Saturday, March 31, 2018

At Shiloh on April 7, the sound of 10 cannon during event will stir Hornet's Nest to life; cavalry, infantry re-enactors also will be there

Ruggles' Battery replica guns at Shiloh (NPS)

[Updated April 4 to indicate one cannon crew has canceled]

Visitors to Shiloh National Military Park next weekend will experience the largest artillery firing demonstration on Duncan Field, where in 1862 more than 50 Confederate guns pounded Union troops in the epic fight at the Hornet’s Nest.

Supervisory park ranger Joe Davis told the Picket that 10 cannon will be fired at a living history event on Saturday, April 7, during a four-day commemoration of the 156th battle anniversary.

Brig. Gen. Ruggles
At present, the artillery will be divided into one battery of six cannon and the other with four, all simulating the Rebel bombardment by what came to be called Ruggles’ Battery on April 6, 1862, during the first day of fighting. The artillery was a crucial factor in allowing infantry to encircle and capture Union Brig. Gen. Benjamin Prentiss and nearly 2,100 soldiers who formed a desperate defensive line after being pushed back.

The line of 53 Confederate guns (some historians put the number at 62) was the largest concentration of artillery up to that point in the Civil War.

"You want to give the sound of a battle as close as we can,” said park ranger Chris Mekow, indicating visitors to the federal park in Tennessee should get a taste of “the chaos involved in a live battlefield."

Fierce fighting at Shiloh (Library of Congress)
1st Minnesota Light Artillery fired back (Picket photo)

Event includes combined demonstration

The artillery crews will be joined by about 80 infantry and 15 cavalry re-enactors. The group will provide tactical field maneuvers and firing demonstrations throughout the day, Davis said.

Artillery crews from National Park Service Civil War sites at Kennesaw Mountain (Ga.), Stones River (Tenn.), and Chickamauga (Ga.) will be among those taking part.

One might have expected the largest artillery demonstration to have occurred during the 150th anniversary in 2012, but the park did not do such a program because there was a re-enactment on a private site. Mekow said there will be no depiction of casualties. Rather, visitors will get an idea of Rebel tactics and strategy.

Confederate Brig. Gen. Daniel Ruggles assembled the batteries on the western part of Duncan Field to fire on the Union center on the Sunken Road after it became apparent some extra punch was needed to dislodge their foes. The cotton field belonged to the J.R. Duncan family.

Capt. Hickenlooper
Firing back were a few stubborn Federal artillery units, including the 1st Minnesota Light Artillery and Capt. Andrew Hickenlooper’s 5th Ohio Light Artillery.

Eventually, the massive Confederate firepower – which included batteries from Arkansas, Tennessee, New Orleans and Mississippi -- wore down the Federal flanks and infantry took the Hornet’s Nest and many prisoners after about eight separate attacks. (Confederates named the area for what they described as enemy bullets sounding like angry hornets).

In his To the Sound of the Guns blog, Craig Swan said Ruggles’ Battery played a major part in taking the Hornet’s Nest, but not solely because of its firepower.

“I think more than anything what caused the collapse of the Hornet’s Nest was the Confederate flanking and encirclement.  That in consideration, perhaps the most important contribution of Ruggles’ guns was to hold the Federal’s attention,” Swain writes. “So perhaps in retrospect the impact of Ruggles’ batteries was more in word than deed.

(Interestingly, the National Park Service says more recent research tends to show that the Hornet’s Nest, while seeing fierce fighting, may not have been as important as lesser-known areas of the battlefield.)

Iowa monument at the Sunken Road/Hornet's Next

'Lick 'em tomorrow'

By nightfall of April 6, things looked pretty bleak for the boys in blue across the entire battlefield. But the stubborn Federal resistance at the Hornet's Next and elsewhere bought time to organize a counterattack the next day.

Brig. Gen. William T. Sherman visited the camp of commanding Maj. Gen. Ulysses Grant.

Catton wrote: “He came on Grant, at last, at midnight or later, standing under the tree in the heavy rain, hat slouched down over his face, coat-collar up around his ears, a dimly-glowing lantern in his hand, cigar clenched between his teeth. Sherman looked at him; then, "moved," as he put it later, "by some wise and sudden instinct" not to talk about retreat, he said: "Well, Grant, we've had the devil's own day, haven't we?"

Grant said "Yes," and his cigar glowed in the darkness as he gave a quick, hard puff at it, "Yes. Lick 'em tomorrow, though."

Aided by reinforcements, the Union army regrouped on April 7 and turned near-certain defeat into victory, retaking ground lost the day before.

Gun at Duncan Field in 2012 (Picket photo)

Current schedule for the April 7 living history (check the park website here for other events during the anniversary):

10 a.m.: Artillery firing demonstration
11 a.m.: Infantry tactical and firing demonstration
12 p.m.:  Cavalry tactical and firing demonstration
12:30 p.m.: Civil War music
1 p.m.: Artillery firing demonstration
2 p.m.: Program on Dr. Mary Safford (Civil War nurse; that presentation will be at the visitor center)
3 p.m.: Combined arms tactical and firing demonstration. (The infantry, cavalry, and artillery will be in the demonstration field at the same time.)

Each program will last 30 minutes. There will be narration to describe to the public information throughout each of the scheduled programs, said Davis.

“There will be period camps set up for the public to view and they can visit with the living historians to view the life of a soldier in a camp setting and they can interact with the re-enactors with questions they may have.”

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