Monday, November 29, 2010

Shiloh (Pittsburg Landing) :: Letter from the 29th

During the Civil War, like many hometown newspapers, The Times of Goshen, Indiana published letters sent home by soldiers in the field. You can read the official reports from the battle to get a general idea of what took place on the battlefield, but with these letters you "experience" it through the eyes of the common soldier out on the field. To me, that has a much greater impact and brings home the horrors of war, any war.

This is the second of two letters I've transcribed for posting. It was written by H. G. Davis of the 29th Indiana. He briefly mentions the 44th Regiment at the end of the third paragraph (Ralph Goodrich, possible 4th Great Grand Uncle, and his son David were members of Company B. Ralph was wounded on the first day of the battle and died of his wounds on the 8th).

Paragraph breaks were added to make it a bit easier to read, otherwise it has been transcribed as it was published.

Be forewarned, portions of the letters are quite graphic...

The Times. Goshen, Indiana
Thursday, April 24, 1862

The following letter from Capt. H. G. Davis of the 29th to Dr. Ellis, we are permitted to lay before our readers. It will be perused with interest by all:

Battle-Field at Pittsburg
Landing Tenn., April 11, '62.

Dr. Ellis: -- Dear Sir: -- It is no doubt known at Goshen, that a grand battle has been fought here upon the 6th and 7th inst., and anticipating that a deep interest is felt for the safety of those engaged, I deem it no less than my duty to give you all the important facts in my possession.

When the battle commence, McCook's Division was 23 miles to the rear of Savannah. The order soon reached us to push forward the column with all possible dispatch. -- Knapsacks were thrown away, and every thing that was not necessary for offensive or defensive war were abandoned, and we took the double quick. The roar of the distant battle was distinctly heard, which made us quicken our step to save our forces from impending defeat. We arrived at Savannah at 8 P.M., and soon procured transports up river. Before we could land, the rebels had commenced the tragic scene. We formed and were held for a while as a reserve. Soon the order was given to advance. When the gallant 29th with our brave Lieut. Col. Dunn and Adjutant Angel, gave three cheers and dashed up the bank in quest of the foeman.

The regiments in our advance were first engaged so that we had to wait until they had expended their ammunition, and so by turns we came to the front. The enemy fought with dogged obstinacy, but as they were compelled to give way, the ground was quickly occupied by us with such a shout as sent terror into their ranks. -- We occupied a position near the center. And now had come the time for the 29th. We were ordered to take position a little in advance of what is called "Green Point" which proved to be a deep swamp.

Through this the three left Companies of the 29th had to pass. And now the order is given by our gallant and good Col.; "forward double quick,march," and on we rushed over an open field in front of the enemy. It was thickly strewn with the dead and wounded, friend and foe. Horses, dismounted cannon and overturned caissons, and slippery with the blood of the fallen. All this time the enemy had us fair in view. But I do not know as we lost a man in the field.

Arrived at "Green Point" a flank movement was attempted so that the left need not pass through it, but amid the terrific roar of the battle the order was misapprehended, and I was compelled to move to the front. The boys of Company B. dashed into the pool and soon made their way through. -- This necessarily made some confusion, but we soon formed and in double quick alined ourselves with the regiment. -- And now the enemy opened upon us with redoubled fury. We were ordered to lie down and deliver our fire, which was done with astonishing effect, and attests the coolness of the entire command. We fought a long time without any support but after a while the Illinois 34th came up and poured in their volley, when the enemy broke and fled, and "the red field was won."

The field is mostly a wood like our oak openings, with now and then a cleared field. It is about seven miles square, and is strewn all over with the dead. You may take any position, and you can see from 1 to 50 mangled human forms, and all the munitions of war are thickly strewn over this vast area, a scene of havoc terrible to contemplate. The under wood is literally mown down by the shower of bullets, and the stoutest trees were cut away by the heavy artillery and hurled amid the combatents. The shell on Sunday fired the leaves and the wounded were burned alive. I saw many of the victims literally roasted. ---- Their clothes and hair burned off, and their skin rolled up like an old book cover and their bodies charred through. There is scarcely a tree on the whole field but has from 5 to 20 shot marks. I counted one bush 3 inches in diameter, which was marked by 21 shot.

On Sunday the Secesh had the advantage. Their dead lay within half a mile of the Landing. Of the courage and coolness of Co. B. I can most cheerfully attest. And their acts of undivided bravery are worthy of mention. Gen. Sherman told us next day, that this had been the most obstinate battle in history, and that "Green Point" was the heaviest fire. He said the 2nd Division had covered itself all over with glory. The 44th is badly cut up.

Our tents have not arrived, and we are bivouaced upon the battle-field. The weather is cool and rainy, but I hear not a murmur from our brave boys. Our good Lieut. Col. lays down in the mud with us and feeds upon hard bread and broiled bacon.

The casualties of the day were not so great as was anticipated. The 29th has 78 killed and wounded. Adjutant lost his horse, two Captains wounded. Company B. lost 5 wounded 1 perhaps mortally. Here is the list: Seth W. Kesey, slightly; 2nd Corporal, Jacob Miller, slightly in abdomen, doing well; Corporal, B. McCreary, slightly in foot; D. Rogers, leg, below knee; I. Odell, thigh and below knee, considered dangerous. I was struck by a spent shot in the ribs, but I can do duty. A part of my Company was acting as rear guard under Lieut. Hess and not in the battle, I had only 30 men. The enemy kept up a constant and increasing fire from Sunday morning until night, and Monday from eight until they fled.

Yours truly,
H.G. Davis.


Leah said...

Becky, thanks so much for posting this letter. I've been enjoying all your articles on Shiloh/Pittsburg Landing and this one especially as my great-grandfather was at Shiloh with the 29th.

GeneaDiva said...


I enjoyed reading your Shiloh letter. I walk this battlefield often and this personal glimpse adds another view to the suffering from that April weekend in 1862.