A Harvest of Blood: Exploring the field after Shiloh

A special correspondent of the Philadelphia Daily Inquirer following in the wake of the Union army entered the shattered debris of Sarah Bell’s peach orchard and cotton field on the late afternoon of Monday, April 7, 1862 intent on exploring the field. The sights, smells, and sounds staggered the reporter: arrayed before him were hundreds of dead and wounded soldiers, blue and gray, surrounded by the scattered refuse of war: discarded and battered rifles, ripped and torn clothing, bullets and cannon ball fragments, broken swords revolvers, and everywhere blood.

This image of the Peach Orchard taken shortly after the Civil War gives few clues to the carnage that surrounded the orchard and adjacent cotton field in the aftermath of the battle. One observer noted that hundreds of spent bullets were lying on the ground "like fruit from a heavily-laden tree after a storm."

“In one place lay nine men, four or five of ours and about as many Rebels who from indications must have had a hand-to-hand fight. They were all dead and bore wounds evidently made with bayonets and bullets. Two of them had hold of another’s hair and others were clenched in a variety of ways,” he recorded. “One seemed to have had a grip on the throat of his antagonist and been compelled to relinquish it judging from the frigid marks. The most singular attitude of any I have ever observed was that of one Union soldier the position of whose body was similar to that of a boy’s when he is playing leapfrog.”

“While surveying the killed and wounded in a large wooded locality where trunks of large trees lay about in a half-rotten state, I stepped upon on to look about the ground and hearing something move at my feet, I looked down upon was evidently the figure of a man covered up by a blanket and lying close up alongside the log. The ground was thickly strewn about him with bodies, many of whom I found to be only wounded. Lifting the blanket from the man’s face as I dismounted from the log, he immediately faltered out, ‘Oh sir, I’m wounded, don’t hurt me. My leg is broken and I’m so cold and wet.”

“Within three feet of this wounded secessionist lay a dead Union soldier with his hair and whiskers burned off. I soon learned that the leaves and dead undergrowth had been fired in various places by the explosion of shells and also be burning wads, the fires communicating to the bodies, burning them shockingly. Some of the wounded must have been burned to death as I observed one or two lying upon their backs with the hands crossed before the face, as a person naturally does when smoke or heat becomes annoying.”

“Replacing the blanket over the face of the wounded man, I proceeded to step over another log nearby and was considerably startled by a loud exclamation of pain from another wounded Rebel. Having stepped on a small stick that hurt his wounded limb by its sudden movement, he was compelled to cry out. He was snugly laid up close alongside a fallen tree. His wound was serious and the poor man begged for some assistance. The only thing I could do was to get him a little water and promise that somebody would soon come to his relief. “What will you do with us?” the wounded man asked me. “Take you, dress your wounds, give you plenty to eat, and in all probability when you are able, require you to take the oath of allegiance and then send you home to your family if you have one.”


General John C. Breckinridge leads a charge through this same peach orchard on April 6th 1862. A day later, this scene of martial grandeur had been replaced by dozens of wounded and dying men laying amidst the debris of a battle fought and lost. (John Paul Strain) 

“The appearance of the dead on the field was rather singular. In one place lay five men who appeared to have sheltered themselves behind a tree in order to take better aim at our men. A shell had burst just over their heads. One man was struck just on the top of the head, another on the side of the head, and each consecutive man was struck lower down about the breast and body in regular order. One of the men grasped in one hand a musket with his cartridge in the other just in the act of pouring the powder in; another was ramming the cartridge and the other men engaged in similar occupations when the fatal shell burst. In another place I saw a man with a hole in his hand as large as your hand through which his brains had run all out leaving his skull entirely empty. As I passed over the field, I observed a cannon ball lying on the ground. I picked it up and it was covered with the  blood, hair, and brains of some poor fellow. I tell you I dropped it suddenly.” ~ Quartermaster Lorenzo S. Myers, 64th Ohio Volunteer Infantry


“There was an old man, his locks sprinkled with gray, kneeling beside a stump as if in attitude of prayer, his face now resting in his hands, and head reclining on the top, apparently having gone to sleep in death while in the act of devotion. A ghastly wound in the side told of his end. Another powerful looking man had just placed a cartridge in the muzzle of his gun and had the ramrod in his right hand as if about to ram it down. Death caught him in that moment and as he lay with upturned face, the left hand clenched the gun and the right one the ramrod. One soldier loaded his piece and paused to take a chew of tobacco. Beside his body lay the gun and in his right hand was the flat plug of tobacco bearing the imprint of teeth. Some had lain down quietly with their heads resting against a stump or tree, their caps resting on their faces, and had thus died alone and unattended. Yet the calmness and repose of the countenance as one raised the covering indicated a peaceful departure to the spirit world. Death caused by a bullet leaves a quiet, calm look behind while a bursting shell, bayonet, or sword carry with them a horror that remains depicted in death.”

Two Union soldiers examine a dead Confederate soldier shot dead in the act of firing his rifle at Shiloh.

“It was an excellent time to choose a gun: there were Harper’s Ferry rifles of both the old and new pattern, Springfield rifles with Maynard primers and without, the “Tower” Enfield rifles, Mississippi rifles, double and single barrel shotguns, rifles bearing the Palmetto stamp and made at Columbia, S.C. and Fayetteville, N.C. Swords of various patterns reeking with blood, broken and bent scabbards, partially-discharged revolvers, and military trappings in such an endless variety that to have possessed them would have been the fortune of any individual. In the clear field fronting the peach orchard, a variety of bullets might have been gathered as they were lying about on the ground like fruit from a heavily-laden tree after a storm…”



“Battle Field of Shiloh,” Altoona Tribune (Pennsylvania), May 1, 1862, pg. 2

Letter from Quartermaster Lorenzo D. Myers, 64th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Mahoning Register (Ohio), April 24, 1862, pg. 2


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