiving orders from General Halleck for General Thomas, and to transmitting them to him. There was hardly any personal intercourse between the two headquarters. Of course, this embarrassing position was most galling to the victor of Fort Donelson and his whole staff. While Grant said nothing, his staff gave vent to their feelings very freely and vigorously. Grant did not gratify his rival by retiring from the field — Halleck's real object, according to Grant's military household — but wisely bore the humiliation with patience.
The army was not occupied with pick, shovel, and axe alone. Simultaneously with the first advance, an expedition was sent out under General Wallace to destroy the Memphis & Charleston Railroad west of Corinth, in the neighborhood of Purdy, which did not, however, accomplish much. Nearly one-fifth of the troops always performed grand-guard and picket duties. Reconnoissances more or less in force were also regularly made. After the second advance, we began to feel the enemy, and picket-firing and outpost skirmishes became more and more frequent. The first important encounter took place on May 9 between General Paine's division of Pope's army on the extreme left, near the village of Farmington, just south of the Mississippi line. Paine was vigorously attacked by a strong force and compelled to fall back, after several hours fighting, from his advanced position upon Pope's main line. The same day the rebels made an unsuccessful attempt to capture the advance guard of General McCook in the centre. The advance on May 17 resulted in quite a lively affair between General Sherman and the rebels in front of him. Sherman easily pushed them back. There was a great deal of powder burned in these several collisions, but, owing to the thickly wooded character of the country, the musketry fire was not very effective. The total casualties on our side did not exceed a few hundred, and the rebel loss was probably no greater. Few prisoners were taken by either side.
Under the protection of my general pass within the lines, I made it my object to visit successively the different camps of the Armies of the Tennessee and Mississippi. The region through which the Federal encampments extended was very unattractive and monotonous. Not the least bit of picturesque scenery was to be found within the whole length and breadth of it. The few villages within it, too, consisted of a score or so of ordinary small frame or log houses, mostly deserted by the inhabitants and in wretched condition. My daily rides were, therefore, not very exhilarating, and were often made disagreeable owing to the fact that I knew nobody in Pope's army but the General himself, and only two persons in the Army of the Tennessee, viz., Generals Sherman and Lew Wallace, the latter having been a senator in the Indiana Legislature when I attended that body in the winter of 1858-9. (Since the war, he has attained fame and fortune as a novel-writer.) I was obliged to introduce myself to everybody, and did not always meet with a friendly reception. The Federal front represented a length of nearly twelve miles, and twice it happened to me that I could not find my way back to my quarters before dark, and had to ask for, and receive, very scant hospitality in the camps where I found myself at nightfall. General Sherman's prejudice against army correspondents had been intensified, owing to the severe press criticisms based upon the published reports that he and his command had been utterly surprised at Shiloh, and he received me rather gruffly. Gen. Lew Wallace was also under a cloud, owing to his failure to get his division up to the front in the first day's battle. He was evidently very much pleased with my call, in the expectation, as he did not hesitate to intimate broadly, that I would publish what he had to say in his own defence. Wallace had the kindness to send an aide-de-camp with me to introduce me to Generals McClernand and Hurlbut, his fellow division commanders, who also received me very graciously, and who likewise complained a good deal of the misrepresentation by the press of their part in the battle. Both claimed that they and their troops fought determinedly all day against overwhelming odds. Both belonged to the class of “political” generals, and sought glory as much through army correspondents as by feats of war — if not more. Nevertheless, they established a fair record as commanders in the later campaigns.
I made bold to recall myself to General Pope as one of the party accompanying President Lincoln from Springfield, and was at once made very welcome at his headquarters, which I visited frequently. He was, no doubt, an able man and good soldier, but, whether from accidental mistakes or a natural incapacity to lead a large force, his performances as an independent commander never equalled his promises. He had two very marked failings — first, he talked too much of himself, of what he could do and of what ought to be done; and, secondly, he indulged, contrary to good discipline and all propriety, in very free comments upon his superiors and fellow-commanders. Through Pope I also made the acquaintance of General Rosecrans, then a division commander in the Army of the Mississippi. He was, outside of the Army of the Ohio, the most affable, frank, and genial general that I had met — a very prize, indeed, for an eager news-gatherer. He invited me to his camp so urgently that I grew suspicious, and thought that he cared more for my pen than my person. My subsequent experience proved that I had judged him correctly.
I had seen General Grant a number of times after the battle, but never had a chance to talk with him before the middle of May. Between that time and the end of the siege, however, I conversed with him on three occasions — twice at his own field-headquarters, and once in passing him accidentally on the main road to Corinth. There was certainly nothing in his outward appearance or in his personal ways or conversation to indicate the great military qualities he possessed. Firmness seemed to me about the only characteristic expressed in his features. Otherwise, he was a very plain, unpretentious, unimposing person, easily approached, reticent as a rule, and yet showing at times a fondness for a chat about all sorts of things. His ordinary exterior, however, made it as difficult for me as in the case of Abraham Lincoln to persuade myself that he was destined to be one of the greatest arbiters of human fortunes.
All officers (excepting army commanders) and men were under strict orders not to pass beyond the encampments of their organizations while in front of the enemy. The effect naturally was that, at any given point of our line, they could not know what was going on along the rest of it. We newspaper correspondents, who had the freedom, so to speak, of the whole army, were generally better informed as to current incidents than even officers as high in rank as division commanders. As collectors and distributors of news we gradually became quite popular. We were the more willing to gratify the general curiosity of the rank and file on our tours through the camps as we could not make use of our knowledge for professional purposes, for our permits to remain with and circulate among the armies had been given on the express pledge on our part not to write anything to our papers, before the occurrence of decisive events, about the number, condition, location, and doings of our troops. I observed this injunction religiously, and hence felt all those weeks as if off duty. I really had a very easy time, and was very well taken care of by my friend, the quartermaster of McCook's division. I shared a large tent with his chief clerk, and was favored with a comfortable camp-bed and very passable meals. A runaway slave — a mulatto — waited on me and attended to my horse. Still, I grew tired of my idleness, and rejoiced when events before Corinth reached a culmination. This came much earlier than was expected by the Federal commanders, and in a surprising form.
What was destined to be the last advance of the Union line took place on May 28 and 29. It was very strongly opposed by rebel skirmishers and outposts, but the enemy was driven back. Later in the day, two attempts were made to regain the lost ground. The new move brought the fronts of Pope's and Buell's lines to the edge of a clearing not more than an average of half a mile from Corinth, and in plain view of the enemy's fortifications covering the town, which appeared to be strong and extensive. Our left, with Sherman's division in advance, did not reach clear ground and did not discover the hostile defences. The 29th was enlivened by a roaring cannonade on the Union side from the heavy Parrott guns that had been brought to the front in anticipation of a regular siege. Pope had planted a battery of four thirty-pounders during the night, from which an enfilading fire was opened in the morning upon the nearest rebel work. As was afterwards ascertained, the fire killed and wounded eighty men and a hundred horses, and destroyed a locomotive and its crew. Sherman also opened with Parrott twenty-pounders upon a building occupied by a rebel outpost, and quickly demolished it. I was with General McCook all day on the 29th. We could see a good portion of the rebel works, but no signs of activity were observable. We heard, however, very distinctly the incessant movement of railroad trains.
The final chapter of the “siege” forms a curious tale, partaking more of the ludicrous than of the horrors of war. In some way the impression prevailed at all the headquarters that the enemy was about to strike a great blow. Halleck issued an order enjoining the greatest caution in feeling the enemy. Sherman was even told, if the risk in holding his new position was too great, to fall back. The apprehension of a rebel attack en masse grew stronger in the course of the 29th. The continuous rolling of trains was construed as meaning a concentration of forces at certain points for that purpose. With the night, the anxiety increased, and none of the generals and their staffs on the front line allowed themselves any sleep, and I shared the vigil in McCook's camp. It was all an illusion that was not dispelled till long after midnight. General Halleck issued an order an hour or two after midnight to Buell and Thomas as follows: “There is every indication that the enemy will attack our left this morning, as troops have been moving in that direction for some time. It may be well to make preparations to send as many of the reserves as can be spared in that direction.” This order may or may not have been the reflex of the following report from Pope to Halleck, dated May 30, 1:20 A.M.: “The enemy is reënforcing heavily, by trains, in my front and on my left. The cars are running constantly, and the cheering is immense every time they unload in front of me. I have no doubt, from all appearances, that I shall be attacked in heavy force at daylight.”
General Halleck's feelings may be imagined when at 6 A.M. this unexpected revelation reached him from the same source: “All very quiet since 4 o'clock. Twenty-six trains left during the night. A succession of loud explosions followed by dense black smoke in clouds. Everything indicates evacuation and retreat.” Up to that moment, nobody in command seemed to have correctly interpreted the plain signs of the real rebel purpose. Sherman, indeed, early in the morning, asked the general headquarters “how they explained the frequent explosions in Corinth during the night.” I need not describe the sensations of our generals when the mortifying truth fully dawned upon them that Beauregard had played most successfully the trick of making a bold offensive show, while really bent upon flight.
The rebel works were almost simultaneously occupied by the picket lines of Pope's and McCook's, Nelson's and Sherman's divisions. A dispute afterward arose as to whom really belonged the honor of having been the first to enter them. McCook and Nelson felt chagrined that Halleck, in his first reports, awarded it to Pope, and later made official reclamation, to which the General-in-chief had, however, the conclusive answer that he had not referred to them because their immediate superior had not reported the facts in their case to him. I lost no time myself in riding into Corinth, and I believe I reached the main street — practically the only one — shortly after 7 A.M. The appearance of the town badly belied its classic name. The principal thoroughfare was lined on both sides, for say a quarter of a mile, with plain frame structures of one or two stories, interspersed with a few brick buildings and one of stone. The private residences, mostly of wood, small and of very simple style, were scattered about. Of the twelve to fifteen hundred or so inhabitants, only a few remained. A number of the buildings were reduced to ashes. The rebels had fired only those that contained Confederate supplies which could not be carried away, but the flames had spread and consumed others. The explosions we had heard arose from abandoned ammunition reached by the fire. The evacuation and destruction had been effected so completely that no spoils of any kind were found. A small number of rebel wounded were found about the town and in the works.
The latter were neither as extensive nor as elaborate as we had supposed them to be. There was an outer and an inner line, the former consisting of rifle-pits with breastworks behind them, the latter of regular field bastions with high parapets, ditches, curtains, and embrasures for artillery. Still, the works afforded proof that it must have been Beauregard's original intention to make a firm stand against Halleck. He does not directly admit this in his official utterances, but it can be read between the lines. He says substantially, in the opening paragraph of his report, dated Tupelo, Miss., June 13:
The purposes and ends for which I had occupied and held Corinth having been mainly accomplished by the last of May, and, by the 25th of that month, having ascertained definitely that the enemy had received large accessions to his already superior force while ours had been reduced day by day by disease, resulting from bad water and inferior food, I felt it clearly my duty to evacuate that position without delay. I was further induced to this step by the fact that the enemy had declined my offer of battle twice made him outside of my intrenched lines, and sedulously avoided the separation of his corps, which he advanced with uncommon caution, under cover of heavy guns and strong intrenchments, constructed with unusual labor and with singular delay, considering his strength and our relative inferiority in numbers.
The cheap braggadocio of this alleged challenge to his enemy to combat in mediæval style seems to have impressed the rebel Secretary of War and Jefferson Davis more than his silly complaint of Halleck's extreme caution. His superiors no doubt drew from these effusions the just conclusion that he was an arrant humbug, and soon afterward relieved him from the chief command in the West. It must be admitted, however, in face of the facts, that another passage in his report was not unjustified, to wit: “It was then [the morning of May 30th] that the enemy, to his surprise, became satisfied that a large army, approached and invested with such extraordinary preparations, expenses, labor and timidity, had disappeared from his front with all its munitions and heavy guns.”
My recollection is very distinct that the singular ending of the Corinth campaign was a general disappointment to the Union side, from Halleck down. I do not hesitate to say that the latter did not look for the escape of Beauregard from his clutches without a fight. There is absolutely no evidence of such an expectation in his official despatches and reports. I am persuaded, too, that, before it actually happened, such a contingency would have been pronounced a misfortune to the loyal cause. Still, it was natural that, after the event had occurred, Halleck should make the most of the “bloodless victory” in manœuvring his adversary out of so strong a position, chosen and carefully prepared for defence by himself, with forfeiture of the only direct railroad line of communication between the east and west of the Confederacy, exposure of the cotton States to invasion, and abandonment of the middle Mississippi Valley. Nor is it surprising that Halleck's claim to credit for this achievement was, at the time, admitted both by the Government and by the loyal public. Before the end of 1862, the rebel leaders succeeded, however, as we shall see, in largely neutralizing these consequences by a new aggressive campaign in Tennessee and Kentucky, in the light of which their abandonment of Corinth was proved to have been fortunate.
There was no time lost in the pursuit of the vanquished enemy. General Pope, being nearest to the line of retreat, naturally took the lead in it. The task was most arduous, as the roads were narrow and bad, led through a very swampy country, and were obstructed by felled trees and burning bridges. The Union cavalry first caught sight of the rebel rear-guard about eight miles south of Corinth, and kept close at their heels for several days. The enemy was also followed by several columns of infantry and artillery, moving over different roads, commanded by General Rosecrans, under the direction of General Pope. Owing to the natural difficulties, the pursuers accomplished only short distances from day to day, and though they followed the enemy closely, they could not get within striking distance. On June 4, Rosecrans felt the rebels strongly about two miles north of Baldwin (thirty miles south of Corinth on the Mobile & Ohio Road). He found them in great force and determined to resist his advance. He therefore sent to Pope, his immediate superior, for reënforcements. Pope not only responded, but called on Halleck for more help, where upon the latter ordered Buell with two divisions to join him. Buell did so, and assumed command as the senior major-general. He issued an order of battle for the 8th, but the same day it turned out that the enemy had retreated further south. Beauregard had, indeed, halted at Baldwin with most of his army, but decided to fall back twenty miles further to Tupelo. Under Halleck's order, no further pursuit was attempted.
Before closing this chapter, I must refer to what was perhaps the strangest incident of the Corinth campaign. On June 4, Halleck telegraphed to Secretary Stanton:
General Pope with 40,000 is thirty miles south of Corinth, pushing the enemy hard. He already reports 10,000 prisoners and deserters from the enemy and 15,000 stands of arms captured. Thousands of the enemy are throwing away their arms. A farmer says that when Beauregard learned that Colonel Elliott had cut the railroad on his line of retreat, he became frantic and told his men to save themselves as best they could. We have captured nine locomotives and a number of cars. The result is all I could possibly desire.
Our impulsive American Carnot replied: “Your glorious dispatch has just been received, and I have sent it into every State. The whole land will soon ring with applause at the achievement of your gallant army and its able and victorious commander.” The land was, indeed, soon ringing with patriotic outbursts, as the governors of the loyal States lost no time in congratulating their people on the great reported success and having national salutes fired in its honor.
Again, on June 9, Halleck telegraphed to Stanton:
General Pope estimates rebel loss from casualties, prisoners and desertion at over 20,000, and General Buell at between 20,000 and 30,000. An Englishman employed in the Confederate commissary department says they had 120,000 men in Corinth, and that now they cannot muster more than 80,000.
Some days later, the Northern press published a statement from Beauregard, printed in the Richmond papers, that the dispatch first quoted from Halleck to Stanton “contained almost as many lies as lines,” and this charge is also made in his official report. Stanton having called Halleck's attention to this by wire, the latter replied:
“In accordance with your instructions, I telegraph to you daily what information I receive of events in this department, stating whether official or unofficial, and, if official, giving the authority. In regard to the number of prisoners and arms taken, I telegraphed the exact language of General Pope. If it was erroneous, the responsibility is his, not mine.”
The simple truth was, that Pope's captures of men and arms were only about one-tenth of the number he had reported to Halleck. The whole army was amazed when the newspapers arrived with the correspondence between Stanton and Halleck, and the enthusiastic popular responses it had provoked. I and all knew that a gross deception had been practised. In due time, the Northern press broke out in furious indignation against Pope, who was considered responsible for it. Pope did not defend himself. Singular to relate, it was only in July, 1865, three months after Lee's surrender at Appomattox, that Pope addressed a letter to Halleck calling attention to the subject, disclaiming the authorship of the false report, and asking to have his record set right. Halleck excused himself from complying with the request, on the ground that his papers had been boxed up, as he was about to start for California to take command on the Pacific Coast. Pope thereupon prepared a long letter for publication, in which he denied his responsibility for the report, and criticised Halleck very severely for practically refusing him the satisfaction to which he was entitled. The letter appeared in print and attracted a good deal of attention. I do not remember what Halleckdid regarding it.
Buell's Retreat to the Ohio.—1862
GENERAL McCOOK'S division was ordered to occupy Corinth, and his headquarters were moved within the town limits. For ten days after the evacuation, there was great uncertainty as to the future operations of the army, and, after describing the closing scenes of the “siege,” idleness was again my lot. It then became known, however, that General Halleck had determined, with the approval of the Washington authorities, to break up the grand army united under his command. The Army of the Ohio, under Buell, was to enter upon a new campaign through northern Alabama and southeastern Tennessee to East Tennessee, to carry out the long-deferred plan of freeing the loyalists in the latter region from rebel oppression and persecution. The Armies of the Tennessee and Mississippi, under Grant and Pope, were to be employed in holding western Tennessee and northern Mississippi and the adjacent portion of Alabama, and in offensive operations down and west of the Mississippi. In moving eastwardly, Buell's men were to put the Memphis & Charleston Railroad east of Corinth in running order, while the work of repairing the line west of that point was to be undertaken by Grant's troops. The destruction wrought upon it by the rebels between Corinth and Memphis was not very great, as they had to use it up to the evacuation. I received word as early as June 8, if I remember aright, that a construction train that had worked its way from Memphis, which only two days before had fallen into the hands of the Unionists, would reach Corinth and start back the same day. I asked and received permission to go on it. I longed for a change from the monotony of camp life, and especially from the sameness of camp fare, to which I had been subjected for two months. Moreover, the winter clothes which I still was obliged to wear for want of something more suitable, were no longer endurable in the hot weather that had prevailed for a fortnight, and I hoped to be able to buy a summer outfit in the city.
The construction train, consisting of half a dozen freight and flat cars with an ancient locomotive of very shabby and decrepit appearance, arrived towards evening, and, for the sake of greater safety, its return was postponed till the next morning. I was one of a very motley crowd of passengers, numbering several hundred, and consisting of a strong guard, well and sick officers of all ranks, and wounded and ill soldiers. There were no seats, and we all squatted on the floors of the cars, with none too much elbow-room for any of us. We proceeded very slowly from caution, with reference both to the hastily repaired trestles and bridges and to the strong inclination of our engine to refuse to do service. We spent eleven hours in making the distance of only ninety-three miles, thus having plenty of time to observe the region traversed. It seemed even more forbidding than the stretch between Pittsburg and Corinth. Like the rest of my fellow-passengers, I arrived in a very tired, stiff-limbed, dust-covered, and hungry condition, and felt much relieved when I found that the Gayoso House, the principal hostelry of the city, was open for guests. I was pleasantly surprised to discover on the hotel register the names of the four colleagues whom I had met at Cairo. They had arrived the day before from that place. We had a very joyous time together that evening and during the rest of my stay.
Memphis was even then a fine city of about 25,000 inhabitants. The site rises amphitheatrically from the river, from which the city presents an imposing aspect. The buildings on the business streets and the principal private residences were of brick and stone, indicating enterprise and thrift. The former stood in many solid blocks containing wholesale and retail stores, banks, and offices of every kind. A proper number of the private dwellings were large and elegant abodes of wealth. While a good many of the stores and offices were closed, there was a great deal of life in the streets, and one could not have imagined from their appearance that the place had just been the scene of actual war. There seemed to be as many whites as negroes moving about, and among them hundreds of Union army and navy officers and soldiers and sailors. They formed an entirely peaceful picture, and, indeed, I saw no signs of hostile feeling of any kind during my stay. There was a good deal of suppressed loyalty which showed itself very soon to a surprising extent, and very much facilitated the government of the city under the new rule. The Confederate flag never waved over Memphis again.
The liveliest point was the levee. Some twenty-five steamboats, side- and stern-wheelers, were lying along it. Some of them were commissary and quartermaster boats discharging their loads; others were the regular tenders of the Federal river fleet; while three or four were more or less damaged craft captured from the enemy. Some distance from the long line of ordinary boats lay at anchor in grim blackness six gunboats and four rams. They had performed a most daring and gallant exploit three days before, to which I must make a passing allusion. The fleet, aided by a brigade of Indiana infantry regiments, had been besieging Fort Pillow ever since the reduction of Island No. 10. The fort was constructed by the rebels for the defence of the Mississippi on its left bank at the so-called Chickasaw Bluffs, about sixty-five miles above Memphis. The “siege” consisted altogether of an exchange of heavy shot between the fort and the fleet. On the morning of June 5, it was discovered that the rebels had abandoned the fort; this step being the logical sequence of the rebel retreat from Corinth. It was immediately occupied from the fleet. Commander Davis, flag-officer of the naval force, and Colonel Ellet (commanding the four boats that had been, in an incredibly short time, converted by him, under authority of the War Department, into “rams” of the most formidable character) lost no time in getting under way at noon for Memphis, and anchored for the night a mile and a half above the city. Early next morning, they discovered the rebel fleet of eight gunboats and rams in front of the city. The Federal commanders started for their prey at half-past five. Ellet led the attack with his flagship, the ram Queen, followed by the other rams. The fight raged for an hour and a half, with rams against rams, and with gunboats keeping up a tremendous fire at close quarters against gunboats. It was all over at seven, with the nearly complete destruction of the hostile squadron. Seven of its vessels were captured, sunk, or burned, only one escaping down the river. The Federal loss was slight, but included the gallant Ellet, who received a pistol-shot fired by a rebel within a few feet of him when the Queen struck the first antagonist. The wound was at first considered slight, but he died from it two weeks later while on the way to his home in Ohio. Ellet was one of the most notable figures of the war. He possessed veritable genius as an engineer, and, being an intense loyalist, offered his special services for “clearing the Mississippi” to Secretary Stanton, who accepted them, commissioned him as colonel, and placed the means at his disposal for carrying out his plans. His untimely death was a great national loss, and was universally lamented.
The terrible spectacle of the naval battle was witnessed by tens of thousands of the inhabitants of the city, whose surrender was demanded by Commander Davis immediately after the cessation of hostilities and conceded by the mayor. Before actual possession was taken, Colonel Ellet's young son landed with a small squad of men, and they boldly made their way through crowds of secession sympathizers to the post-office and custom-house, took down the Confederate flags over those buildings, and hoisted the Stars and Stripes in their place. The Indiana brigade landed by noon and established military rule in the city.
The second day of my stay, my newspaper friends took me on a round of visits to the gunboats and rams. We were rowed successively to the flagship Benton, where we saw Commander Davis and Lieutenant Phelps, and then to four others, of whose names I remember only the Cairo and the Carondelet. They were specially built for the service, and looked to me, who had never seen any men-of-war, quite formidable, with their batteries of heavy guns, uniformed officers and crews, and the perfect order and discipline enforced on them. We were very hospitably received, and found the officers in a high state of elation over their overwhelming triumph, as they had a right to be. We also visited the rams, but were not permitted to see Colonel Ellet, who was said to have a high wound-fever. The rams were Mississippi steamboats cut down to their lower deck, and built up again fore and aft and on both sides with wooden bulwarks from a foot to a foot and a half thick, and covered with iron plates several inches thick. They were roofed over in the same way. Their double, iron-cased prows looked like huge wedges, and formed tremendous instruments of destruction. The illusion prevailed on the fleet, from the highest in command to the simple seamen, that the victory virtually opened the Mississippi down to New Orleans; but alas! it took a great deal more sanguinary work to accomplish that.
My recreation in Memphis was cut short by the news, which I learned early on June 11 from a captain of the commissary department of the Army of the Ohio whom I accidentally met on the street, that General Buell had received formal orders to march, and that General McCook's division had already started from Corinth that very day. Here was a predicament for me, as that doubtless implied that my host, the division quartermaster, and my horse and other belongings were gone also. Bidding a hasty farewell to my colleagues, I managed to catch a train that left at noon for Corinth. We travelled faster than before, but were still nearly eight hours in reaching Corinth. It did not take me long to make the pleasant discovery that, while McCook's division was actually gone, Captain Gamage had stayed behind in charge of the division train, which was to move early the next day. As the programme was that the division should await the train at Iuka, forty-five miles east of Corinth, I concluded to accompany the train, instead of riding ahead and trying to overtake the division, with the risk of capture by rebel guerrillas, who were known to be swarming in northern Mississippi and Alabama.
We were two days in reaching Iuka. It was a hard march for man and beast, the heat being great, the roads covered with deep dust, and the mosquitoes very abundant and aggressive. The route led through a succession of swampy lowlands and hilly stretches covered with poor timber. Only here and there were poverty-stricken farms and clusters of habitations, passing for villages, mostly deserted by the inhabitants. In order to avoid the choking clouds of dust raised by the train, Captain Gamage and I joined the main body of the cavalry escort in front of it. It consisted of the Second Indiana cavalry regiment, commanded by Colonel Edward M. McCook, a first cousin of General A. McD. McCook, and a brother of General Anson G. McCook, who after the war was for many years secretary of the United States Senate, and subsequently chamberlain of the city of New York. Edward McCook was as fine-looking an officer as could be found in the army: tall, graceful in figure and motion, with regular features, brilliant eyes, and black hair and beard. I was soon on very good terms with him, and we subsequently were thrown together a good deal, as will appear hereafter. (He was Territorial Governor of Colorado after the war.) He had a splendid regiment of picked men and horses, well drilled and disciplined by the other field officers, Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart and Major Hill, who had seen long service as non-commissioned officers in a regular cavalry regiment. Nothing occurred to interrupt our progress, and, on the evening of June 13, I rejoined McCook's division headquarters at Iuka.
Buell's new movement, it will be remembered, was the occupation of the important strategic point, Chattanooga, and the liberation of East Tennessee. But, in addition to general instructions to this effect from Halleck, he also received a specific order to put the line of the Memphis & Charleston Railroad along his route of march in running order, and to maintain it by proper military protection. The distance from Corinth to Chattanooga is 217 miles, and should have been easily traversed by the army in from twenty-five to thirty-five days. General Buell always claimed that, in a personal interview with Halleck on the 11th, he requested to be permitted to choose his own route, his preference being in favor of a line of march through middle Tennessee via McMinnville, but that the order to repair the road and use it as a line of supply was insisted upon. An issue subsequently arose betwen Buell and Halleck as to the latter's responsibility for this. But, whatever the facts were, it can hardly be disputed that the coming failures of the Army of the Ohio were mainly due to the delays and other injurious effects of the efforts to repair and run the railroad in question. Fully two months were spent by half of the army in opening and holding it to Decatur, only to find that its regular operation could not be maintained, as it ran parallel to the front of the enemy, and hence was peculiarly exposed to interruption. Moreover, it proved impossible to stock it with sufficient motive-power and cars in time to do much good to Buell's forces. The work on the road resulted, too, in scattering the army a good deal, and demoralized the troops by keeping them from their regular military duties. The detention no doubt caused the miscarriage of the general plan for the campaign and the extraordinary turn of events which was to lead the Army of the Ohio, not to East Tennessee, but back to the river whose name it bore.
I left Iuka with McCook's division the day after I joined it. We were closely followed by Crittenden's division that had been pursuing Beauregard and had come on our route at Iuka. Wood's division we found already engaged in road-repairing between Iuka and Florence. Nelson's was similarly occupied between Iuka and Corinth. Our march was again made very trying by the heat and dust and the stinging vermin. But we went into camp on the evening of the 15th, not far from the Tennessee River on the south bank, almost opposite the town of Florence. We lost a whole week here in waiting for the completion of a ferry boat, without which the river could not be crossed, the bridge over it being destroyed. The army contained plenty of men trained for that and any other sort of mechanical work, But the lack of machine- and hand-tools made the construction of the boat slow and difficult. The week was pleasantly spent, as we had a fine camp, good water, plenty to eat for man and beast, and cool nights free from mosquitoes. The surrounding scenery was quite picturesque. A great enjoyment for me was the daily swim I took in the river. The troops, too, were glad of the chance to clean up. Some diversion was afforded by the arrival of some very light-draught boats from Cairo, with army supplies.
I crossed over to Florence on the 23d, but it took fully three days and nights hard work to get the whole division with its artillery and trains over. It did not resume its march on the right bank for several days, owing to an order from Halleck to Buell to hold his command in place, as there were signs of an aggressive movement of the enemy upon Iuka; but this story turned out to have no foundation whatever. Florence was no more worthy of its famous name than Corinth. It looked rather attractive from the south bank, but proved very unclassical upon actual inspection — a straggling combination of brick and frame buildings of very plain style and neglected appearance. It had been occupied for some months by Union troops, and was abandoned by most of the inhabitants. A very brisk trade seemed to be carried on by speculators from the North, provided with permits from the United States Treasury Department, in buying up cotton for cash or in exchange for merchandise. This indulgence on the part of the Federal authorities, which grew into a general practice wherever cotton-producing regions were occupied, was very ill advised, and led everywhere to a regular contraband traffic with the South.
By this time General Buell had made up his mind that his army could not prosecute the campaign into East Tennessee without safe and ample lines of supply, and that, the Memphis & Charleston Road having failed as such, the completion of the two rail lines from Nashville to the Tennessee River, viz., one by way of Franklin, Columbia, Pulaski, and Athens to Decatur, and the other through Murfreesboro', Tullahoma, and Decherd to Stevenson, was imperative. The movements of his command during July were directed accordingly. Generals McCook's and Crittenden's divisions were destined for Stevenson, the farther of the two termini, Nelson's for Athens, Wood's for Decatur. Parts of all these divisions were to work on the railroads mentioned between Stevenson and Decherd and Decatur and Athens and Pulaski. General Thomas's division, which had been finally relieved from duty at and about Corinth, was to replace Wood and Nelson along the Memphis & Charleston. This distribution over a long line made it impracticable for me to observe the doings of any other parts of the army than those under McCook, with whom, as in the advance, I deemed it best to remain; and my narrative will therefore relate solely to his operations up to the re-concentration of the army.
I believe it was on July 2d or 3d that we started from Florence via Athens — an even more unclassical place than Florence for Huntsville, Alabama, — some seventy miles distant. The division made them in four days and a half — very good marching, considering the great heat and suffocating dust in which it was accomplished. The ordinary dirt road led within a few miles of the Tennessee, through a very broken country, and became more and more difficult, owing to many steep ascents and descents, for the troops, artillery, and trains. No signs of the enemy were discovered. Huntsville, a county seat and active trading centre, with a population, I believe, of five to six thousand, presented by its substantial appearance quite a pleasing contrast to the shabby places we had passed before. It was, indeed, one of the most prosperous places in northern Alabama before the war. General O. M. Mitchel, commanding another division, had occupied the town in April, and made it the point from which to clear the country of the rebels as far east as Stevenson and west as Florence; in which he had fully succeeded. General McCook left us at Huntsville on a short leave of absence, but the division resumed its march after a day's rest. We pushed on very steadily for a week and suffered again greatly from heat and dust, making from sixteen to eighteen miles a day, and reached Stevenson on July 14. All through the last day's march, we had heard from time to time the exhilarating sounds of locomotive whistles, and were much rejoiced to learn that the railroad from Nashville to Stevenson had been fully repaired, and that through-trains had arrived over it the day before. We found Louisville papers only two days old — a great treat, as we had heard nothing from the North for fully ten days. We stopped till the return of General McCook on the 17th. On the next day, we moved on to Battle Creek, seven miles, I think, from Stevenson. This brought us within thirty-one miles of Chattanooga, but Buell's army was not destined at that time to get any nearer to that objective-point. Crittenden's division had followed us closely, and General McCook exercised command over it and his own. General Buell, meanwhile, had established his headquarters at Huntsville, being thus separated by a long distance from his advance, consisting of one-third of his army, though in telegraphic communication with it.
There were already at that time more or less telling indications that the withdrawal of the rebels from Corinth had been but the first act in a new strategic programme aiming at a complete shifting of the scene of active operations and the resumption of the offensive by them. It gradually became clear that this programme comprised the transfer of the rebel army from middle Mississippi to Chattanooga, and a flanking movement thence against Buell under the leadership of General Bragg, who had superseded Beauregard. Buell seems to have first grown suspicious of it about the middle of July, when a series of rebel cavalry raids upon his lines of communication in Tennessee and Kentucky began with the sudden appearance of the daring cavalry leader Morgan, in the neighborhood of Bowling Green, and his dash thence through central Kentucky by way of Munfordville, Lebanon, Lexington, and Paris, with a force variously estimated at from one to three thousand mounted men. He captured a number of Federal detachments and inflicted considerable other damage. He recrossed the Cumberland near Mills Springs and safely reached East Tennessee, whence he had started, thus completing a circuit in his rapid movements. The next surprise of the same kind came on July 13, when Forrest, who developed into the most dangerous and successful rebel raider in the West, burst upon the town of Murfreesboro' like a thunderbolt from a clear sky. He utterly surprised and captured the garrison of fourteen hundred cavalry, infantry, and artillery — who, from the brigadier in command down to the rank and file, behaved disgracefully — together with hundreds of animals and wagons and great quantities of supplies, and worked such destruction on the railroad connecting Murfreesboro' with Nashville and Stevenson, between which latter points trains had run through for the first time only the day before, that it took two weeks to repair the damage. We felt the effect of this disaster at once at Battle Creek by the failure of the mails and newspapers, and the orders of the commanding-general to economize as much as possible with food and forage.
But Buell did not at first perceive the true meaning of these raids. He did not interpret them as the precursors, which they really were, of a coming attempt in strong force to compel him to abandon his movement upon Chattanooga and East Tennessee. He thought that his further advance would be disputed in front, and that the raids were merely meant to delay it, and he took measures immediately for the protection of the railroads by ordering Nelson's division to Murfreesboro' and drawing Wood's up to the Nashville & Decatur Road. But he still was confident that he could overcome the enemy in his way, and was far from contemplating the possibility of finding himself obliged before long to abandon his offensive campaign altogether, and to lead his army back to where it had started from early in the year. The arrival of General Bragg at Chattanooga on July 28, which he quickly learned, rather confirmed him in his view of the situation, in accordance with which he hastened the preparations for a resumption of his advance. Supplies were hurried forward to the front, and pontoon bridges for crossing the Tennessee got ready. The army trains were concentrated between Decherd, a railroad junction thirty miles north of Stevenson, and the river. All the troops between Stevenson, Huntsville, and Athens, including General Thomas's division, were ordered to the same vicinity. The army headquarters were also moved to Decherd.
Excepting some scouting excursions to the south and east, McCook's command remained stationary for nearly four weeks at Battle Creek. As I again complied strictly with my pledge not to report anything of the movements of our army, I underwent another involuntary term of idleness. The monotony of camp life was very irksome, yet there was nothing for me to do but to accept it. The division headquarters were kept astir, however, by the accounts of the rebel movements and plans, frequently brought in by spies, refugees, prisoners, and deserters, of which I was informed in confidence. They agreed that a concentration of rebel forces was steadily going on at and about Chattanooga, and that they meant to take the offensive. Reports that Bragg was about to cross the Tennessee, and even that he had actually crossed, commenced coming in early in August, and kept us on the alert, but they all proved to be unfounded. The constant confirmation of the near presence of a hostile army estimated at from fifty to sixty thousand, however, led Buell to give up his belief that Bragg would remain on the defensive and await his own advance upon him, and to act on the presumption that the rebels would cross over the Walden range of hills, rising from the right bank of the Tennessee directly opposite Chattanooga, into the valley of the Sequatchie, and follow that river down to its mouth, debouching near Butte Creek, and turning McCook by recrossing the Tennessee.
He was strengthened in this new theory by the increasing frequency, formidableness, and success of the rebel efforts in Tennessee and Kentucky to obstruct his long channel of supply by the single line of rail from Louisville to Nashville, and the double one from Nashville to his front. More or less numerous bands of mounted guerrillas ap peared at many points in both States, annoying or capturing and destroying what came in their way. Reports of encounters with them reached the army headquarters daily. Though defeated in one place, they quickly turned up again in another. A report reached Buell on August 6, that Morgan had reappeared with a large force and was making for Nashville, whereupon orders were immediately issued to fortify that city sufficiently to protect it from surprise. On August 10, the dreaded rebel actually turned up at Gallatin, a town on the Louisville & Nashville line, on the north bank of the Cumberland, only twenty-five miles from Nashville. He surprised and captured the garrison, and then proceeded to destroy culverts and bridges in the direction of the latter city. Moving northwest toward Bowling Green, he obstructed the tunnel seven miles north of Gallatin, and burned an additional number of wooden superstructures. It was learned about the same time that Forrest had again reached the Cumberland with several thousand cavalry, and was moving toward Nashville. Buell at once sent a cavalry force of seven hundred under Brigadier-General Johnson, an old regular-cavalry man, after Morgan. Johnson overtook him near Gallatin, but, owing to the misbehavior of part of his command, was beaten, and he himself taken prisoner with one hundred and fifty men. The remainder of his men refused to surrender and got away. Johnson was afterward charged with incapacity and cowardice in this affair.
This bad news produced no little anxiety in the army and at our division headquarters. The interruption of rail communication with Louisville, our primary base, was, indeed, a most serious blow, and, if long continued, was bound to frustrate the plan of campaign and compel retro grade movements. General Nelson was therefore detached from his division and ordered to Kentucky to restore our communications and clear that State of Morgan and the guerrillas. The army commander also telegraphed to General Grant, by authority of General Halleck, who had in the meantime been called to Washington as general-in-chief of all troops in the field, for two additional divisions, one to be used for protecting the line north of Nashville, and the other for service on the front in the general advance, which was still believed possible notwithstanding the threatening occurrences in the rear.
To General McCook's command now fell the part of an active corps of observation. On August 19 it received orders, upon the first intelligence of an advance of the enemy along the Sequatchie, to move promptly up that valley to check him and observe his movements. If pressed, he was to fall back over the so-called Therman road, diverging from the Sequatchie to the north, upon the main Union force that was expected to advance from McMinnville. Crittenden's division was also to move up the Sequatchie in the wake of McCook and in his support, and, if necessary, also to fall back over another road upon the column from McMinnville.
We commenced our march up the valley on the 20th, and had been under way some hours when we met two spies with very full and apparently reliable information as to the doings of the enemy. One of them was a non-commissioned officer in an Ohio regiment, a very intelligent man, who had volunteered for this perilous mission. He had spent some days at Chattanooga. He affirmed very positively that Bragg had crossed the river at Chattanooga with seventy regiments and a great deal of artillery, and was moving down the Sequatchie. This intelligence made General McCook fear that he could not reach the Therman road before Bragg, and he decided to fall back with his column to the so-called Higginbottom pike, also leading over the Cumberland Mountains, that bordered the Sequatchie on the north. The General and staff rode in advance up the very steep ascent of the pike to the summit, and I went with them. We ascertained quickly that the road was altogether too steep for artillery and trains, and the General determined to return to Battle Creek and move up its valley by another road over the mountains. He received orders on the 23d to march over the Battle Creek road in one day to Pelham, on the plateau of the Cumberland Mountains, a few miles from Decherd, thence to Altamont, and there to form a junction with Thomas's forces and attack the enemy if he should come over the Therman road. The road proved very difficult and the distance longer than expected, so that we bivouacked on the summit of the mountains seven miles from Pelham, and descended to that point — a wretched-looking, deserted hamlet — early next morning. We found there the first division under temporary command of General Schoepf, a German-Hungarian, who had seen service in the old country and was a thorough soldier. Having ascertained that General Thomas had left Altamont, we went into camp, awaiting further orders from General Buell, who came over the next day from Decherd and directed us to move on to Altamont.
The plateau and northern outrunners of the Cumberland range that we had traversed from Battle Creek to Altamont, formed a very broken, sterile, and dry stretch of country. With the exception of a little forage of hay and green corn, it was destitute of supplies of every kind; while, owing to the interruption of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, the troops had subsisted on half-rations for twenty days. The greatest difficulty was the want of water for men and beasts. Our whole division had but one spring to draw from for officers and men, and only pools of stagnant water in a half-dry streamlet several miles away were available for the animals. We were to watch for the supposed approach of the enemy over the Therman road at Altamont (this high-sounding name belonged to as mean a place as Pelham), whence four roads ran in different directions towards middle Tennessee; but the lack of water compelled us to move half a day's march on to Hubbard's Cove on Hickory Creek. Here, orders were received to concentrate with the rest of the army at Murfreesboro' and to make for that point as rapidly as possible.
General Buell had become satisfied some days before that the movement of the enemy down the Sequatchie had been only either a feint or a reconnoissance in force. He next expected an advance of Bragg over the Therman road, and concluded, only after he had been disappointed in this expectation also, that his adversary was moving north over a more easterly route. General Thomas had thought this all along, and urged proper counter-moves upon his superior, without convincing him. Buell now determined upon a rapid concentration of his army at Murfreesboro', upon the theory that Bragg's objective-point was Nashville. Some of his generals did not share this notion, and felt sure that the enemy was not bound for middle Tennessee, but for Kentucky. They were right and Buell wrong, but the general concentrating movement was formally ordered on August 30 and carried out. It was admirably planned, and effected with remarkable precision, considering that it included not only large bodies, but moving detachments, post-garrisons, and railroad guards spread out over a territory of one hundred and fifty by one hundred miles, and that only one week was allowed for completing it.
The day before McCook began his march to Murfreesboro', Edward McCook, the cavalry colonel, unexpectedly appeared with a small mounted escort for a brief visit to his cousin. He had been employed for nearly two months after we parted in escorting supply trains along the Tennessee River, but had followed General Nelson's division when it moved to McMinnville. He had been engaged with his command for some weeks in scouting, hunting, and fighting guerrillas. He invited me to accompany him, and, as I was weary of the monotonous marches, I accepted and rode off with him. For a week, I had an experience that reminded me continually of the song in Schiller's play of the “Robbers”—
“Ein freies Leben führen wir.”
The Colonel had a brigade of nominally three mounted regiments, but actually not more than eleven hundred men, under him. They were well armed and relatively well mounted, as their commander had made it his rule to exchange any good horses found in the country for the worn ones of his command. Not having received any new clothing since spring, however, a considerable percentage of the men had substituted civilian garments for parts of their uniforms, and thus presented a rather mixed exterior. More than half had managed to possess themselves of straw and felt hats of various colors. A score or so wore “butternut”; or “Confederate gray,” being the “scouting squad” in the disguise of rebels for the better performance of their perilous duties.
Altogether, the motley appearance of the brigade was in keeping with the miscellaneous services it had to render. It was literally a “flying column,” moving rapidly from point to point, and walking, trotting, and galloping from twenty to forty miles a day. Every morning a number of detachments were sent in advance and to right and left of the main body, scouring the country in search of the enemy, of food and forage, and suitable camping-grounds. The Colonel and I always rode with the advance. Three times we had a chase of rebel game and lively bush-fighting, resulting in some casualties on both sides. We bivouacked every night in the open air, with nothing but waterproofs under, and blankets and roofs of fence rails or branches of trees over us. Saddles served as pillows. A few ambulances and a dozen wagons with ammunition were all our transportation. We literally lived on the country, and, like a swarm of locusts, left nothing eatable behind us. Our men had acquired remarkable skill in making a clean sweep of food and fodder. They were especially smart in discovering the hidden stores and the cattle that had been driven off by the inhabitants, in which they were often helped by the black people, a bevy of whom, mounted on mules, had gradually collected and followed us into “freedom.” Our meals were, of course, very irregular, and more remarkable for simplicity than variety; but, while we sometimes went to sleep or started off in the morning without a meal, we got along well enough. I certainly enjoyed the adventurous life, which was to me a repetition of my Colorado days.
One exciting incident impressed itself especially on my mind. While we were riding one afternoon with the advance, a private asked leave to fall out for a certain purpose. He tied his horse to a fence and climbed over the latter into a corn-field. In about five minutes we heard a shot from the direction of the field. Fearing at once that something had happened to the man, we stopped and sent back a platoon for him. Soon afterward one of the latter galloped up with the news that the poor fellow had been found shot dead. It being evidently a case of stealthy murder, we at once returned to the scene, and there the Colonel decided to make an example. We made for the dwelling of the owner of the farm, where only women and children seemed to be. We could get nothing out of them, but a male slave, when threatened, confessed that young “Massa” had fired the shot. Thereupon, all human beings and animals were ordered out of the buildings, which were immediately set on fire and burned down in less than an hour. Stern retribution like this, and even sterner, had become a necessity, owing to the frequent assassinations that had occurred in middle Tennessee during the summer. The worst outrage of this kind was the murder of General Robert L. McCook (whom I mentioned as colonel of the 9th Ohio, in connection with the battle of Mill Springs) while going to a railroad station in an ambulance, on sick-leave. General Buell had issued orders to hang at once every civilian caught as a guerrilla, and Colonel McCook's command had inflicted the death penalty in five cases already.
According to instructions, we had made our way to and beyond McMinnville. Some twelve miles to the east of that place, our scouts brought us the positive intelligence that Bragg's army was moving to the north over the road leading through Spencer and Sparta to Carthage on the Tennessee River, and was already near the latter. We at once started back with this important news, and, on reaching McMinnville — a rather pretty and substantial town of several thousand inhabitants — the Colonel reported it by wire to the army headquarters. Like the rest of the army, we also were ordered to Murfreesboro', and marched there in two days. We passed through a rich agricultural country, one large plantation with fine brick dwellings and out-buildings succeeding another. The road was a well-macadamized highway. As the brigade had met its wagon train at McMinnville and drawn commissary and quartermaster supplies, our “freebooter” days came to an end.
The converging movement to Murfreesboro' of the different parts of the army was substantially completed on September 5. But Colonel McCook's report of Bragg's northward passage, which was confirmed from other sources, and the alarming news, received about the same time, of the bad defeat of General Nelson in eastern Kentucky, had at last brought the real situation home to General Buell, viz., that his adversary was fast executing a bold flanking march into central Kentucky, with Louisville doubtless as the objective-point, and that there was nothing left but to try and beat him in a race for the Ohio River. Hence the army did not tarry at all at Murfreesboro', but, in obedience to general orders, immediately continued on in forced marches to Nashville and thence on to the north. I rejoined McCook's division near Murfreesboro' — which proved to be quite a pleasant, compactly built-up little town — again to share its fortunes for almost two months.
With General Buell's cold, impassive nature and habitual reserve and reticence, any strong expression of feeling could hardly be expected from him, but those who came in contact with him in those days perceived, nevertheless, that he was greatly afflicted by the turn of events. It could not well be otherwise, for what was happening meant nothing less than a forced change from the offensive to the defensive, which, in spite of whatever explanations might be offered by him, would have the appearance of a compulsory retreat, and was sure to be looked upon as such by the Government, the public, and his own army. Furthermore, there was the undeniable discredit and humiliation of the involuntary abandonment of much of the fruit of the great expenditure of life, labor, and money during the summer in occupying rebel territory, incessant fighting on a small scale, repairing railroads, and doing a vast amount of other hard work. The distrust of Buell as an army commander, of which the battle of Shiloh and the siege of Corinth had relieved him, now set in again more strongly than before. The necessity of following Bragg's lead back to where they had started from, naturally had a very dispiriting influence upon the commanders under him. As we shall see, it demoralized also the rank and file to a dangerous extent. Anxiety as to the new campaign about to be entered upon pervaded the whole army. I confess that I shared the general depression.
McCook's division formed the rear of the army. We left Murfreesboro' early on the morning of September 7, with 11,000 infantry, 3000 cavalry, and an enormous train of 750 wagons, forming a column over ten miles long. The heat was great, and we rode nearly all the time in clouds of dust, but had accomplished our severe task of thirty miles at 11 P.M. of the same day, and went into camp within two miles and a half of Nashville. General McCook himself proceeded to General Buell's headquarters, and there at midnight received orders to cross the Cumberland the next day and march as fast as possible toward Franklin in Kentucky. General Buell announced his determination to start at once, with the divisions of McCook, Crittenden, Ammen, Wood, Rousseau, and Mitchel, in pursuit of Bragg, who was reported to tie marching from Carthage to Glasgow, fifty miles north of the former place and ninety-five miles from Nashville. General Thomas, with his own, Negley's, and Palmer's divisions, was to be left behind for the defence of Nashville, which was to be held at all hazards. General McCook advised him to abandon the city, and asked as a special favor to be allowed to burn it “as the most treasonable secession nest” in the whole South, but Buell would not entertain this radical suggestion. The Louisville & Nashville Railroad remained broken up from Nashville to within fifty miles of Louisville, so that human legs and animals formed our sole reliance for transportation. As only half-rations could be allowed for the march, it was a question whether the powers of endurance of man and beast would prove equal to the task.
We were in motion again in the morning, passed the river, and had marched some miles to the north of it on the Franklin turnpike, when instructions from Buell overtook us to halt till further orders. In the evening an order came to hurry to Edgefield Junction to the support of the division of General Ammen, who believed the enemy was approaching him in force. Instead of sleeping, we had a night's march of it, reaching the Junction at two in the morning, only to find that there had been a false alarm. During the following forenoon, we again got under way as the head of the army for Franklin and Bowling Green. General Buell and staff overtook us and rode with us all day. He hoped, by forcing the marching of his command to the utmost, to come up with the enemy between Glasgow and Bowling Green, in the direction of which point the rebel cavalry advance was reported to be going from Glasgow, with the bulk of Bragg s army following closely behind it. But there was a difference of thirty-five miles in distance, and apparently two days' time in addition, in Bragg's favor, so that the outcome of the race was uncertain, and everybody felt anxious. It took us three more days' marching to reach Bowling Green, where we stopped for two days in order to give the other divisions time to come up. The last of these joined us on the evening of the 15th. On the 16th, the army started again in three columns over as many different roads toward Glasgow, prepared to attack the enemy whenever encountered. But our advance cavalry reported the same evening that Bragg had left Glasgow and moved directly upon Munfordville. Our route of march was at once changed, and Cave City and Horse Wells, ten miles from Munfordville, made the next day. There we had a most discouraging surprise. The whole garrison of Munfordville, over two thousand infantry, came into our lines disarmed as paroled prisoners of war. They had shamefully surrendered in the morning to Bragg, after some resistance. Though they held a very strong position, their cowardly commanders allowed themselves to be frightened into a capitulation by the threats and display of force of the rebel general.
This scandalous incident produced a thrill of disgust and discouragement in our army. However, we pushed on towards Munfordville the next day, and found that the enemy was still there. Thus we had at least the satisfaction of having overtaken him, owing to his delay at Munfordville, which was some compensation for the surrender. We felt the rebel position on the 19th and 20th. Bragg withdrew the next day, his rear guard being driven out of the town by our advance. Our army followed him closely, and skirmishing was kept up with his rear constantly on the following three days, up to a point within thirty-five miles of Louisville, when he changed his direction to the east towards Bardstown, with a view, as became subsequently known, of effecting a junction with the forces of General Kirby Smith, approaching from eastern Kentucky in the so-called “Blue Grass” region. Bragg's deflection opened the way to Louisville to Buell, and he decided, as part of his command had exhausted its supplies and urgently needed replenishment of clothing and footwear, and as, moreover, a large body of fresh troops was gathered there from which he could fill his depleted ranks, to push as rapidly as posible for that city, and start from it upon a new campaign against Bragg.
McCook's division was continuously in motion, with the exception of two days halt at Prewitt's Knob, between Bowling Green and Louisville. It made the distance of one hundred and twenty miles in seven marching days, of which the last three were the hardest; twenty-four, twenty-three, and twenty-one miles respectively being made. The division not having the lead of the army, nothing noteworthy happened during that week, and I do not deem it worth my while to give the uninteresting details of our marching experience. Two nights we slept on the floor in farm-houses, but the rest of the week we had to bivouac. As the rebels had stripped the country ahead of us, we were limited to the scanty army fare we brought along. Notwithstanding the insufficient food, the troops bore the hardships of the long march — there was an average of about one hundred and eighty-five miles made by them between Nashville and Louisville — remarkably well. There was considerable straggling in search of food, but the percentage of footsore and sick was low. We were favored by magnificent fall weather, moderately warm during the day and not too cool at night. When within ten miles of Louisville, I rode ahead of the division over the familiar highway and drew up in front of the Galt House at 10 P.M. on September 27. The old night clerk was at his post, but he did not recognize me with my dust-begrimed countenance and full-grown beard, and, evidently distrusting my general vagabondish appearance, replied to my application for a room: “We are all full.” But he changed his tone at once when I mentioned my name, and had me escorted to a good bed room on the top floor. My trunks were sent up — nearly eight months had gone by since I had locked them — and I once more enjoyed the long-missed luxury of a choice of under- and upperwear. It was high time that I did, for my Memphis outfit was fast giving out, and I had not been out of my dust-crusted clothes for ten days. My first indulgence was a hot bath, and the next a hearty supper, followed by eleven hours' sleep.
On reaching the ground, General McCook assigned General Rousseau's division to a position connecting with Gilbert's left, and ordered a line of skirmishers to be thrown forward to examine the woods on his left and front. He also sent an aide to General Jackson, and, in compliance with orders, galloped off to report in person to General Buell, whose headquarters were about two and a half miles to the rear, near Gilbert's left. The Commander-in-chief had had a severe fall from his horse two days before and could not move about, and this circumstance had an unfortunate bearing upon the fate of the day. McCook was verbally directed to make a reconnoissance towards the Chaplin River, and rode back at once to execute it. As Buell himself says, in his official report, he had rather expected an attack on Gilbert's corps early in the morning, when it was still alone on the ground; but, none having been made and McCook being now also in position, he did not believe that the enemy would make an offensive attempt during the remainder of the day.
I remained with General Rousseau during the absence of General McCook. The feeling" for the enemy not having discovered him in front, Rousseau decided to move his line forward nearer to the Chaplin River, so as to procure water for the parched throats of his men. After moving about half a mile, we stopped, as there were renewed indications of the appearance of the enemy in the woods in front of us. Rousseau rode forward some distance to reconnoitre; I followed him and shared his experience during the following dreadful hours. We saw directly a moving rebel force. In a few minutes its approach was signalled by the sudden opening of a rain of shells, apparently from several massed batteries, upon us. The General at once ordered two of his batteries to return the fire. Thereupon, at least twenty-four guns sent whizzing and exploding missiles at each other by and over us as a roaring prelude to the sanguinary battle that was thus begun at about 1:30 P.M.
Messengers from our cavalry pickets and skirmish line now reported the approach of heavy columns of rebel infantry and artillery. Rousseau at once rode back to prepare for the shock. To his right brigade, Colonel Lytle's, he sent orders by an aide. The centre and left brigades, under Colonels Harris and Starkweather, he put in position himself. He caused two batteries to be so stationed on adjacent heights as to give a cross fire upon the advancing enemy. These dispositions having been made, we hurried back from the left to the centre of the division, which, we could clearly see, a mighty rebel column was about to strike.
Meantime, General McCook, finding Rousseau's line advanced when he reached the front again, had ordered part of the 33d Ohio regiment of Harris's brigade as skirmishers into the woods before its line, and then hastened to find General Jackson, his other division commander, to direct him to make his line conform to Rousseau's. Hearing musketry fire from the woods mentioned, he galloped back to Harris's front, and ordered the remainder of the 33d Ohio and the 2d Ohio to the support of the skirmishers. Thus Rousseau found part of his centre engaged on his return from the left. The formidable proportions of the rebel attack being now fully developed, he led another of Harris's regiments, the 24th Illinois, forward in person, in line of battle, till it reached the left of the 33d Ohio. I followed him and soon heard the whistling of bullets, first scatteringly and then continuously about us. Just then we were shocked by an ill-boding sight on our left. An other rebel column had pushed obliquely, like a wedge, against the right of Jackson's division, consisting of a brigade of raw men. The sheets of fire and hail of lead which rapidly burst forth from it on coming within firing distance were too much for the Federals. We plainly saw the brigade break and fly rearward in utter confusion, drawing the other brigade with them. The panic was due in part to the killing of General Jackson by the first rebel volley. Here was another striking reminder of Bull Run and Pittsburg Landing. The direction from which this terrible assault had come, made it clear that the enemy's plan was to roll up our line from left to right, and he had certainly begun its execution most threateningly.
Leaving Colonel Harris to lead his two remaining regiments, the 38th Indiana and 94th Illinois, to the support of the three already under fire, Rousseau galloped once more to his left, now imperilled by Jackson's disaster. Colonel Starkweather was ordered to open an enfilading fire with his two batteries, which was done promptly, but did not at first check the advancing enemy, who, despite the gaps torn through their ranks by our shot and shell, approached steadily, loading and discharging volley after volley from their small arms while advancing. At this stage of the combat, an incident happened that has always remained fresh in my mind. The 1st Wisconsin Infantry, although already within range of the rebel musketry and losing officers and men, when they recognized General Rousseau stuck their caps on their swords and bayonets, and, waving their arms over their heads, broke out into rousing cheers for him and shouts of defiance at the enemy. Rousseau, feeling that he was defending the key of our position and that the fate of the corps, and even of the army, would turn upon his successful resistance, remained close to the scene of this struggle. I dismounted and watched the course of the fighting for over an hour. The atmosphere was so clear and the sun shone so brightly that, barring momentary obscuration by the powder smoke, every move of assailants and assailed could be clearly perceived with the naked eye or the field-glass from the commanding point where we stood. We could see the victims drop, seemingly by the scores, on both sides, under the effect of the rapid exchange of volleys by regiments. Soon the flow of wounded to the rear indicated the severity of our losses. We could trace distinctly our shot and shells as they tore gaps through the rebel ranks, while the hostile missiles whirled past or burst above us. We were so near that we heard the peculiar pattering noise of falling bullets. We were all struck with the desperate valor of the rebels. Led by mounted officers, their broad columns came to the attack in quick movement and with death-defying steadiness, uttering wild yells, till, staggered by the sweeping cross-fire of our artillery and the volleys from Starkweather's regiments, they fell back to the shelter of corn-fields and breaks of the ground. But again and again, with revived pluck, they returned to the charge, to be again checked by our batteries and steadfast infantry. Gradually they gained ground, however, and the fire of their guns and musketry grew hotter and hotter. Still our line stood, and every once in a while a cheer arose from it above the din of battle. Towards four o'clock, the report came that the ammunition of our men was giving out, and that they were reduced to what they took from the cartridge-boxes of their dead and wounded comrades. When this was exhausted, they stood receiving fire without being able to return it. Then, owing to what had happened to the centre and right of the division, an order reached them to fall back to the position first assigned to them in the morning by General McCook. The brigade left one-third of their number in killed and wounded on the field. Its two batteries were brought off, although one of them had had nearly all its horses killed.
About the hour named, a message reached Rousseau asking him to meet General McCook at a farm-house in the rear of the centre of the corps. Being anxious to learn the course of the action in other parts of the field, and feeling very hungry and thirsty, and hoping to find something to eat and drink — not a swallow of water or any thing else had passed my lips all day — I galloped there with him. On reaching the house, we discovered that General McCook had left, as the enemy, having worked around our right, had planted a battery directly in line of the house and was shelling it furiously. We had instant proof that it was a most dangerous place, since four shells exploded at once above us as we halted in front of it. The location of this hostile battery made Rousseau anxious for the safety of his right and centre, and he determined to return at once to his front, and sent word to that effect to General McCook by an orderly, whom I concluded to accompany.
We found the corps commander some distance further to the rear, in a very excited and perturbed state of mind, as he well might be in the awful predicament of finding himself on the verge of a complete rout of his corps. His chief-of-staff told me hurriedly that the whole corps had been assailed by overwhelming numbers, that the centre was being forced back and the right turned, that appeals for aid had been made more than an hour before through staff officers to the nearest division commander of General Gilbert's corps, but that no reinforcements had yet appeared, and that there was imminent danger of a disaster. I further learned that the General and staff had been separated from the corps headquarters since his visit to Buell. It turned out that, owing to the general retrograde movement of the corps, the vehicles attached to it had fallen into the hands of the enemy, including the mess-wagon and the field-carriage with the general's and staff's papers and baggage, and my own saddle-bags containing my toilet utensils and changes of underclothing. Owing to this mishap, I got no food, but only a mouthful of brandy and water from the flask of an aide-de-camp.
I have told in the foregoing what I saw myself of the action. The following narrative of the other occurrences of the day is taken mainly from my report of the battle to the New York Tribune, which was made up at the time from accounts of eye and ear witnesses.
The enemy, intent upon rolling up the line of McCook's corps from left to right, and having made no further progress against the left after their first success in driving Jackson's division from its position, next tried to break the centre. But Harris's brigade, as well as Starkweather's, withstood their repeated, determined onsets in great force. They also held their ground firmly until after all the cartridge-boxes of the living and dead and wounded had been emptied, and withdrew only when the rest of our line fell back. The brigade on the right, under Colonel Lytle, was assailed at the same time and as vigorously as the centre. It succeeded, however, in repulsing every front attack up to between four and five o'clock, when a strong column of the enemy, concealed by the undulations of the ground, managed to pass around its right, and suddenly, almost without warning, fell upon the flank and rear of the brigade and drove it before them in much disorder. Colonel Lytle was severely wounded and taken prisoner. This turning movement would not have been possible if General Gilbert had not ordered General Sheridan to fall back for half a mile from the position Colonel David McCook's brigade had wrested from the enemy in the morning, in which it had connected with Lytle's right. The rebel success involved the gravest peril to McCook's whole corps — indeed, threatened it with utter defeat and destruction. This calamity would surely have befallen it had not, at the critical moment, the rebel move against Lytle been arrested by counter-attacks from Gilbert's corps. How this came about will best appear from the following extract from my account of the battle in the Tribune:
General McCook states that at 3 P.M. he dispatched Captain Horace W. Fisher of his staff to the nearest commander of troops for assistance. He first met General Schoepf marching at the head of his division, and reported his condition to him. General Schoepf expressed a desire to act at once, as he was moving to the front under orders for that same purpose. He requested Captain Fisher to see General Gilbert, the commander of the corps, who was riding with the column. Gilbert said that he was very sorry to learn that General McCook was in so pressed a condition, but that he could not send him reinforcements without special orders from General Buell. Owing to the delay in first hunting for General Gilbert and next in finding General Buell, the aide-de-camp did not succeed in reporting the precarious plight of the first corps to the latter until nearly four o'clock. General Buell stepped out of his tent, held his ear towards the scene of action, listened for a few moments, and then, turning sharply to Captain Fisher, exclaimed: “Captain, you must be mistaken. I cannot hear any sound of musketry. There cannot be any serious engagement.”
Captain Fisher thus returned without any assurance of reinforcements. Shortly after he had left the army headquarters, however, General Buell concluded, after all, to inquire into the alleged “serious engagement,” and sent Major Wright of his staff to ascertain whether General McCook really needed assistance and to direct General Gilbert to furnish it. But the latter had already acted before the Major reached him, in response to another and more urgent appeal from McCook through another staff officer, and ordered Colonel Gooding's brigade of General Mitchell's division with the Fifth Wisconsin battery to the relief of Rousseau. When he received Buell's order, he sent another brigade of Schoepf's division forward for the same purpose. Gooding's brigade tried to come in touch with Rousseau's retreating right, but failed to do so owing to the remnants of Lytle's brigade having fallen back nearly a mile before rallying, and became hotly engaged with the enemy. It was assailed by far superior numbers, but withstood until nearly dark, when, finding itself unsupported on either side, it fell back upon the corps line after losing over five hundred in killed and wounded out of a total of only 1423 engaged. Its commander had his horse shot under him and fell into the hands of the enemy.
The reinforcing brigade under General Steedman from Schoepf's division arrived on the field at dark, too late to do any good.
Simultaneously with the turning movement around Lytle's right, part of the rebel forces again attacked Colonel McCook's brigade, on Sheridan's left, in order to dislodge Hiscock's large battery of Parrott guns that was directing an effective enfilading fire from a very advantageous position upon the hostile infantry and batteries. But McCook's men repelled the two onsets. General Sheridan and Colonel McCook from their standpoint clearly observed the course of the rebel flanking column, and understood the danger it brought to McCook's corps. As it passed along their front, they were eager to strike it in the flank, which they could have done most effectively, but they were held back by orders from General Gilbert, and chafed in vain at the loss of this fine chance of changing the fortunes of the day. It is easy to comprehend the bitterness and pain that Colonel McCook and his younger brother John felt, as they saw their brother's command apparently doomed, without being permitted to help him. The older brother did not hesitate, during and after the battle, to proclaim loudly that the flanking operation was invited and made practicable by their change of position under the orders of Gilbert.
The rebel wave that had swept away Lytle and struck Gooding was, however, stayed and forced back during the last hour of daylight. Having passed by Sheridan and reached Mitchell's front with their left and rear fully exposed, the latter division commander, not being under restraining orders, seized the opportunity and ordered Colonel Carlin to attack the enemy with his brigade. Carlin (a regular-army officer, who subsequently distinguished himself as a cavalry commander) immediately moved forward, and, reaching the brow of a hill, discovered the rebels directly before him. He formed his brigade and led a charge at the double quick with enthusiastic cheers, and succeeded, after a short resistance of the enemy, in breaking through his line. The rebels broke and fled in confusion, Carlin following them for nearly two miles to and through the town of Perryville, and then, retracing his steps to the field of action, captured close to the town a heavy ammunition train with its guard of 150 officers and men. This was the last incident of the sanguinary day. Night fall put an end to hostilities on both sides.
The result of the day was unquestionably a decided rebel success. The enemy had driven McCook's whole line back from a mile and a half to two miles, and inflicted a loss of 39 officers and 806 men killed, 94 officers and 2757 men wounded, and 515 missing — a total of 4211, of which the First Corps alone lost 29 officers and 643 men killed, 66 officers and 2136 men wounded, and 425 missing — a total of 3299, or more than three-quarters of the entire loss. Eleven guns and much booty were also taken by the rebels from the corps. This is sufficient proof that McCook's command bore the brunt of the fight. In fact, it fought the battle. Rousseau's division had 7000, Jackson's 5500 effectives. The greater portion of the latter were stampeded, as we have seen, at the beginning of the battle, so that hardly more than 9000 men remained fighting in line, to which, towards the close, Gooding's 1400 and Carlin's 2000 were added. As usual, both the Union and Confederate commanders, in their official reports, claim to have been attacked by from two to three and four times the number of their troops. Bragg's official account proves that the rebels had only three divisions of infantry with about 14,500 effectives engaged. But, as their attacks were made in massed bodies of two or three brigades against certain points of our line, there was good ground for saying that the assailants attacked with greatly superior numbers.
It is the simple truth that to the “daring charges” of his infantry, as General Bragg justly calls them, the triumph of the rebel arms was due. But it is equally true that their commanders ran the greatest risk in acting on the assumption that only one Federal corps was confronting them, and that they owed their escape from the severest punishment for this hardihood to faults of omission and commission on our side. The enemy rushed, in unconscious recklessness, into the trap which the convergence of our three corps upon Perryville really formed for him, and he owed it partly to accident and partly to our mistakes and blunders that it was not sprung on him. It is enough to state the astounding fact that not far from forty thousand muskets and some eighty pieces of artillery of our army never fired a shot during the whole day. We had, indeed, such an abundance of forces gathered so near to Perryville that, had there been but a proper perception of our opportunity and promptness and energy in availing of it, the enemy would have been entirely enveloped and crushed. We had five-sixths of Gilbert's and the whole of Crittenden's corps intact for that purpose. That, instead, we were badly beaten in part was clearly attributable, first, to the fall and hurt of General Buell, which prevented him from having personal cognizance of the situation at the front and taking prompt action accordingly; second, to his unwillingness to accept the assurance of General McCook's aide-de-camp that a serious engagement was in progress, and consequent delay in ordering support to the First Corps; third, to the inexperience and incapacity of General Gilbert. This officer, a captain in the regular army, appeared in the part of a corps commander literally without ever having led any troops—not as much as a company—under fire, and, strangest of all, without the shadow of a real title to his rank, as is shown by another quotation from my reports to the Tribune:
I must record a singular discovery regarding General Gilbert. Soon after the battle, General Rousseau heard some rumors of doubts relative to the former's actual rank, and addressed a letter of inquiry upon the subject to General Buell, who sent it to General Gilbert. The latter wrote on the back of it: “I am a major-general by the appointment of Major-General Wright.” General Wright, the military Department Commander for Ohio and Kentucky previous to the return of General Buell to Louisville, of course had not the remotest authority to issue commissions or confer rank. Here was the startling revelation, which excited the utmost astonishment in Buell himself, that a mere pretender or impostor had exercised the next highest function of command, to the all but fatal detriment of the whole army. Naturally, the disclosure greatly intensified the indignation and disgust of the commanders under him and under McCook at his failure to relieve the First Corps and to seize the chance, plainly within his grasp, to turn our defeat into a rout of the enemy.
The command of the corps was soon after taken from him. Brief as his career had been, he succeeded not only in proving his incompetency to command, but in incurring the hatred of his subordinates generally, for he lowered himself by abusing officers, whipping teamsters and soldiers, and by other brutal interferences in matters beneath his station.
In closing my description of the battle, I deem it my duty to state that, while I was writing it in the spring of 1896 — nearly thirty-four years after the event — the curious fact was discovered that General Buell was informed, by signal message, as early as 2 P. M., of the rebel attack in force upon General McCook's division. The discovery rests on the evidence of the signal-officer who received the message.
I have to own that, before the firing had ceased altogether, my appetite got the better of my sense of duty and my interest in the battle, and I set out in search of food and drink for myself and horse. Knowing that Buell's headquarters had been stationary all day, I felt sure that my needs could be satisfied there. I found them, after some wandering, at about seven o'clock. Colonel Fry, on my supplication, readily agreed to take care of me, and I was soon devouring a cold supper. My own and my animal's condition may be judged from the fact that I had been in the saddle since three in the morning, less two hours at the most, and had had nothing but a cup of coffee and some hard-tack at that hour. The horse had had no food or water for a whole day, and an orderly had to take him a quarter of a mile for a chance to drink. The Colonel secured me a nook in a tent occupied by staff officers for a resting-place, and a blanket to wrap up in. An almost full moon had arisen and lighted up the field very brightly, but my own and my quadruped's fatigue was too great for another effort, and I remained at headquarters.
General Buell now clearly understood the situation in which the events of the day had left his army, and decided to make a general attack on the enemy at daylight. Dispositions for that purpose were made during the night. The corps commanders were sent for to receive their instructions, and remained in consultation with the General-in-chief till after midnight. The army hardly got any sleep. All the troops at the front were kept moving into proper positions for the onset in the morning. The gathering of our wounded was also continued all night. Being fully informed as to the programme for the morrow, and having arranged to be called at four, I sought sleep early.
When I was aroused at four, I found that nobody else at headquarters had slept. A light breakfast was ready, at which I learned from the staff that, since one o'clock, several reports had come in from our picket-lines that continuous noises had been heard, indicating the movement of artillery and trains and a general retreat of the enemy. Naturally, this was not considered satisfactory news. It was confirmed between six and seven by the forward movement of the corps of Crittenden and Gilbert, which were to attack the enemy's front and left, while McCook remained in reserve. They met no resistance, and fully developed the fact that the whole rebel army had disappeared from our front. They left behind all their dead and severely wounded, and all the captured pieces of artillery but two, and about fifteen hundred of our small arms which they had collected.
General Buell was greatly disappointed, as he had confidently held to the opinion, based on his overestimate of the rebel strength and on the theory that Bragg had to await the approach of Kirby Smith's force, that the rebels would stand and fight. He was so satisfied of this that he would not entertain a suggestion made by General Crittenden to swing his corps around on its left during the night, so as to bring it across Bragg's only line of retreat. Buell did not think, however, that the rebel move meant an abandonment of Kentucky, but simply a falling back to another position with a view to facilitating the junction with Smith. This wrong supposition led him, after crossing the Chaplin River, instead of undertaking at once an energetic pursuit, to get his army into a favorable position just beyond Perryville and there await the arrival of General Sill's division, which took place only on the third day after the battle.
I spent the morning of the 9th in writing my first account of the battle, which a surgeon in charge of an ambulance train of wounded bound for Louisville promised to mail at the first railroad station, and devoted the afternoon to a ride over the entire battle-field. I could easily trace the course of the action by the ghastly lines of dead and severely wounded from the points of the first rebel attacks to where they stopped in the evening. On our side, most of the victims lay in rows along our front, where the most vigorous defence was made. Along Jackson's line, the casualties had obviously been few, showing that most of his division had sought safety in flight. The number of the fallen was greatest along Starkweather's brigade, while Harris's and Lytle's losses appeared to be about even. Nearly all our wounded had been removed either during the action or at night. The direction of the rebel advances was literally marked by trails of blood from a quarter to half a mile long. I counted over five hundred of their dead. Most of them appeared to have been killed instantly by bullets and artillery fire; but many showed by their distorted features that they had passed through more or less prolonged agonies. I found some two score that had been struck and mutilated by cannon-balls and shells — some with upper and lower limbs torn off, others with chest and abdomen laid open, and one with his entire and another with half his head gone. Our sanitary corps was at work gathering up the hundreds of wounded the enemy had mercilessly left on the field. These had suffered indescribably since they fell, from pain, cold, and want of food and water. The hopeless cases were left to die where they lay, and I passed dozens of them writhing in the last agony. The track of slaughter formed awful proof of the blind heroism, born of fanatical devotion to their bad cause, with which the rebels faced—yea, courted—death. At three points I found, in spaces not over five hundred feet long and wide, successive swaths of from twenty to fifty bodies, cut down by our small arms and batteries, showing that the most murderous fire did not stop them. Altogether, the sights formed as horrifying a spectacle as those on the field of Shiloh.
I devoted the 10th to visits to General Rousseau and the headquarters of General Crittenden and his division commanders. All the generals I saw expressed their great disappointment and humiliation at the unsatisfactory results, so far, of the operations of the army since it turned north from Nashville. Several of them charged Bragg's escape without severe punishment directly to mismanagement. The belief was very general that he would not fight again in Kentucky. One of the bitterest talkers was General Rousseau. He denounced General Gilbert without stint for failing to support McCook in the battle. Rousseau, a lawyer and politician at Louisville when the war broke out, an ardent loyalist, and one of the first to raise volunteers in Kentucky for the Union cause, was considered at first a “political” general and did not stand very high with trained military men. But active service in the field had rapidly made him a true soldier and able commander. He manifested great courage at Shiloh, and his conduct in this battle was certainly admirable. His fearlessness under fire shone out all the afternoon. He was middle-aged, of tall, full stature, with fine manly face, and presented a commanding, martial appearance, especially on horseback.
I also had an hour with Colonel Daniel McCook, whose acquaintance I had made during my stay at Leavenworth in the spring of 1859, where he was practising law. Like all the McCooks, he was of a very genial, frank, and yet resolute nature. Like his father and his eldest brother, he was doomed to lose his life in the service of his country. He fell in Sherman's Atlanta campaign. In his anxiety for the reputation of his brother, the General, he fairly boiled with indignation at the derelictions of Buell and Gilbert. He conducted me to the several positions occupied during the conflict, and demonstrated how, on the one hand, the falling back from the position taken from the rebels early in the morning had left Rousseau's right unprotected, and how, on the other, the rebel turning movement might have been used to our advantage by falling upon their flank and rear. He took me to the headquarters of General Sheridan, with whom I had a long talk. I had met him casually more than once during the Corinth campaign as Colonel of the 2d Michigan Cavalry. Up to that time, his army record did not indicate the brilliant future before him. Nor did he impress me as a man of more than ordinary intellectual ability. His exterior was anything but prepossessing. Of hardly middle height, with a round head, low brow, and decidedly coarse Irish features, a disproportionately broad and long body on short legs, he did not make a very imposing personality. He looked like a bold sabreur, but nothing more.
The arrival of General Sill's division being assured for the evening of the 11th, Buell, on the same day, sent out three brigades from Crittenden's and Gilbert's corps, headed by my friend Colonel Edward McCook's and Colonel Gray's mounted commands. Having learned this, I made my way at once to McCook, who was very willing to have me accompany him again. He had been incessantly engaged in outpost and advance-guard duty during the march from Nashville to Louisville and thence to Perryville, and there had been but few days on which his command had not rubbed against the enemy. We followed the pike from Perryville to Harrodsburg, and encountered and skirmished with rebel cavalry, apparently supported by a strong infantry force. But they fell back before evening, and we entered Harrodsburg unopposed, where we found more than a thousand rebel sick and wounded. The next day we moved on toward Dix River, a tributary of the Kentucky, and discovered that the whole rebel army had crossed it. Buell, being uncertain whether the enemy would retreat further or would avail himself of the strong positions which the country between the two rivers afforded and await attack, had ordered his whole army to advance on the same day from a line extending from Harrodsburg to Danville. On the 13th, our movement was continued in a southeasterly direction upon the last-mentioned place. There we ascertained definitely that Bragg was really in full retreat towards the Cumberland River. Even Buell now had to believe this, and he decided upon an energetic pursuit in force. At midnight General Wood's division marched from Danville and came up with and engaged the enemy's rear-guard of cavalry and artillery in the morning at Stanford. But it became evident during the day that the enemy's object was only to obstruct our advance, which he did by destroying bridges and blocking the road by felled trees. I rode with McCook's cavalry brigade in advance of Gilbert's corps through Lancaster to Crab Orchard, but we did not collide again with the rebels. At the last-named point, the several roads followed by the army converged into one, of a very rugged and difficult character, so that the army could have followed the enemy only in one column twenty miles long, which would have been useless and absurd. McCook's and Gilbert's corps were therefore halted on the 15th.
All the reports from the pursuing column confirmed the general impression that Bragg and Kirby Smith were making for Cumberland Gap and would not stop short of East Tennessee. This meant the end of the Kentucky campaign for Buell's army. In view of this, and the destitute condition in which the loss of my travelling-bag had left me, I resolved to return to Louisville, and set out on the return journey on the afternoon of the 15th, bound for Bardstown, the nearest railroad station to which trains were known to be running. My route was via Stanford, Danville, Perryville, and Springfield, and I reached the railroad late on the 17th. While riding along the turnpike that intersected the battle-field about two miles west of Perryville, I smelled a sickening stench, obviously arising from a spot close to the highway. Suspecting an effect of the battle, I turned into a field to discover the cause of it. Not more than a hundred yards from the road, a terrible sight shocked me. In a clear space of not over an acre, there were more than fifty dead rebels, off whom at least a hundred hogs were making a sickening feast. The fallen Confederates had evidently been overlooked by our burying parties. Decomposition had swelled the bodies into awful monstrosities, and the nasty beasts were hard at work disembowelling them and gnawing into the skulls for their brains. Such is war!
I reached Louisville on the 18th. I wired immediately to the Tribune that the campaign was ended, and that no important events were likely to occur for some time, and asked for instructions. The next morning the answer came to report in person in New York as soon as possible, which obviously meant a change of my field of duty. The order was very welcome, and I started for the East on the 20th.
General Buell was relieved from the command of the Army of the Cumberland soon afterwards, and General Rosecrans put in his place. The change was inevitable. The Government, it will tie remembered, had already tried to replace him with General Thomas, and was now determined upon removing him. The loyal public and the governments of the Western States again demanded his displacement, more vehemently than before. The greater portion of his army also wished for a new commander, and Buell himself was conscious that his prestige was gone, and intimated to the Government that he expected to be relieved. He never was given another active command, and takes his place in history as one of the failures of the war, beside Frémont, McClellan, Burnside, Hooker, Pope, and Halleck. The main cause of his downfall being the delay in his march to East Tennessee in consequence of Halleck's order to repair the Memphis & Charleston Railroad as he advanced, Buell may be considered a victim of circumstances as well as of his own personal defects. He possessed much natural ability, and probably more theoretical knowledge of the science of war than any other Union commander. But the latter acquirement proved more of a detriment than an advantage to him, for it made him too prone, in preparing his army for active operations, to require a greater degree of readiness than the known worse condition of his adversaries called for. And again, he was too much inclined to base his deductions as to the purposes of the enemy on what, according to the theory of strategy, leaders of armies ought to do under certain circumstances. The rebel commanders regularly set his calculations at naught by defying theory and rule in taking the offensive, whether their troops were well clad or shod, or well supplied with provisions and transportation or not, and passing over mountains and rivers and through sterile regions that he assumed to be insurmountable obstacles. The subsequent publications in his defence show this short coming clearly, and also bring out his excessive caution very distinctly. He was incapable of bold resolution and daring action, contrasting strikingly in this respect with the Confederate generals. Notwithstanding the uniform superiority of his army in numbers, armament, equipment and supplies, he was (with the exception of the second day at Shiloh, when he acted under orders) always on the defensive. If the conditions had been reversed and his antagonists had enjoyed such superiority, they would doubtless have made short work of him. General Buell is entitled to full credit, however, for always faithfully and tirelessly discharging his duties to the best of his ability. The charges made in the press and otherwise at the time, that he was at heart not loyal to the Union, and even sympathized with the Southern cause, were utterly unfounded and calumnious.
- ↑ A select company of young Philadelphians of the better classes, especially recruited for this service and commanded by William J. Palmer, who, after the war, made quite a name for himself as a railroad builder and manager in connection with the Denver & Rio Grande system. The company, I believe, was afterwards increased to a regiment, and Palmer came out of the war with the rank of brigadier-general.
- ↑ Really the day before, April 10. See page 1.