Escaping the Hornet's Nest at Shiloh

Among the more notable areas of the Battle of Shiloh is the Hornet’s Nest, a position near the center of the Federal line that held against repeated Confederate attacks on the afternoon of April 6, 1862. It is one of the most visited points on the battlefield, it’s popularity no doubt enhanced by the 1956 National Park Service film “Shiloh: Portrait of a Battle” which perhaps over-emphasized the importance of the Hornet’s Nest to the outcome of the battle. While a number of details of the fight remain in dispute (was the Nest charged 7 times or 13?), what is not in dispute is that around 5 p.m. that evening the survivors were surrounded and General Benjamin Prentiss surrendered about 2,200 men, most of whom did not belong to his command but that of General W.H.L. Wallace.

Captain Erman Mastick of the 2nd Iowa was one of those who escaped capture at the Hornet’s Nest and wrote the following vivid letter to his parents describing his escape. “We drove them back but not without hard fighting; but they, having a larger force than we, outflanked us, and about 4 p.m. had us nearly surrounded. We were on the extreme right of the brigade, the 7th Iowa next, the 14th Iowa next, and then the 12th Iowa. We had orders to retreat and back we started in good order. We had gone but a few hundred yards when the enemy commenced closing in upon us and we took a little double quick. We had to run the gauntlet. They were only about 50 yards apart when we started to double quick and they came very near getting us, but we got through. The 2nd and 7th Iowa regiments jammed their way through, but the 12th and 14th Iowa were taken prisoners and I began to think that government script was on the decline,” he wrote.

Mastick’s letter appeared in the April 25, 1862 edition of the Jeffersonian Democrat of Chardon, Ohio; Mastick’s parents Nathaniel and Louisa lived in Chardon for the remainder of their lives. Captain Mastick would serve with the 2nd Iowa until it was mustered out of service May 27, 1864. He returned to Chardon and died there of a cerebral hemorrhage January 6, 1900 at the age of 61. 

 

Captain Erman E. Mastick, Co. K, 2nd Iowa Volunteer Infantry

Pittsburgh, Tennessee

April 8, 1862

 Dear parents,

          Another glorious victory and I am still alive and unhurt. Our forces were attacked about 4 a.m. Sunday morning by a large force of Rebels. Some of the prisoners we took say there was 120,000 of them. They drove our advance of Prentiss’ division back early in the morning. The long roll beat, and every man that could fight was in line of battle about sunrise marching to meet the enemy. Our division was placed in the center and marched out about three miles where we met the Rebels and the fight commenced.

We drove them back but not without hard fighting; but they, having a larger force than we, outflanked us, and about 4 p.m. had us nearly surrounded. We were on the extreme right of the brigade, the 7th Iowa next, the 14th Iowa next, and then the 12th Iowa. We had orders to retreat and back we started in good order. We had gone but a few hundred yards when the enemy commenced closing in upon us and we took a little double quick. We had to run the gauntlet. They were only about 50 yards apart when we started to double quick and they came very near getting us, but we got through. The 2nd and 7th Iowa regiments jammed their way through, but the 12th and 14th Iowa were taken prisoners and I began to think that government script was on the decline.

General Benjamin Prentiss stands third from right on the spot where he surrendered the Hornet's Nest on April 6, 1862. 

We rallied our men and kept them back until dark when the firing ceased and we stood in line of battle all night about 600 yards from the enemy, ready to try them in the morning.

During the night, a part of Buell’s force came and that gave our men new life I tell you. The next morning, we went into them “like a thousand of brick” and about 3 p.m. they backed out with our men after them. After they were entirely routed, we sat down to our hard bread and raw ham and concluded that we had done the thing up handsomely. The number killed and wounded is very great. In our regiment, the number is only 76. I have but one killed in my company and two wounded. Lieutenant Mably, our first lieutenant, was shot through the arm. I do not know but it will have to be amputated. There were six commissioned officers wounded in our regiment, four captains and two lieutenants.

About daylight, we started on after the Rebels and got about two miles when we met Major Rice who said that Mitchel’s division of Buell’s forces had crossed the river above us, taken possession of Corinth, and captured a large number of prisoners.

 

Source:

Captain Erman E. Mastick, Co. K, 2nd Iowa Volunteer Infantry, Jeffersonian Democrat (Chardon, Ohio), April 25, 1862, pg. 2


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