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Peabody started the Battle of Shiloh

“Peabody started the battle with the patrol he sent out” says WI16thJim, as summarized by Hank. And it is likely that in 2018 no one (with an interest in History of Shiloh) disputes this.

But, the devil is in the details… and nine months after the Battle of Shiloh, no one was sure how the battle began: many of the key participants were dead (Colonel Peabody, Major Powell.) The opportunity for survivors to get together and hash out a story did not present itself due some being sent away wounded (Colonel Moore) and some spending months in captivity (Brigadier General Prentiss and Colonel Madison Miller.) Much like “The Blind Man and the Elephant,” everyone held a piece of the puzzle, but it was only upon combining those unique pieces that the picture was revealed.

In 1903 (two years after the death of Benjamin Prentiss) Andrew Hickenlooper reported: “The bugle’s cheery notes aroused the camp at the dawn of day [reveille was sounded at 6 o’clock.] Breakfast was over and all was ready for an early morning drill, when the faint reports of distant picket shots were heard…” [Sketches of War History p.412.] [And included to not only illustrate the “acoustic cloud” reported by many Federal commanders (which many believed was due a strong easterly breeze blowing from the Tennessee River, and which muffled the sound of musket fire less than two miles away), but also Hickenlooper’s claim “he heard an exchange of picket fire.” ]

In his report published 1891, advocate for Shiloh Memorial Park, former member of 41st Illinois E.T. Lee, recalled, “At 3 o’clock on Sunday morning Colonel Moore with five companies of his regiment again went to the front, and at break of day he drove the advance pickets of the enemy in and engaged their advance line” [SDG “Shiloh Memorial Park,” post of 29 June 2018.] This statement is derived (and repeated almost verbatim) from General Benjamin Prentiss’s November 1862 Shiloh Report.]

Then, there is O. P. Newberry’s information, released broadly before his death in 1874. As a Lieutenant in Company I of 25th Missouri, Oliver Newberry was one of the few witnesses to the encounter between Benjamin Prentiss and Everett Peabody, at or after 6 a.m. on Sunday morning; and may have been present at the meeting that resulted in Major Powell being sent forward in the darkness of pre-dawn Sunday morning. Letters sent to family members after the battle hint at “more awareness of what took place,” than was available to senior commanders. Unfortunately, with Peabody and Powell dead, who supports (or negates) Newberry’s claims?

Still, what claims existed (end of 1862) were these:

·         Pickets, correctly placed by General Prentiss, started the Battle of Shiloh;

·         Colonel Moore, responding to picket firing, started the Battle;

·         Colonel Peabody, without authority, sent Powell to start the Battle of Shiloh.

Beginning with the claim, “the picket line, correctly placed and strengthened by General Prentiss initiated contact that led to Battle of Shiloh,” this version of events had majority support in 1862 and is recorded in Prentiss’s November 1862 report; and in the April 1862 report of Colonel David Moore (in which it is apparent that Colonel Peabody mentioned “contact with the enemy, experienced by pickets” as justification for sending Moore and five companies forward.)

“Colonel Moore responded to picket firing and started the Battle of Shiloh,” is how General Prentiss documented the events of Sunday Morning, April 6th 1862. Trying to make sense of how the whole affair started, Prentiss knew that he sent forward “the remainder of the 21st Missouri” at Colonel Moore’s request, upon waking up Sunday morning. And he may have had opportunity to query Colonel Moore, briefly, as that seriously wounded officer was removed from the front, on his way to Pittsburg Landing for treatment. (If so, Colonel Moore would have mentioned that he was “responding to the firing of the pickets.”) In any event, Colonel Moore, by virtue of his response, is accorded claim for “initiating Battle of Shiloh” in Prentiss’s official report.

The claim that Major Powell, under orders of Colonel Peabody, is responsible for initiating the Battle of Shiloh is more problematic, and was not “shouted from the rooftops” at the time because of those inherent problems: obvious disregard (disrespect) of a senior commander; working outside the Chain of Command; usurping authority… Which is probably why details leaked out gradually over time (without possibility of putting the whole story together until all the facts were revealed much, much later.)



Of Events affecting Sixth Division

Sunday morning 6 APR 1862

[prior to 6 APR]       BGen Prentiss strengthens his picket line.

[after midnight]      Following consultation with like-minded subordinates, Colonel Peabody sends away Major Powell with mission, “to capture Rebel cavalryman and return him to camp of 1st Brigade, Sixth Division for interrogation.”

[after midnight]      Major Powell detaches a small group from the picket force and leads them away towards a house, believed to be a base of Rebel cavalry [report of Private Baker 25th Missouri.] Finding the number of Rebel troops in vicinity too strong for his small force, Major Powell retraces his steps; and back at camp, bolsters his force with three companies each belonging to 25th Missouri and 12th Michigan.

3 a.m. (est)              Major Powell leads his bolstered force, intent on the Capture Mission, away towards the suspected Cavalry outpost. Before arriving (and in vicinity of Fraley Field) Powell’s reconnaissance draws fire from “a Confederate vedette.” [Sergeant Ed. A. Gordon of Co.A 57th OVI on picket duty recalls Major Powell and "three companies of the 25th Missouri" passing his picket post "at about 3 a.m., long before daylight." Sergeant Gordon records in National Tribune of 26 APR 1883 p.2 Col.6 that "Major Powell informed us that he was going to catch some Rebels for breakfast." ]

5:15 (or 4:55)           Recorded time of above contact: Rebels vs. Major Powell.

5:30 (est)                  Upon hearing engagement taking place, Colonel Peabody alerts Colonel Moore and tells him, “Contact with our pickets has occurred.” Moore is sent away by Peabody with five companies of his 21st Missouri to investigate “the picket firing.” As he heads in the direction of the sound of gunfire, Colonel Moore encounters the 25th Missouri (Major Powell) returning to camp. Moore turns Powell around, and also takes control of elements of the 16th Wisconsin, Company A (Captain Saxe) and continues forward.

6 a.m.                         Reveille in Camp of Sixth Division.

6 a.m.                         A messenger sent from Colonel Moore reports to BGen Prentiss and reports “contact with the pickets.” Further, Colonel Moore requests the remainder of his 21st Missouri (which Prentiss sends away to bolster Colonel Moore.) The sound of gunfire away in the distance becomes more distinct (although most soldiers north of the Sixth Division do not hear the sound of musketry due to “acoustic shadow.”)

Just after 6 a.m.       The Long Roll is sounded (either by orders of Prentiss or Peabody.) And Prentiss confronts Peabody.

6:30 (est)                    The lines of infantry and two batteries of artillery move forward.

7 a.m.                          Hickenlooper begins firing. Munch begins firing.

7 a.m.                          Prentiss sends messengers to Smith (2nd DIV) and Hurlbut (4th DIV) explaining developments and “requesting reinforcements.”      

7:11                             General Grant (at Savannah) hears the booming of artillery.


[Corrections and additions most welcome, as long as references provided – Ozzy.]



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I offer a couple of additions.

On page 152 of my signed Wiley Sword’s 2001 edition is the following concerning the confrontation between Prentiss and Peabody in the camp of the 25th Missouri; “Reining his horse in front of Peabody, who was just preparing to mount, Prentiss angrily demanded to know if he had provoked an attack by sending out a force without orders. Peabody answered that he had sent out a reconnaissance patrol after attempting to notify Prentiss of his intention. (Bold added by me)

                The first puzzle piece here is that Peabody states he sent out a reconnaissance patrol. Prentiss had given Peabody and Powell permission to send out reconnaissance patrols so there was “no defiance of orders” when Peabody ordered Powell to take a reconnaissance patrol to the front. However, they were not to bring on a “general engagement.”

                But Prentiss had heard a lot of firing; Prentiss knew that the war god Colonel David Moore had gone forward with the entire 21st Missouri to “lick them.” And when he rode into Peabody’s camp he found the long roll had been sounded in the camp of the 25th Missouri and Peabody had his regiment toeing the line in preparation of moving forward. This is why he demanded to know from Peabody if he had sent out a force without orders.

                The eye-catching phrase is that Peabody tried to inform Prentiss of his intention to send out a patrol but had failed to let Prentiss know due to his messenger not being able to find Prentiss.

                None of the other major Shiloh books mention that Peabody attempted to inform Prentiss that he was sending out Major Powell at 3 a. m.

                There are several varying accounts of the confrontation between Prentiss and Peabody and what was said. I was curious where Wiley Sword had gotten the account he used in his book. His reference notes referred to Shea which led to John Gilmary Shea in the bibliography to Shea’s The American Nation. Shea seems to have been a prolific author with many books about Americans and patriotism. The American Nation was a compilation of men who gave their all for Union. Included in the book are chapters on Major General William Hervey Lamm Wallace, Colonel Julius Raith and Colonel Everett Peabody. The chapter on Colonel Everett Peabody gives many details on his life and then goes into an account of the battle of Shiloh commencing on April 5, 1862. The author covers Peabody with praise and gives an account of the activities concerning Peabody sending out Powell’s patrol. Shea wrote “Few officers have fallen during the war, whose services were so valuable to the country, or whose prospects of honorable distinction were so brilliant, as those of Colonel Everett Peabody.”

                The amazing thing about this book as relates to the efforts to learn the truth about Shiloh is that the book, containing full praise to Peabody for saving the army at Shiloh, was published in 1862 while Prentiss was still a prisoner in the south. The story of Peabody at Shiloh was published in a book yet historians wrote about the battle of Shiloh ignorant of what Peabody had done. Except for William Swinton in his Twelve Decisive Battles of the War.

                I did not type up the whole chapter on Peabody, only the part on Shiloh. The book is pretty rare and I could not see that it has been digitized. I located a microfilm copy in a library near Kansas City.

St. Louis archives 088.jpg



“On the 5th of April there seemed to be a kind of presentiment in General Grant’s army of the terrible battle impending. A visitor to the field, immediately after the battle, was assured that the desire being to avoid a collision with the enemy at that moment, the generals were instructed not to throw out pickets. The strategy reminds one of the old fable of the ostrich, who hid his head and then imagined himself safe from the hunter. That evening several soldiers and civilians were collected in Colonel Peabody’s tent, and the colonel expressed his opinion that the rebels were near in force and the army in great danger for want of pickets. Finally, he exclaimed, “I can bear this no longer. I must know whether we are in the arms of the enemy, or whether we are out of danger,” and he immediately sent an orderly to General Prentiss, asking leave to send out a scouting party. The orderly did not find General Prentiss, and Colonel P. then resolved to send it out without permission. From one to three o’clock, that night, he strolled about the camp talking with his officers and men, and at three o’clock sent out the party,--four hundred men of his own regiment,--under Major Powell, a cool and experienced officer.

                It is hard to overestimate the importance of this reconnaissance. Our army was encamped in a semicircle, Colonel Peabody in the centre. Beauregard had planned for three columns to attack our right, left, and centre, simultaneously at daybreak; and if he had succeeded in this, General Grant’s army would have been annihilated. His plan was frustrated by Colonel Peabody’s detachment, which, came into collision before the time, with the centre column. The rattle of musketry gave the alarm to our army, and gave the centre nearly time enough, and the flanks ample time to get under arms.

                Early that morning (Sunday, April 6th), Colonel Peabody sat at breakfast with Mr. B., a visitor, when the firing was heard. The colonel said to Mr. B., “Don’t disturb yourself; but I must go and see to things.” He ordered the long roll sounded, and mounting his horse rode forward to where the line was forming. Major Powell and his men soon appeared, swept on by an immense column of rebels, but skirmishing bravely as they retreated. At this instant General Prentiss rode up to Colonel Peabody and exclaimed: “Did you provoke this attack by sending out a force without orders!”

                “I did send out a reconnaissance, after sending you notice of my intention.”

                “You have brought on this attack before we were prepared; and I shall hold you responsible for it.”

                With our present knowledge of the battle, it seems as if General Prentiss could hardly have framed a statement more damaging to himself, or more honorable to Colonel Peabody. It sounds like a confession of perfect blindness as to the position and plans of the rebels, and an admission of want of preparation to receive an attack which the rebels had been preparing for two weeks—a confession that West Point strategists were wrong, and the colonel of volunteers, right.

                But Colonel Peabody knew nothing of all this. He only knew that he had taken a dangerous responsibility, and in consequence was arraigned by his superior as the cause of an impending defeat; and this thought must have made his last hour on earth one of great mental suffering. In this state of mind, it is easy to conceive with what grief and indignation he must have seen his brigade swept slowly back by the rebels, in spite of its stern resistance.

                The correspondent of a western paper says: “Colonel Peabody would not retreat. He seemed infatuated, and was soon left almost alone, vainly trying to rally his men. Presently he fell shot through the jaw.”

                The gentleman, who was breakfasting with him, saw him riding along the line urging his men with voice and gesture, to “Stand to it yet;” then saw him throw his arms up, reel, and fall from his horse, the rebels rapidly passing over the spot. On Monday evening, after the rebels were driven back, his body was found where he fell. It was pierced by five bullets: one in the head, one in the neck, one in the body, one in the thigh, and one in the hand.

                Thus, after “one glorious hour of crowded life,” fell a brave soldier and chivalrous gentleman.

                His officers buried him in a gun-box, placing at his head a board with his name, and below it the couplet:


                                                                A braver man ne’er died upon the field;

                                                                A warmer heart never to death did yield.


                His body afterwards carried to Boston, where the funeral arrangements were taken in charge of by the governor of Massachusetts. Thence to Springfield, where, in presence of an immense concourse, he was laid beside his mother, in the beautiful cemetery of that town.

                Few officers have fallen during the war, whose services were so valuable to the country, or whose prospects of honorable distinction were so brilliant, as those of Colonel Everett Peabody. His talents were of a high order, and were united to such practical energy, that whatever he undertook to do, was sure to be done quickly and well. Thus, when he was only twenty-two years old, Hon. James Guthrie said of him, that “he was as good a field-engineer as there was in the western country.” At twenty-three he was a chief. The same element of character gave him immediate success in the new field to which the breaking out of the great rebellion called him. He was one born to command; and his proud and chivalrous spirit, his scorn of danger, his absolute ignorance of fear, filled his men with an enthusiastic faith in him, so that he could lead them anywhere, and do any thing with them.

                His most striking characteristic was a high contempt for meanness or dishonesty of any kind. This trait won him respect wherever he went; but it was carried so far as to make him lack even that excusable selfishness which enables a man to take proper care of his own. His table and purse were always open, not to friends only, but even to mere acquaintances; and in money-matters he was careless to an excess,--a fault often found in large and noble natures. In the flower of his age, in the performance of a great act of service, he fell—dying as a chivalrous gentleman would wish to die, and singularly fulfilling the prediction expressed years before in a song which he composed for a military organization:


                                And if the army of a foe invade our native land,

                                Or rank disunion gather up its lawless, faithless band;

                                Then the arm upon our ancient shield shall wield his blade of might,

                                And we’ll show our worthy brethren that gentlemen can fight.


                The American Nation carries a copyright date of 1862. It is possible it went to print after Prentiss was released. It is one of those pieces of the puzzle as to why was the actions of Peabody not recognized by historians if there was a book published in 1862 that described what he had done.

                In Shiloh – The Battle That Changed the Civil War Larry Daniel has an error-prone synopsis of the opening of the battle. He based part of his opening battle remarks on a convoluted and disappointing newspaper article that was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer by a reporter of the name of Bentley. Bentley was in the camp of the 25th Missouri on the morning of April 6th and related his observations. Bentley’s description of the fight is so disorganized he convinced Larry Daniel that Prentiss actually accosted Peabody twice on the morning of April 6th. Nevertheless you can gloom some tidbits from the article and here is a link which should get you to a website that has the newspaper digitized.




                You are on your own to work with this site. I could not find a site that had the Philadelphia Inquirer digitized and you did not need to pay for it. Somehow I was able to print a copy of the newspaper on a single 8.5 x 11 inch sheet of paper and I use a magnifying glass to read it.

One of the puzzle pieces is the relationship between Prentiss and Peabody. Recently Ozzy had a thread which discussed what day did Prentiss actually arrive at Pittsburg Landing. Prentiss stated in his 1882 speech he arrived on March 29, 1862, roughly one week before the battle. What is missing from the record is any account of an interaction between Prentiss and Peabody that supports a claim they did not get along prior to April 5th. Here is the entire letter Peabody wrote on March 31, 1862, his last letter. You have probably seen snippets of the letter but here is the entire letter. To whom it was addressed was kept secret in The American Nation but it was sent to his brother Frank.


Dear -------,

                In camp again, with a good regiment and well equipped. We are in General Prentiss’s division (eleven regiments), and I command the leading brigade. As we are the left centre division, we expect rough work. I have a fine brigade. My own regiment at the right; the Twelfth Michigan, Sixteenth Wisconsin, and Eighteenth Missouri forming the balance.

                We arrived here on the 28th, and have a very pleasant camp,--the boys as lively as crickets, and every thing working smoothly, It is funny to be called general, but the boys are all delighted, and, I think, will do good service at the proper time.

                The enemy is supposed to be about eighteen miles from us. We have an immense army, how large I have no means of knowing; they say, however, one hundred and twenty odd regiments, and they are arriving at the rate of two or three a day.

                As I wrote you before leaving, I have left my contract with Judge Krum of St. Louis. In case I go under, my old assistants, Kilby and John Severance, can give you all the necessary information in regard to the property involved. Say to them all at home, that if I have good luck, I shall win my spurs. Love to all.

                                                                Yours,                                         Ev


                Unfortunately Colonel Everett Peabody did not have good luck but he won his spurs and was instrumental in giving the army the opportunity to save itself.

                He mentions General Prentiss with no hint of animosity or ill-feeling. “Every thing working smoothly” certainly does not support the mantra that Prentiss hated Peabody’s guts.

                Another mantra is that Peabody had a presentiment of his own death at Shiloh. But you can read in his last letter that he states “In case I go under” and then informed his brother whom to contact about some of his property. Peabody might have had a presentiment of his death in battle months earlier but he gave no such indication in his last letter home from Shiloh that he sensed he was going to be killed on the field.

                We had a discussion as to who ordered out Colonel Moore with five companies to go to the aid of Major Powell. I remarked I had just read an account that stated Moore was sent out by Prentiss but could not remember where. Well, I discovered it was on page 61 in the following staff ride handbook.




                Now just looking at Daniel’s book and on page 147 he states the same thing. No wonder the puzzle is so hard to complete. I added this because Bjorn stated the same thing on his hike and we were wondering where that could come from since David Moore specifically stated it was Peabody who ordered him forward.

                In preparing this posting I came across another occasion when Prentiss described the opening of the battle and mentioned how it was Colonel David Moore who was responsible. From Confederate Veteran, Volume 3, April, 1895 there is an article on the veteran’s reunion at Shiloh in that year. On page 104 is found the following:


                “He (Prentiss) reported his anxiety about the situation in front of the General (Sherman) commanding in the field, but his fears of an attack were not heeded, the General sending back word “I will guard your front.” He sent, however, Col. Moore of his division, with part of his regiment, who encountering Johnston’s army, sent a report of it back to Prentiss, adding, “If you will send the balance of my regiment to me, by thunder, I will lick them!”

                Here it is 1895 and Prentiss attributed the opening of the battle to Colonel David Moore. So far I have found no account where Prentiss himself displayed any knowledge of Powell’s patrol.

                You can find copies of the Confederate Veteran at the following link. Go to Volume 3, page 104 to find the article on the veteran reunion at Shiloh in April of 1895.




                The record indicates that Major Powell took out a patrol after noticing “butternuts” observing the division’s review in Spain Field. Then, probably after Powell had returned, Moore took out his patrol and returned with his information concerning the evidence of Rebel cavalrymen. This seemed to have piqued Powell’s interest and he took out the late night patrol as detailed in the account of Private D. K. Baker where Baker related that Powell told them that they were going out to find some Rebel cavalrymen and “bring them in out of the wet.” That mission was aborted upon finding more Rebels than expected and Powell organized another patrol to go out at 3 am on April 6th.

                Sergeant Gordon of company A, 57th Ohio was on picket duty when Powell approached him with his patrol and told him that they were going out to “catch some rebels for breakfast.”

                That is a total of four patrols going out from Peabody’s camp. The idea that Powell’s 3 am patrol was sent out in violation of orders does not stand up because all of these patrols had been granted permission from Prentiss to make reconnaissance in front of Peabody’s camp. What Prentiss did not know was the timing of these patrols.

Wm. J. Hahn, 1st Lt., Co. H., 25th Missouri, who was there, wrote on April 12, 1914 – “With the assistance of Colonel Everitt Peabody commanding the 1st Brigade of the 6th Division, Major Powell finally got General Prentiss’s permission to reconnoiter Sunday morning, but under no circumstances to bring on a general engagement. Major Powell explained these points to me at 10 P.M. Saturday, April 5th and directed me to visit every tent of Co. H and instruct the men to be fully dressed and be ready to march at 3 A.M. Sunday, April 6th……If ever a man deserved a monument it is our brave Major Powell…..”

                Hahn’s statement contains an admission that Powell had permission from Prentiss for the 3 am patrol but that “under no circumstances to bring on a general engagement.” When Prentiss rode into Peabody’s camp on the morning of April 6th he knew that Colonel David Moore had gone forward with his entire regiment and that Colonel Peabody was about to do the same with the 25th Missouri. It looked to Prentiss as if the situation had gone beyond reconnaissance patrols to approaching a general engagement and that is why he accused Peabody of bringing on an engagement and that Peabody would be held responsible.

                The State Historical Society of Missouri has a collection of papers of Lt. Col. Robert Van Horn of the 25th Missouri. Overall the collection is a disappointment concerning the battle of Shiloh except for a yellowed copy of a newspaper account by William A. Morton dated April 7, 1908 in the Hamiltonian newspaper from Hamilton, Missouri. William Morton was one of the four Morton brothers enrolled in the 25th Missouri. We are familiar with Charles Morton from his two accounts of the battle of Shiloh, Boy at Shiloh and Opening of the Battle of Shiloh. Brother Mark Morton served as an aide to Colonel Peabody at Shiloh. The Morton brothers were there and close to the scene.

                For the astute observers one might notice the date of the article being 1908 and contained in the papers of Robert Van Horn and wonder how that could be. The answer is that Robert Van Horn lived to be 92 years of age and died in 1916.

                I selected to include in this post the introduction in the newspaper to the article and a portion of the article concerning William Morton’s account of what they found when they returned to their demolished camp on April 7, 1862. William Morton, who was there, wondered why historians never gave credit to Peabody for what he did and that the excited Prentiss really was not aware of what actually happened. Morton also commented on the fact that Peabody took action without informing Prentiss and that was a mystery because Peabody was always respectful to fellow officers.




Gen. Charles Morton Commemorates the Event Each Year


                A Shiloh dinner was given by Gen. Charles Morton at Omaha on April 7, this year. For many years past the General has celebrated the anniversary of the battle in a formal manner, or otherwise, and on this occasion he invited a number of the survivors of the battle to join him in commemorating the event. Five persons were present, all of whom were requested to present a written statement of personal experience in the great open field fight, giving special prominence to recollections of the opening events, as the question whether the Union army was surprised or not has never been satisfactorily settled by historians.

                W. A. Morton, of Little Rock, Ark., a brother of Gen. Chas. Morton, was in Hamilton last Thursday and Friday on his way home from attending the Shiloh dinner where he gave the following narrative of the battle, in which he desires to make clear the point that the First brigade of Prentiss’ division, commanded by Col. Peabody of the Missouri 25th, was not surprised. This narrative, we believe, will be read with interest by our patrons as its author was the founder of the HAMILTONIAN and he and a number of others of the same company serving in the war enlisted from this locality.


Personal Experiences in the Battle of Shiloh

(By W. A. Morton, late of Co. I, 25th Inft. Mo. Vols.)


*             *             *             *             *             *             *             *             *             *             *             *

We marched back to camp, arriving between the hours of 1 and 2 Monday April 7th. Our camp was the very picture of the “havoc of war and the battle’s confusion.” Tents were rent by bullets and shells, and the ground was strewn with broken muskets, limbs of trees, knapsacks, etc: and the trees were splintered by cannon shot, and dead Confederates lay scattered by. A few of the tents were burnt, while those remaining all contained one or more wounded or dead Confederates. The tent which Sergeant Singleton and I had occupied contained two dead men, who were members of an Arkansas regiment. Everything of value which we left in our tents when we retreated the morning before was gone. Blankets, knapsacks and clothing, etc., and for three or four weeks we had no change of clothing. Blankets were issued soon after the battle, but we drew no clothing until early in May, when we were in the trenches near Corinth.

                After hastily surveying our camp the next thing in order was dinner. Some of the boys had hardtack, others had canned goods found at a demolished Sutler’s tent, and one had a chicken which he had picked up at a farm house. The meal would have been a gloomy one but for the fact that all of the boys (there were 21 of them) had a thrilling experience to relate, besides the occasion was enlivened with the thought that we had regained our camp and that the Confederates were skedaddling for Corinth. But when we entered our tents at night even the thoughts of victory could not dissipate the air of gloom. The following day our camp was thronged with visitors, who came to view our dead Colonel; there were newspaper correspondents and army officers among whom, General Garfield, who commanded a brigade of Woods Division. Buell’s army. It happened that the first person General Garfield met on entering our camp was my brother, Mark, to whom he said: “I am looking for the camp of the Missouri 25th.” Mark replied, this is the camp of the 25th. “After a few remarks concerning Col. Peabody the General inquired if there were any boys of the name of, Morton, in the regiment. Mark said, “Yes, sir, my name is Morton, and I have three brothers in the regiment.” He then conducted the General to our company and introduced Charley and myself, but John N. required no introduction as the General recognized him at sight as a former neighbor farm boy and playmate. The General praised Colonel Peabody highly for his bravery and intelligent efforts to prevent the entire army from being surprised. All the officers who visited our camp were lavish with eulogies of Col. Peabody and the officers of the first brigade, and it was current opinion that their vigilance alone saved the army from surprise. I have often wondered why historians have not given Colonel Peabody the credit which newspaper correspondents and army officers accorded him immediately after the battle, when the facts were fresh in memory. It is certain the first shot was fired by Colonel Peabody’s brigade and that if that shot had not been fired when it was, the entire army would have been unprepared for attack.

                Colonel Peabody was awake all the night preceding the battle, receiving information from scouts and consulting the regimental commanders in his brigade (so it was reported for days after the battle) consequently his plans for attack were made deliberately. It was the general opinion that Prentiss knew nothing of these plans and was not even aware that the enemy’s outposts were attacked until firing on the skirmish line had progressed an hour or more, for when he appeared at Colonel Peabody’s tent at 6 o’clock, and asked what that firing meant at the front, and the cause was explained, he was not only surprised but very indignant. It is said he charged Colonel Peabody with having violated orders and brought on an engagement prematurely. Lieutenant Claxton, then Commissary Sergeant, says Prentiss’ language was violent. He told Peabody he would put him under arrest, but for the reason he wanted him to bear his share of the engagement he had precipitated. Why Col. Peabody took the steps he did, without reporting to Prentiss, is a mystery. It could not have been on account of ignorance nor lack of respect to a superior officer, for he was a man of fine intelligence and was ever courteous to both inferior and superior officers, besides every inch a soldier.

                My brother Mark, who was Col. Peabody’s orderly, corroborates what Lieutenant Claxton says regarding the reproval Prentiss administered to Peabody for his aggressive movement. It was therefore due to Col. Peabody’s enterprise and generalship that the entire army was not surprised.

                To present the history of the battle in truthful and interesting form the historian should say the regimental and division commanders of the Union army were all, except Peabody’s brigade, if not surprised, caught unprepared, but displayed great ability and heroism in staying a crushing defeat.

*             *             *             *             *             *             *             *             *             *             *             *

                William Morton’s account of the encounter between Prentiss and Peabody comports somewhat with the account given by F. C. Nichols in a letter to the nephew of Everett Peabody dated Feb. 27, 1902. Larry Daniel in Shiloh – The Battle That Changed the Civil War attributed Nichols’ account as the most accurate because Nichols was “within hearing distance.” (page 350 in the “notes” section).

                Daniel quoted just a sentence of Nichols’ account but there is more quoted in Joseph Rich’s The Battle of Shiloh. Here is what is in Rich’s book.


F. C. Nichols, senior Captain of the 25thMissouri at Shiloh, to F. E. Peabody, Feb. 27, 1902. “At early morn before breakfast the line of Battle was formed, with the right of Brigade resting on the right of our regimental color line. My company was on the right of Brigade. A few minutes after the line was formed, General Prentiss rode up near Colonel Peabody, who was mounted and in front of my company, about the center of the first platoon and said to him, “Colonel Peabody, I hold you responsible for bringing on this fight.” Saluting, Colonel Peabody said: ‘If I brought on the fight I am able to lead the van.’ General Prentiss ordered him to take his best regiment….the next words I heard were: 25thMissouri forward.’”


                In Nichols’ account and William Morton’s account we find corroboration that Prentiss, despite his anger at the moment, gave Colonel Everett Peabody the respect to lead the 25th Missouri regiment forward and gave him the opportunity to “lead the van” “to bear his share of the engagement he had precipitated.” I like that version best.






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Throw all of this out for a moment.  Hear me out.  All the time I hear about the Prentiss/Peabody/whoever starting the Battle of Shiloh.  How about looking at it from the other end of the field.  The simple version:  The Confederate line was established and ready to assault.  As fate would have it the route the Federal recon party took landed them in front of the 3rd Mississippi Infantry Battalion.  And, there were mounted Confederate horsemen in front of the 3rd, who were themselves on picket as skirmishers.  When that recon party was fired upon by the Confederate horsemen, THAT opened the Battle of Shiloh, in my humble opinion.  

Somewhat akin to a Lieutenant in the 8th Illinois Cavalry I believe it was firing the first shot at Gettysburg.  One thing that, and I hate to admit it, is that I have never searched for any Confederate first hand accounts of this action.  The Confederate lines were just as close, if not closer, to the initial fighting in Fraley field, as the Federals were in their camp.  

Has anyone ever looked for Confederate accounts of the opening shots in Fraley field?  I know those records are far more sparse, but removing the bias of looking at the opening of the battle through the one sided lens of the Federal perspective would shed as much, if not more, light on this subject.  Pickets and advance horsemen were placed, but this was standard operating procedure.  But, were the Confederates themselves expecting a probe, or even an attack?  Were the Confederates just as shocked?  Did the Confederates think that THEY might be about to receive a massive attack upon their lines?  Could the "slow start" of the Confederate line advancing be due to the possibility that they were expecting an attack, and therefore didn't want to advance too quickly, not being sure what the Federal intentions were?  

Lots of questions on the Confederate side of this equation.

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do you think think that Prentiss' action toward Peabody was in a way trying to cover up he was not "doing his job " as not being on the look out for the confederate army..and
Peabody was listening to all info tat was coming into camp? Also,wonder if Prentiss ever read Shea's book.....

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I take this opportunity to respond to Hank's excellent post, and the thought-provoking replies of Stan and Mona:


Knowing what he knew at the time (November 1862), how could Brigadier General Benjamin Prentiss have begun his Shiloh report ? “In violation of orders, Colonel Peabody of my Division took it upon himself to initiate the General Engagement expressly forbidden by the Commanding General.” [Seemingly accurate, but not true, as it appears Peabody sent Powell to “bring in from the wet a Rebel cavalryman or two,” conduct an interrogation, and from that interrogation define Rebel intentions. Powell inadvertently brought on the engagement: Colonel Peabody would not have known how; and General Prentiss would not have known who.]

Credit for bringing on the bloody slaughter at Shiloh, resulting in so many lives snuffed out, and thousands of previously able-bodied men suffering life-altering wounds, while thousands of others endured months of horror, suffering death by starvation in prison pens… this was not something to be celebrated. The intent of Major General U.S. Grant was to stave off that conflict, bring “shock and awe” to the enemy at Corinth. By taking credit for initiation of the contest, (or assigning that credit to a senior officer under his supposed control), General Prentiss would take responsibility for “sending a patrol,” of which he had no knowledge: neither of its original intention, or subsequent, unintended events.

Avoiding surprise. THIS was the event to be celebrated. And from review of period sources, these are the men responsible for the alerts that allowed a modicum of preparation before the Confederate juggernaut emerged from the morning mist and overwhelmed the camps at Pittsburg Landing:

·         Major James Powell (for alerting Peabody, who sends half of Moore)

·         Colonel David Moore (alerts Prentiss through his request for reinforcements)

·         Captain Andrew Hickenlooper (or Rebel artillery, possibly operated by Swett.) “The booming of distant artillery caused General Grant to rise from his breakfast, with his coffee untasted.”

·         BGen Prentiss (for sending forward his artillery under Munch and Hickenlooper; forming his division into line; sending messengers to Smith (2nd DIV), Hurlbut (4th DIV) and Stuart (2nd Brigade of 5th DIV).

In his November 1862 Shiloh report, this is how BGen Prentiss addresses his Division’s part in negating the Confederate surprise:

“…in view of information received from the commandant thereof, [on Saturday evening] I sent forward five companies of the 25th Missouri and five companies of the 12th Michigan, under command of Colonel David Moore.”

“[Making use of the information received from Colonel Moore] I proceeded to strengthen the guard stationed on the Corinth Road…”

“At break of day the advance pickets were driven in, whereupon Colonel Moore [who was already in the field] pushed forward and engaged the enemy’s advance.”


“At this stage, a messenger [from Colonel Moore] arrived at my headquarters, calling for the balance of the 21st Missouri, which was promptly sent forward.” [Note: BGen Prentiss had no knowledge HOW Colonel Moore happened to be in the field, but word had been passed that “contact with the pickets” was the cause. This messenger sent from Colonel Moore was a necessary alert that restored General Prentiss to command, taking over from the well-intentioned but flawed orchestrations of Colonel Peabody… of which Prentiss had incomplete knowledge.]

“I at once ordered the entire force into line, and the remaining regiments of the First Brigade, commanded by Colonel Everett Peabody…” [Note: BGen Prentiss inadvertently gives credit to Colonel Peabody for “already being involved” because Prentiss does not say, “I at once ordered the entire force into line, and advanced them well to the front.” A reader unfamiliar with “the whole story of how Shiloh began” (General Grant, for example) would only read the straight-forward report of Colonel Peabody’s role in leading his First Brigade forward, and assume… nothing else. Without knowing the full details of Peabody’s role in initiating the Battle of Shiloh (or his subsequent actions), this matter-of-fact statement of Colonel Peabody’s involvement, listing the regiments under his command, accords creditable mention to that officer (while avoiding rumour and innuendo.)]

“I forthwith at this juncture [about 7 a.m.] communicated the fact of the attack in force to Major General Smith and Brigadier General S.A. Hurlbut.” [Note: this alert was one of several actions/ decisions taken by BGen Prentiss that prevented the Federal Army to his north being taken by surprise (not realizing that acoustic shadow kept most of that Army from hearing the sound of battle, until the artillery opened up.) Also, notice that Prentiss did not know WHL Wallace was in Temporary Command of the Second Division: that officer, BGen Wallace, was preparing to meet his just-arrived wife aboard Minnehaha; but upon receipt of alert from Prentiss, sent a steamer to Savannah to alert General Grant. And Wallace took actions to move his infantry and artillery forward… Thus, Wallace (and Hurlbut) were not surprised.]

[Note: the other actions taken by BGen Prentiss

·         Sending the remainder of the 21st Missouri to Colonel Moore (helping delay the Confederate advance)

·         Sending twelve guns under Hickenlooper and Munch forward (not only helping delay the Confederate advance, but the “booming of artillery” alerted General Grant)

·         Sending a messenger to Colonel Stuart, providing timely alert to that officer

·         Prentiss saved his artillery. Much is made of “Prentiss only had a few hundred men remaining when he withdrew to the position that became known as the Hornet’s Nest.. hardly a division.” But, the artillery of Munch and Hickenlooper had unleashed Hell upon the orderly Rebel lines marching north; and the remaining eight guns continued to contribute mightily to the strength (and defence) of the Hurlbut – Prentiss – WHL Wallace Line, further delaying the Confederate movement north.

·         Delay and timely alerts. These were the contributions of Prentiss and his men.]

“Perceiving the enemy was flanking me, I ordered the Division to retire in line of battle to the colour line of our encampment, at the same time communicating to Generals Smith and Hurlbut the fact of the falling back, and asking for re-enforcements.”

Sometime after 10 a.m. BGen Prentiss met MGen Grant on the field, in vicinity of what became known as the Hornet’s Nest. Prentiss had opportunity to bring Grant “up to speed” – face to face -- on what transpired earlier that morning (as Prentiss understood the facts, likely including “contact with the pickets” resulting in everyone being brought to the current situation.) As result of Prentiss’s report, and inspection of Prentiss’s strong situation, General Grant, “expressed satisfaction,” and ordered Prentiss, “Hold this position at all hazards.” [Having related his report to General Grant in person, Prentiss repeated that initial report in written form in November 1862… sticking to the story as it was then understood.]

And as Hank likes to point out, there is Moore to this story…



N.B.  For Stan: I agree that more work needs to be done to determine action/ reaction from the Confederate point of view.

For Mona: in the military, "Duty Officers" are assigned on a rotating basis to "take care of the small stuff" while the commander is away (ASLEEP counts as being away.) And someone must always be "in charge, and able to respond to situations as they present," whether it is the commanding officer, or his duty officer. The dilemma (which occurs frequently, even today): WHEN is a situation important enough to awaken the commander from his sleep and direct his attention to a problem? How big does that problem have to be? Although there are guidelines in place, it still comes down to "interpretation" of the Duty Officer. [For example, on the morning of April 6th 1862, Major James Powell was Duty Officer for the 1st Brigade. And he seems to have done a commendable job, keeping his Commander, Everett Peabody, aware of what was going on...]



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