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Diary of Aaron Mastin, Army Nurse

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Aaron Loder Mastin, nineteen years old from Mercer County enlisted in D.P. Brown's Company F of the 41st Illinois Infantry (Colonel Pugh) in August 1861... and immediately commenced this diary. Of interest, because it appears Private Mastin was well educated; and in February 1862, with his regiment based in Union-occupied Paducah Kentucky, Aaron Mastin was detailed as Nurse and sent to help establish/ contribute to the operation of the Female Seminary Hospital (renamed as St. John's Hospital, and officially " 7th Division Hospital" at intersection of Chestnut and Court Streets.) Prior to establishment of St. John's, the Paducah Marine Hospital near the waterfront on Hospital Street appears to have been taken over as Federal barracks (incorporated into Fort Anderson) and a variety of churches and the Court House were pressed into service as ad hoc hospitals. Army Nurse Mastin details the efforts of Dr. Kirch to initiate the Hospital; and the handover to Dr. S.A. Williams (and Surgeon T.N. Wilmans) of the 200-plus bed facility, while reporting "what was heard" from Fort Donelson, and the arrival of wounded from that conflict.

In the April 5th entry, Nurse Mastin (now Ward Master at St. John's Hospital) records "the burial of deceased hospital patients in trenches." And on April 8th reports "hearing of the success at Island No.10 and the first news of General Grant's battle near Corinth."

The Diary of Aaron Mastin is important for its record of hospital service in Paducah (where many of the sick and wounded from the Army of the Tennessee were taken by steamer in March and April 1862.)



References:  http://www.jacksonpurchasehistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Mastin-Diary.pdf

http://www.pa-roots.com/pacw/hospitals/hospitallist.htm  List of Civil War Hospitals (included to illustrate that many hospitals did not get recorded, such as Paducah's St. John's and Cairo's St. John's Hospital.)

http://www.findagrave.com/memorial/26655293  Aaron L. Mastin record at find-a-grave.




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Just a note to thank you for digging up all the interesting material. I shall get a copy of the Rockwell book and I have read the Mastin diary. Mastin was actually from DeWitt County Illinois (roughly between Bloomington and Champaign), he died in Mercer County, Missouri. I only mention this to show you that people do actually read these things (well, at least one person did!).

He left the service not too long after he apparently shot himself in the hand with a revolver. These types of self-inflicted wounds were quite common ... not casting aspersions at Mastin in particular!

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In Deference to Occam's Razor

I happened upon the Rockwell Diary in the following way: after searching for "river miles from Paducah to Savannah Tennessee" in my favourite search engine (and not satisfied with the result) I amended the search term to, "river miles from Fort Henry to Savannah Tennessee" ...and the Bob Rockwell publication returned as hit number two. And, although available since 2011 this was the first I'd heard of the William Rockwell diary.

Occam's Razor, reduced to a short and sweet definition: " The simplest explanation is generally correct."

But, the Battle of Shiloh seems to defy Occam's Razor: there was nothing simple and straight-forward about it. Consider:

  • the Federal commander was not even present on the battlefield until hours after the contest began;
  • the Confederate commander intended to initiate battle one day earlier;
  • the goal of the Union army was to "do nothing to bring on a general engagement," with intention to march on Corinth (which led to all manner of unintended consequences)
  • the goal of the Rebel army was to engage and defeat Grant's army before Buell could arrive with reinforcements (but bad intelligence may have resulted in "hopeful belief" that Buell was heading for Decatur, instead of Savannah)
  • the Federal division-based response(s) quickly degenerated into brigade-sized, and then regiment-sized efforts... which managed to coalesce into "structure" at Grant's Last Line (and Sherman's line along the River Road)
  • the Confederate Corps-based attack quickly dissolved into brigade-sized and ad hoc combines of regiments... that almost succeeded.

Researching the Battle of Shiloh is replete with unexpected difficulties: duplicate names (Wallace and Wallace; even Hickenlooper and Hickenlooper); mispelled names (Savannah and Savanna; USS Tyler and USS Taylor); every map is different... Until Shiloh Discussion Group arrived on the scene and began serious study, the Battle of Shiloh was well on its way to MYTH status (believe what you want, define it how you want... "evidence" to support any outcome is available.)

Occam's Razor? No. The Battle of Shiloh is more in keeping with Murphy's Law.



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I once mentioned to Ranger Stacy Allen that the Battle of Shiloh was so confusing because it seemed to be four different battles all at once. He agreed, except he felt it was more like fourteen battles all at once.

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You raise a point which I am trying to resolve.

  • the goal of the Rebel army was to engage and defeat Grant's army before Buell could arrive with reinforcements (but bad intelligence may have resulted in "hopeful belief" that Buell was heading for Decatur, instead of Savannah)

Cunningham writes "General Beauregard did not believe the captured Union General [Prentiss] because of the receipt of a dispatch from Brigadier General Ben Helm in Northern Alabama, which stated that Buell was marching toward Decatur and not toward Pittsburg Landing.  Helm's message caused a dangerous feeling of over confidence to develop in the Southern leaders, who felt they could leisurely take their time in destroying Grant's army Monday morning."  He cites T Harry Williams's biography of Beauregard (P. G. T. Beauregard - Napoleon in Gray. p 143) and Battles and Leaders, 1: 602, 603.

This citation is Brigadier General Thomas Jordan's Notes of a Confederate Staff-Officer at Shiloh, who wrote 

Several hours previously a telegraphic dispatch addressed by Colonel Helm to General Johnston (as well as I now remember, from the direction of Athens, in Tennessee) was brought me from Corinth by a courier, saying that scouts employed in observing General Buell's movements reported him to be marching not in the toward a junction with Grant, but in the direction of Decatur, North Alabama.  This assuring dispatch I handed to General Beauregard, and, then, at his order, I wrote a telegraphic report to the Confederate adjutant-general, Cooper, in Richmond, announcing the results of the day, including the death of Johnston.

Cunningham also cites the Official Records, Series 10, Part 1, p 385. Beauregard's report begins on page 385  On page 387, Beauregard wrote that "from news received by a special dispatch, that delays had been encountered by General Buell in his march from Columbia, and that his main force, therefore, could not reach the field of battle in time to save General Grant's
shattered fugitive forces from capture or destruction on the following day."

I have also learned from that fount of knowledge the Wikipedia, of Benjamin Hardin Helm that

He was promoted to brigadier general on March 14, 1862 and, three weeks later, received a new assignment to raise the 3rd Kentucky Brigade, in the division of Major General John C. Breckinridge. During the Battle of Shiloh, Helm used his brigade to guard the Confederate flanks.


and that the 2nd Kentucky Infantry (CSA) saw action at Shiloh

After being exchanged, the reconstituted regiment saw action at the Battle of Shiloh.


I am trying to figure out just where Helm was and what he reported.  I do not see any mention of him in Series 10 of the OR, parts 1 or 2.  Jordan says that the dispatch came from Athens, but that seems unlikely.  Athens, Tennessee, which I have frequented, roughly lies on a line between Chattanooga and Knoxville, half-way betwixt them.  It seems unlikely that an officer screening a Federal advance toward Decatur, Alabama, would be reporting through an office so far to the east, although Jordan's recollection is hedged.

According to E. Porter Thompson, in his History of the Orphan Brigade states

At Murfreesboro’, February 23, 1862, he was temporarily brigaded with the Kentucky infantry, under the immediate orders of Gen. Breckinridge. Arriving at Burnsville, he was again active, and employed in guarding the approaches to Corinth, and watching the movements of the enemy on the Tennessee. Hav ing been sent by Gen. A. S. Johnston, during the latter part of March, on a tour of observation between the Federal position on the river and Nashville, he reported Buell’s rapid approach, and the probability of his being able to join Grant on Sunday, April 6th. It is said that ‘Johnston, on receiving this information, endeavored to hurry up his dispositions, so as to strike Grant on Saturday morning, and crush him, if possible, before the arrival of Buell, which he was prevented from doing only by the unexpected difficulty of transporting the artillery over the dreadful roads. At Shiloh the cavalry was engaged mainly in guarding the flanks, and had not that opportunity for distinguishing itself which was afterward improved on so many fields; but for Helm to attempt anything was to display ability, and win the warm encomiums of those who observed him.

On the 17th of April, Beauregard announced the promotion of Helm to brigadier, to rank from the 14th of March, and he was ordered to report to Gen. Breckinridge, which he did April 26th. About this time, the Reserve Corps was reorganized, and, April 28th, Helm was assigned to the command of the Third Brigade, in which, however, there were no troops of his own State.

(Ed Porter Thompson, History of the Orphan Brigade, 1898)

Thompson says that Helm reported that Buell was moving toward Grant and that his report played in role in urgency of the advance on Pittsburg Landing, contradicting Jordan.

Thompson, an officer in the First Kentucky Brigade (a/k/a the Orphan Brigade), is certainly an enthusiast for the Brigade and its officers.  I have not read him carefully, but his reputation is that he is not prone to flights of fancy.

Helm almost certainly was not at Shiloh.  Where was he?  What did he report?





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Here are the facts (with references) as I understand them:

Ben Hardin Helm got up the 1st Kentucky Cavalry Regiment in September 1861 [Ben Hardin Helm, page 26.]

Colonel B.H. Helm is recorded at Bowling Green in command of "Kentucky Regiment of Cavalry" [Life of ASJ, page 352.]

After the withdrawal of General A.S. Johnston's Army from Bowling Green (and continuing south from Nashville) Colonel Helm and his cavalry were tasked with "covering the retreat" [Ben Hardin Helm, p.28.]

Colonel Helm is recorded as being in Murfreesboro on 23 Feb 1862 [BH Helm, p.28.]

Colonel Helm is recorded being at Burnsville (Biernsville) Mississippi in March 1862, and was tasked with "guarding the approaches to Corinth" [BH Helm, p.28.]

On 1 April 1862, General A.S. Johnston sent a telegram to Colonel Helm at Tuscumbia Alabama [OR 11 page 378.] It is 51 miles from Tuscumbia Alabama to Athens Alabama (with Huntsville and Decatur in close proximity to Athens Alabama.) It is 225 miles from Tuscumbia Alabama to Athens Tennessee.

(In his "Notes of a Confederate Staff Officer at Shiloh," Colonel Thomas Jordan records, "As I now remember, Helm's telegram came from the direction of Athens Tennessee.")

Ben Hardin Helm was promoted to Brigadier General on 17 April 1862 (back-dated to 14 March 1862) [BH Helm, p. 30.]

Major General D.C. Buell's Army of the Ohio commenced its march south from Nashville about 15 March 1862 [SDG posts.]

Brigadier General Ormsby Mitchel and his Third Division (of Buell's Army of the Ohio) left Nashville about 18 March 1862, and arrived in Murfreesboro that same day [wikipedia.]

On 23 March 1862, Buell asked Halleck (via telegram), "Is the bridge at Florence [Alabama] destroyed?" [OR 11 page 59.] (It is suspected that the Confederates were able to tap Federal telegraph communications -- at least at Cairo Illinois -- from March 1862.)

Also on 23 March, Buell sent a telegram to SecWar Stanton, "It is imperative that not a man be withdrawn from the operation against the enemy's East and West Tennessee Railroad [meaning Memphis & Charleston Railroad] [OR 11 page 59.]

On 27 March, Buell contacts Mitchel by telegraph, "making observations that may affect your part in the operation just commencing (and includes mention of Decatur and Huntsville as "possible concentration points") [OR 11 page 71.] (Both Buell and Mitchel were stringing -- or repairing -- the telegraph as they advanced.)

On or before 3 April 1862, Buell contacts Halleck by telegraph and "recommends the concentration of Army of the Ohio at Waynesborough." On 5 April, Halleck replies to Buell, "You are right about concentrating at Waynesborough" [OR 11 page 94.] Fortunately, the fleet-footed Bull Nelson and Jacob Ammen had already hurried past Waynesborough, on their way to join Grant at Savannah... negating Halleck's authorization to stop and camp at Waynesborough.

On 5 April 1862 Ormsby Mitchel left Murfreesboro (at 6 a.m.) marching south to Fayetteville. (It is believed this movement was observed by Confederate scouts, under command of Colonel Helm, who reported, "Buell's Army is marching south towards Decatur." Helm relayed that information to General A.S. Johnston in the afternoon of 6 April... and Colonel Thomas Jordan took possession of the telegram, and passed it to General Beauregard) [Military Ops of General Beauregard, part one, page 306 - note.]

(On 10 April 1862, at noon, Ormsby Mitchel's Third Division left Fayetteville and marched into Huntsville Alabama at 6 a.m. on April 11th ...and cut the Memphis & Charleston Railroad, forever after denying its full use to the Confederacy [OR 10 page 642.])



References:  wikipedia

http://archive.org/stream/benhardinhelmreb00mcmu#page/20/mode/2up  Ben Hardin Helm

http://1stkycav.tripod.com/Historical1st/Historical1st.htm  BH Helm and 1st Kentucky Cavalry

http://archive.org/stream/militaryoperatio02romauoft#page/658/mode/2up/search/telegram  Beauregard bio, part two

http://archive.org/stream/milloperations01romarich#page/520/mode/2up/search/telegram  Beauregard bio, part one

http://archive.org/stream/lifegenalbert00johnrich#page/738/mode/2up/search/helm  Life of Albert Sidney Johnston 

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2001.05.0007%3Apart%3D12.41%3Achapter%3D12.48  Jordan's "Notes"

OR 10 and OR 11 (pages as indicated)

SDG (especially topics, "Cavalry Expert," "Abe Lincoln's Brother-in-Law," "Thomas Jordan, Spy Master," and "Live by the Brief, Die by the Brief.")




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