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Editor’s Note: April 6-7, 2012 marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh, fought in southwestern Tennessee. Participants included the men of Battery B, First Michigan Light Artillery. Larry R. Houghton told their story in Michigan History Magazine, March/April 1993 issue. Excerpts from his article follow.
Excerpt #1 (Sunday morning, April 6)
In position at about 9:00 A.M., Battery B began firing for the first time at human targets. Sergeant Mills recalled,
We could see the enemy advancing at a rapid rate. We formed in battery, and poured upon them the deadly shell. Our position then being so near, it was responded to by a volley which fell like hail around and in our midst. We then retired a short distance [back to the Hamburg-Savannah Road] and ceased to fire. Here, for the first time, the dreadful havoc of war became a stern reality to us, and was no longer a picture of imagination.
Except #2 (Sunday afternoon, April 6)
The Battle of Shiloh raged into the afternoon. With less-than-perfect communication between divisions—even between regiments—portions of the Union line surged back and forth as they first gained the advantage, then gave way to Confederate charges. Tens of thousands of men clashed in a fury never before witnessed on the North American continent. The roar of continuous firing sent clouds of blue smoke drifting over a hideous scene of death and suffering. Even nature’s landscape of trees and brush seemed to scream from the hail of lead and steel. Thousands of wounded men cried for water in the sun’s heat. Some crawled to a small pond for relief, their open wounds staining the waters red and giving it a name to memorialize their sacrifice: Bloody Pond.
In this surreal scene Battery B held its midday position until 2:00 P.M. when they were forced to retire with the remainder of Hurlbut’s division. Their new location in the Wicker Field, just north of the old farm lane known as the “sunken road,” was their last fighting position. The battery continued in heavy action backing up the furious fighting in front of them in the area dubbed the “Hornets’ Nest.” There, the intensity of the day’s conflict reached its deadly peak. Numerous charges were repelled, leaving rows of dead rebels before the Union position.
At 4:00 P.M. General Hurlbut ordered a general retirement of his forces along the entire Federal left flank. Ross’s battery fell back to the Hamburg-Savannah Road/Corinth Road intersection; there it was charged and surrounded by Colonel Andrew J. Lindsay’s First Mississippi Cavalry, just in front of the battery’s camp (Position E).
The battery’s efforts to carry out Grant’s orders to hold this “position at all hazards” had ended.
Except #3 (Aftermath of the Battle)
In all, the rebels captured approximately twenty-two hundred Yankees, including about one hundred men from the Twelfth Michigan Infantry. The excitement of taking such a large group of prisoners and the logistics of moving so many men back from the battlefront slowed the Confederate advance. The eventual arrival of most of General Buell’s army and the artillery bombardment by two Union gunboats, the Lexington and the Tyler, halted any further advance. Darkness and exhaustion soon brought the day’s horrendous battle to a close.
Battery B was now split in two. Forty-nine men and three officers were prisoners; five others had been wounded. Miraculously, none had been killed.
Eventually, the Battle of Shiloh—which resumed the following day—left 13,147 Union and 10,694 Confederate casualties. Late on the afternoon of the battle’s second day the rebels began a retreat to Corinth. Preceding them were the men of Battery B, whose war experience took another unfamiliar turn as they settled into captivity.
Except #4 (Conclusion)
Battery B continued its dedicated service throughout the remainder of the war. Despite participation in a number of battles, its casualty list was surprisingly short. Only a dozen men were wounded in the last year of the war; none were killed in battle. After the war’s conclusion, the Michigan artillery men participated in the grand review of Sherman’s army on 24 May 1865 in Washington, DC. The battery was mustered out of federal service on 14 June 1865 in Detroit. These sons of Michigan returned to their homes justifiably proud of having given exemplary service to the Union and to their state. The Michigan monument at Shiloh had them in mind when it concluded:
More enduring than this granite will be the gratitude of Michigan, to her soldiers of Shiloh.