A Sad Duty, Indeed: A Federal Captain Writes After Shiloh

    The passage of centuries cannot remove the anguish one feels when reading the words of Captain Oliver Wood of the 13th Missouri. One can sense the weight of responsibility and the loneliness of command as he wrote home to a brother of a member of his company who had been killed in battle.

Captain Oliver Wood eventually earned a brevet promotion to brigadier general for his services during the Civil War. Along the way, he served as colonel of the 22nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry and the 4th U.S. Veteran Volunteer Infantry. 


    "It is a sad duty indeed to me and I am very sorry that I cannot return home at the close of this fratricidal war with all of the brave and gallant men that volunteered to follow my fortunes through the conflict," he wrote to S.M. Jackson following the Battle of Shiloh. "You must permit me, my dear sir, to mingle my tears with yours and to sympathize with you and your relatives in this sad bereavement. Sad, indeed, to you for you have lost a noble and worthy brother. Sad to your mother for she has lost a kind and dutiful son, and sad to me for I have lost a brave and faithful soldier, a kind friend, and one I feel proud to say was a member of my company."

    Captain Wood's letter concerning the death of Corporal Isaac Jackson was published in the May 31, 1862 issue of the Portsmouth Times.


Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee

April 27, 1862

 

Mr. S.M. Jackson, dear sir,

            Your letter of inquiry relative to your brother’s death was received this p.m. and I hasten to reply. It is a sad duty indeed to me and I am very sorry that I cannot return home at the close of this fratricidal war with all of the brave and gallant men that volunteered to follow my fortunes through the conflict and you must permit me, my dear sir, to mingle my tears with yours and to sympathize with you and your relatives in this sad bereavement. Sad, indeed, to you for you have lost a noble and worthy brother. Sad to your mother for she has lost a kind and dutiful son, and sad to me for I have lost a brave and faithful soldier, a kind friend, and one I feel proud to say was a member of my company.

            You ask me to particularize his death. As we were drawn up in line of battle on Sunday morning in a very shallow ravine, and but a very short distance from the enemy’s lines, I ordered all of the men to fall flat upon their faces and remain quiet until the order was given to advance. This order was implicitly obeyed, and every man was safe until the order was given to advance. I also instructed them to lay down to load or get behind trees or logs as much as possible. We had no chance for this kind of security at first as the left of the regiment was in an open space. As soon as the order was given to fire and advance, every man sprang to his feet and discharged his piece simultaneously and were down almost as quick to reload. This was kept up for six or seven rounds and we kept advancing a little at each fire. Up to this time I had not had a man hurt.

            I had been on the left of the company and had got back to the center I saw your brother laying on his back trying to load; your brother was on the right of the second platoon. He remarked to me that he could not ram his cartridge down. I replied I will help you and turned to assist him. He raised up on his right knee with one hand on the barrel of the piece and the other on the rammer and at that instant a ball passed so near my hand as to burn the back of it and struck him in the neck just below his right ear and out under the left ear, killing him instantly. He never groaned or moved a muscle anymore than to just straighten his limbs. He never knew what hurt him. I saw that he was dead and hurried on to try and take care of the living.

            The fight was now getting hot and the next round killed another of my brave men Charles W. Wood, at the next Henry Valentine was killed. No better or braver man lived. At this time the 16th Iowa came to our assistance and the two regiments got mixed together and the Major, thinking it was getting too hot for him, left the field thus leaving me in command of the left wing of the regiment. I was then compelled to be absent more or less from my company and did not know when John Blankenship was killed. While I could be with them, I could see the movements of every man and note his actions. John Blankenship fought like a tiger and I often heard him exclaim in the heat of the battle “give it to ‘em boys, take good aim and make every shot tell!” And I saw him loading and firing as fast as it was possible for man to load and fire.

Early war 13th Missouri regimental colors


The deaths of their comrades seemed to exasperate the men and they fought more like demons than like men. We drove the enemy until our last cartridge, 40 rounds to the man, was gone when we were compelled to fall back and leave our dead upon the field. It is unnecessary for me to give you a detailed account of the fight of the afternoon for your have seen it published in the papers. The next day we fought over the same field and we found Mr. Blankenship’s body stiff and cold in death, and also the body of William H. Smith, another one of my men. Thus, died five as brave and gallant soldiers as ever shoulder a musket in their country’s defense. They died with their faces to the foe, fighting for honor of that glorious old flag so long the pride of our nation which has been trampled underfoot by those who have been reared beneath its sacred folds. On Tuesday I sent a squad of men to gather the dead together and bury them side by side. We could not get boards for coffins, so they were wrapped in their blankets and consigned to the earth. Some bits of boards were gathered up and the name of each was cut on them and stuck at the head of the grave to mark the place.

Give my regards to your mother and weeping relatives and also to Mrs. Blankenship and family. They have my heartfelt sympathy and also the sympathy of all the company. Those whom they mourn are now in the presence of the God of battles who alone can assuage the mourner’s grief and I hope and pray that He will lead you all by the gentle influences of his holy spirit to His glorious paradise above where you can meet in peace the gallant dead for whom you now mourn and dwell forever in the mansions of bliss.

To read more about the 13th Missouri at Shiloh, click here to read "Fate of Battle: Martin Beem and the Battle of Shiloh."


Corporal Isaac Jackson's gravestone at Shiloh National Cemetery


Source:

Letter from Captain Oliver Wood, Co. B, 13th Missouri Volunteer Infantry, Portsmouth Times (Ohio), May 31, 1862, pg. 2

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