You May Glory in Us Now: Powder-Stained Bayonets and the fight before Shiloh

Two days before the battle of Shiloh, two companies of the 72nd Ohio became involved in a fracas with 400 Alabama cavalry south of the drill field near Shiloh Church. The regiment was conducting battalion drill under the guidance of Major Leroy Crockett around 2 in the afternoon on Friday, April 4, 1862 when the sounds of musketry were heard to the south.

Fearing an attack upon the Federal picket line, Major Crockett, at Colonel Ralph Buckland’s order, led two companies (B and H) and deployed them in a skirmish line to find the Confederates. Crockett took command of Co. H on the right and led them into the thickets while Captain George Raymond took his company (B) off to the left. The two companies were soon out of sight of one another and a mile and a half south of the picket line, Co. B ran into a hornet’s nest of cavalry. The men conducted themselves well in their first engagement with the enemy.
Private Chester A. Buckland
Co. B, 72nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry
Died of wounds sustained at Shiloh 

          The following letter, penned by Private Chester A. Buckland of Co. B, describes in great detail this engagement of April 4, 1862 from the perspective of a green recruit in the ranks. It was written in the evening of Saturday, April 5, 1862, mere hours before the Confederates ran into the Federals at Fraley Field and opened the bloodiest battle in American history to that point in time. His final words to his mother are prophetic: “Good bye, dear Mother and remember if I die, it is for my country.” Buckland was mortally wounded the following morning and would die a few weeks later. His letter was published in the April 25, 1862 issue of the Fremont Journal.

Camp Shiloh, Tennessee
April 5, 1862

Dearest Mother:
          You may glory in us now. Yesterday, while drilling about a mile from here, our pickets were fired upon. In a very few moments, the 72nd Ohio was on its way to battle at a double-quick step, Company B in the rear. When we arrived at a convenient place, we were deployed as skirmishers and were to try and surround the Rebels. Henry and I were near the end of the company. The company was in groups of four and each group was 20 paces apart. An order was given to rally on the first group when the front commenced to fire but ceased before we could get up.
Captain George Raymond
Co. B, 72nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry

          We moved around for nearly an hour in a body making frequent halts. Every ear was listening and every eye watching eagerly for sound or sight of the enemy. Nearly an hour from the first fire we got sight of them again and nearly all got a chance to fire. We think one was killed or badly wounded. Here we found there were more of the enemy than we thought and so we retreated to a kind of pen built of rails and then to a big tree on the brow of a ravine. In a little time the Rebel cavalry rode up in sight and then the fight began. I could hear the balls go “whizip” through the air and strike the trees around us. There were a 150 Rebels against 44 of us!

Once in a while one would drop from his horse or a horse would fall dead or wounded. We would load, run up to where we could see, drop on one knee, take aim, and fire, and then run back to load. In this way we made them believe there were a good many more than there were of us.

In this part of the fight two men were wounded, Charles H. Bennett in the right leg and James Titsword through the left breast above the heart. When we had fought for about three-quarters of an hour, it commenced to rain and hail which made it difficult to load without wetting the powder. Then the Rebels retreated. In a very little time it rained so hard we could not see more than a couple of rods, which was just exactly the time for them to ride on to us and cut us to pieces. We threw out guards to wait for them. I never knew it to rain so hard.

When the rain ceased, we saw them forming on a sort of prairie beyond the reach of our Enfields. In a short time, they gave us a great shout and advanced on us. As soon as they were in good reach, we commenced to drop them again. They had been reinforced to about 400-500 beside what they may have been in reserve. We fought here about a quarter of an hour more during which three more were wounded and several had shot holes in the clothes- one having a thumb broke, two shots in his arm and one in his boot. Now was a desperate time.
Private John M. Lemmon
Co. B, 72nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry

The Rebels fired a volley, drew sabers, and began to advance. They were on three sides of us. Our hearts began to sink. We rallied round the old white oak, each one firmly grasping his gun with its powder-stained bayonet and determined to give as good as we got. How fierce we felt.

Our last chance seemed gone when a volley sounded in the rear of the Rebels. It was the 72nd! How loud the hurrahs sounded then! It was the sweetest music I ever heard! The Rebels turned and fled. We were saved! We fired as long as we could reach them, and then took Titsword in acre, after which we went over to where part of the Rebels had been. We found two of them mortally wounded. Our Enfields made wicked holes. The first was a boy about 18. He was afraid of us and wanted to know what we would do with him. We answered that we should take care of him as we would of our own men. Thus assured, his fears were allayed. The other man was about 25. We carried them as far as the pickets where we had to leave them for we could carry them no farther. Each one said there were 400-500 of them. They were from Alabama, were well-dressed and well-armed. These two men died last night.

The Rebels had carried all their wounded and dead away, but our cavalry say they saw about 20 dead Rebels in the woods and there must have been many wounded. I saw four dead horses. Company A passed over the ground where our heaviest fire was aimed and found a great many sabers, pistols, guns, blankets, and everything they couldn’t take away. They had a battery not far from where we were, and the cavalry followed them nearly into it. I have heard our men took two pieces of artillery but am not certain if it be true.
Color Sergeant Gustavus Gessner
Co. H, 72nd Ohio Infantry
Wounded and briefly captured April 4, 1862

None of our side were killed but Major Crockett, I fear, is a prisoner. The last seen of him he was riding like a flash through the woods followed by a dozen Rebel horsemen. He had no arms with him and couldn’t fight them. A sergeant and a corporal were taken prisoners from Co. H. Company H had four wounded, one the color sergeant Dr. Gessner’s son. He was taken prisoner and told to climb up behind one of the Rebels which he would not do. The Rebel drew a revolver and snapped it at him but is misfired. He ran while the Rebel was cocking it again and when the fellow shot, he hit him in the shoulder.

Our men took nine or ten prisoners who said they hadn’t thought we could shoot so well. We must have killed about as many as there were of us for every man took aim and there are some who don’t miss often. Orin England and Eugene Rawson were with our company and neither one of them had even a pistol. But as soon as Titsword was wounded, Orin took his gun and cartridge box and fought well, while Eugene stood up with the boys and talked and laughed and told them to keep cool and take good aim.  It was no light matter to stand up unarmed and a lot of Rebels shooting at you.

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

Our fight will not probably appear in the papers, but we had a hard struggle and against most fearful odds. Ten to one is a great disadvantage. Two minutes more and Co. B, 72nd Ohio would have been no more. We would have all been killed for each one would have died fighting. It would have been a barren victory for there would have been a dead Rebel or two for every one of us. Our bayonets were fixed and they are sorry things to run upon. We weren’t willing to stop fighting.

How soon we will have another fight I don’t know but any minute the long roll may sound for battle. We may fight and die but Mother, your sons will never quail. It is getting too dark to write so I must close. Good bye, dear Mother and remember if I die, it is for my country.

Your son,
Chester A. Buckland

To read more about the 72nd Ohio at the Battle of Shiloh, check out my other blog posts on this subject:
General Buckland Explains the Battle of Shiloh
72nd Ohio Flag Captured at the Battle of Shiloh
John M. Lemmon and the Battle of Shiloh
Honoring Lieutenant Colonel Leroy Crockett, 72nd Ohio Infantry

For a lengthier study of the service of the 72nd Ohio, please check my book "Sherman's Praetorian Guard: Civil War Letters of John McIntrye Lemmon, 72nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry" available through my bookstore.


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