John M. Lemmon and the Battle of Shiloh

    Private John M. Lemmon was serving in Company B of the 72nd Ohio Infantry during the Battle of Shiloh. The regiment had seen its first action just two days before in a short skirmish with Confederate cavalry. Company B had become separated from the regiment and fought on its own for more than an hour before relief arrived and the company could return to camp. That skirmish, a precursor to the Battle of Shiloh, gave the men their first small taste of battle- the maelstrom that broke upon their lines on the morning of April 6, 1862 would give them a belly full of fighting. 647 men went into action that morning- total casualties in the battle amounted to 133 men, including Lieutenant Colonel Herman Canfield who died of wounds.

Private John M. Lemmon, Co. B, 72nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry

There had been considerable skirmishing along the lines for some days. Our pickets were continually harassed by the enemy’s cavalry and on Saturday they reported seeing a large Rebel force not more than a mile from our camp with artillery. To ensure the complete safety of our pickets Gen. Sherman on Saturday withdrew them to within about 60 rods of camp. Thus when the enemy chose to make his attack, we must be taken by surprise for the pickets being so close could not possibly give us the alarm. From prisoners we learn that the enemy arrived in force before our lines on Friday and employed Saturday in making his arrangements for the attack, bringing his lines nearer to ours. In the evening he sent up rockets which fairly illuminated our camp but which was altogether too trifling a matter to break the stolid repose and security of our generals. The Union troops lay down to slumber and possibly dream of battle, grim and terrible, so completely were they wrapped in the treacherous security of their leaders.

Sunday morning opened most beautiful. A more charmingly beautiful morning I never beheld. Sharp firing was heard some distance from our quarters which I since learn was the attack on Gen. Prentiss’ division or upon an advance part of it. About 7 A.M. before we had eaten our breakfast, the long roll was beaten throughout our division and in a twinkling the men were under arms, though little expecting so terrible a battle as we were in a few moments involved in. We had scarcely formed in line when the enemy was found to be almost upon us, and we had barely time to advance a few paces forward of our color line into the woods in front of our camp when the battle opened along the whole line with the greatest fury. By this- and the time was much less than I have taken to relate the facts- the fight was fairly opened along the whole extent of our front. The enemy was rushing in overwhelming force, bringing his artillery to bear with terrible effect and as fast as his ranks were thinned filling them with fresh troops.

The regimental colors of the 72nd Ohio were captured by the Confederates when they overran the camp of the regiment around 10 A.M. The flag was still cased and inside a medical wagon which had been mistakenly left behind.

There raged the deadly conflict of fiercest war, for full two hours. We were contending with terrible odds, without support and for over an hour without the help of artillery, which however did us little good when brought forward. Reluctantly our line began to waver and presently gave way after holding the foe a full two hours in check and doing him great damage. Many had fallen, half of the field officers were numbered with the wounded and slain. The cowardly, of whom there are always more or less, had ingloriously fled to the river, creating the utmost confusion and panic. Col. Buckland’s brigade was the last to fall back and then only when ordered by Gen. Sherman when near surrounded and about to be cut off. 
Our position was upon the right of our front and as we fell back, the enemy directed his attack more directly upon the center which had been strengthened by Gen. McClernand’s command. The enemy came rushing on impetuously and bravely inspired by the success which thus far attended him. On the other hand, the Union troops, though sorely pressed by vastly overpowering numbers, seeming stung and maddened by their repulse and made new and herculean exertions to save the day and repel the foe. They rallied along the whole line and made one gallant and successful stand. The contest raged with unabated fury and obstinacy, our forces maintaining the stand they had taken with firmness and determination. The enemy now concentrated all his energies upon our left and center, in a fierce effort to make his way to the river, but the gunboats Tyler and Lexington coming to the aid of our troops, he was fairly foiled in this attempt.

Shiloh Church on the morning of April 6, 1862. The 72nd Ohio would have been just to the right of this image facing south. The regiment  (and Buckland's brigade consisting of the 48th and 70th Ohio regiments along with the 72nd) fought Brigadier General Patrick Cleburne's command to a standstill before Patton Anderson's brigade hit their line around 9 A.M. With ammunition exhausted and the brigade to their left (Hildebrand's) in retreat, the brigade fell back from their position southwest of Shiloh Church. 

Thus ended the first day’s encounter. We had been driven from one to two miles and the Rebels occupied a good portion of our camp. But the day’s conflict, though apparently in their favor, had been an exceedingly sore one to them. They had suffered heavily and by no means gained the easy victory they had counted on. Late in the afternoon a portion of Buell’s army (under Nelson I think) had got across the river and engaged in the fight. During the night other reinforcements came up from Buell’s column under forced marches and were ready to take part in the expected contest of the morrow. Gen. Lew Wallace had also arrived on the ground just after dark. We took new hope. Help was at hand, and we felt assured that ere another sunset a glorious victory should crown our arms.

Colonel Ralph P. Buckland commanded the brigade at the outset of the battle but reverted to regimental command following the wounding of Lieutenant Colonel Canfield. Buckland later remember Shiloh as the "most terrible days of my life. The scenes around me were such as I never expected to see. Death and destruction in all its horrors and in every possible shape, amid the smoke and roar of musketry and artillery without cessation."

Darkness came on and both armies rested on their arms but a short distance apart. The dead and awful silence of the night was continually broken by the groans of the wounded and dying on the battlefield. There lay men, felled down in the awful storm of common butchery, torn, mangled, shattered, disfigured, suffering all the tortures of wounds, the most ghastly writhing in the most excruciating pains, left to agonize and die without the ministration of the least relief, whose solemn pitiful moanings filled the still night with a sad solemn presence. As if to drown the cries of the wounded, a violent thunderstorm came on about 1 o’clock in the morning which fairly deluged the face of dame nature in a sheet of water.

Union casualties at Shiloh (National Tribune)

With the dawn of the morn on the 7th it was found that the Rebels had withdrawn their lines somewhat and taken up advantageous position on the Purdy Road and waited for us to make the attack. They waited not long. Gen. Wallace and Sherman went against the enemy’s right, Gen. Buell’s forces against the center and left with McClernand’s, Prentiss’, and Hurlbut’s commands. Our artillery was much better served than the previous day. The enemy was obstinate. He appeared to fully estimate the consequences of a defeat and fought with desperate fierceness. Slowly but surely we drove him back. Our men all fought nobly, but none more so than Col. Buckland’s brigade who had suffered so severely the day before. The enemy’s left was driven in. Then he rallied all his forces and launched them in one prodigious effort to break our center. But all was of no avail. Our troops were firm as an avalanche and steadily moving on like the torrent of a mighty river. Many of the batteries taken from us on Sunday were recaptured on Monday and many of the Rebel batteries in addition.

Private Chester Buckland, Co. B, 72nd O.V.I.
Died of wounds sustained at Shiloh

Thus the battle raged, the greatest conflict ever waged upon the American continent till about 4 P.M. when the Rebels began to falter and their ranks gave way. They could no more be rallied. A panic seized upon them. They broke and fled in the wildest terror, throwing away guns, accoutrements, clothing, leaving ambulances, caissons, cannon, provision trains and everything in their flight. They were pursued by our cavalry and many were captured. The enemy was pursued about eight miles far beyond his camp. He abandoned and destroyed large quantities of commissary stores, ammunition, and camp equipage. No doubt, had it been possible to pursue with the greater portion of the forces here, we could have occupied and held Corinth without a serious struggle. But the condition of the roads and the fatigued condition of the troops rendered this quite out of the question. Meantime, the people must wait for full preparations before Gen. Halleck moves on Corinth which is certain to fall at the appointed time.

I have no time to say much of the bravery of soldiers or officers during the fight. For the most part, all behaved with great bravery. The enemy fought well and were led by able generals, but I shall insist that we fought much better. So confident was Beauregard of success that on Sunday evening he issued orders that his troops should destroy nothing in our camps. His design was a bold one and had he been a day sooner, he might, to say the least, have been entirely successful. The timely junction of Buell’s forces with those here on Monday foiled his purpose and he suffered a crushing defeat.

Gravestone of Lieutenant Colonel Herman Canfield, 72nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry
Canfield had command of the regiment until he was shot down from his horse Lyon as he rode back and forth behind the battle line encouraging the men. The bullet penetrated his right lung and exited out his left side. He was carried from the field and died of his wounds the following day. In his dying moments, he inquired about his beloved regiment and his last words were 'I have faced the enemy and fell.'

Of the loss I can add little. It was very heavy on both sides, though I think the Rebels lost in killed nearly twice as many men as we did; their wounded may not be more numerous. On the part of the 72nd, I must be permitted to state that the regiment acquitted itself with honorable distinction. Both officers and men behaved with noble gallantry and have done lasting honor to the heroic ground from whence they came. Col. Buckland distinguished himself by his soldierly bearing and fearless intrepid leadership. All honor to our gallant colonel.

(The ever modest Lemmon neglected to state that he received three wounds during the battle, the last of which (a tree limb falling on him after being struck by a Confederate cannon shell) incapacitated him for a few days after the battle. He had been wounded twice on April 6th- a musket ball striking his left arm and a spent ball bruised his right arm. The tree limb falling on him occurred on April 7th when the regiment was advancing against the Confederate lines.)

Total casualties were 2 officers and 13 men killed, 3 officers and 70 men wounded, 45 men missing.

Private Samuel Shutts, Co. B, 72nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry
Killed in action at Shiloh
April 6, 1862


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