The Peculiar Rumbling of Battle: Andrew Neff at Shiloh

In 1916, 73-year-old Civil War veteran Andrew Young Neff wrote a memoir of his life as a “high private in the rear rank” during the war and while his death prevented completion of the work, he left a superb account covering his experiences through the Battle of Shiloh. 

Neff started the war as a lanky, rail-thin 18-year-old farmer boy from Logan County, Ohio when he enlisted in Co. C of the 13th Ohio Volunteer Infantry in June of 1861. The 13th Ohio served for several months in western Virginia where it took part in one battle (Carnifex Ferry) and several skirmishes. In November 1861, it was sent via steamboat to Louisville, Kentucky where it joined General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of Ohio. Originally assigned to General Ormsby M. Mitchel’s division, it was re-assigned to Colonel William Sooy Smith’s brigade of General Thomas Crittenden’s Fifth Division at the request of Colonel Smith in March 1862. Smith’s 14th Brigade consisted of the 13th Ohio, 11th Kentucky, and 26th Kentucky regiments. The 13th Ohio, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph G. Hawkins, took part in the lengthy march of Buell’s army from Nashville to link up with General U.S. Grant’s army at Pittsburg Landing.  
Private Andrew Young Neff, Co. C, 13th Ohio Volunteer Infantry

        We pick up Neff’s memoir as Crittenden’s division of Buell’s army approached Savannah, Tennessee on that sunlit Sunday afternoon of April 6, 1862.

It was about 2 p.m. on April 6, 1862 as we were marching along the side of the road that we were ordered to stack arms and make coffee. At the foot of the hill we were on ran a small stream and it was not long until we were on its banks and such a peculiar rumbling could be heard. Finally, the word got started that a battle was on somewhere and it was the roar of musketry and artillery fire we could hear over the water. This creek we were on emptied into the Tennessee River about 8 or 9 miles down from Pittsburg Landing where the battle was raging on, making 20 miles from where we were to the battleground.

As soon as we rested a little while, we were again on our way to Savannah. There we found several steamboats loading with soldiers headed for the battlefield. It was about 9 or 10 p.m. when we arrived at the landing and such a mess of confused and stampeded soldiers I never would care to see again. They had been in the fight all day and the Rebs had been pounding them and driving them until they were about to give in. But General Grant had massed about his artillery a little way back from the river and at about the time the Rebs made their last charge, this artillery opened on them with grape and canister and mowed them down like weeds. Our army under General Buell was pouring in to give the Johnnies a check. At the same time the gunboat Tyler had come up and was throwing 100-lb shells among the Rebs so thick and fast that they fell back, never to take the lost grounds again. We formed a line of battle just behind the big siege guns and laid down to get a little rest and sleep, for the battle we knew was to be fought on the morrow.

About midnight it began to thunder and in a short time the rain came pouring down with the thunder, and every minute a shot from the gunboat would be enough to wake the dead, or if nothing else, to disturb our rest and sleep. Just behind us were two three field hospitals where they had brought hundreds of the wounded. The poor fellows were making enough noise with their cries and groans to convince a demon that it was hell enough to satisfy any devil, even old Beelzebub himself without the brimstone. Such horror sure was enough to make the angels weep.

Finally, morning came, the rain had ceased, and we made a hurried breakfast out of what we had in our haversacks and were ordered to draw our loads and clean our guns. A little after daylight we began to move out and the sight we soon saw eclipsed any we had yet seen. Where our boys had made their last stand and where the Rebs had come to within reach of those siege guns there lay the blue and gray in piles so thick we could scarcely step without stepping on a dead man or rather a boy, for there were more boy soldiers in each army than men. I am not able to describe this horrid picture, or my thoughts, or my feelings. In fact, it was a release to that terrible sight when we had gotten beyond. We entered a field where the zing of the musket ball was heard, and the solid shot and shell was screaming in the very tree tops and where great limbs, almost the size of a man’s body, were being cut off and falling amongst us.
Major General Don Carlos Buell

We knew we were soon to face not only a Rebel battery, but also a line of his infantry. We were ordered to lie down so that most of their shots went over our heads, but every few moments one would get shot and if not hit fatally, they would jump up and hobble off to the rear. Finally, the Rebs gave that noted Rebel yell, then we knew they were about to make a charge. Just then, General Crittenden rode by and in a clear ringing voice called “Up and at ‘em, boys!” Anything for a change other then lying there and taking all their shots. Before I could tell it, we were up and gave them a volley that fairly shook the ground beneath our feet. And in answer to their Rebel yell, we gave them a hearty Yankee shout while on the double quick and before they had time to reload their guns or artillery, we were on them with our bayonets. What was not shot or crippled took to their heels and left their battery in our hands, but we did not hold it long.

Their reserve line came after us in such overwhelming numbers that we had to give back and they took the guns from us. But some of the boys had enough time to stuff them with mud such that they could not reload them and fire them into our lines. We fell back a little ways but rallied and went after them a second time and drove off their infantry as before and retook the guns. But between this time and our first charge, they had brought up their horses and were about to get away with the battery so as to save it, so we shot down some of the horses. This was not necessary because they never rallied to make another charge. This battery was one of the Rebs famous batteries known as the Washington Battery of New Orleans and history gives our regiment credit for its capture.
Major General Thomas L. Crittenden

Our regiment at this time numbered not more than 800, but our drill and discipline had made us a mighty good fighting machine. Our loss in this one hour’s experience of hell was 11 men killed and 65 wounded, making 76 in all. It is not known how many Johnnies we killed but there was a lot of them left on the field. We captured several besides. It was reported that one of our boys, a recruit from Tennessee, captured his own father. Such was the case in our war: brother against brother, father against son.

It was now well onto noon April 7th, and the backbone of the Rebel army was broken and on retreat, only their rear guard to hold and keep us back. But for some cause or reason, they got off and back to Corinth and our army settled down to be reorganized and get a little rest, but that sort of rest was anything but pleasant for the next week or so. The battlefield had to be cleared up, the dead buried, and the wounded looked after. The battleground of Shiloh is a low, wet country, and the excess rain had put the whole surroundings in a miserable condition. The weather had turned warm, and the dead had begun to smell, and the smell of human flesh rotting is awful, ten times multiplied above any other. If you can imagine how terrible it smelled just stretch your imagination to its limit and add some. I just now forget the killed at this battle but if you can realize seeing so many dead bodies, you may be able to know what a job it was to bury them.

Imagine a grave 6 to 8 feet across, the same amount deep and 50 rods long, you will see only one grave of many that were such. Now see a big army wagon pulled by 4 to 6 mules drive up to the pit loaded with dead bodies, boys, 10 or 20 of them heaped on the wagon like so much cord word. They drove up to the side of this big ditch and just tumbled them off the best way they could. Some soldiers laid the dead straight 3 or 4 deep, while still others were throwing dirt over them. Such is a scene on a battlefield and well has war been named hell. It took more than a few days to get all the dead gathered up, but it was impossible to gather up the blood. The awful stench of a battlefield is beyond description.

We boys of the 13th Ohio landed at Shiloh in good spirits and full of boyish vigor until the battle was over and our camp laid out alongside a little wet stream with underbrush running through a thicket. We all began to get sick some one way, some another. As for myself, I got the bloody flux and for several days I was a mighty sick boy and wanted to be drinking all the time. Lucky for us one of the boys was looking through that thicket and found a dead Rebel laying in that water. The maggots were floating down to where we were getting our drinking water, so if your stomach is strong enough, you may reflect a moment on the sort of soup we had been living on for almost a week.

The excerpt from Neff’s memoir comes to the blog courtesy of Bob Van Dorn.


  1. Very interesting piece, I've been too Shiloh by one of those mass Rebel graves, April 2012 -150 years after the battle-I solemnly thought of all the young souls that were lying there, who were alive early April , what they may have been like and their relations sadness over their loss. I reflected on Stanley's account of the bodies he saw when he was trying to rejoin his regiment, and that some those described may have been interred there, such a sad and mournful reflection I had that day ..


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