Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Coming full circle with Maj. Clayton

I'll be traveling Saturday to Fort McAllister Historic Park near Savannah, Ga., for a celebration of the recent return of a Confederate flag captured by Union troops there in December 1864. The Picket has written three articles about the subject.

A descendant of Maj. William Z. Clayton will speak at the ceremony.

Clayton, who served during the Civil War with the 1st Minnesota Light Artillery, left instructions for the return of the Emmett Rifles flag to either Atlanta or Savannah.

During my recent visit to Shiloh National Military Park in Tennessee for the 150th anniversary of the battle, I made a point of visiting spots where the battery saw its first significant action during the Civil War.

The unit was led there by Prussian-born Capt. Emil Munch, who, like Clayton, was wounded in the fighting.

Early on the morning of April 6, 1862, the unit was forward of the Peach Orchard, in Spain's Field (top photo).

After fierce fighting and a Confederate push, the 1st Minnesota saw heroic action at the Hornet's Nest, in the Union center. Its marker there reads:

ENGAGED FROM EARLY IN THE MORNING, WHEN CAPT. MUNCH WAS WOUNDED AND DISABLED, IN THE FIRST DAY’S BATTLE OF SHILOH, APRIL 6, 1862. THE RIGHT AND LEFT SECTIONS UNDER COMMAND OF 1ST LIEUT. WILLIAM PFAENDER PARTICIPATED IN THE STRUGGLE OF THE “HORNET’S NEST” WHERE THIS MONUMENT STANDS. THE TWO GUNS OF THE CENTER SECTION WERE DISABLED EARLY IN THE DAY, BUT ONE OF THEM TOOK PART IN THE EVENING IN REPELLING THE LAST CHARGE OF THE CONFEDERATES. CAPT. E. MUNCH AND 1ST LIEUT. F. E. PEEBLES WOUNDED; THREE MEN KILLED AND SIX MEN WOUNDED

I believe that Clayton was wounded while Union artillery units attempted to repulse heavy Confederate assaults at the Hornet's Nest. He was a sergeant at Shiloh and was promoted soon after to second lieutenant.

Clayton first suffered a flesh wound in one of his lower legs late in the afternoon. Then came the more serious injury.

“I saw one of my best boys fall and in came a shot and killed my horse and I jumped from him and just as I raised to my feet I received my wound,” he wrote in a letter. The round “paralised” his left leg and he sat against a tree, revolver drawn because he expected to be bayoneted. Clayton witnessed others being shot.

“I looked towards the guns and as I peaked out from the tree a ball struck the tree right in the rainge (sic) of my face but it struck the tree just far enough to glance the ball and carry it by my face knocking the bark into my face. My gunner was with me and jerked me back.”

The Minnesotans, unlike thousands of others in blue, avoided capture at Shiloh. A general wrote that Clayton should be promoted for his service that day.

By nightfall, the exhausted men were back near Pittsburg Landing (above), where they were dug in for the remainder of the battle. With Munch's injury, Clayton commanded the unit for the balance of the war.

By the time he helped capture Fort McAllister, Clayton had seen more than two years of combat since Shiloh, including the Vicksburg, Corinth and Atlanta campaigns.

He would survive the war and life a long life, dying in 1929 at age 94. Clayton carried the Confederate ball in his leg to the grave at Mount Hope Cemetery in Bangor, Maine.

Photo of Clayton grave courtesy of Stephen G. Burrill.

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