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April, 1862 – The Battle at Shiloh

Shiloh is a Hebrew word, it means place of peace. And so it was until April, 1862 when it came to mean a place of blood and death.

At the end of March 1862 three major divisions were ordered to Pittsburg Landing with the intent of making a major advancement along the Tennessee River. In addition the Army of the Ohio was ordered there as well.

Of those in Grant’s Army waiting at Pittsburg Landing was the 20th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, with many men from Will County, and near-by McAllister’s Battery, originally from Plainfield. They had just come from the battle at Fort Donelson where they were severely tested, but, in the end, had won the day. Major Bartleson had just returned from escorting Col Erwin’s body home, a victim of that encounter.

The Confederates, hoping to attack and take the day before the Army of the Ohio arrived, took the offensive on April 6. For the description of the battle we turn to George Woodruff, in his book Fifteen Years Ago, Will County in the Civil War. About the 20th he writes; “The fight commenced on the morning of April 6th, by the enemy attacking our lines, and resulted in driving back our forces to the river, and the shelter of the gun-boats. Being reinforced during the night by Gen. Wallace’s division, and the 3rd division of Gen. Buell’s army, the battle was renewed on the 7th, and the enemy was driven back, and our force re-occupied the ground from which they had been driven on the 6th, thus remaining masters of the field, though at a fearful loss of life.”

“In the two days, the 20th regiment lost in killed one officer, and 21 men, 7 of whom were from Will county. There were wounded in the regiment, 6 officers and 98 men, and 10 missing, 2 of the officers, and 17 of the enlisted men, being from this county.”

“Among the wounded was Col. Bartleson. He had been promoted major at Donaldson. He was wounded in the left arm so severely as to necessitate amputation. Lieut. John F. Cleghorn, of Co. B, who had been promoted captain, was also severely wounded in one arm.”

“The 20th had but (about) 394 men in the fight, and almost one-third were killed or wounded, and after the fight had only 264 fit for duty, out of the 1,000 men with which they left Joliet less than a year before.”

Jacob B. Worthingham was wounded early Sunday morning, the first day of the battle, and lay among the heaps of the dead and dying until Monday evening, before he was cared for, passing two days and a night on the bloody ground, suffering from pain, thirst and hunger, while the desperate conflict was going on over and around him. During the fight, while the rebels had possession of the ground, a rebel soldier kindly placed a blanket under him, to make him more comfortable. When our forces took the field he was found, nearly exhausted, from loss of blood, and exposure.”

Meanwhile McAllister’s Battery was also fighting for their lives. Woodruff says: “On the morning of April 6th, the battery was ordered to harness up, and before the order could be executed, and while the officers’ mess were just setting down to breakfast, the shot and shell commenced flying through the camp. A solid shot swept the table clean, to their no small astonishment and disgust. In less time than I have taken to write it, they had their men, guns, horses and everything in position, and were sending forth their reply in 24-pound shot and shell.”

“They were engaged in a duel with the enemy’s battery about one and a half mile distant, which lasted from one and a half to two hours, when the rebel battery was silenced.”

“But in the meantime the rebel infantry were flanking their position, and Captain McAllister turned his guns to bear upon the flanking column. Our infantry now began to fall back, and Captain McAllister was obliged to order the battery to limber to the rear. So many horses had been disabled that one gun had to be left, and also two caissons, which fell into the hands of the enemy.

“It was now late in the afternoon. The enemy again advanced upon this line, and were received with the most terrific fire of shot and shell, and musketry, that was ever witnessed. This time the enemy was thoroughly repulsed, and night closed the first day’s battle of Shiloh.”

“Our army bivouacked upon the ground in this position while the enemy had possession of the tents which our men had left in the morning.”

“Officers and men behaved with great coolness and promptitude. During the first attack in the morning of the first day, while Lieut. Cooper was trying to get his caissons out of the way of the enemy who were fast approaching, while our lines were falling back, one of the caissons got stuck, and all the horses shot except the wheel span.”

“Up rode a rebel officer, sword in hand, and cried out, “Surrender, you damned Yankee, surrender.” The postillion was a burly Dutchman, a detailed man, Fitzburg byname, who instead of surrendering brought the butt of his heavy whip around the head of the officer exclaiming somewhat profanely, “Surrender! Hell!” Just at this juncture a spent minnie ball struck one of the wheel horses, stinging him so that he gave a tremendous spring, and cleared everything from the mud hole, never stopping until safe within our lines.”

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