Jump to content
Shiloh Discussion Group

The Battery Was a Host In Itself.

Recommended Posts

We met Bjorn at Tour Stop 14 near Bloody Pond. It was a very chilly morning with a fairly stiff wind blowing. Like many in the group for the first half of the hike I was trying to do a balancing act between finding a sunny spot, a windbreak and being able to hear Bjorn's presentation. A task that ultimately proved near impossible.

Bjorn started the hike by briefly discussing the history of the artillery. I did not realize that the artillery was a specialized branch of the service and artillery men were considered specialists.

As we all know,  on the night of April 6 & 7 the Union army was heavily reinforced. On the morning of April 7th the goal of both Grant and Buell was to find the enemy and attack. The confederate forces on the other hand had done very little to resupply or consolidate the gains of April 6th. In fact, only Preston Pond and elements of Forrest's Calvary remained in close contact with the enemy during the night of April 6 & 7.

The attack of the next morning could hardly be described as a steamroller or juggernaught. Neither Grant or Buell was in any mood for a repeat of the debacle of the day before. As a result great care was taken to insure all elements of the army remain connected as the battle line stretched across the field. Consequently, the line moved in fits and starts as troops were brought up to fill gaps in the widening line. Also, some units had to wait until slower units caught up.

Until their arrival in Wicker Field Buell's troops had encountered light resistance. At the south end of Wicker Field resistance increased considerably.  Confederate artillery was wreaking a good bit of havoc on the Union troops. Since at this point Buell had no artillery this threatened to stall the Union advance in this sector. As you may recall Buell sent his infantry ahead of the artillery to get as many men to the field as fast as possible.

All of this changed with the arrival of Terrill's Battery at the landing around 9am.  Battery H consisted of four 12 pound Napoleon and two 10 pound Parrot Rifles. An hour later they arrived at the front near Bloody Pond ready to fight. Within two minutes the artillerymen had unlimbered their weapons and began firing. Their second shot hit a rebel caisson causing a spectacular explosion

With artillery support the Union troops could advance. The fighting became very intense near the Peach Orchard. East of the Peach Orchard Terrill's Battery was dueling over the heads of their own troops with two confederate batteries on the Hamburg Purdy Road.

Near the ravine where the 9th Illinois had met their demise the day before skirmishers from the 6th Ohio were meeting considerable resistance from Confederates within that ravine.  To change this situation and get the line moving again Captain Terrill limbered up his battery and took it to the skirmish line. Here he began blasting the confederates in the ravine with canister. 

Needless to say this tactic, though effective, was not standard artillery procedure. Since they were on the skirmish line casualties among the artillerymen began to mount. When the rebels began to counterattack the Union skirmishers began to retreat leaving the guns alone.

To his credit Captain Terrill did not panic. He sent back all guns with the exception of two Napoleons.  To help every one get back safely he used a tactic called "Retreat by Prolong".  He actually tied the guns to the caisson by a large rope.  The horses pulled the caisson and cannon back toward the Union lines at a walk. As they went Captain Terrill serviced one weapon by himself. A sergeant and a couple of other men fired the other.  Using double canister these two guns effectively acted as their own skirmish line.

Shortly after their safe arrival back at the Union lines more artillery began to arrive. The fighting became chaotic and bloody. The lines of the opposing forces became very fluid.  Gradually, the confederates were pushed back through the Mule Lot ravine. By this point the confederate retreat had begun. The battle was effectively over.

After the battle everyone began singing the praises of Captain Terrill and his men. The battery had served with distinction and was described in one report as "A Host Among Themselves"

Because of his actions Rufus Terrill received the appointment as a Brigadier General of Volunteers in the Union Army. This was a promotion he did not seek or necessarily wanted. He would have preferred to remain a Captain in the regular army and stay with his command. However, as Bjorn pointed out, when the President of the United States  appoints you a Brigadier General it is something you do not refuse. General Terrill's career came to an end when he was killed at the Battle of Perryville while trying to rally his brigade in the face of a confederate attack.

The Terrill family suffered heavily during the war..  Terrill's younger brother James was killed in action at Bethesda Church.  Another brother, Phillip was killed near Winchester VA.  Both of these brothers served with the Confederate Army.  Terrill's father and another brother also fought for the south and survived the war..

At this time we returned to the area near the 9th Illinois Monument.  One of the cannons near this point is an actual "witness tube'. In other words this tube actually fought at Shiloh at the very place where it is now displayed.

Respectively Submitted


Link to post
Share on other sites

Great report, Dan. Bjorn has earned a well-deserved reputation for thoroughly researching his subjects, and conducting excellent hikes. The cold just makes everyone walk a little faster. :)

Captain Terrill certainly earned his promotion, even if he didn't want it that badly. A shame he did not survive for very long after Shiloh. So many good men killed in that war.


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you Reb! 

This was an excellent report.  Looks a lot like my notes.

I should say that I distinctly remember misstating a couple of facts that morning.  It was indeed cool, and it took a little time for my brain to catch up with my mouth.  That’s one of the hazards of a battlefield program.  Fortunately for me a number of members of this group were present, and were generous with assists.:) 

I should point out that Buell’s other batteries (Mendenhall’s and Bartlett’s) did arrive earlier than the report suggests.  I’m sure that any mistake in the report arises from a misstatement of mine in the program, and not from Dan.  A minor point, since the subject of our talk was William Terrill and Battery H, 5th U.S. Artillery.

Also to clarify, we started the program by discussing the history of artillery and artillerists from the very early use of gunpowder in Western Civilization.  During the Renaissance artillerists were private contractors who were hired by armies that could afford their services.  They weren’t at that time even part of an army. I didn’t mean to imply that artillery was ever a branch that was outside of the U.S. Army.  However, the traditional specialist status did descend all the way to the Civil War, and batteries on both sides tended to be manned by soldiers with high skill levels in various civilian trades.

A number of participants asked good questions on the hike, and helped tease out a very important social theme that I didn’t originally intend to hit hard (which is one of the benefits of a battlefield program).  That theme was the complex nature of loyalty in the Civil War.  At the beginning of the war Terrill’s resume was remarkably similar to Robert E. Lee’s.  He was from Virginia; he ranked high in his West Point Class; his distinguished professional career brought him back to West Point as a faculty member; and he had to make a difficult choice between his home and family, and his patriotic and professional obligations.  Of course, he made the opposite choice from Lee.  Other members of his family served in the Confederate army.

Later, when other professional officers were taking big promotions in Volunteer units, Terrill remained a captain commanding a battery, demonstrating loyalty to his immediate command over personal ambition.

Still later, as Dan points out, Terrill had to give up his loyalty to Battery H in favor of accepting the promotion to brigadier general in the Volunteers – demonstrating a shift in loyalty in favor of the good of the service over the desire to remain with the men he recruited and trained. 

I thought the whole thread of conversation was remarkably fruitful, and demonstrated that a battlefield walk does not have to be narrowly focused on the tactical details of fighting.  A lot of credit for that goes to the challenging questions and observations from the participants. 

Thanks again, Dan.  It is pleasant to find a little time to join in with the group again.




Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...