A visit to the battle-field upon which was fought the greatest battle ever seen upon this continent, is no small item about which to write or speak. It will be an important era in the life of every man who fought upon it and who saw it.
Messrs. Twombly, Fred. Ballard and ourself started the morning (Thursday) after receiving the news of the battle for Pittsburgh Landing, with the view of assisting what we could in relieving the suffering of our wounded and sick. On account of the numerous hindrances with which we met, we did not reach our destination until late on Monday evening following.
When we arrived all that could be done had been done for the relief of the wounded and sick. We therefore had little else to do than to go over the battle-field, visit our friends and return home. Descriptions of the field have frequently been given. We will therefore not take up much space in giving anything in regard to it. It was such a sight as we never wish to see again, and we do not wish to dwell long enough upon it to describe it.
We visited the Mound City Hospital, where there are about 1,000 wounded. Here we met many acquaintances. None of them, however, were very seriously wounded. This hospital is conducted in the most admirable manner. The wounded are cared for in the best manner possible. The could not be in better condition, or more kindly provided for were they at home with their friends. The Sisters of Mercy are there in large numbers waiting upon the wounded. They are as angels of Mercy to the wounded soldiers.
THE 53D OHIO REGIMENT.
Much excitement has prevailed in our county on account of reports of cowardice on the part of the 53d regiment in which there is a company of Athens county boys. The Lieut. Colonel and Quartermaster also being from this county. Upon hearing these reports, we took special pains to ascertain the truth, and if possible, to gain such information concerning the Regiment as would enable us to vindicate them at home.
The 53rd is a brave regiment of men as ever marched to the tune of “Yankee Doodle.” The stories about its cowardly conduct are all false without exception, which declaration we will proceed to prove.
The 53d Regiment forms a portion of Col. Hildebrand’s Brigade, attached to Gen. W. T. Sherman’s Division. It occupied the extreme left of Col. Hildebrand’s Brigade, lying directly on the Corinth road, and commanding it.
The following diagram will enable our readers to judge of its position, and the explanations we give below will enable them to judge of the amount of cowardice of which they were guilty:
It is one-half mile from the 53d to Gen. Prentiss’ Division; one-fourth mile from it to General Hildebrand’s headquarters, which is the nearest point to forces upon that side, and one-half mile in the rear of the 53d to any forces. The rebel army lay in force within one mile of the Fifty-Third all Saturday night. They were thrown on in the advance and were the first regiment of Gen. Sherman’s Division attacked.
Early in the morning on Sunday a messenger was sent to Gen. Sherman’s headquarters from the 53d informing him that the rebels were advancing in force upon them. Gen. Sherman made some fun of the messenger, and thought they must be frightened down there. Shortly afterwards he, accompanied by his Staff, rode out to the camp of the 53d, and remarked, upon seeing the woods in front of him full of rebels, that we would probably have a sharp skirmish. In a few moments the rebels, who had advanced within long range, fired a volley upon the General and his staff, killing one of his Orderlies close by his side. Turning round, he exclaimed, “We are attacked,” and immediately rode back towards his headquarters. The 53d in the meantime has been drawn up in line of battle by Col. Appler. They first formed in front of their camp, but as the rebels advanced upon them in overwhelming numbers they, fell back to the rear of it where they lay under cover of the rise of ground upon which their camp was stationed. As soon as the rebels advanced within near range, they rose and fired. They immediately fell and reloaded and then gave the rebels another volley, when Col. Appler gave the order “Retreat!” He then ran for the river and was not seen by his men during that day or Monday.
Lieut. Col. Fulton followed the regiment in its retreat and rallied the men in the rear of the 18th Illinois, and they fought under his command the remainder of that day and Monday.
Col. Hildebrand made a report of his brigade to Gen. Sherman, a copy of which we have in our possession, and which Gen. Sherman will never publish. We therefore, for the purpose of vindicating the noble boys whom he has endeavored to defame, take the liberty of publishing extracts from it. Col. Hildebrand makes the following mention of the action taken by the 53d on Sunday morning:
“The 53d Regiment, after forming in line of battle under my orders, fired two rounds and immediately fell back into the woods. It appears from the report of Col. Appler, that apprehending a flank movement on his left, ordered a retreat, but subsequently rallied in the rear of the 18th Illinois. This regiment became separated from my command, and its movements throughout the day were general.”
It will be seen from this that the 53d did not “run without firing a gun” as has been reported of them. According to a speech which Gen. Sherman made to the 53d on the day after the battle, ten regiments of rebel infantry attacked the position held by the 53d. At the time of the attack the regiment consisted of about 450 effective men – two companies being out at the time of the attack upon picket duty.
Col. Hildebrand, in another part of his report speaks of the 53d and its officers as follows:
“The 53d Regiment I have referred to already. The regiment, under command of Col. J. J. Appler, fell back after two rounds under the order of Col. Appler. Soon afterwards, as I am informed, he left the field, and was not with the Regiment during the day or Monday.
Lieut. Col. Fulton, in command of the Regiment, the Adjutant and company officers generally behaved with becoming bravery.”
In a “Note” to the Report we find the following:
“NOTE. About 6 P.M. Monday, the 77th and 53d Regiments took a position near the heavy guns on the hill, from which the enemy finally fell back. The 53d did good service before this in the afternoon, by operating with other regiments. J. HILDEBRAND.”
Thus is the 53d Ohio Regiment vindicated from the slanderous charges of cowardice made against it by correspondents of mammoth daily papers, who were never over the ground, and who telegraphed and mailed as facts what were merely rumors.
The fact is, Gen. Sherman’s Division, in connection with the whole of Gen. Grant’s army, was surprised, and somebody, aside from the poor privates sought to be disgraced, is to blame for this criminal neglect. On the night previous to the attack, the rebels lay in force within one mile of our lines, and we had not a picket farther out than one-half mile! It is difficult to conceive how an army of 60,000 men could lie within a mile of the lines of a well conditioned camp of forty or fifty thousand men during one whole night, without being discovered. Such a thing probably never occurred before in the history of the world, and we trust no other army may never be so disgraced as was Gen. Grant’s.
But we have it from high authority that neither Gen. Grant nor Gen. Sherman were surprised, that they were aware of the presence of the enemy on Saturday previous to the attack. Below we give an extract from a letter written by an officer in Gen. Sherman’s Division, which will throw some light upon this point. The letter was handed us by a friend on board the “Superior” while on our way home.
The letter is dated
April 16, 1862.
T. F. WILDES, ESQ – Dear Sir: In a conversation to-day with Gen. Hildebrand, he said, in response to a remark of mine, that great responsibility rested upon somebody for permitting us to be surprised in our encampment and set upon by a whole division of the enemy without any intimation of their coming whatever; also, that Gen. SHERMAN did know on Saturday of the presence of the enemy, and so did he (Gen. HILDEBRAND) and that he wanted to take his brigade out on Saturday and fight and that Gen. Sherman forbid him doing anything to bring on the action either Saturday or Sunday!”
This conversation was in the presence of several gentlemen – both military and civil. Among the latter was Mr. Bailey, of the Sanitary Commission, Cincinnati. The writer of the letter is a perfectly reliable gentleman in high standing in the Division. But this conversation can be proven by several gentlemen aside from him.
Now, the question arises, what does this mean? Did these men know what is alleged they did know? If they did their conduct admits of no explanation. We hope this matter will undergo investigation. In fact, we think it cannot be allowed to pass without it.
On the other hand, Gen. Sherman Stated in a speech he made to the 53d that he was entirely surprised, that the presence of the enemy was entirely unknown to him. Gen. Grant, in his report, makes no attempt to explain the cause of their surprise. The friends of the soldiers in that army will await the unraveling of this mysterious affair with great anxiety.
THE 77TH REGIMENT.
This Regiment is said to have been mustered out of service on account of its disgraceful conduct on Tuesday after the great victory of Monday was gained. We heard nothing of this while with the regiment, and believe it to be untrue. We were at its camp and conversed with its officers about the fight and about the action on Tuesday, and heard nothing of any such thing as the mustering out of the regiment, and we believe we left there after the dispatches announcing its disgrace had been sent. In fact the regiment was there in camp with its arms, looking bright and cheerful, and Major FEARING thought they, in connection with the whole army were better prepared for a battle then than they were before the last one came off. The following extract from Col. HILDEBRAND’s report will give our readers an idea of the part taken by the 77th on Tuesday:
“On the 8th inst., in compliance with your order, I marched my Brigade, accompanied by a large cavalry force, also by Col. Buckland’s Brigade, on the Corinth road, about four miles from camp. Halting in an open field, skirmishers were thrown forward who discovered rebel cavalry in considerable force, exhibiting a disposition to fight. The skirmishers immediately fired upon them, when the Seventy-Seventh regiment, under command of Lt. Col. DeHass, was ordered up to support them. Soon after forming in line a large body of cavalry made a bold and dashing charge on the skirmishes and the whole regiment. So sudden and rapid was the charge, shooting our men with carbines and revolvers, that they had not time to re-load, and fell back hoping our cavalry would cover the retreat. Unhappily, our cavalry were not sufficiently near to render essential assistance. The rebel cavalry literally rode down the infantry, shooting, sabering, and trampling them under foot. We sustained a loss in killed, wounded and missing of fifty-seven. Nineteen were killed on the spot, thirty wounded, and the balance missing; of the latter two Captains and one second Lieut., Capt. A. W. McCormick, Capt. A. Chandler, and Lieut. Criswell.”
The regiment fought well during Sunday and Monday, from all the information we can gain from those acquainted with its movements. It is a new regiment, one very recently formed, and of very little experience, and it seems to us should never have been sent ahead on such an expedition as that of Tuesday. None but a well drilled regiment would be equal to an impetuous charge of cavalry like that described in the report of Col. Hildebrand. Besides this, neither infantry nor cavalry were in supporting distance of the regiment when it was dashed upon by the rebel cavalry, which looks like extremely bad generalship, even to civilians. We will be able to give a more thorough vindication of the 77th regiment next week.
THE 71ST REGIMENT.
This regiment is said to have been sent to Fort Donelson in disgrace for bad conduct on the battle-field. We presume its conduct was bad, but there are palliating circumstances which should be stated in connection with its bad conduct that we have not yet seen in print.
When we were returning from Pittsburgh Landing we passed the 71st at Paducah, on its way to Fort Donelson. Our boat stopped there some time and we had an opportunity of seeing the men of the regiment with some of whom we were acquainted. From what we could learn from the men and all other sources on the ground at Pittsburgh, Col. Mason of that Regiment displayed the white feather at the very first fire of the enemy, and left the field. He was not again seen by his Regiment during the battle. Lieut. Col. Kyle was a brave, good man, and when the Colonel ingloriously fled, he took command of the Regiment, and in his efforts to rally the men and keep them at the work, he was killed. His death left the Regiment without a commander, and it fell into confusion as a matter of course almost. Lieut. Col. Kyle is perhaps a victim of Col. Mason’s cowardice, as he was compelled to improperly expose himself in order to keep the men at their places after he left therm. A regiment of men should not suffer disgrace because of the cowardice of their commanding officer, and we think the object in sending the regiment to Fort Donelson is not to disgrace it, but for the reason that as Lieut. Col. Kyle is killed, and Col. Mason has shown himself a coward, no one, fit to command the regiment in battle, remains connected with it. The matter will doubtless undergo investigation, and the party to blame for the conduct of the 71st receive his just punishment.
– Published in The Athens Messenger, Athens, Ohio, Thursday Morning, April 24, 1862, p 2