Saturday, October 27, 2012

Official Reports of the Battle of Shiloh: No. 21. Col. William T. Shaw, 14th Iowa Infantry

No. 21.

Report of Col. William T. Shaw, Fourteenth Iowa Infantry.

ANAMOSA, IOWA, October 26, 1862.

SIR: As by the terms of my parole I am precluded from making as yet any official report of the part borne by my regiment, the Fourteenth Iowa, in the battle of Shiloh, on the 6th of April last, and as I feel it due alike to the regiment and to myself, after so long an imprisonment, that their conduct shall be fully reported, I take the liberty of laying before you, unofficially, the following statement:

You will remember that the regiment then formed a part of the brigade of Gen. W. H. L. Wallace, included in the division of Gen. Charles F. Smith. On that day, however, in consequence of General Smith’s illness, General Wallace commanded the division, and Colonel Tuttle, of the Second Iowa, our brigade, which consisted of the Second, Seventh, Twelfth, and Fourteenth Iowa Regiments. Our division occupied the center of the line, having that of General Prentiss on its left, with General Hurlbut beyond him, while the divisions of Generals Sherman and McClernand were on its right. Our brigade occupied the left of the division, and was arranged in the order given above, from the right, so that the Fourteenth occupied the extreme left of the division, next to General Prentiss’ command.

Our line of battle was formed about half past 8 o’clock a.m., about 500 yards from the enemy's artillery, which at once opened a severe fire upon us. The ground was rolling and wooded, but free from underbrush, interspersed here and there with cleared fields and cut up by several roads.
In a short time the enemy's infantry made their appearance, advancing in line of battle. I at once perceived that the line of our brigade was not parallel with theirs, but inclined to it at an angle of about 45 degrees, the left in advance, thus exposing my left flank to the enemy some distance in advance of General Prentiss’ line, upon which it should have rested, and about 200 yards from his extreme right. After consulting with Colonel Woods, of the Twelfth, who was next to me on the right, I threw back my regiment and the left wing of the Twelfth, so as to bring our part of the line parallel to the advancing enemy and in line with General Prentiss’ division, but still failing to connect with it by an interval of about 200 yards. This also improved our position, which had previously been directly upon a ridge, exposed to the enemy's artillery, and gave us that ridge as a partial shelter. The enemy advanced steadily in two lines, about 200 yards apart. I ordered my men to lie down and hold their fire until they were within thirty paces. The effect of this was, that when the order to fire was given, and the Twelfth and Fourteenth opened directly in their faces, the enemy's first line was completely destroyed. Our fire was only returned by a few, nearly all who were not killed or wounded by it fleeing in every direction. I then immediately advanced my regiment, in which I was gallantly joined by the left wing of the Twelfth. Passing almost without opposition over the ground which had been occupied by the first lines, we attacked and drove back their second for some distance, until I was forced to recall my men for fear of my left flank being turned, no part of General Prentiss’ division having advanced with us. In this movement we took a number of prisoners, including 1 captain, whom I sent to the rear. Returning, the Fourteenth took up its old position in the line of battle, and Colonel Geddes, of the Eighth Iowa, now formed his regiment on our left, in line with us and General Prentiss’ division, filling up the gap which had previously existed there. That division, however, with the one beyond it, materially changed its position in the course of the forenoon, its left falling back repeatedly, until the line of these two divisions had swung around almost at right angles to us. I now perceived a large force of the enemy approaching from the left and front, and immediately reported the fact to Colonel Tuttle, who, at my request, sent me a couple of brass 6-pounders, which were near by. These I got into position just  in time to receive the enemy. They advanced with the most desperate bravery, the brunt of their attack falling upon the Eighth Iowa, by whom it was most gallantly borne. I have good authority for saying that the firm resistance of the center at that time was the chief means of saving our whole army from destruction. The fighting continued with great severity for about an hour, during which we repelled what General Beauregard in his official report counts as three of the five distinct charges made by the rebels that day upon our center, and at the end of that time the enemy facing us fell back fully repulsed. Colonel Geddes now withdrew a short distance to take care of his wound, and at his request, as his position was more important and exposed than my own, I moved to the left and occupied it, thus leaving an interval on my right between us and the Twelfth. When Colonel Geddes reformed it was on the right of General Prentiss, with whom Colonel Geddes fought during the rest of the day.

General Prentiss’ line had now swung around so far as to be almost parallel with ours, and back to back with us, about 150 yards in our rear, at our end of the two lines. In this position he was again engaged by a large body of the enemy, who had advanced from the left, having driven in General Hurlbut’s division. At about a quarter to 5 p.m. I received an order from Colonel Tuttle to about-face and proceed to engage the same body of the enemy. In order not to interfere with General Prentiss’ lines I marched by an oblique, passing close to the Eighteenth Wisconsin in his line, and here for the third time that day the Fourteenth engaged with the enemy. After less than half an hour we repulsed them and made a short advance, which revealed to me the facts of our position. The enemy’s center had advanced over the ground defended by us before our change of front and were now attacking us in the rear. Both wings of their forces had advanced so far as to form a junction between us and Pittsburg Landing, their right, which we were now facing, meeting at an angle with their left, which had driven in McClernand's and Sherman's divisions on our right, and into this angle we were about being pressed by this new attack on our rear. General Prentiss having already surrendered with a part of his command, the Fourteenth was left in advance of all that remained, but completely inclosed, receiving the enemy's fire from three directions. The regiment still kept its ranks unbroken and held its position facing the enemy, but the men were almost completely exhausted with a whole day of brave and steady fighting and many of them had spent their whole stock of ammunition. It was therefore useless to think of prolonging a resistance which could only have wasted their lives to no purpose, and at about a quarter to six p.m. I surrendered them and myself prisoners of war. I have only to add that I feel under the deepest obligations to both officers and men of my regiment for their admirable conduct through the day. This was so complete and free from exception, that it would be impossible to mention individuals without doing injustice to the rest. Their steadiness and courage, the accuracy of their fire, and precision of all their movements entitle them to the highest credit, and their general demeanor, both upon the battle-field and in the trying scenes through which we passed as prisoners of war, will always be remembered by me with pride and gratification.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

 Colonel Fourteenth Iowa Volunteers.

Governor of Iowa.

SOURCE: The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Volume X (Serial No. 10), Part I, pages 152-4

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