Albert Sidney Johnson At Shiloh
by his son
During the angry political strife which preceded the contest of arms, General Albert Sidney Johnson remained silent, stern, and sorrowful. He determined to stand at his post in San Francisco, performing his full duty as an officer of the united States, until events should require a decision as to his course. When Texas-his adopted State- passed the ordinance of secession from the Union, the alternative was presented, and, on the day he heard the news, he reigned his commission in the army. He kept the fact concealed, however, lest it might stir up disaffection among the turbulent population of the Pacific Coast. He said, "I shall do my duty to the last, and, when absolved, shall take my course." All honest and competent witnesses now accord that he carried out this purpose in letter and spirit. General Sumner, who relieved him, reported that he found him " carrying out the orders of the Government."
Mr. Lincoln's Administration treated General Johnston with a distrust which wounded his pride to the quick, but afterward made such amends as it could, by sending him a major general's commission. He was also assured through confidential sources that he would recieve the highest command in the Federal army. But he declined to take part against his own people, and retired to Los Angeles with the intention of farming. There he was subjected to an irritating surveillance; while at the same time there came across mountain and desert the voice of the Southern people calling to him for help in their extremity. His heart and intellect both recognized their claim upon his services, and he obeyed. At this time he wrote "No one could feel more sensibly the calmitous condition of our country than myself, and whatever part i may take hereafter, it will always be a subject of gratulation with me that no act of mine ever contributed to bring it about. I suppose the difficulties now will only be adjusted by the sword. In my humble judgment, that was not the remedy."
When he arrived in the new Confederacy, his coming was welcomed with a spontaneous outburst of popular enthusiasm, and deputations from the West preceded him to Richmond, entreating his assignment to that department. President Davis said that he regarded his coming as of more worth than the accession of an army of ten thousand men; and on the 10th of September, 1861, he was intrusted with the defense of that part of the Confederate States which lay west of the Alleghany Mountains, except the Gulf coast (Bragg having control of the coast of West Florida and Alabama, and Mansfield Lovell of the coast of Mississippi and Louisiana). His command was imperial in extent, and his powers and dicretion as large as the theory of the Confederate Government permitted. He lacked nothing except men, munitions of war, and the means of obtaining them. He had the right to ask for anything, and the State Executives had the power to withhold everything.
The Mississippi river divided his department into two distinct theaters of war. West of the river, Fremont and McCulloch in the extreme south-west croner of the State with 6000 men, and by Hardee, in north-eastern Arkansas, with about as many raw recruits down with camp diseases and unable to move. East of the Mississippi, the northern boundry of Tennessee was barely in his possession, and was held under sufference from an enemy who, for various reasons, hesistated to advance. the Mississippi opened the way to a ruinous naval invasion unless it could be defended and held. Grant was at Cairo and Paducah with 20,000 men; and Polk, to oppose his invasion, had seized Columbus, Ky., with about 11,000 Confederates, and had fortified it. Tennessee was twice divided: first by the Tennessee River, and then by the Cumberland, both of which invited the advance of hostile force. Some small pretense of fortifications had been made on both rivers at Forts Henry and Donelson, near the boundry line, but practically there was nothing to prevent the Federal army from capturing Nashville, then the most important depot of supplies west of the Alleghanies. Hence the immediate and pressing question for General Johnston was the defense of the Tennessee border. The mock neutrality of Kentucky, which had served as a paper barrier, was terminated, on the 13th of September, by a formal defiance from the Union Legislature of Kentucky. The United States Government had about 34,000 volunteers and about 6,000 Kentucky Home Guards assembled in the State under General Robert Anderson, of Fort Sumter fame, who with him such enterprising corps commanders as Sherman, Thomas, Nelson.
The Confederacy had some four thousand ill-armed and ill-equipped troops at Cumberland Gap under General Zollicoffer, guarding the only line of railroad communication between Virginia and Tennessee, and overawing the Union population of East Tennessee. This hsotile section penetrated the heart of the Confederacy like a wedge and flanked and weakened General Johnston's line of defense, requiring, as it did, constant vigilance and repression.
Besides Zollicoffer's force, General Johnston found only 4000 men available to protect his whole line against 40,000 Federal troops. There were, it is true, some four thousand more raw recruits in camps of instruction, but they were sick and not half armed. Of course he might have abandoned the Mississippi River to Grant and brought Polk to his aid, but he had no thought of that; that would have been all which the Federals could have asked. The boldest policy seemed to him the best, and he resolved on a daring step. On September 17th he threw forward his whole force of four thousand men under Buckner by rail into Kentucky and seized Bowling Green. It was mere skirmish line to mask his own weakness. But if he could maintain it, even temporarily, it gave him immense strategic and political advantages, and, most of all, time to collect or create an army. And then (I hold in spite of some dilettante criticism) it gave him a fromidable line, with Cumberland Gap and Columbus as the extremities and Bowling Green as the salient.
The result more than answered his expectations. Buckner's advance produced the wildest consternation in the Federal lines. Even Sherman, writing thirteen years later, speaks of a picket which burned a bridge thirty miles from Louisville as a "division." As late as November 10th, 1861, he said: " If Johnston chooses, he could march into Louisville any day." The effect of the movement was for a time to paralyze the Federal army and put it on the defensive. General Johnston had made the opportunity required by the South, if it meant seriously to maintain its independence. He had secured time for preparation; but it neglected the chance, and never recovered it. He at once strongly fortified Bowling Green, and used every measure to stir up and rally the Kentuckians to his standard. He brought Hardee with four thouasand men form Arkansas, and kept his little force in such constant motion as to produce the impression of a large army menacing an attack. Even before Buckner advanced, General Johnston had sent to the Southern Governors an appeal for arms and a call for fifty thousand men. Harris of Tennessee alone responded heartily, and the Goverment at Richmond seemed unable to reenforce him or to arm the troops he had. Many difficulties embarrassed it, and not half his men were armed that winter; while up to the middle of November he recieved only three new regiments. General Johnston realized the magnitude of the struggle, but the people of the South only awoke to it when it was late. Calamity then stirred them to an ineffectual resistance, the heroism of which removed the reproach of their early vainglory and apathy. General Johnston never was able to assemble more than 22,000 men at Bowling Green, to confront the 100,000 troops opposed to him on that line.
The only battle of not that occured that fall was at Belmont, opposite Columbus, in which Polk scored a victory over Grant. General Johnston wrote as follows to the Secretary of War, on Christmas Day, from Bowling Green: "The postion of General Zollicoffer on the Cumberland holds in check the meditated invasion and hoped-for revolt in East Tennessee; but I can neither order Zollicoffer to join me here nor withdraw any more force fom Columbus without imperiling our communications toward Richmond or endangering Tennessee and the Mississippi Valley. This I have resolved not to do, but have choosen, on the contrary, to post my inadequate force in such a manner as to hold the enemy in check, guard the frontier, and hold the Barren [River] till the winter terminates the campaign; or, if any fault in his movements is committed, or his lines become exposed when his force is developed, to attack him as opportunity offers." This sums the situation.
In January, 1862, General Johnston found himself confronted by Halleck in the west, and by Buell, who had succeeded Sherman, in Kentucky. With the exception of the army under Curtis in Missouri, about twelve thousand strong, the whole resources of the North-West, from Pennsylvania to the plains, were turned against General Johnston's lines in Kentucky. Halleck, with armies at Cairo and Paducah, under Grant and C. F. Smith, threatened equally Columbus, the key of the Mississippi River, and then water-lines of the Cumberland and Tennessee, with their defenses, at Fort Donelson and Henry. Buell's right wing also menanced Donelson and Henry, while his center was directed against Bowling Green, and his left was advancing against Zollicoffer at Mill Springs, on the upper Cumberland. If this last-named postion could be forced, the way seemed open to East Tennessee on the one hand, and to Nashville on the other.
The campaign opened with the defaet of the Confederates under Crittenden and Zollicoffer, January 19th, 1862, by General Thomas, at Mill Springs, or Fishing Creek. the fighting was forced by the Confederates, but the whole affair as in disregard of General Johnston's orders. The loss was not severe, but it ended in a rout which left General Johnston's right flank exposed.
There has been much discussion as to who originated the movement up the Tennessee River. Grant made it, and it made Grant. It was obvious enough to all the leaders on both sides. General Johnston wrote, January 22d:
"To suppose, with the facilities of movement by water which the well-filled rivers of the Ohio, Cumberland, and Tennessee give for active operations, that they will suspend them in Tennessee and Kentucky during the winter months is a delusion. All the resources of the Confederacy are now needed for the defense of Tennessee."
Great efforts were made to guard against it, but the popular fatuity and apathy prevented adquate preparations. General Polk says in a report, "The principal difficulty in the way of a successful defense of the rivers in question was the want of an adquate force." It was only one of a number of possible and equally fatal movements, which could not have been properly met and resisted except by a larger force than was to be had. General Johnston could not reduce the force at Columbus without imperiling the Mississippi River, and this was not even debatable. Nor could he hazard the loss of Nashville, if it could be saved. He was compelled, therefore, to take the risk at Forts Henry and Donelson. The thrust was made at Henry, and it fell.
As soon as General Johnston learned of the movement against Fort Henry he resolved to fall back to the line of the Cumberland, and make the defense of Nashville at Donelson. Buell was in his front with 90,000 men, and to save Nashville-Buell's objective point-he had to fall back upon it with part of his army. He kept for this purpose 14,000 men, including his sick, -only 8500 effectives in all, - to confront Buell's 90,000 men, and concentrated at Frot Donelson 17,000 men under Floyd, Pillow, and Buckner, his three most experienced generals, to meet Grant, who had 28,000 troops, but was reported as having only 12,000. He certainly reserved fro himself the more difficult task, the place of greater hazard, leaving the chance of glory to others. The proposition that he should have left Nashville open to capture by Buell, and should have been taken by all his troops to Donelson, could not have been seriously considered by any general of even moderate military capacity. General Beauregard alleges that he urged General Johnston to concentrate all his available forces and attack Grant at Fort Henry. Conclusive contemporary evidence demonstrates that General Beauregard's memory is at fault. But, this aside, no more fatal plan of campaign could have been proposed. Such a concentration was impractical within the limits of the time required for success. The Confederates would have been met by a superior force under General Grant, whose position, flanked by the batteries of Fort Henry, covered by gun-boats, and to be approached only over causeways not then constructed, was absolutely impregnable. It requires an utter disregard of facts seriously to consider such a project. Moreover, this movement would have been an abandonment to Buell of Nashville, the objective point of the Federal campaign. And, finally, this desperate project, commended by General Beauregard, was exactly what the Union generals were striving, hoping, planning, to compel General Johnston to do. The answer to any criticism as to the loss of the army at Donelson is that it ought not to have been lost. That is all there is of it.
At midnight of February 15th-16th General Johnston recieved a telegram announcing a great victory at Donelson, and before daylight information that it would be surrendered. His last troops were then arriving at Nashville from Bowling Green. His first words were: "I must save this army." He at once determined to abandon the line of the Cumberland, and concentrate all avilable forces at Corinth, Mississippi, for a renewed struggle. He had indicated this movement as a probable event to several distinguished officers some time previous; it was now to be carried into effect. He had remaining only his little army from Bowling Green, together with the fragments of Crittenden's army, and the fugitives from Donelson. These he reorganized at Murfreesboro' within a week. He saved the most valuable stores and munitions, which fully absorbed his railroad transportation to Stevenson, Alabama, and moved his men over the mud roads to Corinth, Mississippi, by way of Decatur, in a wet and stromy season. Nevertheless, he assembled his army of 23,000-about 16,000 effectives- at Corinth, on the 25th day of March, full of enthusiasm and the spirit of combat. In the meantime the COnfederate Government lent him all the aid in tis power, reenforcing him with an army ten thousand strong, from the Southern coast, under General Braxton Bragg, who had been in command at Pensacola and with such arms as could be procured.
General Beauregard has claimed that he raised, concentrated, and oraganized the army which faught at Shiloh; that he persuaded General Johnston to turn aside from a retreat toward Stevenson and join him at Corinth, and sustituted an offensive camapaign for a defensive one projected by General Johnston; and that he likwise planned the battle of Shiloh, induced General Johnston to fight it, and executed all the general movements on the field, and that General Johnston was merely the ostensible commander. I have elsewhere fully confuted each of these absurd pretenses; and as this rapid survey is historical, not controversial, the space at my disposal does not permit me to argue here the points involved; I shall, therefore, merely state the facts, which rest upon unimpeachable contemporary evidence. The final verdict I am satisfied to leave to the soldiers of both armies who fought there, to the carful anlysis of impartial military criticism, or to the ultimate arbitrament of history.
When the capture of Fort Henry seperated Tennessee into two distinct theaters of war, General Johnston assigned the district west of the Tennessee River to General Beauregard, who had been sent to him for duty. This officer had suddenly acquired a high reputation at the battle of Bull Run, and General Johnston naturally intrusted him with a large discretion. He sent him with instructons to concentrate all available forces near Corinth, a movement previously begun. His own plan was to defend Columbus to the last extremity with a reduced garrison, and withdraw Polk and his army for active movements. Beauregard made the mistake, however, of evacuating Columbus, and making his defense of the Mississippi River at Island Number Ten, which proved untenable and soon surrendered with garrison of 6000 or 7000 men. He was ill most of the time and intrusted the actual command to Bragg, but did what he could from his sick-bed.
Besides the reenforcements brought by Bragg, General Beauregard found in the western district 17,500 effectives under Polk, and at or near Corinth 3000 men under Pope Walker and Chalmers, and 5000 under Ruggles sent from Louisiana by Lovell. He made eloquent appeals, under which brought him several regiments more. Thus he had nearly 40,000 men collected for him, 10,000 of whom he disposed in river defenses, and the remainder to protect the railroads from Grant's force which was concentrating at Pittsburg Landing. General Johnston's arrival increased the force at Corinth to about 50,000 men, about 40,000 of whom were effectives.
After the surrender at Donelson, the South, but especially the important state of Tennessee, was in a delirium of rage and terror. As the retreat from Nashville to the Tennessee River went on, the popular fury rose to a storm everywhere. The people who had refused to listen to his warnings, or answer his appeals for aid, now denounced General Johnston as an idiot, coward, and traitor. Demagogues joined in the wild hunt for a victim, and deputations waited on President Davis to demand his removal. To such a committee of congressman he replied: "If Sidney Johnston is not a general, I have none." General Johnston was too calm, too just, and too magnanimous to apprehend so natural a manifestation. His whole life had been a training for this occasion. To encounter suddenly and endure calmly the obloquy of a whole nation is, to any man, a great burden. To do this with a serenity that shall not only falter in duty, but restore confidence and organize victory, is conclusive proof of greatness of soul.
But while the storm of excretion raged around him, the men who came into immediate contact with General Johnston never for a moment doubted his ability to perform all that was possible to man in the circumstances. To a friend who urged him to publish an explanation of his course he replied: "I cannot correspond with the people. What the people want is a battle and a victory. That is the best explanation I can make. I require no vindiction. I trust taht to the future."
General Johnston's plan of campaign amy be summed up in a phrase. It was to concentrate at Corinth and interpose his whole force in front of the great bend of the Tennessee, the natural base of the Federal army: this effected, to crush Grant in battle before the arrival of Buell. This meant immediate and decisive action. The army he had brought from Nashville was ready for the contest, but General Beauregard and Bragg represented to him that the troops collected by them were unable to move without thorough reorganization. Ten days were consumed in this work of reorganization. Moments were precious, but there was hope of reenforcement by Van Dorn's army, which might arrive before Buell joined Grant, and which did arrive only a day or two later. But Buell's movement were closely watched, and, hearing of his approach on the 2d of April, General Johnston resolved to delay no longer, but to strike at once a decisive blow.
In the reorganization of the army, he assigned General Bragg as chief of command of a corps. To Beauregard he tendered the immediate command of the army in the impending battle. Though General Beauregard declined the offer, he evidently misinterpreted its spirit and intention. He imagined it was a confession of inadequacy for the duty, in which case he ought to have accepted it. The truth was that, coming into this district which he had assigned to Beauregard, Johnston felt disinclined to deprive him of any reputation he might acquire from a victory. He had not the slightest idea, however, of abdicating the supreme command, and said to friends who remonstrated with him: "I will be there to see that all goes right." He was willing to yield to another the glory, if thereby anything was added to the chance of victory. The offer was rather quixotic, but characteristic; he had done the same thing in his victories on the Neches in 1840. He then gave General Beauregard the postion of second in command, without special assignment. Indeed, as is shown by his own frequent statements, Generl Beauregard was, from severe and protracted ill-health, inadequate to any more serious duty.
General Grant's army had been moved up the Tennessee River by boat, and had taken position on its left bank at Pittsburg Landing. It had been landed by divisions, and Bragg had proposed to Beauregard to attack Grant before he assembled his whole force. Beauregard forbade this, intending to await events, and attack him away from his base if possible, though he now insists that his plan of campaign was offensive. Grant's first object was to destroy the railroads which centered at Corinth, and, indeed, to capture that place if he could. But his advance was only a part of a grand plan for a combined movement of his own and Buell's army. With Pittsburg Landing as a base, this army was to occupy North Mississippi and Alabama, command the entire railroad system of that section, and take Memphis in the rear, while Halleck forced his way down the Mississippi River. General Johnston divined the movement before it was begun, and was there to frustrate it. Indeed, Grant's army was assembled at Pittsburg Landing only one week before Johnston completed the concentration.
Grant has been severly criticised for placing his army with the river at its back. But he was there to take the initiative. He had the larger army, under cover, too, of his gun-boats; he was expecting Buell daily; and the ground was admirable for defense. Indeed, his position was a natural strong hold. Flanked by Owl and Lick creeks, with their marshy margins, and with his front protected by a swampy valley, he occupied a quadrilateral of great strength. His troops were stationed on wooded heights, generally screened by heavy undergrowth and approached across boggy ravines or open fields. Each camp was a fotress in itself, and the line of retreat afforded at each step some like point to rally on. He did not fortify his camps, it is true; but he was not there for defense, but for attack. It must be admitted that he undervalued his enemy's daring and celerity; but he was a young general, exultant in his overwhelming victory at Donelson; and his general, shared his sense of security. He had an army of 58,000 men in camp, nearly 50,000 of whom were effectives. Buell was near at hand with 37,000 more, and Mitchel was moving against the railroad at florence, Alabama, not far distant, with an additional force of 18,000. In all Grant had 105,000 effectives. Opposed to him were 50,000 Confederate troops, less than 40,000 of whom were available for combat. General Johnston's aggregate was 60,000 men, opposed to about 200,000 Federals in all, but the effective forces were as above. As these figures are disputed I invite a rigid examination of the Official Records.
Such was the position on April 2d, when General Johnston, learning that Buell was rapidly approaching, resolved to advance next day and attack Grant before his arrival. His general plan was very simple in outline. It seems to have been to march out and attack the Federals by columns of corps, to make the battle a decisive test, and to crush Grant utterly or lose all in the attempt; this effected, to contend with Buell for the possesion of Tenessee, Kentucky, and possibly the North-west.
General Beauregard also, it seems, had a plan, which, however, must have differed widely from that of General Johnston, as it was evidently tentative in its nature, -"a reconnoissance in force," with a retreat on Corinth as one of its features, -and which admitted the possibility of finishing on Monday a battle which had to be won on Sunday or never. This was not in any sense General Johnston's plan, and much useless discussion has arisen from a confusion of the two. But, as General Johnston intended to fight, and did fight, on his own plan as long as he lived, the battle may be considered his until Beuaregard's order of retreat, about 5 o'clock Sunday evening, substituted " the reconnoissance in force" in place of the decisive test of victory or defeat.
General Beauregard had been on the ground some six weeks, and his prestige as an engineer and a victor of Bull Run warranted General Johnston in commiting to him the elaboration of the details of the march and order of original purpose of an assault by columns of corps into an array in three parallel lines of battle, which produced extreme confusion when the second and third lines advanced to support the first and intermingled with it. Johnston's original plan is summed up in the following dispatch to President Davis:
"Corinth, April 3d, 1862. General Buell in motion thirty thousand strong, rapidly from Columbia by CLifton to Savannah. Mitchel behind him with ten thousand. Confederate forces-forty thousand-ordered forward to offer battle near Pittsburg. Division from Bethel, main body from Corinth, reserve form Burnsville, converging tomorrow near Monterey on Pittsburg. Beauregard second in command, Polk the left, Bragg the center, Hardee the right wing, Breckinridge the reserve. Hope engagement before Buell can form junction."
In the original dispatch, the words italicised are in General Johnston's own handwriting. The words, "the left," "the center," "the right wing," "the reserve," clearly point to a formation by columns of corps. Moreover, owing to ignorance of the country, the march was ordered that the corps interfered with each other in their advance, and by a detention the battle was delayed an entire day, an almost fatal loss of time.
If it be asked why General Johnston accepted and issued an order of march and battle which he had not contemplated, the reply is that it had been prepared by his second in command, who was presumably more familar with the country and the roads than himself, and hence with the necessities of the case. But the over ruling reason was the question of time. Buell was at hand, and Johnston's plan was not to manoeuvre, but to attack; and any plan which put him front to front with Grant was better than the best two days later. Besides, the written orders were not shown him until the morning of the 4th, after he had mounted to start the front, and when his advance was near its position on the field. It was then obviously too late to apply a remedy.
General Johnston did not undervalue the importance of details. No man regarded more closely all the details subsidiary to a great result than he. But, important as were the preliminaries, -the maps, the roads, the methods of putting his army face to face with the enemy, which General Johnston had to take on trust, -he knew that the chief strategy of the battle was in the decision to fight. Once in the presence of the enemy, he knew that the result would depend on the way in which his troops were handled. This was his part of the work, and he felt full confidence in his own ability to carry it out successfully. The order was issued, as elaborated by Beauregard, and the army was moved against the enemy, April 3d, 1862. Said General Bragg:
"The details of that plan, arranged after General Sidney Johnston decided on delivering battle, and had given his instructions, were made up and published to the army in full from the adjutant-general's office. My first knowledge of them was derived from this general order, the authorship of which has been claimed by General Beauregard..... In this case, as I understood then, and still believe, Johnston gave verbal instructions for the general movement..... Over his[Colonel Jordan, the adjutant-general's] signature, they reached the army. The general plan (General Johnston's) was admirable- the elaboration simply execrable.
"When the time arrived for execution, you know well what occured. In spite of opposition and prediction of failure, Johnston firmly and decidedly ordered and led the attack in the execution of his general plan, and, not withstanding the faulty arrangement of troops, was eminently successful up to the moment of his fall. The victory was won. How it was lost, the official reports will show, and history has recorded." [Bragg to W. P. Johnston, December 16th, 1874]
The President of the Confederate States has repeatedly and positively asserted that he recieved from General Johnston a dispatch which gave the plan of battle, exactly as it was fought, and that this dispatch was not that of April 3d already qouted, but was lost. General Beauregard and his staff-officer, Colonelr Jordan, have taken issue with Mr. Davis on this point vehemently insisting that no such dispatch was, or could have been, sent. Their denial rests merely upon a priori objections to the probability of Mr. Davis's assertion. On the other hand, Mr. Davis's clear and positive statement made many years ago, and often repeated since, is confirmed by contemporary documentary evidence. On April 5th he sent a telegram to General Johnston, in which he acknowledges his telegram of "yesterday," April 4th. This telegram of "yesterday," was plainly the "lost dispatch," for "yesterday" was April 4th, not April 3d. If, as I have sought to show, important changes had occured in the plan of battle, nothing could be more natural and proper for the commanding general than instantly to inform his friend and commander-in-chief; and even if no change had occured, still it would have been right for him to keep his chief fully advised of the progress of the movemnet. I have always said that General Johnston's original plan was probably to attack by columns of corps, as indicated in his telegram of April 3d. Special Orders, No. 8 directed an attack in three lines parallel to the enemy's front. Jordan tells us General Johnston did not see these orders as published until the morning of the 4th. What more nautural than that he should then communicate the changes made, and add his purpose to turn the enemy's left, not mentioned in the telegram of April 3d. A curious corroboration, hithereto unobserved, occurs in Mr. Davis's telegram of April 5th, that it was in reply to a lost dispatch. On April 2d General Beauregard wrote to General Johnston, saying that he had telegraphed to the War Department for generals, and adding, "Would it not be well for you to telegraph also for the generals you may require?" We have no record of any such request made upon this suggestion, but Mr. Davis, in his telegram of April 5th says: "Brigadiers have been recently appointed; among them, Bowen. Do you require others?" This seems to be a response to a request; Bowen was commanding a brigade in General Johnston's army. But as there was no request in General Johnston's telegram of April 3d, it is reasonable to suppose that it was contained in one of the 4th, which has been lost. But I am giving an importance to this question which it would not merit except for the prominance given it in the pages of "The Century Magazine." Whether sent or not, it is entirely irrevelent to the main issue. Its whole importance having been given to his subordinates, General Johnston, so long as he lived, Beauregard succeeded to the command he abandoned the vital principle of that plan, which was to push the contest to a final decision that day, and took a course of his own, not embraced or contemplated in General Johnston's designs-a policy of withdrawal and delay which led to defeat instead of victory.
General Johnston gave orders about 1 o'clock on the night of Wednesday, the 2d of April, for the advance. But much time was spent in their elaboration, and the troops did not recieve them from the adjutant-general's office until the next afternoon. When the soldiers learned that they were going out to fight, thier long-restrained ardor burst into a blaze of enthusiasm, and they did all that was possible for inexperienced troops in both marching and fighting. Some of the arms were not distributed till that afternoon. With hasty preparations the movement began, and Hardee's corps was at Mickey's within four or five miles of Pittsburg, next morning. But some of the troops did not move until the morning of Saturday, the 5th, owing to a still further delay in the delivery of orders by the adjutant-general's office, and all were inpeded by the heavy condition of the roads, through a dense forest, and across sloughs and marshes.
The order was to attack at 3 o'clock on the morning of Saturday, the 5th; but the troops were not in posistion until late that afternoon. All day Friday the advancing columns had pushed on over the tangled, miry roads, hindered and embarrassed by a pelting rain. After midnight a violent storm broke upon them as they stood under arms in the pitch darkness, with no shelter but the trees. From detention by the rain, ignorance of the roads, and a confusion produced by the order of march, some divisions failed to get into line, and the day was wasted.
As they were waiting the disposition of trops late Saturday afternoon, a council of war occurred, in which Johnston, Beauregard, Bragg, Polk, Breckinridge and Gilmer took part, which added greatly to General Johnston's responsibilities, and the heavy burden he had already incurred by his experiment of concentration, and his resolve to fight a pitched battle. The Confederate army was in full battle array, within two miles of Shiloh Church and Grant's line, when General Beauregard suddenly proposed that the army and noise must have given the enemy notice, and that they would be found intrenched "to their eyes" and ready for attack. General Johnston seemed to be much surprised at the suggestion. Polk and Bragg differed with Beauregard, and a warm discussion ensued between him and Polk, in which General Johnston took little part, but closed it with the simple remark,
"Gentlemen, we shall attack at daylight to-morrow," which he uttered with great decision. Turning to one of his staff-officers, he said, "I would fight them if they were a million. They can present no greater front between these two creeks than we can, and the more men can crowd in there, the worse we can make it for them. Polk is a true soldier and a friend."
General Bragg, in a monograph prepared for the use of the writer, says: "The meeting then dispersed upon an invitation of the commanding general to meet at his tent that evening. At that meeting a further discussion elicited the same views, and the same firm, decided dtermination. The next morning, about dawn of day, the 6th, as the troops were being put in motion, several generals again met at the campfire of the general-in-chief. The discussion was renewed, General Beauregard agin expressing his dissent, when, rapid firing in front indicating that the attack had commenced, General Johnston closed the discussion by remarking, "The battle has opened, gentlemen; it is too late to change our dispostions." He proposed to move to the front, and his subordinates promptly joined their respective commands, inspired by his coolness, confidence, and determination. Few men have equaled him in the possession and display at the proper time of these great equalities of the soldier."
It will readily be seen how much General Beauregard's urgent opposition to fighting must have added to the weight of General Johnston's responsibility. Beauregard was in the full tide of popular favor, while Johnston was laboring under the load of public obloquy and odium. Nothing short of complete and overwhelming victory would vindicate him in differing with so famous a general. A reverse, even a merely partial success, would leave him under condemnation. Nevertheless, without a moment's hesitation, he resolved to fight.
The sun set on Saturday evening in a cloudless sky, and night fell calm, clear, and beautiful. Long before dawn the forest was alive with silent preparations for the ensuing contest, and day broke upon a scene so fair that it left its memory on thousands of hearts. The sky was clear overhead, the air fresh, and when the sun rose in full splendor, the advancing host passed the word from lip to lip that it was the "sun of Austerlitz."
General Johnston, usually so self- contained, felt the inspiration of the scene, and welcomed with exultant joy the long-desired day. His presence inspired all who came near him. His sentances, sharp, terse, and clear, had the ring of victory in them. Turning to his staff, as he mounted, he exclaimed: "To-night we will water our horses in the Tennessee River." It was thus that he formulated his plan of battle; it must not stop short of entire victory. To Randall L. Gibson, who was commanding a Louisiana brigade, he said: "I hope you may get through safely to-day, but we must win a victory." To Coloner John S. Marmaduke, who had served under him in Utah, he said, placing his hand on his shoulder: "My son, we must this day conquer or perish." To the ambitious Hindman, who had been in the vangaurd from the beginning, he said: "You have earned your spurs as a major-general. Let this day's work win them." With such words, as he rode from point to point, he raised a spirit in that host which swept away the serried lines of the conquerors of Donelson. Friend and foe alike testify to the enthusiastic courage and ardor of the Southern soldiers that day.
General Johnston's strategy was completed. He was face to face with his foe, and that foe all unaware of his coming. His front line, composed of the Third Corps and Gladden's brigade was under Hardee, and extended from Owl Creek to Lick Creek, more than three miles. Hindman's division of two brigades occupied the center, Cleburne's brigade had the left, and Gladden's the right wing-an effective total in the front line of 9024. The second line was commanded by Bragg. He had two divisions: Wither's, of two brigades, on the right, and Ruggler's, of three brigades, on the left. The brigades were, in order from right to left as follows: Chalmers, Jackson, Gibson, Anderson, Pond. This second line was 10,731 strong. The third line, or reserve, was composed of the First Corps, under Polk, and three brigades under Brackinridge. Polk's command was massed in columns of brigades on the bark road near Mickey's, and Breckinridge's on the road from Monterey toward the same point. Polk was to advance on the left of the Bark road, at an interval of about eight hundred paces from Bragg's line; and Brckinridge, to the right of that road, was to give support wherever it should become necessary. Polk's corps, 9136 strong infantry and artillery, was composed of two divisions: Cheatham's on the left, made up of Bushrod R. Johnston's and Stephens's brigades, and Clark's on his right, formed of A. P. Stewart's and Russell's brigades. It followed Bragg's line at a distance of about eight hundred yards. Breckinridge's reserve was composed of Trabue's, Bowen's, and Statham's brigades with a total, infantry and artillery, of 6439. The clavary, about 4300 strong, guarded the flanks or was detached on outpodt duty; but, both from the newness and imperfection of their organization, equiptment, and drill, and from the rough and wooded character of the ground, they could do little service this day. The effectives of all arms that marched out to battle were about 39,630, or exclusive of calvary, 35,330.
The Federal army numbered present 49,232, and present fro duty 41,543. But at Crump's Landing, five or six miles distant, was General Lew Wallace's division with 8820 present, and 7771 men present for duty. General Nelson's divisions of Buell's army had arrived at Savannah on Saturday morning, and was now about five miles distant; Crittenden's division had also had arrived on the morning of the 6th. So that Grant, with these three divisions, amy be considered as having about 22,000 men in immediate reserve, wihhout counting the remainder of Buell's army, which was nearby.
As General Johnston and his staff were taking their coffee, the first gun of the battle sounded. "Note the hour, if you please, gentlemen," said General Johnston. It was fourteen minutes past 5. They immediately mounted and galloped to the front.
Some skirmishing on Friday between the Confederate calvary and the Federal outposts, in which a few men were killed, wounded, and captured on both sides, had aroused the vigilance of the Norhtern commanders to some extent. Sherman reported on the 5th to Grant that the two regiments of infantry and one of calvary were in front, and added: "I have no doubt that nothing will occur to-day more than some picket-firing.... I do not apprehend anything like an attack on our position." In his "Memoirs" he says: "I did not belive they designed anything but a strong demonstration." He said to Major Ricker that an advantage of Beauregard's army "could not be possible. Beauregard was not such a fool as to leave his base of operations and attack us in ours, - mere reconnoissance in force." This shows a curious coincidence with the actual state of General Beauregard's mind on that day. And Grant telegraphed Halleck on Saturday night: "The main force of the enemy is at Corinth... One division of Buell's column arrived yesterday .... I have scarcely the faintest idea of an attack(general one) being made upon us."
Nevertheless, some apprehension was felt among the officers and men of the federal army, and General Prentiss had thrown forward Colonel Moore, with the 21st Missouri regiment, on the Corinth road. Moore, feeling his way cautiously, encountered Hardee's skirmish-line under Major Hardcastle, and, thinking it an outpost, assailed it vigorously. Thus really the Federals began the fight. The struggle was brief, but spirited. The 8th and 9th Arkansas came up. Moore fell wounded. The Missourians gave way, and Shaver's brigade pursued them. Hindman's whole division moved on, following the ridge and drfting to the right, and drove in the grand guards and outposts until they struck Prentiss's camps. Into these they burst, over-throwing all before them.
To appreciate the suddenness and violence of the blow, one must read the testimony of eye-witnesses. General Bragg says, in a sketch of Shiloh made for the writer: "Contrary to the views of such as urged amd abandonment of the attack, the enemy was found utterly unprepared, many being surprised and captured in their tents, and others, though on the outside, in costumes better fitted to the bedchamber than to the battle-field." General Preston says: "General Johnston than went to the camp assailed, which was carried between 7 and 8 o'clock. The enemy were evidently surprised. The breakfasts were on the mess tables, the baggage unpacked, the knapsacks, stores, colors, and ammunition abandoned."
The essential feature of General Johnston's strategy had been to get at his enemy as quickly as possible, and in as good order. In this he had succeeded. His plan of battle was as simple as his strategy. It had been made known in his order of battle, and was thoroughly understood by every brigade commander. The orders of the 3d of April were, that "every effort should be made to turn the left flank of the enemy, so as to cut off his line of retreat to the Tennessee River and throw him back on Owl Creek, where he will be obliged to surrender." It is seen that, from the first, these orders were carried out in letter and spirit; and, so long as General Johnston lived, the success of this movements was complete. The battle was fought precisely as it was planned. The first, and almost only, censure of this plan was made by Colonel Jordan, confidential advisor and historian of General Beauregard, who now claims to have made this plan. The instructions delivered to General Johnston's subordinates on the previous day were found sufficient for their conduct on the battle-field. But, to accomplish this, his own personal presence and inspiration and direction were often necessary with these enthusiastic but raw troops. He had personal conference on the field with most of his generals, and led several brigades into battle. The criticism upon this conduct, that he exposed himself unnecessarily, is absurd to those who know how important rapid decision and instantaneous action are in the crisis of conflict.
His lines of battle were pushed rapidly to the front, and as gaps widened in the first lines, they were filled by brigades of the second and third. One of Breckinridge's brigades (Trabue's) was sent to the left to support Cleburne and fought under Polk the rest of the day; and the other two were led to the extreme right, only Chalmers being beyond them. Gladden, who was on Hindman's right, and had a longer distance to traverse to strike some of Prentiss's brigades further to the left, found them better prepared, but, after a sanguinary resistance, drove them from thier camps. In this bitter struggle Gladden fell mortally wounded. Chalmers's brigade, of Bragg's line, came in on Gladden's right, and his Mississippians drove the enemy, under Stuart, with the bayonet half a mile. He was about to charge again, when General Johnston came up, and moved him to the right, and brought John K. Jackson's brigade into the interval. Prentiss's left and Stuart's brigade retreated sullenly, not routed, but badly hammered.
With Hindman as a pivot, the turning movement began from the moment of the overthrow of Prentiss's camps. While the front attacks were made all along the line with a desperate courage which would have swept any ordinary resistance from the field, and with a loss which told fearfully on the assailants, they were seconded by assaults in flank which invariably resulted in crushing the Federal line with destructive force and strewing the field with the wounded and the dead. The Federal reports complain that they were falnked and outnumbered, which is true; for, though fewer, the Confederates were probably stronger at every given point throughout the day except at the center called the Hornet's Nest, where the Federals eventually massed nearly two divisions. The iron flail of war beat upon the Federal front and right flank with the regular and ponderous pulsations of some great engine, and these assaults resulted in a crumbling process which was continually but slowly going on, as a regiment and brigade and division yielded to the continuous and successive blows. There has been criticism that there were no grand assaults by divisions and corps. In a broken, densely wooded and unknown country, and with the mode of attack in parallel lines, this was impossible, but the attack was unremitting and the fact is that there were but few lulls in the contest. The fighting was a grapple and a death-struggle all day long, and, as one brigade after another wilted before the deadly fire of the stubborn Federals, still another was pushed into the combat and kept up the fierce assault. A breathing spell, and the shattered command would gather itself up and resumeits work of destruction. These were the general aspects of the battle.