Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Iowa regiment witnessed carnage, showed bravery at the Battle of Shiloh

As I write this, park rangers at Shiloh National Military Park are escorting visitors across and around the fields, ponds and lanes of the battlefield, relating the story of the two-day Civil War clash that produced 23,746 casualties.

Today is significant, for April 6 and 7 mark the 149th anniversary of the Tennessee battle that sobered Americans to the reality of the cost and anticipated length of the Civil War. It lasted three more brutal years.

Spring was in full bloom in April 1862. Young soldiers were off on a big adventure, or so they thought.

At the end of the fighting at Shiloh, the Confederacy lost Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston and the battle to Union forces under Gens. Ulysses Grant and William Sherman, who came close to a disastrous loss the first day.

I last was at the battlefield more than 10 years ago, when my brother and I walked 7 or 8 miles, from Indian mounds, to the Peach Orchard, the Hornet’s Nest, Bloody Pond, Shiloh Church and back to the picturesque cemetery overlooking the Tennessee River.

The divisions of Gens. Benjamin Prentiss and W.H.L. Wallace held the center of the Federal line, withstanding a 50-piece artillery onslaught and at least seven or eight attacks before having to surrender late on the afternoon of April 6.

As Confederate forces chipped away at Grant’s flanks, especially on the west, thousands of Union troops repelled attacks at Duncan Field, next to the Hornet’s Nest.

The 7th Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment was among several from the Hawkeye State deployed along the Sunken Road, slowing the Confederate advance and enabling Union forces to organize reinforcements for a successful counterattack the following day.

“[The 7th] held its position, repelling a number of attacks, until late in the afternoon, when the brigade was ordered to fall back,” the National Park Service battle summary says. “In the retreat the regiment was subjected to a severe fire from both sides. It reformed in a new line of battle along a road leading to the [Pittsburg] Landing, and held that position during the night.”

“It was withdrawn from a threatened position in time to escape,” says Shiloh park ranger Charlie Spearman, who said the Hornet’s Nest was quickly being cut off by Confederates.

Some 383 were present for duty, including officers, musicians and teamsters, The 7th’s loss: 1 officer and 9 men killed; 17 men wounded; and 7 men missing.

Not so fortunate was the nearby 12th Iowa, which was ordered to hold. Of its 489 men, only 10 were not killed, wounded or captured – a staggering casualty count. Many died in prison, the Park Service says.

Historians and scholars in recent years have debated how critical the Hornet's Nest was to the battle's outcome.

The service of the 7th Iowa is being remembered by a mural and upcoming Civil War exhibit at the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum at Camp Dodge, north of Des Moines.

Local artist John W. Neal spent 400 hours producing the 23-foot by 10-foot mural (click image to enlarge) showing the 7th in action on the Sunken Road.

The museum will be placing five or six uniformed figures in front of the mural to complete the image of the stand, said museum historian Michael Musel.

The museum is at the headquarters of the Iowa National Guard and recalls the military service of Iowans since the Mexican-American War. More than 76,000 Iowans fought for the Federal armies during the Civil War.

“We sent our share of troops,” Musel told the Picket.

The National Park Service is holding battle anniversary hikes at Shiloh through Friday, with a living history to follow Saturday and Sunday. The weekend events are expected to be held, even if the federal government shuts down because of a budget impasse.

The 7th Iowa was commanded by Lt. Col. James C. Parrott. His boss was Col. James M. Tuttle (right), who commanded the 1st Brigade under Wallace.

Two of Tuttle's four regiments were compelled to surrender on April 6.

"The officers and men under my command behaved nobly and gallantly during the whole time,” Tuttle wrote.

The 7th went on to fight at Corinth, Resaca, Kennesaw Mountain and Bentonville, and took part in Sherman’s March to the Sea.

Iowa Gold Star Museum | • Shiloh National Military Park
Previous Picket post on the Hornet's Nest

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