Holding Poor Josey's Head in My Lap: Losing a Brother at Shiloh

    By April 1862, the 15th Ohio Infantry had been in service for eight months but had yet to come into contact with the Confederates, but the Buckeyes would get a bellyful of fighting during the afternoon of Monday April 7, 1862, at Shiloh. As part of Colonel William H. Gibson’s brigade of Alexander McCook’s division, the 15th Ohio had marched all night the day before to arrive at Savannah, Tennessee where they stood in the rain for hours until they boarded a steamboat and crossed over to Pittsburg Landing on the morning of April 7th.

          The brigade disembarked around 11 a.m. and, marching at the double quick, raced to the front where they went into action around 1 in the afternoon. The Rebels were waiting. “The balls from the Rebels some 200 yards from us were not only to be heard passing over our heads with their sharp whiz, but to be seen striking the earth at our feet and all surrounding objects. Many of the boys were wounded by the first volley from the Rebels before they had yet fired at the Secesh and had to be taken from the field,” Private George W. Foreaker of Co. A recalled.

Among the mortally wounded men of the 15th Ohio was Private Joseph Hewetson of Co. E who was shot through the hips before he even had a chance to discharge his musket during the battle that afternoon. His brother, Sergeant Walter Hewetson of Co. E, described Joseph’s final hours in an emotional letter written to his parents back in Ohio that was originally published in the St. Clairsville Gazette.

Colonel William H. Gibson's brigade arrived at Pittsburg Landing around 11 a.m. on April 7th and marched directly on to the field where they served as the reserve force for Brigadier General Lovell H. Rousseau's brigade which is depicted above. Around 1 o'clock, Gibson's brigade moved to the front with the 15th Ohio on the right, the 39th Indiana in the center, and 49th Ohio on the left. Confederate artillery shells caused many casualties but the first infantry volley proved the most devastating as dozens of men went down, including Joseph Hewetson. The 15th Ohio suffered 12 men killed and 72 wounded, the highest number in Gibson's brigade. 


Joseph was mortally wounded soon after entering the battle on Monday and died at half-past 12 o’clock on Tuesday night. He was shot through the bowels, the ball entering just above the hip joint on the left side, passing diagonally through and coming out about the groin on the right side. He suffered greatly from the first and said he “knew he would not get well.” I didn’t leave his side five minutes at a time from the time he was wounded until he died.

The first night after he was wounded, I got some of the boys to help me carry him off the field to where the regiment was. Captain Askew found a tent into which I got permission to put him. It was a small wedge tent and very uncomfortable as there were two wounded men in it already, but as it was raining, I was glad to get even this shelter to put him in. I was in that tent all that long night between two wounded soldiers without any light, holding poor Josey’s head in my lap and bathing his wound with water out of the canteen. I thought morning would never come, but when it did come, I saw one of the most frightful sights I have ever witnessed and hope I may never live to see such another. Men that died during the night were lying before the tent with nothing to cover their ghastly appearance. The sight was most horrible.

Captain Frank Askew, Co. E
15th O.V.I.

Early in the morning, I determined to get Joseph moved to some tents that had been pitched for the wounded not far from the river. I endeavored to get some of the surgeons to send an ambulance but was informed that they were all in use “and it was not worthwhile as my brother would die anyhow.” I felt like sending a ball through the hardened wretch’s heart and don’t know how I kept from it. I determined to have an ambulance at all hazards so went out to the road and stopped the first one that I saw and hired the driver to do what he ought to have done for nothing. I gave the scoundrel $3 for hauling Joseph not over 300 yards.

All of this time I had not seen any of our boys, nor could I leave Josey long enough to go hunt for them. About noon, Josey began to get worse. He wanted water all the time and would throw it up as fast as he could drink it. I saw a man passing along and asked him if he could go and bring up a doctor. He said he did not know where to find him. I told him if he would bring the doctor to where I was, I would give him a dollar. He brought the doctor, and I gave him the dollar. The doctor dressed the wound and said, “if inflammation did not get too high, Joseph might get well.”

But Josey kept getting worse and died that night. I asked him that evening if he was afraid to die. He said “no” but was in too much pain to talk. The last word he said was “Walter.” He had been lying still for some minutes, suddenly raised and called my name. I asked him what he wanted, put my arms around him, and laid him back dead. In the morning, I washed him off as well as I could, covered him with my blanket, and went out to try and get a coffin of some kind.

After a long search, I found a carpenter on a boat at the Landing, but he said he was sick and not able to work. I then asked him for a saw and hatchet, and with my own hands made a box for poor Josey’s remains. I got the carpenter to help me carry the box up to the tent and some of the boys of Co. K helped me put the corpse into the coffin and the carpenter nailed the cover on it. I then asked him what he charged me for the use of the saw and hatchet? He said, “just what I saw fit to give.” I offered him $5; he said it was too much and asked me if I had $3. I gave him $3, and he was satisfied.

Four of Company K’s boys helped me to bury Josey. He is buried under a honey locust on the bluff of the Tennessee River about 200 yards from Pittsburg Landing. I cut his name on a board and put it at the head of his grave. You can easily find the grave. When you get off the boat at the Landing, turn your back to the river then look to the left and you will see the bluff. Walk up the bluff to where the trees are; about 40 yards from the first tree you will see a dead hickory with the top broken off about 30 feet from the ground. Thirty steps further along the bluff you will see poor Josey’s grave. The hickory has the letter “E” cut on the side next to the Landing and the honey locust has a cross cut on it. You can easily find it as there is no other grave near it and his name is on the board at the head and a locust stake at the foot of the grave. I am under great obligations to Simeon Fawcett, Leonard Pickering, Shannon Vancuren, and Peter Russell of Co. K for helping me to bury Joseph.


Despite Walter's efforts to have the grave of his brother marked at Shiloh, Joseph Hewetson today lies in an unknown grave at Shiloh National Cemetery, fate shared by more than 2,300 other Union soldiers who were buried at or around Pittsburg Landing. By the time the Federal government started internments in 1866, the ravages of time had destroyed many of the temporary markers made by the soldiers in 1862. 


To provide some further context to the 15th Ohio’s experiences at Shiloh, I also present Private George Foreaker’s account of the battle that originally was published in the May 1, 1862, edition of the Guernsey Times.


Shiloh battleground, Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee

April 18, 1862

          It is some time since I have written to you in consequence of the activity of our service, but I now find it entirely necessary that I should do so, that our own gallant boys may receive a just accord of the honor due them in the late battle. I observe with much pain the disposition of the Chicago and St. Louis papers to give to the western troops exclusively the honor of the victory when they are really as undeserving of it as the Army of the Potomac, nor is there yet as I have seen one word of General McCook nor of his doings.

The Ohio History Connection owns several sets of national colors that belonged to the 15th Ohio during the war, all of which are very frail and in tattered condition such as the one depicted above in this image dating from around 1880. 

          On the morning of the 6th instant, we were 20 miles northeast of Savannah moving at an easy rate to connect with General Grant. Early in the morning, Sunday as it was, we could distinctly hear the roar of cannon. We were then passing down a narrow valley in which the road was difficult to pass with our train. At or near 12 o’clock, a courier came galloping up, just from Savannah, with an order to hasten on to the scene of action. We at once unstrung our knapsacks, filled our haversacks, and moved off at quick time. The creeks in our way we crossed on logs in single file, through mud, sometimes in the road and sometimes in the fields.

We reached the river in time to take a short rest before taking a boat for the point of destination. The cannonading was kept up all night. We embarked at 8 o’clock Monday morning, the boat being large enough to take on our whole brigade a part of our ambulances. Boats were continually passing and repassing from Savannah to the battleground. As we were on our way up , many were the cheers we received with the addition of “hurry up, boys, you are needed.”

The Major William Wallace led the 15th Ohio at Shiloh due to the absence of both the colonel and lieutenant colonel. Wallace earned from praise from both his superiors and his men for his courage at Shiloh where the legs of the horse he was riding were shot out from underneath him by a cannon ball. Wallace would lead the 15th Ohio at Stones River as its colonel. 

We reached our point at or near 11 a.m., a distance of 15 miles by river, and at once was off on the double quick up a high, bluffy bank and double quicked in column four miles then marched at once into the very heat of the battle. The balls from the Rebels some 200 yards from us were not only to be heard passing over our heads with their sharp whiz, but to be seen striking the earth at our feet and all surrounding objects. Many of the boys were wounded by the first volley from the Rebels before they had yet fired at the Secesh and had to be taken from the field. “Commence firing,” and we did commence. Such a roar of musketry was never exceeded; our large Springfield balls made desperate work with our opponents who, but a few moments before, had been heard in cheering, but now all was quiet but the actual work. [Editor’s note: Eight companies of the 15th Ohio  were armed with Greenwood-altered .69 caliber rifled muskets while two companies were armed with .577 caliber Enfields.]


“A shell from the enemy’s guns exploded right close to me, killing three Indiana men just on my right hand and wounding several more. The same shell wounded Robert Hammond and I suppose some others in our company. Thus you see the man touching me on the left and four on the right were killed or wounded; one poor fellow, an Indianan, fell against me, bloodying my clothes. The three on my right were literally torn to pieces.” ~ Orderly Sergeant Thomas W. Hanson, Co. A, 15th Ohio Volunteer Infantry


Immediately in our front was a battery playing upon us, taking one leg off Major William Wallace’s horse, and killing or wounding our men with its shells. Our lines were poorly prepared with artillery, but fortunately two 32-pounders were brought to our relief and in a short time thereafter away went the Rebels, battery, and all, and away we went after them. Three hearty cheers were given for General McCook and the Sixth Brigade. The day was ours and for once we felt tired and sleepy. Nature asserted her authority. We had followed the Rebels as far as we were ordered and stacked arms. This was about 3 p.m. We were upon the right wing which gave way first.

Colonel William Harvey Gibson of the 49th Ohio led the brigade during Shiloh riding his war horse Morgan as shown above. Morgan would be killed at Stones River eight months later. 

The battleground is at least six miles square. The river is the base line touching above and below Pittsburg Landing forming a half circle. I was over a small portion of the ground that evening and I pray our kind Father that I may never again witness another such sight. Let those who can picture the horror of a battlefield when the combatants have ceased their work of death, let them tell of the heavens and earth coming together in the fury. Yet this was naught to the death, stillness, horrible quiet that supremely rests upon those who so recently were as you and I, with hopes as you and I, with kindred ties and affections as you and I, but there is a pause. Reproach not the dead, his faults were all his own, and though there is no kind friend to follow him to his grave, let us lift him tenderly as his rebellion ceases with his life.

“The scene of the action was in the woods. Although we had but little time to look around, the scene was truly horrible. The ground was thickly strewn with dead men, dead horses, killed in almost every conceivable way. A shell came whizzing through the tops of the trees and lit about ten feet in front of our company, throwing the dirt in our faces but fortunately doing no injury. We soon got within near range of the Rebels as the bullets whistling around our heads too plainly told.” ~ Captain Frank Askew, Co. E, 15th Ohio Volunteer Infantry

On Sunday evening at 5 o’clock General Nelson arrived on the battleground, the first of Buell’s forces. The Rebels had Grant’s men at that time nearly into the river and only for the gunboats all would have been captured. Nelson at once saw the state of affairs and addressed his men thus: “There is not a soldier under my command but what likes me, is there?” “No, no,” was the hearty response. “We have traveled hundreds of miles to have a fight with these damned Rebels and now we are going to have one! Fix bayonets, charge bayonets!” And charge they did, and away went the Rebels some two miles distant, many of them feeling the cold steel. General Buell was the beginner and closer of this victory.

We have lost in the 15th Ohio some 80 in killed and wounded; Co. B lost none killed and ten wounded, two of them severely.

~ Private George A. Foreaker, Co. A, 15th O.V.I.


Letter from Private George W. Foreaker, Co. B, 15th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Guernsey Times (Ohio), May 1, 1862, pg. 2

Letter from Orderly Sergeant Thomas W. Hanson, Co. A, 15th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Guernsey Times (Ohio), April 24, 1862, pg. 2

Letter from Captain Frank Askew, Co. E, 15th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Belmont Chronicle (Ohio), April 24, 1862, pg. 2

Letter from Sergeant Walter Hewetson, Co. E, 15th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, St. Clairsville Gazette (Ohio), May 1, 1862, pg. 3


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