November 22, 1906
10:50 A. M.
Music: Fifty-fifth Iowa Regimental Band
"Star Spangled Banner"
Major Samuel Mahon, Seventh Iowa Infantry
Comrades, Ladies and Gentlemen:
When Moses of old ascended the holy mount, the voice of Jehovah commanded, “Take thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” To us today on this holy ground is allotted, by the people of Iowa, the sacred duty of dedicating this granite to the men, living and dead, who stood in the breach on the fateful sixth and seventh of April, forty-four years ago.
We are standing in the historic “Hornet's Nest,” which for seven hours was held by an insignificant force against the repeated attacks of the flower of the south. How vividly the survivors of that stubborn resistance recall in their minds, the scenes of that eventful Sunday; — an April sun shining brightly on the camps of Wallace's division back near the Landing, the soldiers, without thought or expectation of battle, engaged in exchanging messages with the loved ones at home in far-off Iowa. Suddenly on the morning air were borne the ominous sounds of the opening battle far to the front; — the hurried orders and formation, the rapid march to the front past disordered and retreating fragments composed of all arms of the service, until this position was reached. It was a contest of endurance, perhaps the hardest test to which a soldier can be subjected, but the men who had received their first baptism on the bloody field of Belmont, and later who had formed in the storming column that ascended the steep slopes of Fort Donelson’s crest, on that wintry day in February, crowning defeat with victory, presented an undaunted front and settled to the grim task allotted to them; for seven hours they tenaciously held their ground against repeated attacks of the gallant foe, in the intervals subjected to the relentless fire of shell and shrapnel from batteries which they could neither attack nor silence, all the while realizing by the ominous sounds of the firing, that both flanks of the position were being enclosed and that they were fighting a losing battle. “Hold the position at all hazards,” were the parting words of General Grant to our division commander, the gallant William H. L. Wallace, who sealed with his life, his obedience to the orders of his chief.
Through the long hours of the afternoon could be seen, across the historic Duncan field, the ceaseless movement of the gray infantry columns hurrying toward the apex of the acute angle which still projected toward the hostile lines. This was the only fixed point in the shifting kaleidoscope of disaster which befell the force of McClernand and Sherman on the right and Prentiss and Hurlbut on the left.
Let, however, one of our gallant foes bear testimony as well, to the valor of these men whose monument we now dedicate. William Preston Johnston, in the life of General Albert Sidney Johnston, relates:
“This portion of the Federal line was occupied by Wallace's division and by the remnants of Prentiss’ division. Here behind a dense thicket on the crest of the hill was posted a strong force of as hardy troops as ever fought; to assail it an open field had to be passed; it was nicknamed by the Confederates, by that very mild metaphor, “The Hornets' Nest.” No figure of speech would be too strong to express the deadly peril of the assault upon this natural fortress, whose inaccessible barriers blazed for six hours with sheets of flame, and whose infernal gates poured forth a murderous storm of shot and shell and musketry fire, which no living thing could quell or even withstand. Brigade after brigade was led against it, but valor was of no avail. Hindman’s brilliant brigades which had swept everything before them from the field, were shivered into fragments and paralyzed for the remainder of the day. Stewart’s regiments made fruitless assaults, but only to retreat mangled from the field. Bragg now ordered up Gibson’s splendid brigade; it made a charge, but like the others, recoiled and fell back. Bragg sent orders to charge again; four times the position was charged, four times the assault proved unavailing; the brigade was repulsed. About half past three the struggle which had been going on for five hours with fitful violence was renewed with the utmost fury; Polk’s and Bragg’s corps intermingled, were engaged in the death grapple with the sturdy commands of Wallace and Prentiss.
‘General Ruggles judiciously collected all the artillery he could find, some eleven batteries, which he massed against the position; the opening of so heavy a fire and the simultaneous advance of the whole Confederate line resulted first in confusion and then in the defeat of Wallace and the surrender of Prentiss at about half past five. Breckinridge, Ruggles, Withers, Cheatham and other divisions which helped to subdue these stubborn fighters, each imagined his own the hardest part of the work.”
But the end had come. Enclosed by converging lines the order came to fall back. Facing about in line, steady as if on parade, the survivors retreated from the position they had held so long to find themselves confronted again by the foe; surrounded, almost bewildered, they forced their way through the enfolding lines, subjected to the fierce fire which they were unable to return, except here and there a man loading as he ran, turned to fire a Parthian shot. Retreating beyond the zone of fire and the impact of the onset, these men from Belmont and Donelson rallied to the colors and behind Hurlbut’s desolated camp faced about in battle line once more. A brief halt in this position waiting for comrades who never came was followed by an orderly march to the last line of defense covering their own camps.
Three of the five Iowa regiments tarried too long on the order of retreat and were captured entire by the victorious foe. Two only, the Second and the Seventh, maintained their organizations and participated in the second day's conflict.
More sacred than our poor words, more enduring than this granite, will the memory of those who fell here live in the hearts of posterity, and the bitterness of strife will fade in the remembrance of the bravery and sacrifice of both the blue and gray alike.
“No more shall the war cry sever,
Nor the winding river run red,
They banish our anger forever,
As they laurel the graves of our dead.
"Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the Judgment Day,
Love and tears for the Blue,
Tears and love for the Gray."
The south will vie with the north in the upbuilding of our common country, in the upholding of the flag, and placing her in the forefront of twentieth century civilization, the arbiters of the peace of the world and a refuge for the oppressed.
Here on the banks of the mighty Tennessee, whose name their army bore, and on whose bosom they were borne to this fateful field, we leave the dead to their long sleep until the Resurrection Morn, with the murmur of its waters for their requiem.
Rev. S. H. Hedrix of AUerton. Iowa
“And now may the grace of our Heavenly Father be with us. May we learn the great lessons of life, and at last receive the crown of everlasting life which the Lord has prepared for them that love Him. Hear us, keep us and save us, in the great Redeemer’s name. Amen.”
SOURCE: Alonzo Abernathy, Editor, Dedication of Monuments Erected By The State Of Iowa, 222-5
- 7th Iowa Infantry Monument: Shiloh National Military Park
- The Iowa Monuments At Shiloh National Military Park