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The Battle of Shiloh, and the Part Played Therein by Henry Watkins Allen, Ex-Governor of Louisiana by Sarah A. Dorsey

The Battle of Shiloh, and the Part Played Therein by Henry Watkins Allen, Ex-Governor of Louisiana 
Sarah Anne Dorsey

The morning of the 6th of April dawned before Johnston got his lines ready for battle. Twenty-four hours had been lost through the rain and the difficulty of moving rapidly his undisciplined levies over the heavy roads. The enemy were encamped along a broken country, a succession of hills and valleys—filled with woods, interspersed with an occasional open field. Their principal camp was near a log-cabin used as a meeting-house, called "Shiloh." Their line stretched away on the road leading from Pittsburg Landing to Corinth; their camps generally located in the small open fields, scattered at intervals throughout the forest. The battle was, therefore, necessarily fought in fractions; giving opportunities for exhibitions of personal courage and deeds of heroic daring, always eagerly welcomed by Southern men.

Johnston and Beauregard had formed the army in three parallel lines of battle—the first under Hardee, the second under Bragg, the last under Polk and Breckinridge; each line had its centre and two flanks, protected by artillery and cavalry. Johnston was with the second line under Bragg, and Beauregard was with the third line under Polk and Breckinridge. This resume of events was needful in order to make the reader understand why the battle of Shiloh was fought—the first field on which Henry W. Allen was engaged and was wounded in the service of the country. He commanded his beloved Fourth Louisiana, in the line of Bragg. He was overflowing with military ardor and eager patriotism, and communicated magnetically his excited interest to his regiment. The Fourth Louisiana, as well as its colonel, was ready for anything. The night previous, talking with some of my relatives, in their tent—discussing the probabilities of the morrow—Allen said very gravely, "A man ought always to expect to be killed in battle, and should be willing and prepared for death always before he goes into it;" then he repeated the beautiful invocation to death, from Halleck's Marco Bozzaris. On the morning of the 6th he was ordered by Bragg to charge a battery of the enemy, stationed in a thicket; it was a strong position on an eminence, and the guns were very troublesome. The aide-de-camp, who took the order to Allen, says: "I found him near a small copse or bosquet of woods. He received the order in silence; then turning his head around, he called his servant, Hyppolyte, who was standing near by. 'Hyppolyte,' he said, in his rapid way, 'we are going to charge; stand here in a safe place, but watch that flag,' pointing to the regimental colors. 'I shall either be before it or by it. If I fall, search for me, and take me to the rear if wounded; if dead, bury me decently; and now, God bless you, you have been a faithful servant,' wringing the hand of his now weeping slave. Allen led his regiment." Twice he charged on the battery; his men were fearfully cut up, but they heard the rallying voice of their beloved colonel clear and distinct through the noise of battle, and they followed him through the storm of shot and shell unhesitatingly, never faltering an instant. Allen's heart bled to see his men dropping around him—wounded, dying. After the second charge he sent to tell General Bragg that his regiment was suffering: fearfullv, and to ask if he must make another charge with them. "Tell Colonel Allen I want no faltering now," was the stern reply. Allen was startled and stung at the unjust insinuation of lack of courage. He never forgot nor forgave it. Rising in his stirrups, without a word of reply, he waved his sword to his men to follow, and charged the guns once more. The men rolled from their saddles like leaves about him. This last charge was as useless and ineffectual as the other two. The enemy's position was too strong. A minie ball struck Allen in the mouth, as he cheered his men on this fruitless ride to death—for so many of them. The ball passed out through the cheek. Catching up a handful of cotton lint, Allen stuck it in the wound—which, though painful, was not serious—tied his handkerchief around his jaws with sangfroid, in the midst of the rain of bullets and shells. His clothes, cloak, and cap were riddled with shot-holes ; but he remained in his saddle all day, never quitting the field, but doing his utmost to the last lingering hours of daylight, before he sought medical relief or repose. The day declined on a glorious victory for the Confederates. Grant was cowering near the river under the protection of his gunboats, when Beauregard, careful of the lives of his men, finding them much wearied and exhausted from the day's work and want of food, discovering, too, that there was some difficulty in manoeuvring with his raw, undrilled troops, ordered the pursuit to be checked, the lines re-formed, and the attack to be continued at daybreak on the following day. Grant was still strong behind his batteries along the river, and under the cover of his gun boats. It is questioned whether Beauregard was right or wrong in checking this pursuit. But there are several points to be considered in viewing Beauregard's conduct at Shiloh. In the first place, his plans—owing to circumstances that he could not control—were only tardily carried into effect.

"Rapidity in war depends as much on the experience of the troops as on the energy of the chief."

Beauregard was always careful of the lives of his soldiers. Though an engineer, he would abandon any, the most cherished fortifications, to save his army. And also—

"It is too common with soldiers, first, to break up the arrangements of their generals by want of discipline, and then complain of the misery those arrangements were designed to obviate." So it proved here.

Our undisciplined forces became much demoralized by the sight of the rich booty they found spread before their victorious eyes, in the captured tents of the Federal encampments. The costly viands, the splendid accoutrements, were so many golden apples of Atalanta, to our poor, hungry, thirsty, weary boys. In vain the commanders stormed and raged; the gallant army, "who had rushed," Beauregard said, "like an Alpine avalanche" on the enemy, on the morning of that eventful day, at nightfall were mostly a dissolved, disorganized rabble of soldiers.

The 7th of April broke upon Grant, reenforced by Buell. The Confederates had been gathered in some order by their indomitable leaders. Grant attacked them, now strong in his reinforcements. On the centre and right he was steadily repulsed—he could make no impression there. The left he attacked obliquely, pouring line after line of fresh, vigorous troops on it, who were as continually repelled by the Confederate phalanx. But, opposed to an enemy who were constantly reenforced, the Confederate ranks were growing thin. A gentleman on Beauregard's staff narrated, with humor, to the writer, how he came unexpectedly on Colonel Allen, with his face still tied up in its improvised dressing of the previous day, trying to rally his broken troops, who were nearly decimated by the hard fighting he had led them into. He said: "There was Allen, his face tied up in a bloody handkerchief, with a bit of raw cotton sticking on his cheek—which certainly did not improve his beauty—one minute entreating, praying, weeping, tears streaming, as he implored the men to stand; the next moment, swearing, raging at them, abusing them, berating them, giving them every angry epithet he could think of; then addressing them in the most affectionate words. But he succeeded in gathering together not only his own men, but a number of stragglers from other regiments, whom he coaxed or abused back into the ranks. The last I saw of him, he was off with them like a whirlwind into the thick of the battle. It made me both laugh and cry to watch him. He was a regular Murat; but instead of the 'white plume,' it was the white speck of cotton, and head tied up in the white handkerchief, that was always in the van." According to General Beauregard, the number of Confederate troops engaged on the 6th, at the battle of Shiloh, was about 33,000—lost one-third. Grant had 55,000. On the 7th, the Confederate force did not exceed 17,000. The Federals had: Buell 22,000, Lewis Wallace 8,000, Grant 10,000 or 15,000, making nearly 45,000 in all. The battle-ground extended about two miles and a half or three miles. The Federal loss in the two days' fights was nearly 20,000, killed, wounded, and taken prisoners. On the first day of the battle, while the Confederates were pressing Grant down on his gun boats, the firing was very heavy on the part of the boats' batteries, in order to cover Grant's retreat. The great conical shells were rather alarming to our verdant, unused troops. They would strike and cut down large trees with a neatness and despatch that startled tyros in the art of war. We were all somewhat timid, at that time, about bombardments from mortars and howitzers, a timidity that we soon got rid of as the war progressed, especially all of us living on the water-courses, where we were exposed to being shelled every day—we got used to it. However, these marine batteries did considerable damage to our troops at Shiloh, killing and wounding the men frightfully, until they got inside the range of the boats' guns. Allen was leading his men in the fight when one of these huge messengers of death demolished a tree in front of him, and lodged in the earth at his horse's feet. Seeing the extremity of danger to his men, Allen spurred his horse, leaped the cavity formed by the unexploded shell, waving his sword and calling to his men to follow him. They obeyed instantaneously, and were all safe beyond when the shell exploded. By his presence of mind and coolness, he thus preserved his men and his own life.

After eighteen hours' hard fighting, Beauregard thought it best to withdraw his wearied troops to his camp at Corinth. General Breckinridge covered with his command the gradual withdrawal of the Confederate army. This retreat is regarded as a remarkable one. It was managed so quietly, so rapidly, so steadily, so skilfully, the enemy were completely deceived. Breckinridge presented a bold, resolute front to the last hour, while Beauregard drew back his lines without confusion, and concentrated them again at Corinth. Sydney Johnston had been killed : the news of his death, and his mode of meeting it, sent a pang of regret and bitter remorse through every Southern heart. We recognized, too late, the great spirit of the man we had driven to reckless desperation.

Colonel Allen had retired at last, his wound growing painful from the twenty-four hours' neglect to have it properly dressed by a surgeon. While under the surgeon's hands, he heard the cry of retreat raised by the wagon-drivers. Jumping up, he rushed among them, mounted on his horse, and aided greatly in restoring order among this portion of the army. Afterwards, when he got time, the dressing of the wound was completed. His careless treatment of this wound in the face, which he regarded so slightly at this time, caused him much unnecessary pain from it ever after.

Thomas M’Caleb, The Louisiana Book: Selections from the Literature of the State (New Orleans: R. F. Staughan, Publishers, 1894), 93-97.


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