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Perry Cuskey

Field report II

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After four days here, my legs are screaming at me, I can't feel one part of my thumb (more on that later, it's actually a good thing), I've been attacked by mosquitoes and ticks, and I basically feel like someone took a club to me.

And I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Back for more today in fact. Met and re-met some great folks, and got to spend time in my favorite battlefield park. That's what I call a good trip. More after I get home, and recouperate. ;)

Oh, and I would describe the illumination in one word: breathtaking.

Perry

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It was great meeting all of you and the 150th was a slambang success. crowned by the lighting of the candles on sat. night as Perry has said it was a very special event.spoke with Tim Smith on sat. about the veterans stories and was pleased that he was ready to give more credence to the veterans and what they said happened.

At the hornet's nest hike I could only take about 15 minutes of it and I had to leave. the sad part is that if this trend continues in 10 years the real story of shiloh will be lost and replaced with these assumptions on the part of a few.

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Check out these photos from the park service's FaceBook page. Grand Illumination photos are excellent--better than anything I got. This year's illumination was spectacular and even more special because we were honored with the privilege of lighting some of the candles.

Grand Illumination:

http://www.facebook.com/#!/media/set/?set=a.266192966804030.65500.108100065946655&type=3

Photos from April 5:

http://www.facebook.com/#!/media/set/?set=a.265040263585967.65189.108100065946655&type=3

Photos from April 6:

http://www.facebook.com/#!/media/set/?set=a.265276526895674.65252.108100065946655&type=3

Photos from April 7:

http://www.facebook.com/#!/media/set/?set=a.265971076826219.65446.108100065946655&type=3

Photos from April 8:

http://www.facebook.com/ShilohNMP/photos#!/media/set/?set=a.266743600082300.65658.108100065946655&type=3

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the guide started out by saying that the road wasn't sunken and that the veterans memory was of being in the ravine that runs behind the nest. then he went on to explain that the road had washed out in the 30 years between the battle and the founding of the park, as though it hadn't washed in the 35 years prior to the battle.

then he went on to explain that the hornet's nest wasn't important to the outcome of the battle.

Probably the biggest bunch of malarky I have ever heard from someone that should know, can't for the life of me figure out what scam stacy is trying to pull off.

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The role of the Sunken Road and the Hornets Nest has recently been reevaluated when considered its role in the entire battle.and the fighting in other areas are now thought to have a larger role in the events of the battle. I share this thought because I believe the fighting was hard and severe across a much larger area of the battlefield. This is not to reduce our appreciation for the role of the federal and confederate soldiers in the sunken road and the Hornets Nest. I know I would not want to have been there. But please consider that the attacks on both flanks of the union Sunken Road position had greater success for the rebels and did lead to the breakup of the union positions. The frontal attacks of the rebels never broke through the center of the union lines. It was the collapse of the flanks.

A possible reason for the attention placed on the Sunken Road fighting was the lack of attention placed on the rebel advance on the flanks, through the northern Duncan field and the Stacy field which flanked Wallace's Division on the Eastern Corinth road. Also, General Johnston's 2 pm attack up the River Road, through the Sarah Bell cotton field and the ravines east of the River road got none to little attention and actually, here was the strategic moment of the Battle of Shiloh. The entire left flank of the union army was diven off the field. The union troops pushed back included Stewart's Brigade, McArthur's Brigade, Hurlbut's Division of William's and Lauman's Brigades. These units had over 9,000 men lost to the union army. Yes, some did reform but only in time for the next morning fighting.

We all agree that the fighting was severe, bloody, confusing, and all the soldiers deserve the honors due them. I'm suggesting that lets spread the honors around more of the battlefield to the other soldiers..

With all respect to the soldiers,

Ron

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Had a great time last week at Shiloh. I finally met Perry and got to talk to Mona again, I first met her in 2010 at the Texas monument dedication at Battery Robinett. I enjoyed the hikes I took but could have done without all the dust and pollen we kicked up. That really lets you know what it must have been like marching all day in the heat and dust created by an army on the move. The whole column must have been hacking and coughing all day.I got to "charge" across Dill Branch with 100+ hikers of all ages. I have to admit, I thought some of those who started were not going to make it, but we made it as a whole with nothing more than some mud/dirt stains on our pants and a bruised ego or two. I took almost 1000 pics a will be editing them over the next couple of days and posting them to the Shiloh Flickr group if anyone is interested. Here is one from the illumination.

<a href=" Illinois Cavalry Army of the TN 150th title="Illinois Cavalry Army of the TN 150th by mtalplacido, on Flickr"><img src="http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5449/7066379397_d1ba5d7c4d.jpg" width="400" height="500" alt="Illinois Cavalry Army of the TN 150th"></a>

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John, thanks for the links to the great pics. I only scanned through them for now, but they seem to capture the spirit of the weekend very well. The illumination was just outstanding.

Mike, enjoyed meeting you last week. That Dill Branch hike.....I was really surprised at the number of people on that. I thought by that point in the day everyone would be worn out and not want to try it. Wrong again! When we got to the edge though, I heard a chorus of what you might call surprised groans break out, and expected several people to turn back and say 'no thanks.' But as far as I could tell they all plunged in. Literally. :) It's steeper than I think most people expect, the first time they finally see it through all those trees and bushes. But everyone made it down and back up okay. Thankfully. :)

One thing's for sure, going down and then back up that ravine, or canyon as I call it, gives you an appreciation for what those men faced that afternoon in 1862. And it also shows just how incredibly challenging it would have been for those disorganized, worn out southerners to try and cross that chasm and then break through Grant's Last Line.

Perry

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On the subject of the Hornet's Nest, no way that I could ever improve on Ron's excellent post. He captures my overall view of it about as well if not better than I think I could have myself.

One thing I might touch on though, is something from a previous year's anniversary hike I went on about the Hornet's Nest, led by Dr. Jeff Gentsch. This is strictly from memory, so some of it may be off a bit, but it's how I remember it.

At one point, when we were standing near Duncan Field, Jeff talked about where the term "Sunken Road" may have come from. Jeff's idea, or theory as I think it may have been, was that Shiloh vets from the Hornet's Nest may have picked up on the wording from the famous Sunken Road at Antietam, and applied it to the ravine that runs in back of the roadbed at Shiloh.

So in other words, according to the way I recall Jeff saying this, they may have been referring to the ravine behind the road and not the road itself.

This was the first time I had ever heard anyone put forth that idea, and it may - emphasis on may - have been the first time that Dr. Gentsch went public with it. As I think the idea may have originated with him.

I remember telling someone at the time that I wasn't completely sold on the idea, but I had to admit it sounded plausible. There's little doubt that the ravine was used by a number of Union soldiers during the battle to rest and/or reload, etc., when they weren't up in the roadbed itself. So it's possible that it figured somewhat prominently in their memories of the battle, and they wanted a memorable name along the lines of what Antietam had with their own Sunken Road.

But - and this is important - so far as I know, all of that is complete speculation. I'm not aware that there is any direct evidence of Shiloh vets "borrowing" from Antietam to give a nickname to part of their defensive line. To the best of my knowledge, that they may have done so is nothing more than an educated guess. If there's more to it than that, I'm not aware of it.

Also, to the best of my knowledge, there is only one contemporary account that suggests the road was actually 'sunken,' at the time of the battle. And although I can't recall who it was offhand, it was a Confederate account from a soldier who, it appears, probably did not have a chance to see the actual roadbed in question, and may well have been referring to the Eastern Corinth Road instead. Someone help me out here with a reference.

The thing about the Hornet's Nest is that it has dominated the story of the battle for literally decades, and has done so at the expense of much outside that area that was of incredible importance. More importance? Less? Equal? That, perhaps, is open for discussion. But while I understand that not everyone will be happy about the new interpretation taking shape about Shiloh, speaking only for myself, I'm glad to see the rest of the battle starting to get more attention. It's long overdue.

I don't discount the Hornet's Nest, or the men who fought there. Not by any means. It's simply that other areas of the battlefield, and the soldiers who fought there, deserve to be recognized, and remembered, as well. But it's a good topic for debate. :)

Perry

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The term "Sunken Road" does not appear in any official report filed after the battle except for the report of General Frank Cheatham. The name came into use after much after the civil war but it seems to have orginated with a veterans group. It gradually became accepted by the public used to describe the fighting. This info is in the books by Sword, Daniel, Cunningham, one or the other of them, I forget which..

Ron

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i believe the road was sunken and they were not refering to the battle up in Maryland when a lot of lead is flying a few inches can seem like a lot thus the term sunken road as far as the new outlook on the battle of shiloh goes to study the other places of the fight is fine and shud by all means be done put to downplay the sunken road and make light of it just to futher another agenda is wrong which is what i think is going on

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I've noticed in reading reports from the 6th Div regiments is that they tended to call it the hill in the rear or the big hill in the rear. I said the same to a local (sorry, CRS again on who) and they laughed and said "There are no hills at Shiloh!" Looking at the topo map shows that where 16th actually started the battle was about 10' higher in elevation than where they fought at the Nest, which is higher than the surrounding land. My opinion is that the whole Union line from 11am -3pm was important. The Nest and the Sunken Road had the best natural defense and the assaults on it weren't the best organized. The Nest lasted longer than the flanks. That is important. It's all important, so we honor it all.

Jim

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The local people of this area know if you use an area and make it trail if you will, after a year it begins to wash. after two years it's 6-8 inchs deep, and this is with soft tires. now picture the iron wheels, horse and livestock tracks, there is no way the road was not worn at least 8-15 inchs deep and that is just fact, no guesses or assumptions. as far as the hornet's nest, this becomesm one of the turning points of the battle when these troops would not retreat to the rear as the flanks did. the troops on either side had ravines and defense locations to equal the boys in the nest and they held but a short time. to give the flank units equal kudos with the boys in the nest is unfair to the men who didn't run to the landing. had they retreated at the same time as the flank units the battle would have had a very different outcome.regardless I am convinced that the hornet's nest saved Grant on the first day making it possible for the fresk troops to carry the day monday.

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Hey, a controversy about Shiloh! Who'd a thunk it?! ;)

I guess my thing about the Hornet's Nest is that, while the men there did throw back several attacks, those attacks were all isolated and relatively small when compared to what was taking place on either side of the center. Especially over on the western side of the battlefield between the Crossroads and Jones Field. That's really where the heaviest fighting was for most of the day, until Johnston's 2:00 assault got going on the other end of the line.

The Confederate attack basically split in half after Prentiss's camp was overrun, with only a handful of troops, relatively speaking, in the center at any given time. This is something that I think the new film on the battle shows really well, with their outstanding motion maps of the battle. You can see the way in which the battle evolved, and how most of Johnston's army was over-committed against Sherman and McClernand prior to that afternoon assault near the Peach Orchard.

I'm just not certain that they had enough hitting power in the center to really make a difference, until the Union flanks began to collapse. That's when the Confederates were finally able to bring more firepower against the only remaining holdouts, in the center. Personally I think Prentiss should have pulled back along with everyone else, and that he held out not because he was trying to save the rest of the army, but because he failed to realize how serious the situation was until it was too late. Wallace, as we know, actually was pulling out when he was shot. So unlike Prentiss, Wallace understood that there was nothing more to be done along that line.

But here's the million-dollar question: what's the difference in the battle if Prentiss pulls back and does not stay put?

On the one hand the Confederates would now have perhaps an extra one to two hours of time, depending on when Prentiss and Wallace pulled out, in which to attack Grant's final defensive line. On the other hand, that line will now have an extra 2,200 men to help defend it. So who has the greater advantage in that scenario?

We'll never know of course, except by guessing. But to me, if the troops on either side of the Hornet's Nest don't hold on as long as they do, the center is compromised even sooner than it finally was. And the landing area, and therefore the army itself, will be living on the knife's edge even more than they already were.

If, on the other hand, the center breaks sooner, while the flanks are still holding......well, the truth is that I'm just not as certain it's going to have the same impact. Because there simply weren't the number of troops attacking the center, and therefore able to exploit a breakthrough, as there were on either side. The Union line in the center was incredibly strong compared to the attacks launched against for most of the day.

You can never say never about something that never happened though, and there's no way to be certain about a non-historical event. It's possible that if, say, one of Gibson's attacks breaks through, it starts a chain reaction that ends in a Confederate victory. I don't think that's likely, but I can't say it's not possible.

Well, that's enough yammering from me for now. It's a good debate though, and I don't claim to have the final word. Just a stubborn opinion. :)

Perry

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Try this for battlefield manevers and attacks against the federal center. Yes, remember that several attacks did go up through the Hornets Nest against the sunken road. Stephen's brigade attacked at 10 am and was astride the Eastern Corinth road, its left flank extended into the Duncan field and was fired into by union troops that were concealed in the Tilghman ravine. They raised up and fired into Stephen's brigade which routed their left flank. Stephen's brigade never penetrated the union positions. Gibson's brigade attacked up to four times and never penetrated the union positions. There were other attacks with the same results. To the west of the Hornets Nest was the Duncan field and during all of this fighting on Sunday, The confederates never made an attack in the Duncan field or the Sunkenb road that was able to cross the field and defeat the union troops. This area is now expanded from the Hornets Nest area to the area of the Duncan field, north of the Main Corinth road (above the Duncan cabins) to east of the Manse George cabin and beyond to the area of the Wicker field. The confederates only gained the positions on the union left when Withers' Division came into the Cloud field about 4:30 pm.

This is a large chunck ot land and positions that was denied to the confederates. The solution was, as mentioned aready, was to go around the right and left flanks. This is what happened, a stone wall in the middle and open lands on the flanks. It took the rebels far too long to realize this and to make the moves necessary. We have a situation here where the soldiers did the fighting and dying.

Ron

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Also, to the best of my knowledge, there is only one contemporary account that suggests the road was actually 'sunken,' at the time of the battle. And although I can't recall who it was offhand, it was a Confederate account from a soldier who, it appears, probably did not have a chance to see the actual roadbed in question, and may well have been referring to the Eastern Corinth Road instead. Someone help me out here with a reference.

That could be Thomas Duncan. In his "Recollections," he wrote:

"About the middle of the day, the Union Army, in falling back and taking new positions, lodged the commands of Prentiss and W. H. L. Wallace in a thick woods, which after the fight was called the "Hornet's Nest," and this place proved a great surprise for both defendants and assailants. Through it runs an old, deserted highway, now known in history as the "Sunken Road." Worn by the travel and flushed by the rains and snows of many years, this remote and unpretentious road became a most welcome trench of protection to the troops of Prentiss and Wallace."

A couple of points worth noting:

1. Duncan's "Recollections" were published 60 years after the battle, and it appears that he wrote them close to the time of publication.

2. While it is not clear that he actually saw the Sunken Road during the battle, he did scout the area shortly before the battle and could have seen it then.

My problem with the "ravine theory" is that I just can't remember seeing a ravine that parallels the Sunken Road in the Hornet's Nest area (where the Sunken Road runs through the woods). I'm not saying there isn't one. I just don't remember it. I haven't hiked around in that section of woods in years. I guess I'll have to go back and take a look.

John

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John,

As for the Ravine theory, There is a depression behind the sunken road in the area just east of the Eastern Corinth Road to about the area just west of where the Manse George cabin stood. The elevation in this ravine (depression) is about 430'. The elevation on the Purdy road where the Davis Wheat Field fronts on the road is 470'. The elevation in the Daniel Davis wheat field is about 460'. This is where Stephens and Gibson launched their attacks from up against the Hornets Nest and the Sunken road. The elevation right at the Hornets Nest and the sunken road is 445'. Their appears to be a rise in elevation on the back side of the sunken road to 450' but then drops to 440', then 430'. This is the area of a ravine, where the 430' elevation is, the 10' rise is between the sunken road and the ravine. This is from a TVA map showing elevation lines. The actual elevations may be argued but a slope towards the sunken road is clear, then a further drop to the ravine. This is my two cents worth. No, I don't make change.

Ron

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Came across a couple of interesting descriptions of the Sunken Road that do not seem to support the "Ravine Theory."

"They were posted on the crest of a steep hill in an old road, which by frequent travel had become worn about three feet deep, consequently they could lie perfectly concealed and protected while they could see everything."

Thomas Chinn Robertson

Company C

4th Louisiana Infantry

From a description of the battlefield as seen by the author in the days immediately following the battle:

“But not far from the peach orchard field … our forces were in line on an old grass-grown country road that ran through thick woods. The wheels of wagons, running for many years right in the same ruts, had cut through the turf, so that the surface was somewhat lower than the adjacent ground. To men firing on their knees this afforded a slight natural breastwork which was substantial protection.”

Leander Stillwell

61st Illinois Infantry

The Story of a Common Soldier

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I think the defense just rested! It's up to the jury now. "Sunken Road" or "Ravine"? I vote "Sunken Road". By-the-way, this same (or at least similar) subject is currently being discussed on American Civil War Forum.

Grandpa

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