Friday, August 22, 2008

First day of battle for the 18th Wisconsin

At sunrise the 18th Wisconsin’s pickets were ordered to their tents. Jeremiah W Baldock remarked to the orderly sergeant “I am going to sleep today, even if Abe Lincoln comes.” The orderly answered that he thought a battle was at hand. Less than five minutes after removing his clothing the long roll sounded and Baldock was the first man of his company to take position.. The rebels could be seen marching by regiments near the right flank and forming lines of battle. He says they advanced like a “thunder cloud, firing as they advanced.”[1]

The 18th Wisconsin formed in line of battle in front of their camps a little later than the right of Prentiss’ division did so. The 15th Michigan was assigned to the extreme left of the line but being without ammunition they soon withdrew to the rear leaving the 18th Wisconsin on the extreme left. As the 21st Missouri with the pickets of the 16th Wisconsin were driven into the main battle line the Confederates almost simultaneously appeared behind them. The 18th Wisconsin met the Confederate advance without flinching which was remarkable because they were a raw regiment with very little drill and discipline. The division opened fire upon the whole line but the overwhelming numbers of Confederates succeeded in turning the division right flank about 8 o’clock. Regiment after regiment on the right flank fell back in order to avoid certain capture. The 18th Wisconsin held its ground until the Confederates turned the left flank by way of a ravine and concentrated their fire upon the newly exposed left flank. At this point acting Adjutant Coleman fell severely wounded and was carried from the field by Lieutenant Potter of Company A.[2]

Three rounds were fired by the 18th Wisconsin when the order to about face and fall back was given but the right of the regiment never heard the order. Those who attempted to obey were soon involved in a rout. Lieutenant Colonel Beall ordered the men to halt and reform, calling them cowards while he fired two revolvers at the rebels.[3] Confederate General James Chalmers said in his report that “after several rounds were discharged the order to charge bayonets was given, and the Tenth Mississippi Regiment (about 360 strong) led by its gallant colonel, dashed up the hill, and put to flight the Eighteenth Wisconsin Regiment, numbering nearly 1000 men.”[4] About 50 yards south of the 18th Wisconsin’s camp is a marker that enlarges the force that Chalmers claimed routed the 18th Wisconsin. While not giving a specific strength for the attackers it certainly must be more then the 360 men that Chalmers mentions as it is also two more regiments than Chalmers mentions. The marker reads in part, “The three right regiments of this brigade, 10th, 7th and 9th Mississippi, charged and captured the camp of the 18th Wisconsin at 9 a.m.”[5]

The 18th Wisconsin then fell back to a ravine about 110 yards to the rear. The regiment stopped here and poured a well-directed fire on the Confederates, who were now in the 18th Wisconsin’s camp. This volley checked the Confederates and the 18th Wisconsin crossed the ravine but while doing so they were exposed to a raking fire from the Confederates on front and flank. The 18th Wisconsin then moved up the opposite hill, rejoined the main line and fell back with it. About this time the fighting became irregular as the men availed themselves of the shelter of trees and fired independently of orders. As the Confederates pressed them in front or on the flanks the forces of General Prentiss retired.[6] The part of the regiment on the right near Lieutenant Colonel Beall tried to hold their line as they fought behind trees; Beall yelling epithets and continued firing his two pistols at the advancing Confederates. As they retreated through camp Baldock stepped into his tent and retrieved his bible so that if he was killed later his body might be identified. As he left his tent three rebels at the end of the company street fired at him and he fired back. Later a dead Confederate was found at that point and Baldock believed he had killed that man. He soon saw a wounded man of his company, Marsenas Gurnee, bayoneted by Confederates. Baldock was by this time alone and he retreated farther to the rear. He passed through an advancing line of battle and soon came across an officer. The officer ordered him into line of battle but Baldock replied that he was looking for his own regiment. The officer then drew his sword to enforce the command but Baldock cocked his musket and told the officer he would blow his brains out if he was not left alone. The officer withdrew and Baldock soon saw his colonel and rejoined his regiment.[7]

The 18th Wisconsin was now in the middle of the Hornets’ Nest line. In the Hornets’ Nest a battery came up and took position near the 18th Wisconsin. General Prentiss remarked to the 18th Wisconsin, “That battery was at Donelson; you stand by it and it will stand by you.” Lieutenant Colonel Beall answered, “By God, we will, sir.”[8] The earlier fighting had mixed up the organization of many units and now companies fought alongside companies of other regiments. Some regiments had companies fighting in two or three different positions. After fighting in this manner for about seven hours the 18th Wisconsin found itself nearly surrounded. The Confederates again came at the 18th Wisconsin from the front and flank pouring in a tremendous cross fire in which Colonel Alban was shot through the body and Major Crain fell dead with eight wounds.[9] Frederick Wuerstlein, who was with Colonel Alban when he fell, said that the bullet entered near Alban's right shoulder blade and passed out "in front of the neck".[10] This tremendous crossfire produced much confusion and before anyone could order a retreat the Confederates were among them firing and taking prisoners. The fighting of the 18th Wisconsin was over. The men broke in squads and retreated as best they could but many were captured. The official reports listed 174 men missing, most of which were captured.[11]

The toll among the officers was particularly severe. The colonel was mortally wounded and the major was killed. Lieutenant Colonel Beall and Acting Adjutant Coleman were both severely wounded and Captain Compton of Company G was killed.[12] Frederick Wuerstlein said that a bullet had lodged in Coleman's right cheek and made his face "dreadfully black and swollen."[13] Five captains and six lieutenants were part of the force captured by the Confederates. Company K was the only company that did not lose a commissioned officer to death or capture.[14]

At one point during the battle, Edward Dickerson and another soldier were firing their muskets from behind a large tree. Suddenly, he discovered that musket balls were hitting the side of the tree. He looked around and discovered that his comrades on his left flank had dropped back and that Confederates were flanking him. At that point, both Edward Dickerson and his companion raced to the rear. As he regained the semblance of a Union line, he ran face to face with his half-brother, George Dickerson. George’s greeting was, “I didn’t think you would make it, Ed.”[15] In 1978 after his own study of the 18th Wisconsin Wilton Dickerson, Edward’s grandson, wrote that he thought that this incident likely occurred on the left side of the Hornets’ Nest because “it would seem doubtful that Dickerson would have survived his dash had there not been some protection from trees.”[16] He is likely referring to the fact that the terrain around the morning line was more open than the Hornets’ Nest line. It is possible, however, that this incident occurred earlier when the 18th Wisconsin made a second brief stand behind their camp.

One interesting incident concerning the 18th Wisconsin’s camp was not reported by the regiment or any Confederates in the official records. Larry J Daniel though in the most recent study of the battle, Shiloh: The Battle that Changed the Civil War, wrote that the 18th Wisconsin’s flag was found in camp by the Confederates. Daniel also says that about 9 o’clock that morning Albert Sidney Johnston rode through the 18th Wisconsin’s camp. Johnston sternly rebuked a junior officer who gleefully showed him a load of trophies. Regretting the sternness of the rebuke he picked up a tin cup and said, “Let this be my share of the spoils today.” Later in the day as Johnston was preparing the charge that would be his last act on earth, he rode along the front of Bowen’s brigade, tapping his tin cup on the bayonets of the brigade and said, “Men of Missouri and Arkansas, the enemy is stubborn. I want you to show General Beauregard and General Bragg what you can do with your bayonets and tooth picks [Bowie knives].”[17] Soon after this charge Johnston would suffer the wound that shortly after caused his death.

[1] 1888 Grand Army pp 745-6.
[2] Quiner, Military History of Wisconsin, pp 657-8.
[3] 1888 Grand Army pp 745-6.
[4] OR 10:1, 548.
[5] Marker 393
[6] Quiner, Military History of Wisconsin, p 658.
[7] 1888 Grand Army p 745-6.
[8] 1888 Grand Army p 746. The nearest markers for batteries in the area of the 18th Wisconsin’s marker in the Hornets’ Nest are for Hickenlooper’s 5th Ohio, Munch’s 1st Minnesota and Ross’ 2nd Michigan. In searching through Dyer’s Compendium though none of these three batteries were veterans. Of the twenty-one batteries on the field the first day only eight were veterans of Fort Donelson. Of these four did not serve anywhere near the Hornets’ Nest. The remaining four that did are Willard’s Battery A, 1st Illinois; Welker’s Battery H, 1st Missouri; Richardson’s Battery D, 1st Missouri; and Stone’s Battery K, 1st Missouri. Welker’s and Richardson’s batteries served mostly near Wicker Field and Sarah Bell’s Cotton Field. This area is where the 16th Wisconsin fought, not the 18th Wisconsin. Stone’s battery served on the far right of the Union line in the Hornets’ Nest. Richardson’s battery served near Wicker Field, Cloud Field and also along the Eastern Corinth road to the left of Stone’s battery. Since we do not know when Prentiss told Beall to stand by those guns we do not know where the 18th Wisconsin was at that time. The 18th Wisconsin did withdraw towards Cloud Field and Wicker Field as the Confederates tightened the noose around the Hornets’ Nest.
[9] Quiner, Military History of Wisconsin, p 658.
[10] Oshkosh Courier. April 18, 1862. Page 2, column 3.
[11] Quiner, Military History of Wisconsin, p 658.
[12] Quiner, Military History of Wisconsin, pp 658-9.
[13] Oshkosh Courier. April 18, 1862. Page 2, column 3.
[14] Quiner, Military History of Wisconsin, pp 658-9.
[15] Dickerson, Edward E Dickerson at the Battle of Shiloh. p 5.
[16] Dickerson, Edward E Dickerson at the Battle of Shiloh. p 5.
[17] Daniel, Larry J. Shiloh: The Battle that Changed the Civil War. (NY: Touchstone, 1998.) pp. 156, 196 & 217

1 comment:

Military said...

to Nick
your article about 18th Wisconsin at Shiloh was interesting, especially for me as I am the great grandson of J.W. Baldock. It has only been very recently that I have been searching for more relevant into his past.
My wife is a fourth grade teacher that covers the Civil War in her class room. She has taken artifacts that my grandmother had given to me including his belt buckle, canteen, many letters to his future wive Lavantia.
There is also a copy of the painting of the Hornest's Nest with some pencil writing on the back that is too light to read that I feel was written by J.W.

J. Bock