|[Ed. Note: General Johnston was of New England descent, though both he and his mother were of pioneer stock, and natives of Kentucky. His father was the village physician. He was born February 3d, 1803, in Mason County, Kentucky. He was "a handsome, proud, manly, earnest, and self-reliant boy." His early education was desultory, but was continued at Transylvania and at West Point, where he evinced superior talents for mathematics, and was graduated in 1826. He was a lieutenant of the Sixth Infantry from 1827 to 1834, when he resigned. His only active service during this period was in the Black Hawk War, where he won considerable distinction. In 1829 he married Miss Henrietta Preston, who died in 1835. In 1836 he joined the army of the young republic of Texas, and rapidly rose to the chief command. In 1839 he was secretary of war, and expelled the intruding United States Indians, after two battles on the River Neches. He served one campaign in Mexico under General Taylor, and was recommended by that commander as a brigadier-general for his conduct at Monterey, but was allowed no command by the Administration. In 1843 he married Miss Eliza Griffin, and retired to a plantation in Brazoria County, Texas, where he spent three years in seclusion and straitened circumstances. In 1849 he was appointed a paymaster by President Taylor, and served in Texas until 1855, when he was made Colonel of the Second Cavalry by President Pierce. In I857 he conducted the remarkable expedition to Utah, in which he saved the American army there from a frightfnl disaster by his prudence and executive ability. He remained in command in Utah until the summer of 1860, which he passed with his family in Kentucky. In December of that year, he was assigned to the command of the Pacific Coast.]|
The appearance of General Johnston before the war is described as both commanding and attractive. In some respects the bust of Alexander Hamilton is the best extant likeness of him, a resemblance very frequently remarked. His cheek-bones were rather high, and his nose gave him a Scotch look. His chin was delicate and handsome; his teeth white and regular; and his mouth square and firm. In the portrait by Bush taken about this time, his lips seem rather full, but, as they are best remembered, they were somewhat thin and very firmly set. Light-brown hair clustered over a noble forehead, and from under heavy brows his deep-set but clear, steady eyes looked straight at you with a regard kind and sincere, yet penetrating. In repose his eyes were as blue as the sky, but in excitement they flashed to a steel-gray, and exerted a remarkable power over men. He was six feet and an inch in height, of about one hundred and eighty pounds weight, straight as an arrow, with broad, square shoulders and a massive chest. He was strong and active, and his bearing was essentially military.
During the angry political strife which preceded the contest of arms, General Johnston remained silent, stern, and sorrowful. He determined to stand at his post in San Francisco, performing his full duty as an officer of the United States, until events should require a decision as to his course. When Texas -- his adopted State -- passed the ordinance of secession from the Union, the alternative was presented, and, on the day he heard the news, he resigned his commission in the army He kept the fact concealed, however, lest it might stir up disaffection among the turbulent population of the Pacific coast. He said, "shall do my duty to the last, and when absolved, shall take my course." All honest and competent witnesses now accord that he carried out this purpose in letter and spirit. General Sumner, who relieved him, reported that he found him "carrying out the orders of the Government."
Mr. Lincoln's administration treated General Johnston with a distrust which wounded his pride to the quick, but afterward made such amends as it could, by sending him a major general's commission. He was also assured through confidential sources that he would receive the highest command in the Federal army. (See "The offer of Union Command to Gen. A. S. Johnston," by Fitz John Porter.) But he declined to take part against his own people, and retired to Los Angeles with the intention of farming. There he was subjected to an irritating surveillance; while at the same time there came across rnountain and desert the voice of the Southern people calling to him for help in their extremity. His heart and intellect both recognized their claim upon his services, and he obeyed. At this time he wrote, " No one could feel more sensibly the calamitous condition of our country than myself, and whatever part I may take hereafter, it will always be a subject of gratulation with me that no act of mine ever contributed to bring it about. I suppose the difficulties now will only be adjusted by the sword. In my humble judgment, that was not the remedy."
When he arrived in the new Confederacy, his coming was welcomed with a spontaneous outburst of popular enthusiasm, and deputations from the West preceded him to Richmond, entreating his assignment to that department. President Davis said that he regarded his coming as of more worth than the accession of an army of 10,000 men; and on the l0th of September, 1861, he was entrusted with the defense of that part of the Confederate States which lay west of the Alleghany Mountains, except the Gulf Coast. His command was imperial in extent, and his powers and discretion as large as the theory of the Confederate Government permitted. He lacked nothing except men, munitions of war, and the means of obtaining them. He had the right to ask for anything, and the State Executives had the power to withhold everything.
The Mississippi River divided his department into two distinct theaters of war. West of the river, Fremont held Missouri with a force of from 60,000 to 80,000 Federals, confronted by Price and McCulloch in the extreme south-west corner of the state with 6000 men, and by Hardee in north-eastern Arkansas, with about as many raw recruits down with carnp disease and unable to move. East of the Mississippi, the northern boundary of Tennessee was barely in his possession, and was held under sufferance from an enemy who, for various reasons, hesitated to advance. The Mississippi opened the way to a ruinous naval invasion unless it could be defended and held, Grant was at Cairo and Paducah with 20,000 men; and Polk had seized Columbus, Ky., with about 11,000 Confederates, and fortified it to oppose his invasion. Tennessee was twice divided: first by the Tennessee River and then by the Cumberland, both of which invited the advance of a hostile force. Some small pretense of fortifications had been made on both rivers at Forts Henry and Donelson, near the boundary line, but practically there was nothing to prevent the Federal army from capturing Nashville, then the most important depot of supplies west of the Alleghanies. Hence the immediate and pressing question for General Johnston was the defense of the Tennessee border. The mock neutrality of Kentucky, which had served as a paper barrier, was terminated, on the 13th of September, by a formal defiance from the Union Legislature of Kentucky. The United States Government had about 34,000 volunteers and about 6000 Kentucky Home Guards assembled in the state under General Robert Anderson, of Fort Sumter fame, who had with him such enterprising corps commanders as Sherman, Thomas, and Nelson.
The Confederacy had some 4000 ill-armed and ill-equipped troops at Cumberland Gap under General Zollicoffer, guarding the only line of railroad communication between Virginia and Tennessee, and overawing the Union population of East Tennessee. This hostile section penetrated the heart of the Confederacy like a wedge and flanked and weakened General Johnston's line of defense, requiring, as it did, constant vigilance and repression.
Besides Zollicoffer's force, General Johnston found only 4000 men available to protect his whole line against 40,000 Federal troops. There were, it is true, some 4000 more raw recruits in camps of instruction, but they were sick and not half armed. Of course he might have abandoned the Mississippi River to Grant and brought Polk to his aid, but he had no thought of this; that would have been all that the Federals could have asked. The boldest policy seemed to him the best, and he resolved on a daring step. On September 17th he threw forward his whole force of 4000 men under General Buckner by rail into Kentucky and seized Bowling Green. It was a mere skirmish line to mask his own weakness. But if he could maintain it, even temporarily, it gave him immense strategic and political advantages, and, most of all, time, -- a prime factor in the problem, -- time to collect or create an army. And then (in spite of some dilettante criticism) it gave him a formidable line, with Cumberland Gap and Columbus as the extremities and Bowling Green as the salient.
The result more than answered his expectations. Buckner's advance produced the wildest consternation in the Federal lines. Even Sherman, writing thirteen years later, speaks of a picket which burned a bridge thirty miles from Louisville as a "division." As late as November 10, 1861, he said: "If Johnston chooses, he could march into Louisville any day!" The effect of the movement was for a time to paralyze the Federal army and put it on the defensive.
General Johnston had made the opportunity required by the South, if it meant seriously to maintain its independence. He had secured time for preparation; but it neglected the chance, and never recovered it. He at once strongly fortified Bowling Green, and used every measure to stir up and rally the Kentuckians to his standard. He brought Hardee with 4000 men from Arkansas, and kept his little force in such constant motion as to produce the impression of a large army menacing an attack. Even before Buckner advanced, General Johnston had sent to the Southern governors an appeal for arms and a call for 50,000 men. Harris, of Tennessee, alone responded heartily, and the Government at Richmond seemed unable to reënforce him or to arm the troops he had. Many difficulties embarrassed it, and not half his men were armed that winter; while up to the middle of November he received only three new regiments. General Johnston realized the magnitude of the struggle, but the people of the South only awoke to it when it was too late. Calamity then stirred them to an ineffectual resistance, the heroism of which removed the reproach of their early vainglory and apathy. General Johnston never was able to assemble more than 22,000 men at Bowling Green, to confront the 100,000 troops opposed to him on that line.
|The only battle of note that occurred that fall was at Belmont, opposite Columbus, in which Polk scored a victory over Grant. General Johnston wrote as follows to the Secretary of War, on Christmas-day, from Bowling Green: "The position of General Zollicoffer on the Cumberland holds in check the meditated invasion and hoped-for revolt in East Tennessee; but I can neither order Zollicoffer to join me here nor withdraw any more force from Columbus without imperiling our communications toward Richmond or endangering Tennessee and the Mississippi Valley. This I have resolved not to do, but have chosen, on the contrary, to post my inadequate force in such a manner as to hold the enemy in check, guard the frontier, and hold the Barren [river] till the winter terminates the campaign; or, if any fault in his movements is committed, or his line becomes exposed when his force is developed, to attack him as opportunity offers." This sums the situation.|
In January, 1862, General Johnston found himself confronted by Halleck in the West, and by Buell, who had succeeded Anderson, in Kentucky. With the exception of the army under Curtis in Missouri, about 12,000 strong, the whole resources of the North-west, from Pennsylvania to the Plains, were turned against General Johnston's lines in Kentucky. Halleck, with armies at Cairo and Paducah, under Grant and C. F. Smith, threatened equally Columbus, the key of the Mississippi River, and the water-lines of the Cumberland and Tennessee, with their defenses, at Forts Donelson and Henry. Buell's right wing also menaced Donelson and Henry, while his center was directed against Bowling Green, and his left was advancing against Zollicoffer at Mill Spring, on the upper Cumberland. If this last-named position could be forced, the way seemed open to East Tennessee on the one hand, and to Nashville on the other.
There has been much discussion as to who originated the movement up the Tennessee River. Grant made it, and it made Grant. It was obvious enough to all the leaders on both sides. Great efforts were made to guard against it but the popular fatuity and apathy prevented adequate preparations. It was only one of a number of possible and equally fatal movements, which could not have been properly met and resisted except by a larger force than was to be had.
As soon as General Johnston learned of the movement against Fort Henry he resolved to fall back to the line of the Cumberland, and make the defense of Nashville at Donelson. Buell was in his front with 90,000 men, and to save Nashville -- Buell's objective point -- he had to fall back upon it with part of his army. He kept for this purpose 14,000 men, including his sick, only 8500 effectives in all, -- to confront Buell's 90,000 men, and concentrated at Fort Donelson 17,000 men under Floyd, Pillow, and Buckner, his three most experienced generals, to meet Grant, who had 28,000 troops, but was reported as having only 12,000. He certainly reserved for himself the more difficult task, the place of greater hazard, leaving the chance of glory to others. The proposition that he should have left Nashville open to capture by Buell, and should have taken all his troops to Donelson, could not have been seriously considered by any general of even moderate military capacity. The answer to any criticism as to the loss of the army at Donelson is that it ought not to have been lost. That is all there is of it.
At midnight of February 15-16 General Johnston received a telegram announcing a great victory at Donelson, and before daylight information that it would be surrendered. His last troops were then arriving at Nashville from Bowling Green. His first words were: "I must save this army." He at once determined to abandon the line of the Cumberland, and concentrate all available forces at Corinth, Mississippi, for a renewed struggle. He had indicated this as a probable event to several distinguished officers some time previous. It was now to be carried into effect. He had remaining only his little army from Bowling Green, together with the fragments of Crittenden's army, and the fugitives from Donelson. These he reorganized at Murfreesboro within a week. He saved the most of his valuable stores and munitions, which fully absorbed his railroad transportation to Stevenson, Alabama, and moved his men over the mud roads to Corinth, Mississippi, by way of Decatur, in a wet and stormy season. Nevertheless, he assembled his army -- 20,000 effectives -- at Corinth, on the 25th day of March, full of enthusiasm and the spirit of combat. In the mean time the Confederate Government lent him all the aid in its power, reënforcing him with an army 10,000 strong, from the Southern coast, under General Braxton Bragg, and with such arms as could be procured.
When the capture of Fort Henry separated Tennessee into two distinct theaters of war, General Johnston assigned the district west of the Tennessee River to General Beauregard, who had been sent to him for duty. This officer had suddenly acquired a high reputation by the battle of Bull Run, and General Johnston naturally intrusted him with a large discretion. He sent him with instructions to concentrate all available forces near Corinth, a movement previously begun. His own plan was to defend Columbus to the last extremity with a reduced garrison, and withdraw Polk and his army for active movements. Beauregard made the mistake, however, of evacuating Columbus, and making his defense of the Mississippi River at Island Number Ten, which proved untenable and soon surrendered with a garrison of 6000 or 7000 men. He was ill most of the time and intrusted the actual command to Bragg, but did what he could from his sick-bed.
Besides the reënforcements brought by Bragg, General Beauregard found in the western district 17,500 effectives under Polk, and at or near Corinth 5000 men under Pope, Walker and Chalmers, and 3000 under Ruggles, sent from Louisiana by Lovell. He made eloquent appeals, which brought him several regiments more. Thus he had nearly 40,000 men collected for him, 10,000 of whom he disposed for river defenses, and the remainder to protect the railroads from Grant's force which was concentrating at Pittsburg Landing. General Johnston's arrival increased the force at Corinth to about 50,000 men, nearly 40,000 of whom were effectives.
After the surrender at Donelson, the South, but especially the important state of Tennessee, was in a delirium of rage and terror. As the retreat from Nashville to the Tennessee River went on, the popular fury rose to a storm everywhere. The people who had refused to listen to his warnings, or answer his appeals for aid, now denounced General Johnston as an idiot, coward, and traitor. Demagogues joined in the wild hunt for a victim, and deputations waited on President Davis to demand his removal. To such a committee of Congressmen he replied: "If Sidney Johnston is not a general, I have none." General Johnston was too calm, too just, and too magnanimous to misapprehend so natural a manifestation. His whole life had been a training for this occasion. To encounter suddenly and endure calmly the obloquy of a whole nation is, to any man, a great burden. To do this with a serenity that shall not only not falter in duty, but restore confidence and organize victory, is conclusive proof of greatness-of-soul.
But while the storm of execration raged around him, the men who came into immediate contact with General Johnston never for a moment doubted his ability to perform all that was possible to man. To a friend who urged him to publish an explanation of his course he replied: "I cannot correspond with the people. What the people want is a battle and a victory. That is the best explanation I can make. I require no vindication. I trust that to the future." In his much quoted letter of March 18th to President Davis, written at Decatur, he said, in regard to the loss of Donelson: "I observed silence, as it seemed to me to be the best way to serve the cause and the country. The facts were not fully known, discontent prevailed, and criticism or condemnation was more likely to augment than to cure the evil. I refrained, well knowing that heavy censures would fall upon me, but convinced that it was better to endure them for the present, and defer for a more propitious time an investigation of the conduct of the generals; for in the mean time their services were required, and their influence was useful. The test of merit in my profession with the people is success. It is a hard rule, but I think it is right. If I join this corps to the forces of Beauregard (I confess a hazardous experiment), then those who are now declaiming against me will be without an argument."
General Johnston's plan of campaign may be summed up in a phrase. It was to concentrate at Corinth and interpose his whole force in front of the great bend of the Tennessee, the natural base of the Federal army: this effected, to crush Grant in battle before the arrival of Buell. This meant immediate and decisive action. The army he had brought from Nashville was ready for the contest, but Generals Beauregard and Bragg represented to him that the troops collected by them were unable to move without thorough reorganization. Ten days were consumed in this work of reorganization. Moments were precious, but there was the hope of reënforcement by Van Dorn's army, which might arrive before Buell joined Grant, and which did arrive only a day or two later. But Buell's movements were closely watched, and, hearing of his approach on the 2d of April, General Johnston resolved to delay no longer, but strike at once a decisive blow.
In the reorganization of the army, he assigned General Bragg as chief of staff, with command of a corps. To Beauregard he tendered the immediate command of the army in the impending battle. Though General Beauregard declined the offer, he evidently misinterpreted its spirit and intention. He imagined it was a confession of inadequacy for the duty, in which case he ought to have accepted it. The truth was that, coming into this district which he had assigned to Beauregard, Johnston felt disinclined to deprive him of any reputation he might acquire from a victory. He had not the slightest idea, how ever, of abdicating the supreme command, and said to friends who remonstrated with him: "I will be there to see that all goes right." He was willing to yield to another the glory, if thereby anything was added to the chance of victory. The offer was rather quixotic, but characteristic. He then gave General Beauregard the position of second in command, without special assignment. Indeed, as is shown by his own frequent statements, General Beauregard was, from severe and protracted ill health, inadequate to any more serious duty. General Grant's army had been moved up the Tennessee River by boat, and had taken position on its left bank at Pittsburg Landing. It had been landed by divisions, and Bragg had proposed to Beauregard to attack Grant before he assembled his whole force. Beauregard forbade this, intending to await events, and attack him away from his base if possible. Grant's first object was to destroy the railroads which centered at Corinth, and, indeed, to capture that place if he could. But his advance was only part of a grand plan for a combined movement of his own and Buell's army. With Pittsburg Landing as a base, this army was to occupy North Mississippi and Alabama, command the entire railroad system of that section, and take Memphis in the rear, while Halleck forced his way down the Mississippi River. General Johnston divined the movement before it was begun, and was there to frustrate it. Indeed, Grant was at Pittsburg Landing only one week before Johnston completed the concentration.
Grant has been severely criticised for placing his army with the river at its back. But he was there to take the initiative. He had the larger army, under cover, too, of his gunboats; he was expecting Buell daily; and the ground was admirable for defense. Indeed, his position was a natural stronghold. Flanked by Owl and Lick creeks, with their marshy margins, and with his front protected by a swampy valley, he occupied a quadrilateral of great strength. His troops were stationed on wooded heights, generally screened by heavy undergrowth and approached across boggy ravines or open fields. Each camp was a fortress in itself, and the line of retreat afforded at each step some like point to rally on. He did not fortify his camps, it is true; but he was not there for defense, but for attack. It must be admitted that he undervalued his enemy's daring and celerity; but he was a young general, exultant in his overwhelming victory at Donelson; and his generals and army shared his sense of security. He had an army of 58,000 men in camp, nearly 50,000 of whom were effectives. Buell was near at hand with 37,000 more, and Mitchel was moving against the railroad at Florence, Alabama, not far distant, with an additional force of l8,000. In all Grant had l05,000 ef fectives. Opposed to him were 50,000 Confederate troops, less than 40,000 of whom were available for combat. General Johnston's aggregate was 60,000 men, opposed to about 200,000 Federals in all, but the effective forces were as above.
Such was the position on April 2d, when General Johnston, learning that Buell was rapidly approaching, resolved to advance next day, and attack Grant before his arrival. His general plan was very simple in outline. It seems to have been to march out and attack the Federals by columns of corps, to make the battle a decisive test, and to crush Grant utterly or lose all in the attempt; this effected, to contend with Buell for the possession of Tennessee, Kentucky, and possibly the Northwest.
General Beauregard also, it seems, had a plan, which, however, must have differed widely from that of General Johnston, as it was evidently tentative in its nature, -- "a reconnaissance in force," with a retreat on Corinth as one of its features, -- and which admitted the possibility of finishing on Monday a battle which had to be won on Sunday or never. This was not in any sense General Johnston's plan, and much useless discussion has arisen from a confusion of the two. But, as General Johnston intended to fight, and did fight, on his own plan as long as he lived, the battle may be considered his until Beauregard's order of retreat, about five o'clock Sunday evening, substituted "the reconnaissance in force" in place of the decisive test of victory or defeat.
General Beauregard had been on the ground some six weeks, and his prestige as an engineer and as the victor of Bull Run warranted General Johnston in committing to him the elaboration of the details of the march and order of battle. Unfortunately he changed what seems evidently General Johnston's original purpose of an assault by columns of corps into an array in three parallel lines of battle, which produced extreme confusion when the second and third lines advanced to support the first and intermingled with it. General Johnston's plan is summed up in the following dispatch to President Davis:
"Corinth, April 3, 1862.
"General Buell in motion 30,000 strong, rapidly from Columbia by Clifton to Savannah. Mitchel behind him with l0,000. Confederate forces -- 40,000 -- ordered forward to offer battle near Pittsburg. Division from Bethel, main body from Corinth, reserve from Burnsville, converging to-morrow near Monterey on Pittsburg. Beauregard second in command, Polk the left, Bragg the center, Hardee the right wing, Breckenridge the reserve. Hope engagement before Buell can form junction."
In the original dispatch, the words italicized are in General Johnston's own handwriting. Moreover, owing to ignorance of the country, the march was so ordered that the corps interfered with each other in their advance, and by a detention the battle was delayed an entire day, an almost fatal loss of time.
If it be asked why General Johnston accepted and issued an order of march and battle which he had not contemplated, the reply is that it had been prepared by his second in command, who was presumably more familiar with the country and the roads than himself, and hence with the necessities of the case. But the overruling reason was the question of time. Buell was at hand, and Johnston's plan was not to manoeuvre, but to attack; and any plan which put him front to front with Grant was better than the best two days later.
He did not undervalue the importance of details. No man regarded more closely all the details subsidiary to a great result than General Johnston. But important as were the preliminaries, -- the maps, the roads, the methods of putting his army face to face with the enemy, which General Johnston had to take on trust, -- he knew that the chief strategy of the battle was in the decision to fight. Once in the presence of the enemy, he knew that the result would dependon the way in which his troops were handled.. This was his part of the work, and he felt full confidence in his own ability to carry it out successfully. He issued the order as presented by Beauregard, and moved his army against the enemy, April 3d, 1862. General Bragg, commenting on these facts, says:
"The details of that plan, arranged after General Sidney Johnston decided on delivering battle, and had given his instructions, were made up and published in full from the adjutant-general's office. My first knowledge of them was derived from this general order, the authorship of which has been claimed by General Beauregard. . . . In this case, as I understood then, and still believe, Johnston gave verbal instructions for the general movement. . . . Over Colonel Jordan's (the adjutant-general) signature, they reached the army. The general plan (General Johnston's) was admirable -- the elaboration simply execrable.
"When the time arrived for execution, you know what occurred. In spite of opposition and prediction of failure, Johnston firmly and decidedly ordered and led the attack in the execution of his general plan, and, notwithstanding the faulty arrangement of the troops, was eminently successful up to the moment of his fall. The victory was won. How it was lost, the official reports will show, and history has recorded."
General Johnston gave orders about one o'clock on the night of Wednesday, the 2d of April, for the advance. But their elaboration seems to have required some time, and the troops did not receive them from the adjutant-general's office until the next afternoon. When the soldiers learned that they were going out to fight, the long-restrained ardor burst into a blaze of enthusiasm, and they did all that was possible for inexperienced troops in both marching and fighting. Some of the arms were distributed that afternoon. With hasty preparations the movement began, and Hardee's corps was at Mickey's, within four or five miles of Pittsburg, next morning. But some of the troops did not move until the morning of Saturday, the 5th, owing to a still further delay in the delivery of orders by the adjutant-general's office, and all were impeded by the heavy condition of the roads, through a dense forest, and across sloughs and marshes.
The order was to attack at three o'clock on the morning of Saturday, the 5th; but the troops were not in position until late that afternoon. All day Friday the advancing columns had pushed on over the tangled, miry roads, hindered and embarrassed by a pelting rain. After midnight a violent storm broke upon them as they stood under arms in the pitch darkness, with no shelter but the trees. From detention by the rain, ignorance of the roads, and a confusion produced by the order of march, some divisions failed to get into line, and the day was wasted.
General Bragg says: "The meeting then dispersed upon an invitation of the commanding general to meet at his tent that evening. At that meeting a further discussion elicited the same views, and the same firm, decided determination. The next morning, about dawn of day, the 6th, as the troops were being put in motion, several generals again met at the camp-fire of the general-in-chief. The discussion was renewed, General Beauregard again expressing his dissent, when, rapid firing in the front indicating that the attack had commenced, General Johnston closed the discussion by remarking, `The battle has opened, gentlemen; it is too late to change our dispositions.' He proposed to move to the front, and his subordinates promptly joined their respective commands, inspired by his coolness, confidence, and determination. Few men have equaled him in the possession and display at the proper time of these great qualities of the soldier."
It will readily be perceived how much General Beauregard's urgent opposition to fighting must have added to the weight of General Johnston's responsibility. Beauregard was in the full tide of popular favor, while Johnston was laboring under the load of public obloquy and odium. Nothing short of complete and overwhelming victory would vindicate him in differing with so famous a general. A reverse, even a merely partial success, would leave him under condemnation. Nevertheless, without a moment's hesitation, he resolved to fight.
The sun set on Saturday evening in a cloudless sky, and night fell calm, clear, and beautiful. Long before dawn the forest was alive with silent preparations for the ensuing contest, and day broke upon a scene so fair that it left its memory on thousands of hearts. The sky was clear overhead, the air fresh, and when the sun rose in full splendor, the advancing host passed the word from lip to lip that it was the "sun of Austerlitz."
General Johnston, usually so self-contained, felt the inspiration of the scene, and welcomed with exultant joy the long-desired day. His presence inspired all who came near him. His sentences, sharp, terse, and clear, had the ring of victory in them. Turning to his staff, as he mounted, he exclaimed: "Tonight we will water our horses in the Tennessee River." It was thus that he formulated his plan of battle. It must not stop short of entire victory. To Randall L. Gibson, who was commanding a Louisiana brigade, he said: " hope you may get through safely to-day,but we must win a victory" To Colonel John S. Marmaduke, who had served under him in Utah, he said, placing his hand on his shoulder: "My son, we must this day conquer or perish." To the ambitious Hindman, who had been in the vanguard from the beginning, he said: "You have earned your spurs as a major-general. Let this day's work win them." With such words, as he rode from point to point, he raised a spirit in that host which swept away the serried lines of the conquerors of Donelson. Friend and foe alike testify to the enthusiastic courage and ardor of the Southern soldiers that day.
|General Johnston's strategy was completed. He was face to face with his foe, and that foe all unaware of his coming. His front line, composed of the Third Corps and Gladden's brigade, was under Hardee, and extended from Owl Creek to Lick Creek, more than three miles. (See maps.) Hindman's division of two brigades occupied the center, Cleburne's brigade had the left, and Gladden's the right wing -- an effective total in the front line of 9024. Bragg commanded the second line. He had two divisions: Withers's, of two brigades, on the right, and Ruggles's, of three brigades, on the left. The brigades were, in order from right to left, as follows: Chalmers, Jackson, Gibson, Anderson, Pond. This second line was l0,731 strong. The third line, or reserve, was composed of the First Corps, under Polk, and three brigades under Breckenridge. Polk's command was massed in columns of brigades on the Bark road near Mickey's, and Breckenridge's on the road from Monterey toward the same point. Polk was to advance on the left of the Bark road, at an interval of about eight hundred paces from Bragg's line; and Breckenridge, to the right of that road, was to give support wherever it should become necessary. Polk's corps, 9136 strong in infantry and artillery, was composed of two divisions: Cheatham's on the left, made up of Bushrod R. Johnson's and Stephens' brigades, and Clark's on his right, formed of A. P. Stewart's and Russell's brigades. It followed Bragg's line at about eight hundred yards distance. Breckenridge's reserve was composed of Trabue's, Bowen's, and Statham's brigades, with a total, infantry and artillery, of 6439. The cavalry, about 4300 strong, guarded the flanks or was detached on outpost duty; but, both from the newness and imperfections of their organization, equipment, and drill, and from the rough and wooded character of the ground, they could do little service that day. The effectives of all arms that marched out to battle were 38,773, or, exclusive of cavalry, 35,330.|
Brigadier-General John C. Breckenridge. From a photograph by Geo. S. Cook
As General Johnston and his staff were taking their coffee, the first gun of the battle sounded. "Note the hour, if you please, gentlemen," said General Johnston. It was fourteen minutes past five. They immediately mounted and galloped to the front.
Some skirmishing on Friday between the Confederate cavalry and the Federal outposts, in which a few men were killed, wounded, and captured on both sides, had aroused the vigilance of the Northern commanders to some extent. Sherman reported on the 5th to Grant that two regiments of infantry and one of cavalry were in his front, and added: "I have no doubt that nothing will occur to-day more than some picket firing. . . . I do not apprehend anything like an attack on our position." In his "Memoirs" he says: "I did not believe they designed anything but a strong demonstration." He said to Major Ricker that an advance of Beauregard's army "could not be possible. Beauregard was not such a fool as to leave his base of operations and attack us in ours, -- mere reconnaissance in force." This shows a curious coincidence with the actual state of General Beauregard's mind on that day. And Grant telegraphed Halleck on Saturday night: "The main force of the enemy is at Corinth. . . .One division of Buell's column arrived yesterday. . . I have scarcely the faintest idea of an attack (general one) being made apon us."
|Nevertheless, some apprehension was felt among the officers and men of the Federal army, and General Prentiss had thrown forward Colonel Moore, with the Twenty-first Missouri Regiment, on the Corinth road. Moore, feeling his way cautiously, encountered Hardee's skirmish-line under Major Hardcastle, and, thinking it an outpost, assailed it vigorously. Thus really the Federals began the fight. The struggle was brief, but spirited. The Eighth and Ninth Arkansas came up. Moore fell wounded. The Missourians gave way, and Shaver's brigade pursued them. Hindman's whole division moved on, following the ridge and drifting to the right, and drove in the grand guards and outposts until they struck Prentiss's camps. Into these they burst, overthrowing all before them.|
To appreciate the suddenness and violence of the blow, one must read the testimony of eye-witnesses. General Bragg says, in a sketch of Shiloh made for the writer: "Contrary to the views of such as urged an abandonment of the attack, the enemy was found utterly unprepared, many being surprised and captured in their tents, and others, though on the outside, in costumes better fitted to the bedchamber than to the battle-field." General Preston says: "General Johnston then went to the camp assailed, which was carried between 7 and 8 o'clock. The enemy were evidently surprised. The breakfasts were on the mess tables, the baggage unpacked, the knapsacks, stores, colors, and ammunition abandoned."
His lines of battle were pushed rapidly to the front, and as gaps widened in the first lines, they were filled by brigades of the second and third. One of Breckenridge's brigades was sent to the left to support Cleburne, and the other two were led to the extreme right, only Chalmers being beyond them. Gladden, who was on Hindman's right, and had a longer distance to traverse to strike some of Prentiss's brigades further to the left, found them better prepared, but, after a sanguinary resistance, drove them from their camps. In this bitter struggle Gladden fell mortally wounded. Chalmers's brigade, of Bragg's line, came in on Gladden's right, and his Mississippians drove the enemy with the bayonet half a mile. He was about to charge again, when General Johnston came up, and moved him to the right, and brought John K. Jackson's brigade into the interval. Prentiss's left retreated sullenly, not routed, but badly hammered.
|With Hindman as a pivot, the turning movement began from the moment of the overthrow of Prentiss's camps. While the front attacks were made all along the line with a desperate courage which would have swept any ordinary resistance from the field, and with a loss which told fearfully on the assailants, they were seconded by assaults in flank which invariably resulted in crushing the Federal line with destructive force and strewing the field with the wounded and the dead. The Federal reports complain that they were flanked and outnumbered, which is true; for, though fewer, the Confederates were probably stronger at every given point throughout the day except at the Hornets' Nest, where the Federals eventually massed nearly two divisions. The iron flail of war beat upon the Federal front and right flank with the regular and ponderous pulsations of some great engine, and these assaults resulted in a crumbling process which was continually but slowly going on, as regiment and brigade and division yielded to the continuous and successive blows. There has been criticism that there were no grand assaults by divisions and corps. The fact is that there were but few lulls in the contest. The fighting was a grapple and a death-struggle all day long, and, as one brigade after another wilted before the deadly fire of the stubborn Federals, still another was pushed into the combat and kept up the fierce assault. A breathing-spell, and the shattered command would gather itself up and resume its work of destruction. These were the general aspects of the battle.|
While Sherman was repelling Cleburne's attack, McClernand sent up three Illinois regiments to reenforce his left. But General Polk led forward Bushrod R. Johnson's brigade, and Major-General Clark Russell's brigade, against Sherman's left, while General Johnston himself put A. P. Stewart's brigade in position on their rlght. Supported by part of Cleburne's line, they attacked Sherman and McClernand fiercely. Polk said: "The resistance at this point was as stubborn as at any other point on the field." Clark and Bushrod R. Johnson fell badly wounded. Hildebrand's Federal brigade was swept from the field, losing in the onslaught 300 killed and wounded, and 94 missing.
Wood's brigade, of Hindman's division, joined in this charge on the right. As they hesitated at the crest of a hill, General Johnston came to the front and urged them to the attack. They rushed forward with the inspiring "Rebel yell," and with Stewart's brigade enveloped the Illinois troops. In ten minutes the latter melted away under the fire, and were forced from the field. In this engagement John A. McDowell's and Veatch's Federal brigades, as well as Hildebrand's, were demolished and heard of no more. Buckland retreated and took position with McClernand. In these attacks Anderson's and Pond's Confederate brigades joined with great vigor and severe loss, but with unequal fortune. The former had one success after another; the latter suffered a series of disasters; and yet an equal courage animated them. Gladden's brigade made a final desperate and successful charge on Prentiss's line. The whole Federal front, which had been broken here and there, and was getting ragged, gave way under this hammering process on front and flank, and fell back across a ravine to another strong position behind the Hamburg and Purdy road in rear of Shiloh. Sherman's route of retreat was marked by the thick-strewn corpses of his soldiers. At last, pressed back toward both Owl Creek and the river, Sherman and McClernand found safety by the interposition on their left flank of W. H. L. Wallace's fresh division. Hurlbut and Wallace had advanced about eight o'clock, so that Prentiss's command found a refuge in the intervals of the new and formidable Federal line, with Stuart on the left and Sherman's shattered division on the right.
General Johnston had pushed Chalmers to the right and front, sweeping down the left bank of Lick Creek, driving in pickets, until he encountered Stuart's Federal brigade on the Pittsburg and Hamburg road. Stuart was strongly posted on a steep hill near the river, covered with thick undergrowth, and with an open field in front. McArthur was to his right and rear in the woods. Jackson attacked McArthur, who fell back; and Chalmers went at Stuart's brigade. This command reserved its fire until Chalmers's men were within forty yards, and then delivered a heavy and destructive volley; but, after a hard fight, the Federals were driven back. Chalmers's right rested on the Tennessee River bottom-lands, and he fought down the bank toward Pittsburg Landing. The enemy's left was completely turned, and the Federal army was now crowded on a shorter line, a mile or more to the rear of its first position. The new line of battle was established before ten o'clock. All the Confederate troops were then in the front line, except two of Breckenridge's brigades, Bowen and Statham, which were moving to the Confederate right, and soon occupied the interval between Chalmers and Jackson. Hardee, with Cleburne and Pond, was pressing Sherman slowly but steadily back. Bragg and Polk met about half-past ten o'clock, and by agreement Polk led his troops against McClernand, while Bragg directed the operations against the Federal center. A gigantic contest now began which lasted more than five hours. In the impetuous rush forward of regiments to fill the gaps in the front line, even the brigade organization was broken; but, though there was dislocation of commands, there was little loss of effective force. The Confederate assaults were made by rapid and often unconnected charges along the line. They were repeatedly checked, and often repulsed. Sometimes counter-charges drove them back for short distances; but, whether in assault or recoil, both sides saw their bravest soldiers fall in frightful numbers. The Confederates came on in motley garb, varying from the favorite gray and domestic "butternut " to the blue of certain Louisiana regiments, which paid dearly the penalty of doubtful colors. Over them waved flags and pennons as various as their uniforms. At each charge there went up a wild yell, heard above the roar of artillery; only the Kentuckians, advancing with measured step, sang in chorus their war-song: "Cheer, boys, cheer; we'll march away to battle."
On the Federal left center W. H. L. Wallace and Hurlbut were massed, with Prentiss's fragments, in a position so impregnable, and thronged with such fierce defenders, that it won from the Confederates the memorable title of the "Hornets'Nest." Here, behind a dense thicket on the crest of a hill, was posted a strong force of as hardy troops as ever fought, almost perfectly protected by the conformation of the ground, and by logs and other rude and hastily prepared defenses. To assail it an open field had to be passed, enfiladed by the fire of its batteries. No figure of speech would be too strong to express the deadly peril of assault upon this natural fortress. For five hours brigade after brigade was led against it. Hindman's brigades, which earlier had swept everything before them, were reduced to fragments, and paralyzed for the remainder of the day. A. P. Stewart's regiments made fruitless assaults. Then Bragg ordered up Gibson's brigade. Gibson himself, a knightly soldier, was aided by colonels three of whom afterward became generals. The brigade made a gallant charge; but, like the others, recoiled from the fire it encountered. Under a cross-fire of artillery and musketry it at last fell back with very heavy loss. Gibson asked for artillery to be sent him; but it was not at hand, and Bragg sent orders to charge again. The colonels thought it hopeless; but Gibson led them again to the attack, and again they suffered a bloody repulse.
The brigade was four times repulsed, but maintained its ground steadily, until W. H. L. Wallace's position was turned, when, renewing its forward movement in conjunction with Cheatham's command, it helped to drive back its stout opponents. Cheatham, charging on Gibson's right, across an open field, was caught under a murderous cross-fire, but fell back in good order, and, later in the day, came in on Breckenridge's left in the last assault when Prentiss was captured. This bloody fray lasted till nearly four o'clock, without making any visible impression on the Federal center. But when its flanks were turned, these assaulting columns, crowding in on its front, aided in its capture.
General Johnston was with Statham's brigade, confronting Hurlbut's left, which was behind the crest of a hill, with a depression filled with chaparral in its front. The Confederates held the parallel ridge in easy musket-range; and "as heavy fire as I ever saw during the war," says Govemor Harris, was kept up on both sides for an hour or more. It was necessary to cross the valley raked by this deadly ambuscade and assail the opposite ridge in order to drive the enemy from his stronghold. When General Johnston came up and saw the situation, he said to his staff: "They are offering stubborn resistance here. I shall have to put the bayonet to them." It was the crisis of the conflict. The Federal key was in his front. If his assault were successful, their left would be completely turned, and the victory won. He determined to charge. He sent Governor Harris, of his staff, to lead a Tennessee regiment; and, after a brief conference with Breckenridge, whom he loved and admired, that officer, followed by his staff, appealed to the soldiers. As he encouraged them with his fine voice and manly bearing, General Johnston rode out in front and slowly down the line. His hat was off. His sword rested in its scabbard, In his right hand he held a little tin cup, the memorial of an incident that had occurred earlier in the day. Passing through a captured camp, he had taken this toy, saying, "Let this be my share of the spoils to-day." It was this plaything which, holding it between two fingers, he employed more directively in his natural and simple gesticulation than most men could have used a sword. His presence was full of inspiration. He sat his thorough-bred bay, "Fire-eater," with easy command. His voice was persuasive, encouraging, and compelling. His words were few; he said: " Men! they are stubborn; we must use the bayonet." When he reached the center of the line, he turned. "I will lead you!" he cried, and moved toward the enemy. The line was already thrilling and trembling with that irresistible ardor which in battle decides the day. With a mighty shout the line moved forward at a charge. A sheet of flame and a mighty roar burst from the Federal stronghold. The Confederate line withered; but there was not an instant's pause. The crest was gained. The enemy were in flight.
His wound was not necessarily fatal. General Johnston's own knowledge of military surgery was adequate for its control by an extemporized tourniquet, had he been aware or regardful of its nature. Dr. D. W. Yandell, his surgeon, had attended his person during most of the morning; but, finding a large number of wounded men, including many Federals, at one point, General Johnston ordered Yandell to stop there, establish a hospital, and give them his services. He said to Yandell: "These men were our enemies a moment ago; they are prisoners now. Take care of them." Yandell remonstrated against leaving him, but he was peremptory. Had Yandell remained with him, he would have had little difficulty with the wound.
Governor Harris, and others of General Johnston's staff, promptly informed General Beauregard of his death, and General Beauregard assumed command, remaining at Shiloh Church, awaiting the issue of events.
Up to the moment of the death of the commander-in-chief, in spite of the dislocation of the commands, there was the most perfect regularity in the development of the plan of battle. In all the seeming confusion there was the predominance of intelligent design; a master mind, keeping in clear view its purpose, sought the weak point in the defense, and, finding it on the enemy's left, kept turning that flank. With the disadvantage of inferior numbers, General Johnston brought to bear a superior force on each particular point, and, by a series of rapid and powerful blows, broke the Federal army to pieces.
Now was the time for the Confederates to push their advantage, and, closing in on the rear of Prentiss and Wallace, to finish the battle. But, on the contrary, there came a lull in the conflict on the right, lasting more than an hour from half-past two, the time at which General Johnston fell. It is true that the Federals fell back and left the field, and the Confederates went forward deliberately, occupying their positions, and thus helping to envelop the Federal center. But there was no further general direction or concerted movement. The determinate purpose to capture Grant that day was lost sight of. The strong arm was withdrawn, and the bow remained un-bent. Elsewhere there were bloody desultory combats, but they tended to nothing.
About half-past three the contest, which had throbbed with fitful violence for five hours, was renewed with the utmost fury. While an ineffectual struggle was going on at the center, a number of batteries opened upon Prentiss's right flank, the center of what remained of the Federals. The opening of so heavy a fire, and the simultaneous though unconcerted advance of the whole Confederate line, resulted at first in the confusion of the enemy, and then in the death of W. H. L. Wallace and the surrender of Prentiss.
These generals have received scant justice for their stubborn defense. They agreed to hold their position at all odds, and did so until Wallace received his fatal wound and Prentiss was surrounded and captured with nearly 3000 men. This delay was the salvation of Grant's army.
Breckenridge's command closed in on the Federal left and rear; Polk crushed their right by the violence of his assault, and in person, with Marshall J. Smith's Crescent regiment, received the surrender of many troops. Prentiss gave up his sword to Colonel Russell. Bragg's troops, wrestling at the front, poured in over the Hornets' Nest, and shared in the triumph. Polk ordered his cavalry to charge the fleeing enemy, and Colonel Miller rode down and captured a six-gun battery. His men "watered their horses in the Tennessee River." All now felt that the victory was won. Bragg, Polk, Hardee, Breckenridge, all the corps commanders, were at the front, and in communication. Their generals were around them. The hand that had launched the thunder-bolt of war was cold, but its influence still nerved this host and its commanders. A line of battle was formed, and all was ready for the last fell swoop, to compel an "unconditional surrender" by General Grant.
The only position on the high grounds left to the Federals was held by Colonel Webster, of Grant's staff, who had collected some twenty guns and manned them with volunteers. Soon after four o'clock Chalmers and Jackson, proceeding down the river-bank while Prentiss's surrender was going on, came upon this position. The approaches were bad from that direction; nevertheless, they attacked resolutely, and, though repeatedly repulsed, kept up their assaults till nightfall. At one time they drove some gunners from their guns, and their attack has been generally mistaken by Federal writers for the final assault of the Confederate army -- which was never made. The Federal generals and writers attribute their salvation to the repulse of Chalmers, and the honor is claimed respectively for Webster's artillery and for Ammen's brigade of Buell's army, which came up at the last moment. But neither they nor all that was left of the Federal army could have withstood five minutes the united advance of the Confederate line, which was at hand and ready to deal the deathstroke. Their salvation came from a different quarter. General Bragg gives the following account of the close of the battle: "Concurring testimony, especially that of the prisoners on both sides, -- our captured being present and witnesses to the demoralization of the enemy, and their eagerness to escape or avoid further slaughter by surrender, -- left no doubt but that a persistent, energetic assault would soon have been crowned by a general yielding of his whole force. About one hour of daylight was left to us. The enemy's gun-boats, his last hope, took position opposite us in the river, and commenced a furious cannonade at our supposed position. From the elevation necessary to reach the high bluff on which we were operating, this proved `all sound and fury signifying nothing,' and did not in the slightest degree mar our prospects or our progress. Not so, however, in our rear, where these heavy shells fell among the reserves and stragglers; and, to the utter dismay of the commanders on the field, the troops were seen to abandon their inspiring work, and to retire sullenly from the contest when danger was almost past, and victory, so dearly purchased, was almost certain." Polk, Hardee, Breckenridge, Withers, Gibson, Gilmer, and all who were there confirm this statement. General Buell says of Grant's army that there were "not more than 5000 men in ranks and available on the battle-field at nightfall. . .. The rest were either killed, wounded, captured, or scattered in inextricable and hopeless confusion for miles along the banks of the river." General Nelson describes them as "cowering under the river-bank, . . . frantic with fright and utterly demoralized."
At this crisis came from General Beauregard an order for the withdrawal of the troops, of which his chief of staff says: "General Beauregard, in the mean time, observing the exhausted, widely scattered condition of his army, directed it to be brought out of battle, collected, and restored to order as far as practicable, and to occupy for the night the captured encampments of the enemy. This, however, had been done in chief part by the officers in immediate command of the troops before the order was generally distributed." For this last allegation, or that the army was exhausted, there is not the slightest warrant.
The concurrent testimony of the generals and soldiers at the front is at one on all essential points. General Beauregard at Shiloh, two miles in the rear, with the debris of the army surging back upon him, the shells bursting around him, sick with his two months' previous malady, pictured in his imagination a wreck at the front, totally different from the actual condition there. Had this officer been with Bragg, and not greatly prostrated and suffering from severe sickness, I firmly believe his order would have been to advance, not to retire. And this in spite of his theory of his plan of battle, which he sums up as follows, and which is so different from General Johnston's: "By a rapid and vigorous attack on General Grant, it was expected he would be beaten back into his transports and the river, or captured in time to enable us to profit by the victory, and remove to the rear all the stores and munitions that would fall into our hands in such an event before the arrival of General Buell's army on the scene. It was never contemplated, however, to retain the position thus gained and abandon Corinth, the strategic point of General Beauregard's campaign." Why, then, did General Beauregard stop short in his career? Sunday evening it was not a question of retaining, but of gaining, Pittsburg Landing. Complete victory was in his grasp: and he threw it away. General Gibson says: "General Johnston's death was a tremendous catastrophe. There are no words adequate to express my own conception of the immensity of the loss to our country. Sometimes the hopes of millons of people depend upon one head and one arm. The West perished with Albert Sidney Johnston, and the Southern country followed."
Monday was General Beauregard's battle, and it was well fought. But in recalling his troops from the heights which commanded the enemy's landing, he gave away a position which during the night was occupied by Buell's 20,000 fresh troops, who thus regained the high grounds that had been won at such cost. Lew Wallace, too, had come up 6500 strong. Moreover, the orders had been conveyed by Beauregard's staff to brigades and even regiments to withdraw, and the troops wandered back over the field, without coherence, direction, or purpose, and encamped where chance provided for them. All array was lost, and, in the morning, they met the attack of nearly 30,000 fresh and organized troops, with no hope of success except from their native valor and the indomitable purpose roused by the triumph of Sunday. Their fortitude, their courage, and the free offering of their lives were equal to the day before. But it was a retreat, not an assault. They retired slowly and sullenly, shattered, but not overthrown, to Corinth, the strategic point of General Beauregard's campaign.
William Preston Johnston