"Lead is a Terrible Reformer" The 49th Ohio at Shiloh

It was a calm, quiet, beautifully sunlit April Sunday at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, but Captain James M. Patterson (1832-1917) of Co. K of the 49th Ohio was soaked to the skin, shaken both by the cold and what he had witnessed since crossing the Tennessee River a week before. The rain began as his regiment waited nervously at Savannah, Tennessee on Sunday night April 6, 1862, a regular “Baptist downpour” it was called; a tremendous thunderstorm punctuated by the dull heavy roar of the Union gunboats as they dropped shells towards the Confederate lines all night long. “It rained nearly all night. In fact, the elements have been so disturbed that it rained nearly all the time until today,” he wrote on Sunday April 13, 1862. “We never got our tents until last night but we are now fixed and I can now write. I have seen the elephant, I have stood upon the bloody field of Shiloh amidst the showers of grape and shell.”
A period print showing the 1st Ohio of Rousseau's Brigade going into action at Shiloh; the 49th Ohio operated in support of Rousseau and were called into action at around 1 o'clock in the afternoon. The heavily wooded and rolling topography is evident in the print, as is the close quarters in which the men fought. 
Patterson’s 49th Ohio Infantry had had a long day’s march to arrive at Savannah the previous Sunday; a confusion of orders had the regiment marching at a regular pace, then sped up because they were needed at the front, then slowed down again, and finally at dinner time, the order came: “abandon all teams and press forward with all possible haste.”

          “We reached Savannah at 10 p.m., tired and hungry,” he wrote. “We learned that we could not get up the river by boat before daylight as there are two divisions and two brigades before us. We stacked our arms and lay in the streets. The rain fell in torrents and every house in town had been converted to a hospital. Every boat brings down her hundreds of wounded. Surgeons and citizens do all in their power to comfort them and ease their pains.”

          “At intervals, the cannon still belches forth their messengers of death. It is understood that the Rebels have driven back our forces to the water’s edge and although that day had been baptized in blood, the next was to crown the climax,” he stated. “It was indeed a night to try the bravery of us all, but every boy nerved himself for the conflict. Morning came, and it still rained and the dead and wounded were still brought down the river.”

“We marched aboard the John B. Roe and were soon upon the stream for the field of danger. [Colonel William H. Gibson reported that the regiment boarded the Roe around 9 a.m.] The conflict of the day had already began, and as we moved up the river, we would meet boatloads of wounded. The cry was ‘hurry on, we need you!’ I passed among the boys and although there was not as much merriment as usual, I could see that every man had made up his mind to drive the rebels from the field or die a hero. We soon reached Pittsburg Landing and hurried to the field. [Gibson reports their arrival as 11 a.m.  An unnamed correspondent to the Tiffin Tribune recalled on the march to the field that “the atmosphere was impregnated with powder and the deep roar of cannon mingled with the sharp rattle of musketry told of death’s dread harvest. The field was not darkened with smoke as a strong wind from the South lifted it up so that at a distance the cloud of smoke hanging over the ground and above the tree tops looked like a vast burning forest.”]
Union and Confederate casualties littered the battlefield  at Shiloh. 

“We were drawn up in line of battle and advanced to the right of Rousseau’s Brigade as their cartridges had given out- the first thing the boys knew they were in close range of the enemy and hot work began. We fought with coolness and judgment. We fired into the Rebel ranks a constant sheet of lead and they replied with vigor and courage worthy of a better cause. Twice did they get upon our left flank and force us to change front on the first company.”

Lieutenant Colonel Albert M. Blackman continued the story. “We were brought into action about 1 p.m. occupying the left of the brigade and the extreme left of the division. Our position was taken under a severe fire from infantry and artillery, but my men came up firmly and fired with coolness and precision that soon caused a wavering in the ranks of the enemy. Shell and grape shot from one battery was very annoying to my left without doing much damage, their range being too high. We advanced to our second position continuing to fire by file. The enemy now attempted to take advantage of the exposed condition of our left. He advanced up a ravine and opened fire, quartering on my left and rear. I at once changed front to the rear on the first company. This change was made in perfect order, the men behaving in the very best manner. Our fire soon drove the flanking force from their position,” Blackman wrote. The regiment changed front again and continued to push the Rebels to their front.

“After a desperate conflict of nearly two hours, the Rebels were forced from the field and compelled to give up the struggle,” Patterson wrote. [The unnamed Tribune correspondent added that “we captured several prisoners and two hospitals full of Rebel wounded. As we approached the hospitals, a white flag met us to notify that they were hospitals. A very gentlemanly Rebel surgeon was in attendance and Colonel Gibson told him we would respect the hospital unless fired on from them, in which case we would fire upon and burn them to ashes.”
"It was very common to see three or four Rebels laying behind the same tree, each shot through the head," Patterson reported. This engraving from the National Tribune shows two Federals gawking one of those dead Rebels, the Confederate soldier frozen in position about to fire his rifle. Soldiers at Shiloh saw sights beyond imagination. 

“But oh what a sight was there. Wounded Rebels laying side by side with the dead. It is impossible for me to describe the scene. They wounded a large proportion of our men in the arms and legs while our men shot with wonderful precision. Most of the battleground is in the woods and the Rebels would get behind trees and shoot; as a result, it was very common to see three or four rebels laying behind the same tree, each shot through the head. We buried our dead first and then the Rebels. On Friday, we buried 2,700 Rebels. I have seen as high as 150 buried in the same pit. The Rebels have fought us in every shape and I think made their last desperate effort. The prisoners say their generals told them in their speeches if they were whipped here, it would be their last effort.”
Private Sam Houston, Jr., Co. C, 2nd Texas Infantry. Patterson met Houston when a detail under his command loaded the young soldier aboard a hospital boat headed to Illinois. "He was shot through both thighs; he is a lad of about 23 years and told me his father was still a Union man and told him not to join the Rebel army for the South was all wrong, and that he himself now learned his father was right. I thought yes, my lad, lead is a terrible reformer."
“Yesterday I had a detail of men to load some wounded on a boat. We loaded 300. It rained all the time and I got very wet, in fact I have not been dry in nearly a week. Among the number of wounded we loaded on the boat was the son of Sam Houston of Texas. [Houston was serving as a private in Co. C of the 2nd Texas]. He was shot through both thighs; he is a lad of about 23 years and told me his father was still a Union man and told him not to join the Rebel army for the South was all wrong, and that he himself now learned his father was right. I thought yes, my lad, lead is a terrible reformer.”

Weekly Tiffin Tribune, April 25, 1862, pg. 3


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