|Beautiful Belmont, Part 41 -- The Battle of Shiloh, 6-7 April 1862.|
by John Salisbury Cochran.
See previous entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 40 -- The Hardships of Soldiering.
Our regiment remained at Nashville, Tennessee, a while and then moved south to Columbia, and then to Shiloh. Commanded by General Buell, our division had been ordered to join up there with the army of General Ulysses Grant. We had been on the move all night and when we crossed the river at daylight on Sunday morning, we found Grant's army, which had been fighting all the day before, in a bad condition. His left had been driven back close upon the Pittsburg Landing. Federal wounded, dying and dead, confronted us in great numbers, and the confusion and suffering were indescribable.
In order to place our division upon the line of battle it was forced to pass through this suffering mass of humanity and witness the appalling results of war close up. Many poor boys who had been lying there since noon of the day before, with horrible gaping wounds, and who had passed the night without any shelter but the stars, looked imploringly into the faces of Buell's army as it passed, some crying for water, others for food and medical assistance. The scene was heartrending and instilled a sense of terror in us, all knowing that at least another day of fighting was probable, and that we would possibly be in the same condition before night fall the next day.
As our regiment passed along it was startled by the cry of one of these wounded soldiers exclaiming, "There goes a lot of my old Martins Ferry boys. God bless them." The wounded companion who seemed to be taking care of him was holding him up in a sitting position. He called the boys over to him, and they instantly recognized our old farm hand of the Van Pelt farm, John Campbell. He was wounded in both thighs and knew that death was only a matter of a few hours. Meeting with his old acquaintances seemed to give a degree of satisfaction to his dying hours. "Go in, boys," he said, "we fought them all day yesterday. They've driven us back. There were too many of them for us. But go in, you'll whip them. If we had had you here yesterday we would have licked the life out of them. But I am done for, so goodbye."
Our regiment passed on, stopping for a short time not far from where Campbell lay. He was subsequently sent to the hospital where I went to see him. When I approached him he looked up with a dying smile on his face, and said, "Ha, my boy, I know you," and with an effort reached out his hand. I was startled at how pale he looked and knew instantly that he had but a few minutes to live. His hand was cold and clammy, and his former animation was gone. He grasped my hand tightly, considering the little strength left in him, and the poor fellow clung to it as long as life remained. He had lost a great deal of blood, and it was this that seemed to have sapped away his life. A cold glassiness was gathering in his eyes, slowly, sadly. "I have not seen you since I helped those slaves escape on Buckeye Run," he said. "I had to leave old Belmont County and go elsewhere to get out of that. I suppose it raised quite a sensation there. But tell me, did they escape entirely, and did they never get them?"
I told Campbell all that had happened since he had fled -- Aunt Tilda living with us, the marriage of Sam and Lucinda, how anxious they were to find out where he had gone and to thank him for what he had done, how Aunt Tilda prayed for him every night and morning, how he was the hero of the neighborhood, and everything else that had taken place. His dying face took on a glow of satisfaction, and even joy. He asked me about Mose, and when I told him we had never heard from him, and how Aunt Tilda grieved over him, he said, "She will doubtless see him before very long. This war is going to free the slaves, and she will get to see her boy again. I think no one can say I have not done my duty by these oppressed people. I want you to give them all my love back there in old Belmont. I have tried to do my duty to my fellow man. I may have failed some in this, but I can't help it now. It is the only religion I have ever practiced."
"Do you believe in a God?" I said, "and a future state of happiness or punishment?" He replied slowly, "I have always believed in a God. I likewise believe in a future state of happiness." I talked with him as long as he was able, and he died with his hand in mine, looking me calmly in the face to the last. Campbell was a hero. He had enlisted from principle, and died for the rights of others. So passed away one of the true heroes of this life, whose good deeds have never been heralded in song or story.
Ordinary soldiers in battle know little of the outcome until it is over. A soldier has that portion of the line in his immediate vicinity indelibly impressed upon his memory, but in most instances his attention has been confined to just those points. Even to an ordinary onlooker not participating in the fight, the actions and movements of a large portion of an extended line of battle are unknown, so far as personal observation extends. Few battlefields are blessed with observation points from which to obtain a panoramic view of the whole field. Even from the lofty peaks of Lookout Mountain, the movements of Sherman on the left and the scenes, fighting, and maneuvering on the opposite side of Missionary Ridge were not observable in the battle of Chattanooga. The line of battle at Shiloh was fully six miles long, extending along Lick Creek from its junction with the Tennessee River, much of it timbered.
Occasional volleys of random firing had been going on at intervals during the night of the first day's battle at Shiloh, and could be heard more distinctly as Buell's men approached. Notwithstanding the reverses of the day before, Grant attacked the enemy early. Little attention had been paid to the dead or dying. In fact, there was no time for it. The ground fought over was mainly in the hands of the enemy. Our forces, as the slaughter went on, had contracted their lines; the left had doubled back upon the river and protection by the gunboats on the Tennessee River, which commanded a sweep up the creek, firing with great success on the ranks of the Confederates. It was shocking to see the heaps of dead bodies along the river bottom. In places one might walk on top of them without touching the ground for long distances.
General Sherman's characterization of war is correct. If it is not hell, it has many of its attributes. Shiloh, otherwise known as the battle of Pittsburg Landing, was the first really great battle in which our regiment participated. It began on 6 April 1862, and ended the next day. Grant had 40,000 troops, and Confederate generals Johnson and Beauregard had 45,000. The federal loss was 13,500 and the Confederate, 14,000.
See next entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 42 -- Some Thoughts on Gettysburg.
For the table of contents and first entry in this series, see: Beautiful Belmont, Part 01 -- Table of Contents and Brief Introduction.
This entry is adapted from Bonnie Belmont: A Historical Romance of the Days of Slavery and the Civil War, by John Salisbury Cochran, which was published originally in 1907. The book has been reedited extensively for inclusion in the Pierian Press Fulltext eBooks database, and is included on the Stratton House Inn Web site by special permission. This special edition of Beautiful Belmont is licensed for use ONLY on this Web site. It may not be copied or downloaded, but may be used for educational purposes and personal pleasure under fair-use provisions via this Web site. Please note that this Stratton House Inn iteration of the book does NOT include the subject headings assigned each chapter for use in the Fulltext eBooks database.
CO-AUTHOR: Wall, C. Edward. (Editor)
DATABASE: Fulltext eBooks: Copyright (c) 2000 The Pierian Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved
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