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Ozzy

Value of the POWs

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Sixteen hundred Federal prisoners commenced their slow march to Corinth on Monday morning, April 7th and soon began to realize things had not gone well militarily for their Southern captors. Many witnessed the body of General Albert Sidney Johnston (under escort of six officers) passing, enroute for the train to New Orleans via Memphis [Genoways p.56]. As the POWs trudged towards Corinth, there was no ignoring the makeshift hospitals -- one after another after another -- on both sides of the road, tending the Rebel wounded [Genoways p.96]. But the singular event that gave the captured men hope was the unexpected appearance of a squad of Confederate cavalry, obviously in a panic, that flew past -- heading South -- in the early afternoon [Genoways p.89 and 129]. Those mounted stragglers provided proof that their Federal comrades had reversed the tide of the battle; and offered hope that they would overtake the marching men before they reached Corinth, and re-capture them. Alas... not to be.

Ozzy

 

Reference:  A Perfect Picture of Hell, Genoways & Genoways, University of Iowa Press (2001)

 

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Intelligence Value 

Possibly the worst nightmare for a captor is necessity to move prisoners in vicinity of a strategic location, only to have a prisoner escape, return to his friends and reveal details IRT that strategic location...

The first escape of a Federal POW occurred during the march to Corinth: that man feigned a  "leg injury" that was slowing the march; Confederate guards placed him in a convenient hospital (from which he escaped that night and returned to Grant's Army.)

The next escapes are believed to have occurred during the stopover of Federal prisoners in Memphis (still attempting to determine identities of those men) during the period 8-14 April 1862. What could an escapee from Memphis reveal?

  • number of prisoners taken at Shiloh (and significant officers among their ranks)
  • how they were being treated by their captors and local civilians;
  • the "vast number" of wounded Rebels observed along the Corinth Road;
  • confirmation of the death of General A.S. Johnston;
  • defenses in place at Corinth (double ring of earthworks well advanced);
  • condition of the railroad from Corinth to Memphis (determined by speed of travel);
  • business activity in Memphis (including cotton waiting for shipment at the waterfront);
  • two Rebel gunboats nearing completion (one of which was CSS Bragg). 

Although "out of the fight," prisoners continue to have value (in part due their information collection opportunities.)

Ozzy

 

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The Confederate prisoners made folk art just as did the Federals. At Rock Island, clam shell art was a specialty. 

Slattery, T: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF THE ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL AND ARSENAL ISLAND, PART TWO.  Rock Island, Illinois, 1989. p 82.

Confederate Clamshell Art Rock Island.JPG

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Rbn3

Rings, brooches, pins, chess pieces, marbles... just a few of the creations produced by prisoners -- on both sides -- to relieve boredom. Sometimes the objects were posted or carried home to family and friends. But most often, the bits of craft were sold to local citizens... and the proceeds used to buy supplemental food items. At the time of the Civil War, there was a commonly held belief that a man "doing nothing; not engaged in strenuous activity" could survive on half-rations. Captors on both sides engaged in the practice, yet officially denied they were doing it. Prisoners, always hungry, discovered they could create something of value, sell it, and acquire that little bit of extra food. For many, especially those imprisoned for extended periods, it meant the difference between life and death.

Ozzy

 

 

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The Numbers Game 

It is most often recorded that 2250 Federal soldiers were captured during the Battle of Shiloh; but I believe this figure is significantly understated. As we know, many Federal soldiers were listed as "Missing" during the first muster conducted after the battle. The Missing includes stragglers; wounded men left on the battlefield; panicked men who attempted to swim the Tennessee River and drowned; wounded men who were unable to give their Name and Regiment details prior to being carried North on a Hospital Boat; and prisoners. The initial record of "Missing" continued until that man's true disposition was determined:  "Prisoner" can be considered a sub-category of "Missing."

As regards Federal prisoners taken after the collapse of the Hornet's Nest, many of those men were also suffering wounds. Part of the "Confederate processing of prisoners" involved making a basic determination: who was able to walk?  Those prisoners unable to walk (think Colonel J.J. Woods, Private Joseph Rich, and David W. Reed -- even General WHL Wallace was technically a wounded prisoner): these were mostly left in the former campsite of the 3rd Iowa Infantry. And many of those wounded captives were permitted to be attended by able-bodied prisoners, who could act as Nurse. Therefore, my estimate is 250 prisoners left behind (making the total number of Federal soldiers captured at Shiloh about 2500.) [Because these men were "re-captured" next day, I do not believe they were ever recorded as "captured" by their regiments. Instead, they were recorded as wounded; or simply removed from the "Missing" category.]

In the initial post of this series, mention was made of 1600 Federal prisoners marched South to Corinth, morning of April 7th. Lieutenant J.B. Dorr of the 12th Iowa Infantry made that calculation in order to draw sufficient rations during the trek. Dorr also mentions "encountering about 400 additional prisoners when his group reached Corinth." My guess: these were men of the 6th Division, captured early on Sunday and sent immediately south.

By the time the Federal prisoners reached Memphis, the total number of men held captive was approximately 2200 (it was discovered later that a few had been sent directly down the Mobile & Ohio Railroad, and never passed through Memphis.) In any event, the Federal prisoners at Memphis had a day or more, all together, to exchange stories and uncover facts. One of the "agreed facts" ...the Confederate Army had suffered a serious reversal on Monday; in all likelihood, the Rebels had been defeated. (The Confederate Army had been trickling back into Corinth as the prisoners waited for their train to Memphis.) 

However, over the next several days, as the Federal prisoners departed Memphis on southbound trains, they encountered "wondrous accounting" at the many stations where they paused. Lieutenant John Gift recorded the remarkable inflation he witnessed during the passage: at Grenada they were 7000 prisoners; at Jackson they had become 11,000; and by the time Mobile was reached, the total number of Federal soldiers captured at Shiloh had become 13,000 [Genoways page 89]. Why the inflation in prisoner numbers?  Why were the prisoners "on display" at so many stops along the way (with substantial crowds, everywhere, turned out to witness the event?)

Propaganda value.

Ozzy

 

References:  D.W. Reed's Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged (1909)

A Perfect Picture of Hell, Genoways & Genoways (2001)

 

 

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First Casualty of War 

It is widely accepted that "the first casualty of war is The Truth."  When I encountered the reports of Federal prisoners claiming that their numbers were being inflated as they moved progressively south towards their place of confinement, I wondered, "Why? What was to be gained by claiming 13,000 Federal soldiers were captured at Shiloh?"  Upon investigation, there appears to be an attempt to present the Federal prisoners as proof of the Great Southern Victory over Grant at Pittsburg Landing, thus verifying the early claims of triumph: the greater the number of prisoners, the weaker the remaining Federal force they were captured from, and the more likely any follow-up battle would result in Confederate victory, as well. And it appeared that next contest would take place at Corinth.

Following General Beauregard's initial report (by telegram to Richmond) of Complete Victory before the dust had settled on Day One, Southern newspapers reported a new and compelling aspect of the Battle of Shiloh -- every day -- to further bolster the claims of Triumph. Again, why was this barrage of evidence, persisting over a month into May 1862, deemed necessary?  I believe it was due the following:

  • justification for continued Southern support of the War Effort (Corinth was yet to happen, and more recruits were needed)
  • "proof" that the sacrifice of so many sons, husbands and fathers at Shiloh had not been in vain;
  • continued support for the Confederate program in the West: defeat Grant (done); defeat Buell (at Corinth); recapture Nashville; recapture Kentucky (and push remaining Federal troops north, beyond the natural boundary of the Ohio River.) It was believed, in Richmond, that all of this was achievable if sufficient troops could be recruited to make it happen.
  • justification for European recognition of the Confederate States could yet come from the "Victory" at Shiloh. Manassas had been great, but not complete (because Washington, D.C. was left untouched in July 1861.)  The superior power of CSS Virginia at Hampton Roads demonstrated the Naval might of the fledgling nation. A victory accepted as having occurred at Shiloh (with so many European observers in Richmond, reading the reports) could have been all it took to gain that foreign recognition: the "game-changer" that boosted the standing and prestige of the Confederate States, and promoted the Successful Conclusion (for the South) of the War of the Rebellion.

The above discussion represents the Historic Value of the Shiloh Prisoners (acting as time-capsule for the period 6 April- mid May 1862, when the facade of Victory maintained by the Government at Richmond was finally overwhelmed by the un-spinnable News from New Orleans.)

Ozzy

 

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