All is hushed at Shiloh

by chuckofish

One hundred and fifty-three years ago, on April 7, 1862, Union forces led by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant defeated the Confederates at the battle of Shiloh in Tennessee. The day before, however, was a terrible day for Grant.


In his memoirs Grant describes the night of April 6:

During the night rain fell in torrents and our troops were exposed to the storm without shelter. I made my headquarters under a tree a few hundred yards back from the river bank. My ankle was so much swollen from the fall of my horse the Friday night preceding, and the bruise was so painful, that I could get no rest. The drenching rain would have precluded the possibility of sleep without this additional cause. Some time after midnight, growing restive under the storm and the continuous pain, I moved back to the loghouse under the bank. This had been taken as a hospital, and all night wounded men were being brought in, their wounds dressed, a leg or an arm amputated as the case might require, and everything being done to save life or alleviate suffering. The sight was more unendurable than encountering the enemy’s fire, and I returned to my tree in the rain.

Historian Bruce Catton (Grant Moves South) describes a meeting between Sherman and Grant that night:

Late that night…Sherman came to see him. Sherman had found himself, in the heat of the enemy’s fire that day, but now he was licked; as far as he could see, the important next step was to “put the river between us and the enemy, and recuperate,” and he hunted up Grant to see when and how the retreat could be arranged. 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.”

And they did.

Among the enlisted men fighting that day were a young Ambrose Bierce of the Ninth Indiana and 21-year old Henry Morton Stanley (who later discovered Dr. Livingstone in Africa) of the 6th Arkansas Infantry.  Major General Lew Wallace (who later wrote Ben Hur) was there as well.

Herman Melville was not present at Shiloh, but he wrote a poem about it which I like very much:

Skimming lightly, wheeling still,
The swallows fly low
Over the field in clouded days,
The forest-field of Shiloh–
Over the field where April rain
Solaced the parched ones stretched in pain
Through the pause of night
That followed the Sunday fight
Around the church of Shiloh–
The church so lone, the log-built one,
That echoed so many a parting groan
And natural prayer
Of dying foeman mingled there–
Foeman at morn, but friends at eve–
Fame or country least their care:
(What like a bullet can undeceive!)
But now they lie low,
While over them the swallows skim
And all is hushed at Shiloh.

–Herman Melville, “Shiloh: A Requiem”

Let’s all just take a moment.