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Hike Report: From Hell's Hollow to Dill Branch


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Below is Dan's report of the afternoon hike led by Dr. Jeff Gentsch titled, "From Hell's Hollow to Dill Branch: How to Contend with Victory and Defeat." This hike examined the collapse of the Union's defensive line along the Sunken Road late on the afternoon of April 6th, and followed the course the Union troops took in their desperate attempt to escape. As Dr. Gentsch showed, many of them did not make it and were forced to surrender.

Here's a map showing the area covered in this hike...

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And now here's Dan's report. As you'll see, it concludes with a great little story about an unexpected coincidence....

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I was a few minutes late for this hike. When I caught up with the group they were at the 12th Iowa position marker (Tablet 67). It was readily apparent that the discussion was on the collapse of the Sunken Road Line and resulting Federal retreat through Hell’s Hollow and into Cloud Field.

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From this point we traveled northeast through the woods. Basically we were traveling downhill. At the bottom of the hill we were near a small creek. When we stopped, Dr. Gentsch pointed out that the first inclination for the retreating Union soldiers would have been to take cover in the creek. In reality, the Federal forces could not make a stand against the Confederates in this position. All it did was slow down the retreat and aid in the eventual capture of the Union troops.

At this point we moved to the surrender site of the 23rd Missouri (Tablet 233). Here Dr. Gentsch gave us an idea of what was occurring. First, our group totaled about 50. At this point in the battle there were about 2,500 men in this area. They were a mixture of units being forced toward the Main Corinth Road. [Named Confederate Road on the maps - an old name no longer in use at the park.] They had tried to make a stand further up the hill. Now they realized the trouble they were in. Everyone was running and trying to escape. As you stood there you could visualize what was going on.

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We then moved to the 58th Illinois surrender site (Tablet 102). This is also very close to the Prentiss surrender site. There was a very hot battle at this location but by now the futility began to be realized by the Union troops. There were about 2,200 men in this area being quickly surrounded by 6,000 - 7,000 Confederates.

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From here we moved to the 12th Iowa surrender site in Cloud Field (Tablet 68). The 12th got a little farther than the rest. From hikes in previous years I remembered that the scene at this point in the battle could only be described as utter chaos. Men trying to surrender. Incoming Confederate troops firing into already surrendered forces. Some Federal units surrendering while others nearby continued to fight. The scene must have been unbelievable.

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Though we did not go to it, Dr. Gentsch pointed out the Michigan Monument and noted the capture of Ross’s Battery by the 1st Mississippi Cavalry at the intersection of the Main Corinth Road and Hamburg-Savannah Road, just north of Cloud Field. Because of the rugged nature of the terrain, this was the only area on the battlefield where cavalry operated effectively during the Battle of Shiloh.

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The surrender site of the 14th Iowa (Tablet 71) was the final stop of the hike. This unit, consisting of 236 men by this point in the battle, was actually captured by two Confederate brigades. To me the situation seemed hopeless.

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Dr. Gentsch pointed out that a double-encirclement, such as happened at Shiloh as the Hornets Nest collapsed, was a happy but effective accident that resulted in the capture of 2,200 Federal troops.

I had a bit of an unusual experience at the 14th Iowa marker. During the hike I noticed two women and a couple of children had joined the hike. During the hike they had mentioned that they were from Fort Bragg and their husbands were deployed overseas. They also seemed to be very interested in the 14th Iowa.

When we got to the 14th Iowa surrender site, one of these ladies told me that each of their great-great-great-grandfathers, as well as an uncle common between the two, had fought with the 14th Iowa, and were captured at Shiloh. (I am assuming that the three men were brothers.)

These ladies were visiting the area and had stopped at the park that day. When they started asking questions about the 14th Iowa, the rangers at the visitors center directed them to our hike. By luck they ended up on the spot where their relatives had surrendered 148 years earlier to the day, hour, and almost to the minute.

We took pictures of them around the surrender tablet. They also took a small soil sample to give to one of the ladies’ fathers who had always wanted to visit Shiloh but never had the chance. Because of advanced age this is probably as close as he was going to get. Apparently all three of their ancestors from the 14th Iowa survived the war. For me this was a special way to end the hike.

[Picture of the 14th Iowa Marker from the NPS web site...]

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Another side note. During the hike we stopped for a moment at the Confederate Monument. Dr. Gentsch stated that the site for this monument was chosen because it was at the High Water Mark of the Confederate experience at the Battle of Shiloh. This monument is right in the middle of the surrender sites.

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[Hell's Hollow, below. The intersection of the Hamburg-Savannah Road & Main Corinth Road is behind you. The Confederate Monument is just out of the picture on your right-front....]

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Personally I received a lot of good information on this hike. I have known for years what occurred here, especially in Cloud Field. However, Dr. Gentsch really brought things to life. Especially the activity that took place between the collapse of the Sunken Road Line and the actual surrenders. It was a very good hike.

Dan

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