Thursday, September 4, 2008

Wisconsin soldier reflections on Shiloh

In a letter to his parents James Newton asked them to send him a newspaper about the battle because, “all we know about the battle is what we saw and that wasn’t much, so I would like to see a paper if possible to see what we did do.”[1] Many years after the battle Alfred T Andreas expressed a similar observation, “It was at Shiloh as at most of our battles. We waited until the arrival of newspapers from the North to learn what we had ourselves done.”[2]

Private Elisha Stockwell was wounded twice at Shiloh while serving with the 14th Wisconsin and was almost the victim of his own comrades’ fire. The regiment had taken their position in the line and was ordered to open up on the Confederates. Ned Bown, on Stockwell’s left, “stuck [his musket] up in the air, shut both eyes, and fired at the tree tops, and Schnider did the same. But Schnider was in the rear rank behind Curly and he cut a lock of Curly’s hair off just above his ear, and burned his neck. I thought Curly was going to strike him with his gun. He told him, ‘You might have killed me.’ and Schnider said, ‘Makes me not much difference, I not like you very well anyhow’.”[3]

Elisha Stockwell was slightly injured just as the unit took up positions for an assault. He was struck in the arm by a spent cannonball. He showed his wound to his lieutenant, who told him he did not have to participate in the attack and that he was excused to return to Pittsburg Landing. Stockwell admitted he “was as tickled as a boy let out of school,” when he learned he was out of it with a “million dollar wound.”[4] Stockwell also described the scene that night in one of the hospital tents, “Opposite me was a slim boy of about my age. He was sitting up with his face down as if looking at the ground. When the doctor came to him and asked him where he was wounded, he looked up but didn’t say anything. He was shot just below the left eye and close to the nose. He bent his head over, and put his finger on the back of his neck. The doctor took his knife and cut the ball out and never a whimper out of that boy.”[5]

James Randall of Company B said that First Lieutenant Joseph Post and Sergeant Charles Drake were among the first to fall. “I could easily have placed my hand upon each of them as they were shot. Two splendid men had fallen. Sergeant Drake had finished his lonely journey.”[6]

William John Hamilton of Company F was “one of the soldiers who captured a rebel cannon now the property of Wisconsin at Madison.” He was promoted to corporal after Shiloh. He would become part of the color guard shortly before Vicksburg and carried the flag for the next 22 months. He was wounded twice at Vicksburg, one in the hip and the other in the shin. His gunstock was shattered and another clipped the hair on his temple. During 1864 while campaigning in Arkansas Hamilton’s shoes gave out. Showing some creativity he went to where the cattle were being butchered and acquired a cow leg and made new shoes out of the skin.[7]

Daniel Ramsdell of Company E carried the state flag in the color guard and was in the assault on the Confederate battery. The 1888 Grand Army Album credited the 14th Wisconsin as participating in the capture of a battery of seven pieces. In the excitement of the attack he sprang on one of the guns while the “air was blue with rebel bullets.” The flag he carried was pierced several times, two balls passing through his blouse and one through his pantaloons, drawing blood and “cooling his ardor materially.”[8]

Carl Gustaf Dreutzer of Company G of the 14th Wisconsin had just turned 16 two months earlier. At Shiloh he was “only a boy, alone in a strange land and facing a determined force of men, who were fighting with desperation, and he aided his command in winning its first meed of glory.” He was promoted to corporal following Shiloh. He had been born in Sweden, went to sea as a cabin boy at age 13 traveling to South Africa and Brazil before quitting the sea in 1860 and going to Wisconsin. He was wounded at Corinth on October 3rd, 1862 and received a discharge. In 1890 it was reported that he “enjoys life as well as a deaf man can,” and that the difficulties of life are “not permitted to poison the modicum of comfort a man may take who has ‘plowed the briny deep,’ can ‘splice the main brace’ and swear in seven different languages.”[9]

Sidney B Carpenter of Company B was made fifth corporal on the field at Shiloh and after the action was promoted to third sergeant. In the fall he was promoted to orderly sergeant and made Second Lieutenant of Company B on October 2nd, 1862 for “conspicuous bravery on the field.” On December 9th, 1864 he was promoted to captain of Company B. “On leaving the army had been recommended for major.”[10] Samuel H Moody also ended the war as a commissioned officer. In his case he was appointed Second Lieutenant of Company H, 47th US Colored Infantry on July 28th, 1864.[11] Joseph L. Cotey, Company G of the 18th Wisconsin, would also rise through the ranks. At Shiloh a shot shattered his gunstock and knocked him senseless. After the battle he was promoted to orderly sergeant for his company. On April 4th, 1865 he was promoted to captain, skipping the intermediate grades, and was mustered out sixteen days later.[12]

The brother of Daniel Ramsdell, of the color guard, was Washington Irving Ramsdell who was Second Lieutenant of Company B. At Shiloh one bullet passed through his hat and two through his blouse. At Vicksburg a bullet “passed into his head below his left eye, went around his head and lodged in his right ear.” None of these sent him from the field and in all his military experience he did not once go to the hospital for treatment. Before mustering out he was promoted to First Lieutenant. After dying of consumption in 1873 Grand Army of the Republic Post No. 79 in Marion was named after him.[13]

John Milton Read was a sergeant at Shiloh in Company E. A month after the battle he was promoted to sergeant major. He would eventually be promoted to adjutant of the regiment with rank of First Lieutenant and later would be the assistant adjutant general for his brigade, the Second Brigade of the Third Division of the 17th Army Corps, holding that position for most of 1864.[14]

Another soldier, John McMahon of Company C, had another reason to remember Shiloh the rest of his life. He had a son born on April 8th, 1862 and he was later named Ed Shiloh. It is unclear if the idea for the name was the father’s or the mother’s but it served as a lasting reminder for both son and father. The father would be home soon as he received three wounds at Vicksburg, knee, hip and shoulder, and was subsequently discharged.[15]

The Wisconsin regiments on the first day lost a sizable number of their men to capture. Oliver H Waite, Company C of the 16th Wisconsin, was wounded, in the right leg, during the early morning action around camp and was subsequently captured. He was paroled three weeks later at Columbus, Mississippi.[16] John Howard Stever, Company F of the 18th Wisconsin, was also captured and held for 6 and a half months. Once home he was discharged from the 18th Wisconsin on December 6th, 1862. Obviously he could hardly stand being away from the army as he enlisted in the 41st Wisconsin, a 100-days regiment, on May 17th, 1863. He was discharged from the 41st Wisconsin on September 28, 1864 and returned home for the winter. On February 4th, 1865 he enlisted in his third regiment, the 47th Wisconsin and was finally mustered out of federal service on September 4th, 1865. He also had five brothers who served in Wisconsin regiments; two of his brothers died during the war, one from disease and one was killed in battle.[17]

Some other soldiers were captured in other ways. William H Rice, Company H of the 16th Wisconsin, was wounded in the arm and sent to a hospital in Newberg, Indiana. Soon after some Confederates raided the hospital, captured all the wounded and immediately paroled them.* After he recovered he was sent to St Louis to await his exchange. He grew tired of this and hid aboard a boat going downstream and thus joined his regiment. His officers did not want to give him a gun because if he were captured again he would be killed. “He demanded his equipments and promised that the rebels should never have the pleasure of taking him again.”[18] John J Quick, Company G of the 18th Wisconsin, was another soldier captured by the Confederates at Newberg. He was there recovering from rheumatism.[19]

The Wisconsin soldiers captured at Shiloh were then taken to Corinth, Memphis and Mobile and distributed among prison camps in the Confederacy. Jeremiah Baldock, Company A of the 18th Wisconsin, said that the prisoners received a cracker en route to Corinth but then nothing until they reached Memphis three days later. Baldock was then sent to Tuscaloosa under the care of Captain Henry Wirz. Wirz would later be the prison commander at Andersonville and be executed for war crimes. Baldock says that the cruelties of Wirz cannot be exaggerated. One of the guards shot a man through a window and also later fired at Baldock. When the paroled prisoners were crossing the Etowah River by railroad one of the soldiers threw this guard into the river.[20]

John Merrill of the 18th Wisconsin was captured at the end of the first day’s fighting in the Hornets’ Nest and following his release described his initial journey as a prisoner of war,
They marched us off about five miles that night and we lay in an old cornfield without blankets or shelter in the mud and rained at that. They gave us one cracker to eat and marched us to Corinth about twenty miles through the mud, then put us aboard some cattle cars where the mud was about two inches thick, fifty-five in a car at that. We went to Memphis and to Jackson, Miss., down to Mobile, Ala., from there to our prison at Tuscaloosa where we received all the barbarous treatment that you could think of, besides lots you never dreamed of.[21]

WF Wilder of the 18th Wisconsin described his time as a prisoner a bit differently, in a poem entitled “Beware of Southern Prisons”[22]:

Now soldiers your attention,
A story I’ll relate,
About the Southern prisons
And of a prisoner’s fate.
Chorus - Now Jeff you’ll surely pay for this,
And that before ’tis long,
Your neck get ready for the rope,
Old Abe is pressing on

‘T was on the sixth of April,
As very well you know,
Our force it was surrounded
And taken by the foe.

They marched us off to Corinth,
Through mud six inches deep,
And stowed us into freight cars
Full fifty in a heap.

And thus we rode to Memphis;
The road was rough as sin,
And many oaths were uttered,
And many more kept in.

They thought to starve the Yankees,
No grub did we receive.
Until we got to Memphis,
And this was Tuesday eve.

They arrested Gen. Prentiss,
Because he made a speech,
And told them in plain English,
What Davis didn’t teach.

From here we went to Mobile,
Hoping there to stay,
But they shipped us up the river
At early dawn of day.

The boat was old and rotten,
The pumps they wouldn’t work
The darkies they were lazy,
From labor they did shirk.

Three days and nights we suffered
On board this rotten craft,
And arrived at Tuscaloosa
With prisoners fore and aft.

They marched us up to prison,
Exulting loud and high,
They here had Lincoln’s army,
The Union now must die.

They kept us here and starved us,
For thirty days or more,
They fed us all on mule meat
That well might walk on four.

The prison rules were rigid,
And each we must obey.
None could look from windows,
Nor near the windows stay.

They shot two noble fellows
Who fought on Shiloh’s field,
And many more were threatened,
And they through fear did yield.

The vermin gathered round us,
In filth and dirt we lay,
And many fell the victims
Of grief and sore dismay.

Now soldiers in the army,
One work of kind advice,
Beware of Southern prisons -
Beware of Southern lice.

Don’t let the rebels take you,
To the river don’t you run,
But fight like gallant soldiers
Till victory you have won.

[1] Ambrose, A Wisconsin Boy in Dixie. p 17.
[2] Andreas, Alfred T. “The Ifs and Buts’ of Shiloh.” Military Essays and Recollections: Papers read before the Commandary of the State of Illinois, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. Volume 1. Chicago: AC McClurg & Co., 1891. p 116.
[3] Abernethy, Private Elisha Stockwell, Jr. Sees the Civil War, p 18.
[4] Frank & Reaves, Seeing the Elephant, p 113.
[5] Abernethy, Private Elisha Stockwell, Jr. Sees the Civil War, p 22.
[6] James M. Randall Diary. Accessed May 10, 2002.
[7] 1888 Grand Army pp 360-1.
[8] 1888 Grand Army pp 554-5. At Vicksburg he was wounded in the left hip. Interestingly the ball remained in his body for six years despite three operations to remove it. In 1870, while boating on Lake Michigan he was hit by the fore-boom directly on the wound. This hit dislodged the bullet and his health improved from then on.
[9] 1890 Grand Army p 665-6.
[10] 1888 Grand Army pp 419-20.
[11] 1890 Grand Army p 545.
[12] 1888 Grand Army pp 225-7.
[13] 1888 Grand Army pp 548-9.
[14] 1888 Grand Army p 442.
[15] 1888 Grand Army p 622.
[16] 1888 Grand Army pp 248-9.
[17] 1888 Grand Army p 479.
* A paroled prisoner was not in the custody of his enemy. He was usually put into a camp specifically for paroled prisoners while they waited to be formally exchanged. If they were captured in battle before they had been formally exchanged they were very likely to be executed.
[18] 1888 Grand Army pp 618-9.
[19] 1888 Grand Army pp 411-2.
[20] 1888 Grand Army pp 746-7.
[21] Nanzig, Badax Tigers, p 68.
[22] March 28, 2002


Nikki Bosley said...

Nice website!

I am a living historian and came across your site doing some research. My great-great grandfather John Minerd, fought at Shiloh in the 5th Ohio Artillery. I am just learning about Shiloh, but I was curious if John would have been near the 16th Wisconsin. I have learned that the 5th Ohio Artillery fought at the 'Hornet's Nest'. You would never guess why I'm researching the 16th!

Anyway I enjoyed your post about the Wisconsin soldier.

Anonymous said...

I just ran across this blog doing genealogy research and as a student of history myself (University of North Texas BA in Social Science with a minor in History)and a direct decedent of Elisha Stockwell Jr.(my great uncle on my maternal grandfathers side (Lester Wayne Stockwell Henderson) I was interested in any information outside of his book you might have run across in your studies about him or his unit.