Jefferson Davis– The Fall of Fort Henry
GENERAL BUELL, who was to make a junction with General Grant deemed it best that his army should march through by land, as it would facilitate the occupation of the Memphis and Charlestqn Railroad through north Alabama, where General Mitchell had been assigned. Accordingly, Bueli commenced his march from Nashville on March 15th, with a rapid movement of cavalry, followed by a division of in-fantry, to seize the bridges. The bridge over Duck River being destroyed, it was the 31st before his army crossed. His advance arrived at Savannah on Saturday, April 5th, and our attack on Grant at Pittsburg Landing was made on the next day, April 6th. The advance of General Buell anticipated his orders by two days, and likewise the calculations of our commanders.
It had been the object of General Johnston, since falling back from Nashville, to concentrate his army at Corinth, and fight the enemy in detail-Grant first, and Buell afterward. The army of General Polk had been drawn back from Columbus. The War Department ordered General Bragg from Pensacola, with his well-disciplined army, to the aid of Johnston. A brigade was sent by General Lovell from Louisiana, and Chalmers and Walker were already on the line of the Memphis and Charleston road with considerable commands. These forces collected at Corinth, and to them were added such new levies as the governors had in rendezvous, and a few regiments raised in response to General Beauregard's call. General Bragg, in a sketch of the battle of Shitoh thus speaks of General Johnston's army:
In a period of four weeks, fragments of commands from Bowling Green, Kentucky, under Hardee; Columbus, Kentucky, under Polk; and Pensacola, Mobile, and New Orleans, under Bragg, with such new levies as could be hastily raised, all badly armed and equipped, were united at and near Corinth, and, for the first time, organized as an army. It was a heterogeneous mass, in which there was more enthusiasm than discipline, more capacity than knowledge, and more valor than instruction. Rifles, rifled and smooth-bore muskets-some of them originally percussion, others hastily altered from flint-locks by Yankee contractors, many with the old flint and steel-and shot-guns of all sizes and patterns, held place in the same regiments. The task of organizing such a command in four weeks, and supplying it, especially with ammunition, suitable for action, was simply appalling. It was undertaken, however, with a cool, quiet self-control, calling to his aid the best knowledge and talent at his command, which not only inspired confidence, but soon yielded the natural fruits of system, order, and discipline.
This force, about forty thousand of all ans, was divided into four corps, commanded respectively by Major Generals Polk, Bragg, and Hardee, and Brigadier General Breckinridge. General Beauregard was second in command under General Johnston. General Beauregard says, "A want of general officers needful for the proper organization of di-visions and brigades of an army brought thus suddenly together, and other difficulties in the way of effeive organization, delayed the movements until the night of April 2d."
About one o'clock on He morning of April 3d preliminary orders were issued to hold the troops in readiness to move at a moment's notice with five days' provisions and a hundred rounds of ammunition. The orders for march and battle were issued in the afternoon. At that time General Hardee led the advance, the Third Corps, from Corinth, by the northernmost route, known as the Ridge road. Bivouacking that night on the way, he arrived next morning at Mickey's, a house about eighteen miles from Corinth and four or five miles from Pittsburg. The Second Corps, under Bragg, marched by the direct road to Pittsburg through Monterey, which it readed about 11 A. M. on the 4th, and bivouacked that night near Mickey's in the rear of Hardee's corps. The First Corps, under General Polk, consisted of two divisions, under Cheatham and Clark. The latter was ordered to follow Hardee on the Ridge road at an interval of half an hour, and to halt near Mickey S so as to allow Bragg's corps to fall in behind Hardee, at a thousand yards' interval, and form a second line of battle. Polk's corps was to form the left wing of the third line of battle, and Breckinridge's reserve the right wing. The other division of Polk, under Cheatham, was on outpost duty, at and near Bethel, on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, about as far from Mickey's as Corinth was. He was ordered to assemble his forces at Purdy, and pursue the route to Monterey. He effected his junction on the afternoon of the 5th, and took position on the left wing of Polk's corps. Breckinridge's reserve corps moved from Burnsville early on April 4th, by way of Farmington toward Monterey, distant fourteen miles. It did not effect its junction with the other corps until late on the afternoon of Saturday the 5th, being delayed by the rains on Friday and Saturday. At daylight on the 5th Hardee moved, and by seven o'clock was sufficiently out of the way to allow Bragg to advance. Before ten o'clock Hardee's corps had reached the outposts and developed the lines of the enemy. The corps was immediately deployed into line of battle about a mile and a half west of Shiloh church, where Lick Creek and Owl Creek approach most nearly, and are about three n'iles apart. Gladden's brigade of Bragg's corps was on the right of Hardee's corps, which was not sufficiently strong to occupy the whole front. This line extended from creek to creek. Before seven o'clock Bragg's column was in motion, and the right wing of his line of battle formed about eight hundred yards in the rear of Hardee's line. But the division on the left was nowhere to be seen. Even as late as half-past twelve the missing column had not appeared, nor had any report from it been received. General Johnston, looking first at his watch, then glancing at the position of the sun, exclaimed: "This is not wa! Let us have our horses!" He rode to the rear until he found the missing column standing stock-still, with its head some distance out in an open field. General Polk's reserves were ahead of it, with their wagons and artillery blocking up the road. General Johnston ordered them to clear the road, and the missing column to move forward. There was much chaffering among those implicated as to who should bear the blame.. - . it was about four o'clock when the lines were completely formed-too late, of course, to begin the battle then."
The road was not clear until 2 P. M. General Polk got Clark's division of his corps into line of battle by four o'clock; Cheatham, who had come up on the left promptly followed. Breckinridge's line was then formed on Polk's right. Thus was the army arrayed in three lines of battle late Saturday afternoon.
The purpose of General Johnston to attack promptly is evinced in the correspondence already introduced; it is further shown in his telegram of April 3d, as follows:
To the PRESIDENT, Richmond.
General Buell in motion, thirty thousand strong, rapidly from Columbia by Clifton to Savannah. Mitchell behind him, with ten thousand. Confederate forces forty thousand; ordered forward to offer battle near Pittsburg.
Division from Bethel, main body from Corinth, reserve from Burnsville, converging t0-morrow, 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. 2
On April 5th I sent a telegram as follows:
GENERAL A. S. Johnston: Your dispatch of yesterday received. I hope you will be able to close with the enemy before his two columns unite.
Though much inquiry has been made, I have not been able to recover that dispatch "of yesterday" the 4th. It was anxiously sought because, in cipher (private between us), he explained distinctly his plan of battle as the previous one had his proposed order of march. It was in every respect important to attack at the earliest moment after the advance of Buell's command became known. Every delay diminished the chances of surprising the enemy, and increased the probability of his being reenforced. Had the attack been made a day sooner, not only would Buell's army have been absent, but there would have been a prospect of their timely arrival; who can measure the moral effect this would have produced? It would be useless to review the controversies as to who was responsible for the confusion and conse9uent detentions on the march, the evil of which might have been greater if the vigilance of the enemy had been equal to his self-sufficiency.
War has been called a fickle goddess, and its results attributed to chance. The great soldier of our century said, "Fortune favors the heavy battalions." But is it not rather exact calculation than chance which controls the events of war, and the just determination of the relation of time, space, and motion in the application of force, which decides the effective weight of battalions? Had the battle of Shiloh opened a day sooner, it would have been better; had it been postponed a day, to attack would have been impracticable. Had the several columns moved on different roads, converging toward the field of battle, the movements of some could not have been obstructed by others, so that the troops would have been in position and the battle have been commenced on Saturday morning. The program and purpose of General Johnston appear from his dispatch of the 3d, and from the disappointment evinced by him at the failure of a portion of the command to be present on the field on the morning of the 5th (Saturday), as he expected.
General Bragg, in a monograph on the battle of Shiloh, says:
During the afternoon of the 5th, as the last of our troops were taking position, a casual and partly accidental meeting of general officers occurred just in tear of our second line, near the bivouac of General Bragg. The Commander-in. Chief, General Beauregard, General Polk, General Bragg, and General Breckin. ridge, are remembered as present. In a discussion of the causes of the delay and its incidents, it was mentioned that some of the troops, now in their third day only, were entirely out of food, though having marched with five days' rations. General Beauregard, confident our movement had been discovered by the enemy, urged its abandonment, a return to our camps for supplies, and a general change of programme. In this opinion no other seemed fully to concur; and when it was suggested that "the enemy's supplies were much nearer, and could be had for the taking," General Johnston quietly remarked, "Gentlemen, we shall attack ar daylight to-morrow." The meeting then dispersed upon an invitation of the commanding general to meet at his tent that evening. At that meeting a further discu'ssion elicited the same views, and the sane firm decidcd dcterinination. The next morning, about dawn of day, the 6th, as the troops were being put in motion, several generals again met at the camp-fire of the genenl. in-chief. The discussion was renewed, General Beauregard again expressing his dissent; when, rapid firing in the 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 dispositions." He prepared to move to the front, and his sub-ordinates promptly joined their respedive 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 qualities of the soldier.
The results of the first day of the famous battle thus begun are very summarily presented in the following brief report of General Beauregard:
At 5:00 A. M., on the 6th instant, a reconnoitering party of the enemy having become engaged with our advanced pickets, the commander of the forces gave orders to begin the movement and attack as determined upon, except that Trabue's brigade of Breckinridge's division was detached and advanced to support the left of Bragg's corps and line of battle then menaced by the enemy; and the other two brigades were directed to advance by the road to Hamburg to support Bragg's right; and at the same time Maney's regiment of Polk's corps was advanced by the same road to reenforce the regiment. of cavalry and battery of four pieces, already thrown forward to watch and guard Grier's, Tanner's, and Borland's Fords of Lick Creek.
Thirty minutes after 5 A. M., our lines and columns were in motion, all animated evidently by a promising spirit. The front line was engaged at once, but advanced steadily, followed in due order, with equal resolution and steadiness, by the other lines, which were brought successively into action with rare skill, judgment, and gallantry by the several corps commanders, as the enemy made a stand with his masses rallied for the struggle for his encampments. Like an Alpine avalanche our troops moved forward, despite the determined resistance of the enemy, until after 6 p M., when we were in possession of all his encampments between Owl and Lick Creeks but one: nearly all of his field-artillery, about thirty flags, colors, and standards, ovcr three thousand prisoners, including a division commander (General Prentiss), and several brigade commanders, thousands of small-arms, an immense supply of subsistence, forage, and munitions of war, and a large amount of means of transportation, all the substantial fruits of a complete victory-such, indeed, as rarely have followed the most successful battles, for never was an army so well provided as that of our enemy.
The remnant of his army had been driven in utter disorder to the immediate vicinity of Pittsburg, under the shelter of the heavy guns of his iron-clad gun. boats, and we remained undisputed masters of his secluded, admirably provided cantonments, after our twelve hours of obstinate conflict with his forces, who had been beaten from them and the contiguous covert, but only by the sustained onset of all the men we could bring into action.
There are two words in this report which, if they could have been truthfully omitted, it would have been worth to us the surrender of all "the substantial fruits of a complete victory." It says: "Our troops noved forward, despite the determined resistance of the enemy, until after 6 P. M., when we were in possession of all his encampments between Owl and Lick Creek " It was that "one" encampment that furnished a football for all the subsequent reenforcements sent by Buell, and gave occasion for the final withdrawal of our forces; whereas, if that had been captured, and the "waters of the Tennessee reached, as General' -Johnston designed, it was not too tnuch to expect that Grant's army would have surrendered; that Buell's forces would not have crossed the Tennessee; with a skillful commander like Johnston to lead our troops, however, the enemy would have sought safety on the north bank of the Ohio; that Tennessee, Kentucky, and Missouri would have been recovered, the northwest disaffected, and our armies filled with the men of the Southwest, and perhaps of the Northwest also.
Let us turn to reports and authorities. The author of The Life of General Albert Sidney Johnston says:
Of the two armies, one was now an advancing, triumphant host, with arm uplifted to give the mortal blow; the other, a broken, mangled, demoralized mob, paralyzed and waiting for the stroke. While the other Confederate brigades, which had shared most actively in Prentiss's capture, were sending back the prisoners and forming again for a final attack, two brigades, under Chalmers and Jackson, on the extreme right, had cleared away all in front of them, and, moving down the river-bank, now came upon the last point where even a show of resistance was made. Being two very bold and active brigadiers, they at once closed with the enemy in their front, crossing a deep ravine and difficult ground to get at him. Here Colonel Webster, of Grant's staff, had gathered all the guns he could find from batteries, whether abandoned or still coherent, and with stout-hearted men, picked up at random, had prepared a resistance. Some infantry, similarly constituted, had been got together; and Ammen's brigade, the "'an of Nelson's division of Buell's corps, had landed, and was pushing its way througli the throng of pallid fugitives at the landing to take up the battle where it had fallen from the hands of Grant and Sherman. It got into position in time to do its part in checking the unsupported assaults of Chalmers and Jackson.
General Chalmers, describing this final attack in his report, says:
It was then about four o'clock in the evening, and, after distributing ammunition, we received orders from General Bragg to drive the enemy into the river. My brigade together with that of Brigadier-General Jackson, filed to the right and formed facing the river, and endeavored to press forward to the water's edge; but in attempting to mount the last ridge we were met by a fire from a whole line of batteries, protected by infantry and assisted by shells from the gunboats.
In a subsequent memorandum General Chalmers writes:
One more resolute movement forward would have captured Grant and his whole army, and fulfilled to the letter the battle-plan of the great Confederate general, who died in the belief that victory was ours. . . .
Brigadier General Jackson, in his report, says:
My brigade was ordered to change direction again, face toward Pittsburg, where the enemy appeared to have made his last stand, and to advance upon him, General Chalmers's brigade being again on my right, and extending to the swamp of the Tennessee River. Without ammunition, and with only,,. their bayonets to rely on, steadily my men advanced under a heavy fire from light batteries, siege-pieces, and gunboats. Passing through the ravine, they arrived near the crest of the opposite hill, upon which the enemy's batteries were, but could not be urged farther without support. Sheltering themselves against the precipitous sides of the ravine, they remained under this fire for some time. Finding an advance without support impracticable, remaining there under fire useless, and believing that any further forward movement should have been made simultaneously along our whole line, I proceeded to obtain orders from General Withers, but, after seeing him, was ordered by a staff-officer to retire. This order was communicated to me as coming from General Beauregard.
General Gilmer, the chief engineer of the Confederate States Army, in a letter to Colonel William Preston Johnston, dated September 17, 1872, writes as follows:
It is my well-considered opinion that if your father had survived the day be would have crushed and captured General Grant's army before the setting of the sun on the 6th. In fad, at the time your father received the mortal wound, advancing with General Breckinridge's command, the day was ours. The enemy having lost all the strong positions on that memorable field, his troops fell back in great disorder on the banks of the Tennessee. To cover the confusion, rapid fires were opened from the gunboats the enemy had placed in the river; but the shots passed entirely over our devoted men, who were exultant and eager to be led forward to the final assault, which must have resulted in a complete victory, owing to the confusion and general disorganization of the Federal troops. I knew the condition of General Grant's army at the moment, as I had reached a high, projecting point on the bank of the river, about a mile above Pittsburg Landing, and could see the hurried movements to get the disordered troops across to thc right bank. Several thousand had already passed, and a confused mass of men crowded to the landing to get on the boats that were employed in crossing. I rode rapidly to General Bragg's oppsition to report what I had seen, and suggested that, if he would suspend the fire of his artillery and marshal his infantry for a general advance, the enemy must surrender. General Bragg decided to make the advance, and authorized me and other olhccrs to direct the commanders of the batteries to cease firing.
In the midst of the preparations, orders reached General Bragg from General Beauregard direding the troops to be withdrawn and placed in camp for the night -the intention to resume the contest in the morning. This was fatal, as it enabled General Buell and General Wallace to arrive on the scene of action; that is, they came up in the course of the night. Had General Beauregard known the condition of the enemy as your father knew it when he received the fatal shot, the order for withdrawal would certainly not have been given, and, without such order, I know the enemy would have been crushed.
In addition to the statements and opinions cited above, I will introduce from a recent publication by Thomas Worthington, late colonel of the Forty-sixth Regiment of Ohio Volunteers, two statements showing the relative condition of the two armies in the afternoon of the day of battle. It may be proper to say that Colonel Worthington was regularly educated as a soldier, and had seen service in Mexico.
He quotes Colonel Geddes of the Eighth Iowa Volunteers as follows:
About 3 P. M. all communications with the river (landing) ceased, and it became evident to me that the enemy was turning the right and left flanks of our army.. - . About 2 P. M. the whole Union right, comprising the Forty-sixth Ohio, which had held that flank two hours or more, was driven back in disorder, and the Confederate flanking force cut the center off from the landing, as stated by Colonel Geddes, soon after General Johnston's fall.
General Beauregard reports as follows:
It was after 6 p M. when the enemy's last position was carried, and his force finally broke and sought refuge behind a commanding eminence covering Pittsburg Landing, not more than half a mile distant, and under the guns of the gunboats, which opened on our eager columns a fierce and annoying fire with shot and shell of the heaviest description. Darkness was close at hand. Officers and men were exhausted by a combat of over twelve hours, without food, and jaded by the march of the preceding day through mud and water; itwas, therefore, impossible to collect the rich and opportune spoils of war scatt'ed broadcast on the field left in our possession, and impracticable to make any effective dispositions for their removal to the rear.
I accordingly established my headquarters at the church of Shiloh, in the enemy's encampment, with Major-General Bragg, and directed our troops to sleep on their arms in such positions in advance and rear as corps commanders should determine, hoping, from news received by a special dispatch, that delays had been encountered by General Buell in his march from Columbia, and that his main forces, therefore, could not reach the field of battle in time to save General Grant's shattered fugitives from capture or destruction on the following day.
Such are the representations of those having the best means of information relative to the immediate causes of the failure to drive the enemy from his last foothold and gain possession of it. Some of the more remote causes of this failure may be noticed. The first was the death of General Johnston, which is thus described by his son:
General Johnston had passed through the ordeal (the charge upon the enemy) seemingly unhurt. His noble horse was shot in four places; his clothes were pierced by missiles; his boot-sole was cut and torn by a Minie' ball; but, if be him-self had received any severe wound, he did not know it. At this moment Governor Harris rode up from the right, elated with his own success, and with the vindication of his Tennesseans. After a few words, General Johnston sent him with an order to Colonel Statham, which, having delivered, he speedily returned. In the mean time knots and groups of Federal soldiers kept up an angry discharge of firearms as they retreated upon their supports, and their last line, now yielding, delivered volley after volley as they retreated. By the chance of war a Mime' ball from one of these did its fatal work. As General Johnston, on horseback, sat there, knowing that he had crushed in the arch which had so long resisted the pressure of his forces, and awaiting until they could coIled sufficiently to give the final stroke, he received a mortal wound. It came in the moment of victory and triumph from a flying foe. It smote him at the very instant when he felt the full conviction that the day was won.
His wound consisted in the cutting of the artery that runs down through the thigh and divides at the knee, and passes along the separate bones of the lower part of the leg. The wound was just above the division or branch of the artery. It was fatal only because the flow of blood was not stopped by a tourniquet. The narrative continues:
General Beauregard had told General Johnston that morning as he rode off, that if it should be necessary to communicate with him or for him to do anything, he would be found in his ambulance in bed. Governor Harris, knowing this, and how feeble General Beauregard's health was, went first to his headquarters-just in the rear of where the army had deployed into line the evening before. Beauregard and his staff were gone on horseback in the direction of Shiloh Church. He found them there. The Governor told General Beauregard that General Johnston had been killed. Beauregard expressed regret, and then remarked, "Everything else seems to be going on well on the right." Governor Harris assented. "Then," said Beauregard, "the battle may as well go on." The Governor replied that he certainly thought it ought. He offered his services to Beauregard, and they were courteously accepted. General Beauregard then remained where he was, waiting the issue of events.
Sidney Johnston fell in sight of victory; the hour he had waited for, the event he had planned for, had arrived. His fame was vindicated, but far dearer than this to his patriotic Spirit was it with his dying eyes to behold his country's flag, so lately drooping in disaster, triumphantly advancing. In his fall the great pillar of the Southern Confederacy was crushed, and beneath its fragments the best hope of the Southwest lay buried. A highly educated and richly endowed soldier, his varied experience embraced also civil affairs, and his intimate knowledge of the country and people of the Southwest so highly qualified him for that speciat command that it was not possible to fill the place made vacant by his death. Not for the first time did the fate of an army depend upon a single man, and the fortunes of a country bang, as in a balance, on the achievements of a single army. To take an example far from us, in time and place, when Turenne had, after months of successful manteuvring, finally forced his enemy into a position which gave assurance of victory, and had marshaled his forces for a decisive battle, he was, when making a preliminary reconnaissance, killed by a chance shot; then his successor instead of attacking, retreated, and all which the one had gained for France, the other lost.
To take another example, not quite so conclusive, it was epigrammatically said by Lieutenant Kingsbury, when writing of the battle of Buena Vista, that if the last shot, fired at the close of the second day's conflict, had killed General Taylor, the next morning's sun would have risen upon the strange spectacle of two armies in full retreat from each other, the field for which they had fought being in the possession of neither. What material consequences would have flowed from the supposed event-how the Mexican people would have been inspired by the retreat of our army, how far it would have brought out all their resources for war, and to what extent results might have been thereby affected-are speculative inquiries on a subject from which time and circumstance have taken the interest it once possessed.
The extracts which have been given sufficiently prove that, when General Johnston fell, the Confederate army was so fully victorious that, had the attack been vigorously pressed, General Grant and his army would before the setting of the sun have been fugitives or prisoners.
As our troops drew near to the river, the gunboats of the. enemy became ineffective, because to fire over the bank required such elevation of the guns that the shot and shell passed high over the heads of our men, falling far away in the rear.
General Polk described the troops in advance for that reason as quite safe from the fire of the gunboats, though it might seem terrible to those far in the rear, and expressed the surprise and regret he felt at the order to retire.
Grant's army being beaten, the next step of General Johnston's program should have followed-the defeat of Buell's and Mitchell's forces as they successively came up, and a return by our victorious army through Tennessee to Kentucky. The great embarrassment had been the want of good military weapons; these would have been largely supplied by the conquest hoped for, and, in the light of what had occurred, not unreasonably anticipated.
What great consequences would have ensued must be a matter of conjecture, but that the people of Kentucky and Missouri generously sympathized with the South was then commonly admitted. Our known want of preparation for war and numerical inferiority may well have caused many to doubt the wisdom of our effort for independence, and to these a signal success would have been the makeweight deciding their course.
I believe that again in the history of war the fate of an army depended on one man; more, that the fortunes of a country hung by the single thread of the life that was yielded on the field of Shiloh. So great was my confidence in his capacity for organization and administration that I felt, when he was assigned to the Department of the West, that the undeveloped power of that region would be made sufficient not only for its own safety, but to contribute support if need be to the more seriously threatened East.
There have been various suppositions as to the neglect of the wound which caused General Johnston's death. My own opinion, founded upon the statements of those who were near him, and upon my long acquaintance with him and close observation of him under trying circumstances, is that his iron nerve and extraordinary concentration of mind made him regardless of his wound, in tlie lixed purpose to dislodge the enemy from his last position, and while thus struggling to complete the victory within his grasp, lie unheedingly allowed his life blood to flow away.
It often happens that men do not poperly value their richest gifts until taken away. Those who had erroneously and unjustly censured Johnston, convided of their error by the grandeur of his revealed character, joined in the general lamentation over his loss, and malignity even was stlenced by the devoted manner of his death. My estimation of him was based on tong and intimate acquaintance; beginning in our youth, it had grown with our growth without check or variation, and, when he first arrived in Richmond, was expressed to some friends yet living, in the wish that I had the power, by resigning, to transfer to him the presidency of the Confederate States.