Indomitable Pluck: The 48th Ohio at Pittsburg Landing

     The Battle of Shiloh has been rightly described as a soldier’s battle, an assessment that many soldiers of the Army of the Tennessee shared when it came to looking at their leaders. “But little generalship was displayed and that of the most inferior quality,” noted Captain Virgil Henry Moats of the 48th Ohio. “Had it not been for the indomitable pluck of our Northwestern boys the day would have been lost, and had it been left to superior generalship, such as was displayed on this occasion, another Bull Run affair would have been the result.”

The 48th Ohio had been armed at Paducah, Kentucky in early March 1862 fresh from their mustering camp in Ohio and after spending nearly two weeks on a steamboat, had been in camp at Pittsburg Landing since March 19th. The regiment was a green one, as were all three regiments of Colonel Ralph P. Buckland’s all Buckeye brigade consisting of the 48th, 70th, and Buckland’s own 72nd Ohio. Located on the Union right, Buckland’s brigade went into action early that Sunday morning and held their ground for nearly two hours before falling back. Captain Moats’ description of the Battle of Shiloh was originally published in the April 26, 1862, edition of the Defiance Democrat from Defiance, Ohio.


Major Virgil Henry Moats, 48th Ohio Volunteer Infantry

 Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee

April 12, 1862

          Being under the impression that many of your readers, particularly those having friends and relatives in the army, would be anxious to hear from us, I thought it my duty to drop a few lines to you for publication. Our trip to this place and the many little incidents attending it I will not stop to give. The health of our regiment has been rather poor; we were cooped up on the steamboat for 13 days and compelled to use filthy river water which brought on diarrhea, causing many to suffer severely. But five men have died, and many have been reduced very much and may never recover. We have lost but two in our company: Leonard F. Roush and Robert Hibble.

          Before this reaches you, you will have heard of the great battle of the Tennessee and although many accounts of the affair will be given in the city papers, I presume an account by and nearer home and by an eyewitness will be more acceptable than from any other source. We have been in camp at this place since the 19th of March and up to the middle of last week had but little information of the whereabouts of the enemy, only that they were in force at Corinth about 15 miles distant. On Thursday the 4th a little skirmish occurred between the pickets on both sides, the Rebels capturing the Major [Leroy Crockett, see story here] and some men of the 72nd Ohio, one lieutenant of our regiment [John Geer, see story here] and one lieutenant and six men of the 70th. We captured ten Rebels in return.

          On Friday some skirmishing occurred and on Saturday they appeared in very strong force within one mile of our camp. Our generals were notified of the fact, but paid no attention whatever to the report, not so much even to have the pickets strengthened. On Sunday morning when our pickets were attacked, our commanders would not believe a general engagement was intended by the enemy. The few pickets that were out were within one-half mile of the camp and consequently the enemy managed to get very near our lines before being observed by them.


 “At about 7 a.m., the long roll was sounded in our brigade and the regiments came out very leisurely without any seeming apprehension of an engagement, so much so that the men did not even with them their canteens, much less haversacks and some, I am sorry to say, appeared without cartridge boxes.” ~Surgeon Milton T. Carey, 48th Ohio Volunteer Infantry


The attack was a simultaneous one all along our whole line except on the extreme right and commenced early Sunday morning. Many had not had their breakfasts and were compelled to do without until late in the evening, some even done without until next morning. The Rebels got right into some regimental camps before being seen and the consequence was a general stampede of some regiments; the 53rd Ohio never fired a gun, but they were not the only ones that ran. Men broke from all regiments, and you may well believe there was some tall running done, Flora Temple never done anything in comparison to it, nothing like it in history unless Bull Run comes in.

Our advance is four miles from the river, and many made for the Landing and never stopped until they got there, but the main part stood their ground and disputed every inch with desperation and a determination to yield only when overpowered by greatly superior numbers. I will state here that our division, General W.T. Sherman commanding, was and is yet in the advance and Colonel Ralph Buckland commands the brigade. [see story here] Our regiment together with the 72nd Ohio stood our ground for more than two hours amidst a tremendous fire which caused the enemy to leave our immediate vicinity but in consequence of the brigade on our left giving way, we were at last compelled to fall back which we did in good order although we had to abandon our camp and property, losing all our clothing, etc.

48th Ohio monument at Shiloh this past September. Shiloh is a haunting and beautiful battlefield to visit. (Image courtesy of Phil Spaugy) 

We fell back about one mile and then made a second stand, again forcing the enemy to fall back and change our direction. And here I will state one circumstance worthy of note: the Rebels advanced within 40 rods of us on the brow of a hill, open ground with colors flying when Parkison Jewel took deliberate aim and brought their colors to the ground. Two horses were here relieved of their riders, one making straight for us. I caught him and found a good pistol and some clothing in the valise, but the poor horse was so badly wounded that we were compelled to leave him. During the forenoon, the enemy gained on us but in the after part of the day, we held our ground and by night they were willing to rest.


 “In the battle on Monday, Colonel Sullivan while bravely rallying his regiment was wounded and borne from the field. It was here that the brave and much-loved Captain Warner of Co. B fell, a Minie ball passing directly through his head. A better officer and more noble-hearted man we had not in the regiment. From the inauguration of the rebellion, he acted upon his own self-chosen motto: ‘It is sweet and beautiful to die for one’s country.’” ~Chaplain John F. Spence, 48th Ohio Volunteer Infantry


During the night, Nelson’s and Wallace’s divisions came up and by morning our troops were rested and re-opened the ball more vigorously than the Rebels had the morning before, driving them before us in every direction and retaking our encampments by 3 p.m. By this time, the Rebels were in full retreat. What they could not carry they burnt up or broke to pieces. We followed them ten miles. On Tuesday, all along the road were piles of flour, tents, clothing, wagons, artillery, etc., all made useless in some manner. Their rout was complete.

The loss of life cannot be told- it was great on both sides but theirs must have been larger than ours. For instance, in the first attack on Sunday morning, we buried 64 besides some buried by the Rebels themselves. Our loss was nine in the 48th Ohio and about the same number in the 72nd. Our regiment lost but 14 in the two days’ fight, one captain among the number. Colonel Peter Sullivan was slightly wounded in the arm. Eight of our company were wounded: George Morrison through the shoulder, William J. Cole of Evansport severely through the body, Edwin Corry of Farmer Township was badly wounded in the left arm above the elbow, Chris Nogle [Noggle] severely in the shoulder, James Myers slightly in the neck, Frederick W. Hoeltzel slightly in the head, and Robert Cosgrave in the ankle. The wounded are scattered everywhere as well as the sick, all having been carried off during the night. Most of them, however, are on board the boats and I hope will be well taken care of. Most likely they will be sent to the cities as many boatloads have already gone. It is impossible for me to find all of them among so many.


 “One of the Rebels sent me his compliments in the shape of a rifle ball. It struck me in the left ankle joint, making quite a hole, but it is a small affair compared with the wounds many of my fellow soldiers received. I am very thankful that I came off so well, though I will not be fit for duty for some time.” ~Corporal George R. Conard, Co. A, 48th Ohio Volunteer Infantry


Many little incidents that occurred during the two days might be mentioned as well as many acts of personal bravery, but that will be matter for future notice. I will say, however, that I am not ashamed of our company, neither need friends at home be afraid of being disgraced by them as our boys are among the brave. The 68th Ohio was not in the battle as a regiment, but Colonel Robert Scott and others were on hand as I saw him on Monday. The 14th Ohio also arrived Tuesday while the 38th Ohio are expected soon.  

This 34-star set of national colors was issued to the 48th Ohio early in the war. The 34-star flag was introduced in January 1861 following the admission of Kansas and would be replaced by the 35-star flag in June 1863 when West Virginia was admitted into the Union. 

In conclusion, we may be permitted to say that many will be the praises given to this and that great General, but sorry am I to say, that but little generalship was displayed and that of the most inferior quality. In general, great Generals get all the praise and those that do the work but a very small portion of the honor. Had it not been for the indomitable pluck of our Northwestern boys the day would have been lost, and had it been left to superior generalship, such as was displayed on this occasion, another Bull Run affair would have been the result.

Great military preparations are going on here and large bodies of troops are daily arriving. General Halleck came today. When we will move or in what direction, I cannot tell. The bad state of the roads caused by the heavy rains will keep us here for several days to come.



V.H. Moats

 Born May 5, 1827 in Utica, Licking Co., Ohio, Virgil Henry Moats served in an Ohio cavalry company during the Mexican War before moving to Defiance County in 1849. He settled land and farmed, also working as a school teacher, and earning election as county sheriff and Justice of the Peace. In 1861, he raised Co. F of the 48th Ohio, the only company of that regiment from the northwestern part of the state. Captain Moats earned promotion to the rank of major on February 21, 1863 but sustained a wound during the second assault on Vicksburg on May 22, 1863. He returned to Ohio and was convalescing at his aunt's home in Cincinnati when infection set in and he died July 11, 1863 at the age of 37 leaving a wife and several small children. Major Moats is buried at Brunersburg Cemetery in Defiance County, Ohio. 

Don Worth's superb 48th O.V.V.I. webpage (click here) is highly recommended for anyone interested in learning more about this regiment's service during the Civil War. 


Letter from Captain Virgil H. Moats, Co. F, 48th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Defiance Democrat (Ohio), April 26, 1862, pg. 2

“The Battle of Shiloh,” by Surgeon Milton T. Carey, 48th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Cincinnati Daily Commercial (Ohio), August 4, 1862, pg. 1

Letter from Chaplain John F. Spence, 48th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Highland Weekly News (Ohio), April 24, 1862, pg. 2

Letter from Corporal George R. Conard, Co. A, 48th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Highland Weekly News (Ohio), April 17, 1862, pg. 2


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