The Reason for Powell’s Patrol
Returning to the original subject of this post (Private Baker’s newspaper article) let’s play a game of “What if…?”
Included on these pages of the Shiloh Discussion Group there are two competing claims: 1) the pickets sent forward by Sherman and Prentiss on the evening of Saturday 5 April 1862 were correctly placed; and 2) the patrol performed by Major James Powell, 25th Missouri (and ordered forward by Colonel Everett Peabody, commanding 1st Brigade of Prentiss’s Sixth Division) was responsible for sounding the alarm, thus saving Grant’s Army at Pittsburg Landing.
In the account of Private Baker, he provides details of Powell’s Patrol not available elsewhere. And this leads to an interesting conclusion in regard to “the purpose of Powell’s Patrol.”
[Before reading further, consider: “What do you believe was the reason Colonel Peabody sent forward that early Sunday morning patrol of Major Powell ?” (Over the years, some have suggested, “because of his experience at Lexington Missouri, Peabody was not going to let himself be surprised again,” while others claim that, “Colonel Peabody had a premonition, and in response sent forward that patrol to alert the sleeping Federals to their imminent danger,” while yet others insist that, “Everett Peabody was a fatalist, who in spite of knowing that Sounding the Alarm would likely result in his own death, took action to Sound that Alarm, anyway.”) ]
Now, read Daniel Baker’s report and see what Private Baker claims that Major Powell was directed by Colonel Peabody to accomplish (and how many excursions forward were made by Major Powell in pursuit of this goal.)
Consider this: the only members of Grant’s Army who truly knew what was going on with this early Sunday morning “adventure” featuring David Powell were David Powell, Everett Peabody, a handful of officers who met with Peabody and agreed with the decision to send Powell, and the members of the 25th Missouri and 12th Michigan who actually took part… and Private Baker. Of these, many did not survive to see sunset on April 6th 1862. All we have is hearsay.
Leaving Private Baker for a moment, read the November 1862 report of the Battle of Shiloh submitted by Brigadier General Prentiss. It is safe to assume that Benjamin Prentiss “woke up to the sound of gunfire on Sunday morning.” The General was asleep, having sent out a patrol the previous evening, conducted by his trusted subordinate, Colonel David Moore, which discovered, “nothing of substance.” In his report, General Prentiss states, “At 3 o’clock on the morning of Sunday, April 6, Colonel David Moore, 21st Missouri, with five companies of his infantry regiment, proceeded to the front, and at break of day the advance pickets were driven in, whereupon Colonel Moore pushed forward and engaged the enemy’s advance…” [ Underline is mine – Ozzy – for emphasis to show that Prentiss does not say, “I sent Moore forward,” or “Colonel Peabody sent Moore forward,” because in November 1862, Benjamin Prentiss did not fully know how the Battle of Shiloh started; but he did know that when he woke up, “someone” was out somewhere to the front, with increasing sound of gunfire. Compare this to how Prentiss claims, in the same report that, “I sent forward [David Moore’s patrol, and Captain Fisk’s company in front of Stuart] on Saturday.” Leaves no doubt that Prentiss takes credit for ordering the Saturday reconnaissance, and does not take credit for Moore being in the front Sunday.]
And then Colonel Moore sent back for “the rest of his 21st Missouri to be sent forward.” A messenger “arrived at my tent headquarters, calling for the balance of the 21st Missouri, which was promptly sent forward.” [From this messenger, Prentiss discovers that it is “Colonel Moore and several companies of his 21st Missouri that is out in front” …but how did he get there? ]
There are several reports of, “General Prentiss hooted at Colonel Peabody.” So, this likely occurred… but why? Could it be that General Prentiss heard a “camp rumour” that Peabody had “done something to bring on the Prohibited General Engagement” (possibly responsible for sending David Moore to the front ?) Peabody was killed soon afterwards, and Moore was carried away wounded, to the rear, so there was no one (and no opportunity) to provide direct evidence of “how things got started” until much later.
But, as far as Benjamin Prentiss could determine (as reported in November 1862) Colonel Moore responded to “something taking place to his front” and this movement forward occurred at 3 a.m. and “the general engagement, proceeding beyond exchange of picket-fire, commenced at break of day.”
What if… in the course of waking up on Sunday morning, General Prentiss received word from a messenger that indicated Colonel Moore was responsible for the eruption of gunfire to the front. And then, in process of sending the remainder of the 21st Missouri forward (followed soon afterwards by Prentiss sending forward Hickenlooper’s Ohio Battery and Munch’s Minnesota Battery) the General “was informed” that Colonel Peabody had 1) acted on his own initiative; 2) brought on the prohibited General Engagement (prohibited by Major General Grant) and 3) the Colonel failed to alert General Prentiss as to “what was going on, and how it transpired ?” Does not Prentiss have a right to “hoot at Colonel Peabody ?” And, as more details are revealed: Moore and Powell were part of the patrol on Saturday; Powell went out early Sunday morning with the 25th Missouri and 12th Michigan… but even before that, Major Powell went forward with some of the pickets to see if he could capture a Rebel cavalryman, to find out what was developing to the front… [Where does the story end ? How much is fact, and how much is result of overactive imagination ? Prentiss, when constructing his Shiloh Report, stuck to only the truth he could prove in November 1862.]
What was the result? Colonel Moore gets the credit (from Prentiss) for sounding the alarm that kept the Union Army from being surprised at Shiloh. [Prentiss does not “take credit,” because Moore was already in place when Prentiss woke up.] Colonel Peabody (who apparently operated outside his authority) is accorded neither credit nor censure; and General Prentiss had every right to make mention of Colonel Peabody’s “operation outside his authority,” but due to lack of absolute evidence – or compassion for the dead man’s memory – chose to include details in his November report, as stated. [Peabody would have had recourse on Saturday after Moore returned, through Chain of Command, to inform Prentiss that he “intended to visit Major General Grant with his concerns” and Prentiss could not have legally prevented that visit. Of course, the problem was: Grant was not at Pittsburg, but nine miles downriver at Savannah; so Peabody’s time-sensitive concerns had to be dealt with immediately, or not at all.] (Peabody’s role will be determined by historians in the fullness of time, as will Powell’s role.)
If Private Baker is to be believed, we still do not have the full story…