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William McMichael

David W. Reed made a valiant attempt to get to the facts in compiling his history of Shiloh; and he incorporated those facts into his written work, The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged (manuscript completed 1900), and in marking out important sites on the Shiloh NMP with definitive tablets.

Unfortunately, even the cautious, precise Major Reed, got his facts wrong on occasion… which leads to the biography of this man: William McMichael.

Born in Philadelphia in 1841, during the Civil War William McMichael became one of the “Fighting McMichaels” (his brothers Clayton, and Morton, Jr., fought at Gettysburg). Their father, Morton McMichael Sr., was a prominent Philadelphia newspaper publisher, active in politics, and important supporter of President Lincoln and the Union War Effort. Prior to March 1862, the graduate of University of Pennsylvania, William McMichael, was promoted to Captain, and installed as AAG to Brigadier General Charles F. Smith (who had ties to Pennsylvania.) Captain McMichael accompanied BGen Smith on the Tennessee River Expedition; and Generals William Tecumseh Sherman and Lew Wallace reported to Smith on a number of occasions, through AAG McMichael [OR 10 pp.9, 10, 22 & 25 and OR 11 p.53].

A close read of the above communications is important, especially BGen Sherman’s report dated 20 MAR 1862 and found OR 11 page 53, because on that date the injured and ill General Smith was recuperating aboard Hiawatha; Captain McMichael “acted on Smith’s behalf” at Pittsburg Landing; and Colonel Jacob Lauman was “Acting Commander of the Second Division.”

Fast forward to 2 APR 1862: Captain McMichael was still at Pittsburg Landing; Jacob Lauman was removed from the Second Division (and reported to Hurlbut’s Fourth Division); and new Brigadier General WHL Wallace was assigned “temporary command of the Second Division, during the absence of Major General C.F. Smith.” (According to a letter written by Wallace on April 3rd, he did not physically remove himself to the Second Division until April 4th, where he would have found Captain McMichael already operating as AAG of the Division.)

Whose Assistant Adjutant General was William McMichael? Technically, he was the AAG to Major General Smith, in command of the Second Division. He remained at Pittsburg Landing while C.F. Smith was “absent, ill,” first aboard Hiawatha, and then upstairs in the Cherry House. He was never AAG to Jacob Lauman; and he was never AAG to WHL Wallace (although it would be reasonable to assume that he acted as AAG for those officers, in their temporary status while attached to the Second Division.)

On the morning of April 6th1862, Captain McMichael accompanied BGen Wallace during his efforts to alert General Grant at Savannah (and may have been the messenger sent by Wallace aboard the steamer John Warner… which would explain why that steamer rounded to and returned to Pittsburg Landing – enabling McMichael to further assist WHL Wallace [still looking for evidence of this – Ozzy].) Captain McMichael acted on the battlefield as courier and AAG for BGen Wallace, up until the time General Wallace was shot from his horse. It was McMichael who reported that sad news to General Benjamin Prentiss; and Prentiss records that, “Captain McMichael, assistant adjutant-general,attached to the division commanded by General Wallace, joined me upon the field when his gallant leader fell. He is entitled to special mention for his conduct while so serving” [Shiloh Report of BGen Prentiss].

In addition, McMichael gains mention in the “unofficial” Shiloh report of General Grant: “Captain William McMichael is missing; probably taken prisoner” [OR 10 page 110].

And General Grant was correct: William McMichael was indeed taken prisoner (although he managed to return North after May 1862, due to a “special exchange” arranged through his father, Morton McMichael, and implemented by Major General Halleck through negotiations conducted by MGen John Pope with General Beauregard on 27 May 1862 [OR Series 2, vol.3 No.116 – Prisoners of War, pages 600 – 1].) Afterwards, McMichael was promoted to Major, and then Lieutenant Colonel, and is reported to have served on the staff of Generals Halleck and Rosecrans. He was mustered out in March 1866, and returned to Philadelphia, where he established a Law practice. He served in President Grant’s Administration as Assistant Attorney General.

William McMichael, brevet-Colonel, died in New York City in April 1893 and was buried in Philadelphia.



Referenceshttp://www.findagrave.com/memorial/46715015/william-mcmichael    BVT- Colonel William McMichael

http://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/consolidation-act-of-1854/10422_166616/  Mayor of Philadelphia (1866 - 69) Morton McMichael

David W. Reed, The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged (1909) pages 25 and 38.

http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn92053945/1893-04-21/ed-1/seq-4/#date1=1893&index=0&rows=20&words=Mc+McMichael+Michael&searchType=basic&sequence=0&state=Illinois&date2=1893&proxtext=McMichael&y=0&x=0&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1 Rock Island Argus 21 APR 1893 page 4 col.4 "Death of Colonel McMichael"

OR 10, 11 and 116



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The Shell Game, Revisited

The curious case of William McMichael was first encountered in General Grant’s “unofficial” Shiloh report, dated 9 April 1862, in which Grant bemoans the fate of a Captain (not a member of Grant’s staff, and not directly connected to General Grant) who “was likely taken prisoner during the Battle.” The obvious question: “Why the profuse concern?”

The answer may be… something unexpected.

As has previously been asserted, General U. S. Grant had become so disenchanted with former friend, John McClernand, that by the time Grant arrived at Savannah Tennessee in March 1862 he took active measures to make certain the senior General, McClernand, was never “acting commander” at the Pittsburg campground, in Grant’s absence. First, Grant held McClernand’s division at Savannah until Sherman, Hurlbut and Smith’s Divisions had disembarked at Pittsburg Landing. Then, Grant claimed Charles F. Smith was commander of the Pittsburg campground… but Smith being temporarily away, Brigadier General Sherman was designated as acting commander in Smith’s absence. And in order to add credence to the charade, General Smith’s AAG, Captain William McMichael, was installed at Pittsburg Landing with the Second Division and all official communication  to/from Smith was channelled through McMichael.

Captain McMichael provided “plausible involvement and continuity of association” of the absent General Smith through the presence of his Assistant Adjutant General. And in addition to channelling communications, and likely making minor decisions on Smith’s behalf, McMichael was “AAG for the Second Division,” acting for Colonel Jacob Lauman when that officer stood in for General Smith; and performed the same function, again, when BGen WHL Wallace replaced Lauman as acting commander. During the absence of the designated commander of the Second Division, all verbal and written references to that unit labelled it, “Smith’s Division” or “Smith’s Second Division.” So virulent were these assertions that the reference to “Smith’s Division” likely contributed to the faulty orders received by MGen Lew Wallace, delivered by Baxter. So confounding was this assertion that Brigadier General Prentiss did not realize C. F. Smith was not the on-field commander; instead, Prentiss was astonished to discover, on that fateful Sunday morning, his friend from the Mexican War, WHL “Will” Wallace, was in command of the Second Division.

Amazingly, the shell game that denied Major General McClernand his lawful seniority did not end with the Battle of Shiloh: Charles F. Smith was not replaced as commander of the Second Division until Brigadier General Thomas Davies arrived and took command on April 14th .

William McMichael appears to have been a willing participant in the ruse. And U.S. Grant, who valued LOYALTY above almost everything else, determined McMichael to be invaluable; was likely an advocate that helped persuade Henry Halleck to negotiate for “personal exchange” of Captain McMichael (while Benjamin Prentiss, William Shaw, James Geddes… and 2200 others… real heroes… toughed it out.)

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