Friday, April 17, 2009

The Battle At Pittsburg

Wash it a Defeat or A Victory?

{From the correspondence of the Cincinnati Gazette.}


The rebels abandoned large quantities of property. A mile or two from Shiloh (the church on the edge of our lines, where Beauregard had his headquarters), long trains of wagons – mostly loaded with provisions – got fast in the mud. They abandoned them, but took care to go along before leaving and break off all the tongues. – They seemed to imagine that that would serve, like spiking a gun, to disable it effectually. The amount of provisions abandoned was immense.

The rebels had evidently come to stay. Flour was scattered over acres on acres on either side of the road, till in places it looked as if it had snowed flour, and that the storm was heavier than had ever seen before by the oldest inhabitant.

There ware some signs, too, or rapid retreat Monday evening. In once place sabres, muskets and accoutrements could be picked up in any quantity. Elsewhere, through the woods and along the road, were abandoned blankets, clothes and arms of every description.

At one point, in the fields a mile or two beyond our lines, they seemed to have carried out most of their dead, where were killed in the battle on Sunday for burial. Acres were thickly dotted with the bodies.


There are no present indications that we are to follow up our victory with the vigor many will doubtless expect. The army has passed through a very severe battle, in which some of its brigades and regiments, and nearly all its divisions, were more or less disorganized. Weeks will be required to put the army in as good shape as it was before the battle. The roads, too, just now, are impassable. And it is understood that Gen. Grant is not permitted by his orders, to pursue, or to move from his present positions. It is said that he couldn’t have moved out to attack Johnston if the latter had even come and leisurely pitched his tents within three miles of our lines.

We are expecting Gen. Halleck by Friday night or Saturday morning, to take the command in person. He may go into things with a dash, but I should doubt it yet. He is taking command of a somewhat disorganized army. He will hardly risk his first movement with it till it is again in good condition to meet the enemy. – It will take some time, too, for him to familiarize himself with the minute details of his position, to learn his officers, and, in general, get his bearings. At any rate there is no possibility now of our moving till he comes.


Gen. Nelson’s Division, forming the advance, arrived at Savannah Saturday night and Sunday morning. Crittenden’s followed soon after. – McCook marched all day Sunday to get up in time for the fight on Monday. Woods’ got in just as the battle was closing. Gen. Garfield now has a brigade in it. Thomas’ Division brought up the rear, and got in on Tuesday.

Thus all the divisions of Buell’s army are here, excepting Mitchell’s. You doubtless know better where it is than we do.


It was a matter of universal regret that this brilliant officer was not able to participate in the battle. For several weeks he has been confined to his room, and sometimes to his bed, by a sever attack of gout and a combination of other diseases. His distinguished coolness on the battle-field, his more than a third of a century’s active experience, would have gone largely to preventing the disasters of Sunday.


It is barely possible there may be some complaint about the gunboats killing our own men in the cannonade on Sunday night. It is true, I believe, that they did. An officer of one of them informs me that he estimates the number thus killed at twenty; but it was better to loose twenty than to loose the cannonade. Firing in the dark, and in the general confusion of our lines, and the advance and change of positions during the night, it is only wonderful that they did not do more of this unavoidable damage than they did.


There is no town of Pittsburg where the battle was fought. There is simply a tolerably good place for boats to land, at which must of the freight for the lower Tennessee, coming from Memphis and Corinth by rail, seems to have been shipped. The place is known to the people of the country simply as Pittsburgh Landing, and Pittsburg Landing should be the name of the battle. As the greatest ever fought on this continent, with ten times as many troops engaged as at New Orleans, thirteen times as many as at Buena Vista and nearly twenty thousand more than the Allies had at Alma, it deserves at least its proper name.


Was it a defeat? Certainly not. If a man attempts to knock me down, and the matter ends in my knocking him down, I’m not defeated. – At the same time, I must know how much I’ve hurt him, and how badly I’m hurt myself, before I can determine whether I’d better glorify over it much or not.

Johnston and Beauregard attempted to drive us into the river, and the matter ended in our driving them off the field. Certainly it was not a defeat. But was it a decisive victory? We are yet without facts sufficient to form a satisfactory opinion. If they were defeated so badly on Monday as to turn their retreat into a rout; or if the killing of Johnston, the repulse of the great army on which their last spasmodic efforts have been concentrated, and the defeat of the pet Beauregard whom they looked upon as invincible, should produce discouragement and demoralization enough in their ranks to prevent their making a firm stand at Corinth; then the victory was – or might be made – the most decisive of the war. But if (as insisted by those who ought to know best, and as seemed to me, judging from all I could see and learn, to be the case) their retreat was conducted in good order and without confusion, and if they are able to perfect their defenses at Corinth, and prepare for rigorous resistance before we attack them, the greatest battle of the war, instead of deciding anything will become mainly a success in regaining camps from which we had been driven by a surprise.

As to the fighting, the case is greatly in our favor. The rebels selected their time and place of attack, pounced upon a far inferior force, and performed a feat that military writers declare is impossible in a well disciplined army – effected a complete surprise. A stronger combination of Circumstances against us could hardly be imagined. Yet we finally repulsed them.


Nor do the books post so badly. We all believe here that their loss in killed and wounded is considerable larger than ours. Certainly it is no less. They took a good many guns from us, but we got them all back again on Monday, and a few of theirs beside, including at least one fine steel rifled piece.

The balance of prisoners is against us. They took at one swoop the chief portions of three regiments. At various other times they picked isolated fragments of companies and squads. – Altogether they must have from three to four or five thousand of our men. And to head the list, they have one of our Division Generals. – We, on the other hand, took comparatively few. – nessee [sic]; and the opening to the advance of 150,000 Union soldiers, flushed with victory, the States of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas.

All this has been accomplished by men who until they were brought together before Fort Donelson, had never faced the peril of a soldier’s life; men “so hastily drawn together from the ‘four quarters’ of the Northwest that hardly any two regiments had ever met under the same brigade organization.” These raw levies have been hurled against the most formidable fortifications; have made long and difficult marches; have beaten and dispersed great armies; have wrenched from the grasp of Treason and Rebellion a vast empire – and all in the space of ten weeks. These events show what our brave soldiers are capable of when they have Generals to lead them.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the attack upon Fort Sumter, and to-day the loyalty of the country, and its confidence in the wisdom of its Chief Magistrate, are as enthusiastic and unfaltering as in that first moment of its awakening to the defense of the integrity of the Union. – {Tribune.

– Published in the Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, Burlington, Iowa, Saturday, April 19, 1862

No comments: