Captured in the Hornet's Nest at Shiloh

     A year after being captured at the Battle of Shiloh, Frederick F. Kiner of Iowa wrote a small book detailing his experiences in the Union army. As orderly sergeant of Co. I of the 14th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, Kiner was among the 2,200 soldiers captured when General Benjamin Prentiss surrendered his command at the Hornet’s Nest at Shiloh. “I believe it is contended by our leading generals who commanded that battle that they were not surprised and they were fully aware of the Rebel advance,” he noted. “This may all be true, but if it is I scarcely know how to apologize for the neglect to have the army fully aware of their danger. Save for having two- or three-days’ rations cooked, there was no more feeling of care about an enemy than if they were a thousand miles away.”

          A cooper by trade, Kiner had just been ordained a minister in the Church of God when he chose to enlist in Co. I of the 14th Iowa November 1861. He along with most of the regiment were captured April 6, 1862 in the Hornet’s Nest and Kiner spent the next six months within the Confederate prisoner of war camps. Appointed orderly sergeant upon his enlistment, he served in that capacity until April 1863 when he was appointed chaplain of the regiment. His account of Shiloh comes from his 1863 book entitled One Year’s Soldiering Embracing the Battles of Fort Donelson and Shiloh and the Capture of 200 Officers and Men of the 14th Iowa Infantry and their Confinement Six Months and a Half in Rebel Prisons.

 

This group of recently exchanged soldiers of the 14th Iowa Infantry poses for posterity in their new uniforms. Frederick Kiner was orderly sergeant of Co. I and would have been dressed like the orderly sergeant at far left with his sword. Out of 442 men in action at Shiloh, 226 of them were captured.
(Miller's Photographic History of the Civil War)

          As for my regiment, we were preparing to go through with our usual Sunday morning inspection. When we received orders to fall into line, I was just in the act of blacking my boots; one was finished, the other served its time out without any further attention. But whatever passed before, one thing was now evident and that was that a strong force of Rebels was upon us and we had no choice but to fight or give them our ground which we could not for one moment think of doing. The booming of cannon was heard, but even then the magnitude of the battle before us was scarcely conjectured by many, supposing it was but heavy skirmishing and would not amount to a general engagement of the two great armies.

          About 8 o’clock, the firing in our front and in the direction of Corinth became brisk and heavy and we were ordered out to take part in the game which we afterwards found to be one of considerable importance. We took our position in line of battle about two miles from the river. Our brigade at this time consisted of the 2nd, 7th, 12th, and 14th Iowa regiments commanded by Colonel James Tuttle; our division was commanded by General W.H.L. Wallace. I am not aware that any arrangements were made as to the location of the battleground in case an attack should be made upon us and it is my opinion that it was chosen upon the emergency of the moment.  From all that I could see or judge, we had no reserve of any amount to strengthen hard-pressed points.

          Shortly after we got into position in the center, we had an excellent opportunity of trying our hand once more upon Rebel grit and had a full day’s work before us, too. During all the time, a brisk firing was kept up upon our right and left flanks and occasionally a shell would pass over our heads as high as the trees or burst in the air high above us.

          About 10 o’clock we were awakened to a sense of our duty by two Rebel regiments which advanced upon us. It is my impression that their object was to silence one of our batteries which lay a short distance in our rear. Our regiment lay just behind the summit of a small hill which sloped off gradually both ways; to keep hidden from the enemy, we lay so close upon the ground that not a gun or anything else could be seen any distance. Our object was to let them come as close as possible before they detected us. They came up within 30 paces so that we could see the whites of their eyes, little knowing how close they were upon their most deadly foe. All was silent as death; our eyes were already upon the sights of our trusty muskets; the deadly aim was being taken, every heart beating for the word fire.

Chaplain Frederick F. Kiner
14th Iowa Volunteer Infantry


Our moment had come; the prey was sure, and we wished to grasp it. The eyes of our brave colonel were not closed and at a moment when all was ready, calmly and deliberatively he gave the order to fire. A simultaneous volley was discharged into the Rebel ranks which scattered them in every way om shattered and broken fragments. A few additional volleys completed the work for that time. All that could get away fled and left their dead and wounded in our hands.

It was not long, however, until they again attempted to force our lines, but this time they came a little to our left and more directly upon the 8th Iowa immediately upon our left. They came forward with determination and fresh vigor and a heavy force. At this time, a brass battery of three guns came to our assistance. So infuriated were the Rebels and resolved upon victory that had it not been for the unflinching and undaunted firmness and bravery of these Iowa troops and cannoneers, we must have given away. The maddened demons came up so close as to lay their hands upon the guns of the battery. But their punishment was coming too heavy; they fell back like sheep led to the slaughter and again had to give way and leave their dead upon the field.

During this time, our flanks were heavily engaged and slowly falling back. We could easily judge by the sound of the musketry that our forces were losing ground and things did not stand as favorably with Grant’s army as they might. Regiment after regiment was falling back; thousands were crowding the riverbank; many from having been wounded and disabled but many from no other cause than unpardonable cowardice. Had every regiment and man stood up to the work as they should, we might have changed the condition of our affairs on our side on Sabbath evening. But let others do as they might, our brave commander Colonel William T. Shaw was determined that no coward’s reproach should rest upon him or his regiment.

After the fighting ceased in our front, we faced about and went to assist our forces upon the left who were falling back very rapidly. We soon engaged the advancing Rebels and in a short time with the assistance of several other regiments succeeded in checking them. Here we had hot work; the enemy was pouring in by the thousands and the fight was terrific, the leaden balls flying thick and fast.

Colonel William T. Shaw
14th Iowa Volunteer Infantry


But now our situation became rather serious. We had held our ground against two to three times our number from 8 o’clock in the morning till late in the afternoon. No orders came for us to fall back though many other regiments had done so; neither were there any other fresh troops sent to relieve us or assist us in our desperate struggle. Still, we stood our ground as soldier after soldier fell, some wounded, others killed. Undaunted and determined to do our best till the last with unwavering spirits, we sent volley after volley into the Rebel ranks. But what were 3,000 men against 10,000?

At 5 o’clock in the evening, we discovered that the regiments upon our right and gone back and the enemy had taken advantage of this break in the line and succeeded in getting in our rear, and began at once to pour upon us a terrible fire of musketry and artillery. This was more than human power could stand. It was only a question of time with us; one hour or less was sufficient to sink the whole of our gallant little band of heroes into their last sleep of death. What could we do? What would people ask us to do? Fight when there was no hope of success, and every moment certain death to many? None who are rational would ask us nor would a reasonable person expect us to do anything but what we did, and that was to surrender to those who were our superiors in number and position.

At 5:30 that night, we were prisoners of war, but not without having first done our duty. We felt clear of any reproach that one might feel disposed to lay upon us. Though we were in Rebel hands, we felt that the stigma of cowardice could not be attached to us. When we were taken, to all appearances the day was considerably against our army and it is my firm conviction that our holding out to the last, even until surrounded and captured, was the safety to a great extent of Grant’s army. Holding the enemy in check in the center till the late hours of the evening gave time for our forces to arrange another line of battle in our rear. By the time we were taken off the field, it was too late for the enemy to commence a heavy engagement that night. If it is true that our capture or holding out to the last assisted in securing the safety of the Union army and hence the ultimate defeat of the enemy, I shall never regret my fate though it fills the saddest period of my life.

After we were taken, they marched us perhaps five miles that same evening it being some time after dark before we halted. Our place of lodging was out in a cornfield with a strong guard all around us. This fight night under Rebel guns was a disagreeable one, not only because we were weary and fatigued but because we were under a terrible shower of rain. But few of us had any blankets, having left them in our tents when we went into battle. However, during the night we were allowed to get some rails and make fires which helped matters some.

As soon as it was daylight, we were called up into line and counted upon which it was ascertained that we had over 200 of our own regiment. After we were counted, they went through the motions of issuing us something to eat which consisted of a small piece of raw pork about the size of two fingers with some moldy crackers, some received a whole one and others only half of one.

We had scarcely dispatched this scanty morsel when we discovered the whole gang of Rebels in the midst of a terrible excitement. The cavalry were flying about and a double line of guards were stationed around us. In fact, they stood so close that they touched elbows all around the line; every man cocked his gun and came to a ready. What all this meant we could not at first conjecture. Were they going to murder us right there in cold blood? This could hardly be possible. Bu why cock every gun as if ready for the first signal to fire? I must confess that as we stood drawn up in line with every gun pointing directly upon us, things looked as if there might be serious work committed; but after a few moments, they were ordered to put up their guns and take things more coolly. We learned after a while that their cavalry scouts had gone out in the morning towards Shiloh and discovered that Grant and Buell were driving their forces back. When they returned bringing this intelligence, the Rebels supposed our whole army was right upon them and we would either be retaken or break out and try to escape.

They made all speed to get ready and in a short time we were on our way to Corinth, a distance of at least 15 miles from where we stayed all night. In going this distance, we found the roads extremely bad, many places it was barely possible for teams to get through with empty wagons and sometime we had to wade through mud nearly knee deep. The Rebels appeared to be uneasy the whole time; they would every once in a while hurry us along and as the couriers occasionally overtook us we could easily discover that all was not well with the army. As we passed the town and dwellings on our way to Corinth, we usually found them occupied by the wounded soldiers they had sent back during the first day’s fight and from what we could see, they loss in killed and would must have been terrible.

Weary, hungry and miserable we prosecuted our journey onward and arrived in Corinth a little before dark. We halted in the streets, threw ourselves down upon the ground to rest and awaited further orders. We remained in the streets until sometime after dark when they commenced stowing us away in the cars for further transportation. By this time, it commenced raining hard and we were soon again wet through and through. The wind blew a perfect gale and for hours we stood exposed to all this chilling storm, but about midnight we were all aboard. The thought of being a prisoner among a set of Rebels was more than I could reconcile peaceably in my mind.

         

14th Iowa monument at Shiloh National Battlefield

 

Source:

Kiner, Frederick F. One Year’s Soldiering Embracing the Battles of Fort Donelson and Shiloh and the Capture of 200 Officers and Men of the 14th Iowa Infantry and their Confinement Six Months and a Half in Rebel Prisons. Lancaster: E.H. Thomas, 1863, pgs. 51-67

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