Visiting Shiloh National Battlefield

Scattered throughout Shiloh National Cemetery are plaques with portions of the poem:  Bivouac of the Dead by Theodore O’Hara.  Here is the opening stanza:

The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat
The soldier’s last Tattoo;
No more on life’s parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On Fame’s eternal camping ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And glory guards, with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.

It is a most appropriate ode to not only the cemetery at Shiloh, but the entire battlefield.  I spent last weekend visiting Shiloh and going over the battlefield.  Over the next month I will be posting video clips from my visit there, but the first clip is at the cemetery:

The battle of Shiloh is the climactic scene of Duty, Honor, Country a Novel of West Point & the Civil War.  In fact, somewhere in the land that became the cemetery, on the first night of the battle, Ulysses S. Grant sat under an oak tree in the rain, contemplating whether to withdraw after horrendous losses that day, or fight on the next day.  Also, somewhere on that land, was a wood cabin where surgeons plied their bloody trade and a scene in that cabin changes the course of history.

At its conclusion, Shiloh produced more casualties in two days than all previous American Wars combined.  Walking over this hallowed ground was humbling.  I walked the entire length of the Sunken Road (which really isn’t sunken) that as the front edge of the Hornet’s Nest, where Union troops repelled eleven Confederate assaults.  Until 62 cannon were lined hub to hub, producing the greatest artillery barrage ever seen on the continent and the Union line was broken.

I walked around tiny Bloody Pond, just behind the sunken road, where casualties from both sides crawled, desperate for water on a hot April day.  I stood at the spot where General Albert Sidney Johnston was shot, still the highest ranking American officer ever to be killed in combat.

All of this is quite strange for a place called Shiloh, which means ‘place of peace’.

How Did Stonewall Jackson get his nickname?

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

There are two versions of this story.  The popular one, and the following, which isn’t as popular.  Regardless, there is no doubt Jackson holding the line saved the Confederate army at First Bull Run and led to their ultimate victory there.


“Get in a line, men, in a line,” Seneca yelled, not quite sure of the proper order to achieve what he desired.

The rest of the 33rd was deploying, moving forward among retreating soldiers, some of whom started in fear, seeing the blue uniforms in their midst.  For a moment all was turmoil, but then a colonel stood up in his stirrups, his shockingly blue eyes aglow.

“Virginians.  Advance!”

The men gave a shout that made the hair on the back of Seneca’s neck curl.  Before he knew it, he was screaming the same inarticulate yell and pressing forward.  They crested Henry House Hill in time to see a line of blue with a smattering of gray crest Matthews Hill, not quite a mile distant.  The low ground in between was cluttered with retreating Confederate troops.

Union artillery suddenly began belching canister from Matthews Hill and wide, bloody swaths were cut in the men in the valley.

The blue-eyed Colonel rode along the crest of Henry Hill, now ordering the men to form and hold a line, to take the defensive and be prepared to face an attack.  Seneca dismounted, handing the reins to one of his men.  He saw a lieutenant in blue running by, a Virginian and grabbed him by the arm.

“Who is that?” Seneca demanded.  “Why’s he ordering us to stop?”

“That’s Colonel Jackson, sir.  Brigade commander.”

Seneca looked to his right and saw a Confederate unit flowing down the hill in the assault, another officer in the lead.  “And who is that?”

“General Bee, sir.”

Seneca glanced once more at Jackson, weighed Colonel against General, the glory of the assault against that of the defense, then ordered his men to follow.  He charged downhill, following Bee’s advance as fast as he could.

The General rose up in his saddle and looked over his shoulder, waving his sword.  He saw that most of the Virginians were not following.  “There stands Jackson like a stone wall,” he cried out.


Since General Bee died, no one quite knows why he called out what he did.  But as they say in Liberty Valance:  When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

Nathan Bedford Forrest on the Mississippi

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

“We agree for once,” Skull said.  “What we need—“ she paused as three men approached.  One was a big man, two inches over six feet, with broad shoulders.  He had a dark beard and, in the dim lights from the boat, his black eyes glittered with intelligence and danger.  He had a curved cavalry saber dangling from his waist, an incongruous image on the riverboat.  The second man was not quite as tall but also big, in the way of one who enjoyed his food, his belly bulging, his face swollen from drink.  The man between them was much smaller and looked like a river rat cornered and trapped.

“You must be Skull,” the tall man said, sticking out a powerful hand.

Skull took the handshake, feeling the squeeze and returning it as hard as she could with her callused hand.  “Forrest.”  She recognized the fat man.  “Father Declan.  It’s been a while.”

“Ah, now lass, I’m no longer with the church,” Declan said.  “I found my faith lagging and thought it best to move on with me life.  Whatever happened to the pretty young thing that was with you in Banquete?”

“Why you asking?”

“Ah, she was quite the blossoming flower—“ Declan began but Forrest waved a hand, cutting him off as he turned to the man between them.  He gripped the back of the man’s neck.  The man gasped as Forrest lifted him to his toes.

“Found out this piece of horseshit has been stealing from me,” Forrest said.  “Running a loose table in the gambling parlor and skimming the take.”

The man started to protest but Forrest silenced him by smacking him in the face with his other hand, drawing blood from a split lip.

“I’m a fair man,” Forrest said, his focus on St. George and Skull.  “But I’m not a man to be crossed.”  He tossed the thief to the deck.  “Fair means you get a chance to fight.  That’s the law of the river.”  He gestured at Declan.  “Give him your knife.”

Declan pulled a foot long knife from his belt and tossed it to the man.  Forrest reached to his own waist and drew the heavy cavalry saber.  It was unusual, sharpened on both sides, so he could slash in either direction with equal effect.

“That aint fair!” the man protested.

“It’s as fair as a thief gets,” Forrest said.  He raised the saber and the man scrambled to his feet, the knife held with trembling hand.

“Please, Mister Forrest, I swear on my mother I aint ever again going to—“ he didn’t get a chance to finish as Forrest swung the heavy saber.  The razor sharp edge caught the man in the neck and passed through skin, muscle and bone easily, separating head from body.

The momentum of the strike threw the head out into the darkness, to splash into the dark waters of the Mississippi.  The body fell to its knees, blood spurting from a still beating heart, then crumpled onto the deck.

“You think maybe his eyes still seeing?” Forrest mused as he wiped the saber off on the man’s coat.  “Maybe his head’s drowning while his body’s still bleeding?”  He stepped over the body and grabbed a crate.  He slid the saber back in its scabbard and took a seat.  Declan joined them.

“Mister Forrest, this here St. George Dyer,” Skull said.

Forrest shook St. George’s hand.  “Y’all know what the fools in charge got planned for the cotton?”

“Do now,” St. George replied.

Forrest grabbed the bottle without asking.  “So what do you have planned?” he asked Skull.

“New Orleans will soon be out,” Skull said.  “So we run cotton north and south overland through Mexico.”

Forrest seemed bemused.  “North?  To the Yankees?  We’re at war.”

Skull shrugged.  “There’s plenty who don’t care about the war except how they can make some money.”

“Like you,” Forrest said.

“Like me,” Skull agreed.

“You don’t support the cause?” Forrest asked, arcing one thick eyebrow in query.

“The cause will need money,” Skull said.

“True,” Forrest said.  “And guns and medicine and a lot of other gear those smart boys in the capitol haven’t thought about yet while they’re busy waving the flag and pounding each other on the back about how honorable they be.”

Grant Becomes A General

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

“What of McClellan?” Lincoln finally asked.

When Rumble hesitated, Lincoln’s voice became harsher.  “Why do you think are here, Sergeant Major?  I asked General Delafield to tell me of the West Pointers, since he’s been superintendent three times, more than any other.  He informed me that the man who could tell me the most was the Master of the Horse.  Who had once been a cadet and then taught riding to class after class of cadets.  Who went to the Mexican War and wrote many notebooks full of information that no one reads.

“So?  What of McClellan?  He won our first battle at Philippi.  Thus he now has command on the other side of the Appalachians.  And he sent General Scott a strategic plan to win the war.  Very industrious and showing of initiative, don’t you think?”

“You seem to have your mind made up about him, sir,” Rumble said.

“I have not,” Lincoln snapped.  He sighed.  “I’m sorry.  Let me explain.  There’s a call to abolish West Point.  So many graduates have gone over to the other side, there is a very legitimate question as to why we should continue funding the institution.  But as we used to say back in Illinois, that cow has already left the barn.  We’re stuck with the officers we have and I need to know about them.  So.  McClellan.”

“McClellan is a very good organizer, sir,” Rumble said.  “But he’s not daring.  And he will flinch at the critical moment, when a general needs to press on.  He’s not a finisher and this war will need a finisher.”

Lincoln smiled.  “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”  He didn’t wait for an answer.  “From all the West Pointers you’ve seen, as cadets and as officers, who is the best ‘finisher’ as you call it?”

“Ulysses S. Grant, sir.”

“I like the name Ulysses.  Very martial.”  Lincoln frowned.  “Ulyssess Grant?  That strikes a bell.”  He began sifting through a pile of papers on his desk.

Rumble plunged on.  “He’s solid and steady, sir, and if there’s one thing he will do, it’s get where he’s going.  I fought with him in Mexico.”

“Ah!” Lincoln said, pulling out a sheet.  “Here’s his name.  Recommendations for promotion to General from each state.  He’s very far down.  The war might indeed be over before his name bubbles up high enough.  Curious.”

Lincoln reached out and grabbed a pen.  He scratched through some names, then wrote a note next to Grant’s name.  “Well, he’ll be a general within the month.”

Brother on Brother: First Bull Run

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

Seneca had his cane in one hand, saber in the other and was screaming insanely.  He tripped over a body, scrambled to his feet and kept going up the hill.  The Union guns were less than a hundred feet away.

The two Union batteries erupted.

Seneca was aware he was flying through the air.  Everything moved slowly.  Seneca saw a private hurtling back next to him, head missing, blood spurting out the carotid arteries from a still beating heart.

Seneca hit the ground on his back.  He blinked dirt out of his eyes and stared blankly up at the blue sky for a moment.  He raised his empty hands.  His cane and saber were gone.  That was the first cognizant thought that passed through his mind.

He grasped for the pistol, determined to rejoin the fight.  His holster was empty.  Seneca cursed and looked for it.

His left leg was gone from knee down.

Then the pain reached his brain and he screamed.


The volley of canister had decimated the Confederate lines, but they were too many and too close.  There was no time to reload or limber up the guns to retreat.  The wave of soldiers over-ran the two batteries.

From the flank, Rumble threw the Henry to his shoulder.  He saw a General yelling orders, waving a sword wildly about.  Rumble fired three rounds as fast as he could lever in the bullets and pull the trigger.

The first one shivered the General in the saddle, the second knocked him back a bit, and the third sent him tumbling to the ground.

The assault broke, rebels running to the rear in disarray, but the guns had been over-run and spiked, putting them out of action.

More Union troops came charging over the top over Matthews Hill behind Rumble and down into the low ground in front of Henry House Hill.  Right into a scathing volley from the solid line of Confederates who were holding the position there.  The Union officers tried to rally their men, but southern artillery was now supporting the rebel infantry and the assault wavered.

Rumble ran forward.  He found the General he had shot.  A Confederate lieutenant was trying to stem the flow of blood from his commander’s stomach.  The lieutenant didn’t stop his efforts, even seeing Rumble approach with the Henry at the ready.

“Who is it?” Rumble asked, but then he recognized the wounded man.  Class of ’45 and one Rumble had tested with York’s jump.  He’d stood fast.

“Barnie?  Barnie Bee?”

General Bee looked up.  “Master of the Horse!  Did you see Jackson?  Stood fast.  Didn’t support me.  I had to order my men to halt.  To halt, damn it!  Why didn’t Jackson follow me?”

“He’s holding the line, General.  He did the right thing.”

Bee raised his body off the ground and cried out in a command voice:  “Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer.  Rally behind Stonewall Jackson and the Virginians, boys!”

Then he collapsed.

“Take him,” Rumble said to the lieutenant.  “Take him back to your surgeons.”

The lieutenant looked at him in surprise.  “We aint got no surgeon with the regiment.  Just some old country doc.”

The lieutenant grabbed a couple of scared privates and got them to put General Bee into a blanket.  They hurried away with him as the volume of the battle increased, the Union forces in the low ground unable to maintain their charge, Jackson’s Virginians holding the high ground in front of them, pouring hot lead into the Yankees.

The Confederate left was saved.

Rumble picked his way back among the bodies littering the ground, Henry at the ready.  He passed by a dead man, mouth open in a final scream that had not found voice.  A man in gray was crawling, facedown, clawing at the dirt with his hands, leaving a smear of blood from a severed leg behind him.

“Easy, soldier,” Rumble said, uncertain if he was Union or Rebel, not that it mattered in his condition.

Rumble grabbed the man’s shoulder and turned him over.


Colonel Grant’s Marching Orders to the 21st Illinois

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

18 June 1861

Springfield, MO

21st Illinois Regiment

The undersigned, having been duly appointed Colonel of the 7th Congressional District Regt of Illinois Volunteers by order of Govr. Richard Yates, hereby assumes command.

In accepting this command, your Commander will require the cooperation of all the commissioned and non-commissioned Officers in instructing the command, and in maintaining discipline, and hopes to receive also the hearty support of every enlisted man.

Colonel Ulysses S. Grant, Commanding 21st Illinois

 12 July 1861

Quincy, MO

21st Illinois Regiment

The Colonel commanding this Regiment deems it his duty at this period in the march to return his thanks to the Officers and Men composing the command on their general Obedience and Military discipline.  Having for a period of years been accustomed to strict military duties and discipline he deems it not inappropriate at this time to make a most favorable comparison of this command with that of veteran troops in point of Soldierly bearing, general good order, and cheerful execution of commands.

Colonel Ulysses S. Grant, Commanding 21st Illinois

These two orders sum up Grant’s leadership style.

Mark Twain’s First & Last Combat in the Civil War vs US Grant

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

14 July 1861, Florida, Missouri

“Florida contained but one hundred people when I was born here twenty-six years ago and I increased the town’s population by one percent.  This is more than many of the best men in history could have done for a town.”

The speaker held an old smoothbore musket in sweaty hands, and he licked his upper lip nervously, a bushy black mustache adorning the space between mouth and nose.

“Now ya get the chance to defend your town from the Yankees, Sam,” the man next to him said.

Both men were dressed in civilian clothes, dirty from weeks spent foraging and traveling to and fro across Missouri following the orders of confused and amateur officers.  How they’d ended up here was pure chance, the vagaries of war.  It was early morning, and the dew had yet to be burned away by the mid-July heat.  It was the most comfortable time of the day and would soon be gone.

“I did leave when I was four, though, so I have no particular fondness for the place,” Samuel Clemens noted.

“Aint much to it,” his friend agreed as they took in the muddy lane that ran through the small cluster of cabins.  The two guards held a position just south of the hamlet where the road peaked a knoll, so they could see in both directions.  “Why the devil does this Union Colonel want this place?”

“Probably same reason we’re standing here,” Clemens said.  “Someone told him to.”

Behind the two pickets, in a trampled cornfield, a cluster of makeshift shelters and men rolled in blankets constituted the small unit sent to defend Florida, Missouri from the Union incursion.  It consisted of Clemens’ own group, the self-named Marions Rangers, and other bands of men that could not quite be called a company of light infantry, although they would agree on the light:  light on weapons, light on food and light on discipline.

Hush.”  Clemens turned his head, listening.  “Riders coming.”  He tapped his partner on the shoulder.  “Best get the Colonel.”


As a side note:  The Union force approaching Floriday, Missouri, was the 21st Illinois commanded by Colonel U.S. Grant.  It was Grant’s first time leading troops into combat.  Years after the war, destitute from a ponzi scheme and dying, Grant finally acceded to Twain’s request to publish his memoirs.  It became the #1 bestselling nonfiction book of the 19th Century and insured Grant’s family future.

Abraham Lincoln in Command

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

“General Delafield,” Lincoln said.  “It was good of you to hold the reins at the Academy after that fool Beauregard displayed his southern tendencies.”

“I am always glad to serve my country, sir,” Delafield said.

“Would that all military men felt the same way,” Lincoln murmured, more to himself than the others.

“Sir,” Delafield said, “if I might introduce—“

“Sergeant Major Rumble,” Lincoln said.  Surprisingly, Lincoln stood and leaned over the desk, extending his hand.  Rumble scrambled to his feet and met the President’s firm hand.

Lincoln held the grip for a second.  “I can always tell a lot about a man from his shake.”

Then the President sat back down, put his feet up on the desk while leaning so far back in his chair, that even Stanton started, expecting to see the President fall over backwards.  Their concern was for naught as Lincoln laced his fingers behind his head and began speaking, as if to the ceiling.

“I was in the military for a little while during the Black Hawk War,” Lincoln said.  “One of the proudest moments of my life was when the men in my company elected me captain.  Of course, they did not do so out of any sense that I had the genius of a Mars.  I could wrestle well, which they somehow seemed to believe lent itself to leadership.”

Lincoln was gazing at some spot on the ceiling.  Rumble was tempted to look up, but he kept his eyes on the President as he continued.

“One time we were on the march and we came upon a split rail fence.  There was a narrow gate in the fence, but I fear I could not remember the proper commands to go from the march formation to the appropriate movement to get us through the gate in a military manner.  So I simply called a halt, ordered the men to fall out for a few minutes and reform on the other side of the fence in formation.  It worked.”  Lincoln dropped his feet off the desk with a heavy thud and sat up straight.  “However, no one was firing at us at the time.  I suppose that would have made my maneuver disastrous.”

Lincoln sighed and for a moment he looked old, very old, the lines in his face falling into each other and the dark pockets under his eyes telling of restless nights.

“General McDowell will move on Richmond soon.  And many say that hopefully this war will be over soon.  Are you a hopeful man, Sergeant Major Rumble?”

“In this instance, I am not, sir,” Rumble replied.

“Really?  A rarity in this city.”  Lincoln looked past Stanton, out the window.  “They stopped building Washington’s monument in ’54 when the pockets of the people donating were empty.  Congress was going to appropriate the money to finish it, but then the states got to haggling.  Alabama wanted the monument to have stone from every state and once that can of worms was opened Washington’s tower was doomed to gather dust.” Lincoln fell silent for a moment.  “And then there’s the capitol dome.  Also incomplete.  I can finish one or the other, but not both, which seems to be the theme of this war.”

Sam Houston on the Civil War

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

8 June 1861, Mississippi River

“He killed the Matlock brothers with a two shot derringer,” St. George said.

“So he’s a good shot and don’t waste bullets,” Sally Skull acknowledged.

The steamer fought against the Mississippi, paddle wheels churning muddy water.  To the right, the lights of Vicksburg glittered on a bluff overlooking a sharp bend in the mighty river.  Skull and St. George sat on crates up top of the boat, just behind the pilot house, left alone by the rest of the passengers out of tacit acceptance this was the boat owner’s private area.

“He more than that,” St. George said.  “He—“

“I know who Nathan Bedford Forrest is,” Skull cut him off.  “You think I was born yesterday?  He one of the biggest men on the river and worth over a million Yankee dollars.  I know he’s mean as a rattlesnake and cold as a blizzard.  I know he owns this boat we riding on.  I wouldn’t be here for this meeting if I didn’t know who I be meeting.”  She took a swig from the whiskey bottle on the shipping crate that served as a table between them.  “The thing you got to remember, St. George, is that he smart.  Wicked smart.  He started with nothing, now he one of the richest men on the river.  And he didn’t get it cause his pappy gave it to him.”

St. George bristled.  “What you saying?”

“Just what I’m saying,” Skull said, earning a confused furrow in the middle of St. George’s forehead.  She handed the bottle to the overseer.  “Listen.  This war that’s here now.  It aint gonna be short, it aint gonna be easy, and your people, they aint gonna win.”

“What do you mean my ‘people’?”

“The south” Skull said.  “I was down in San Anton when Texas voted to secede.  I—“

“Why was you there?” St. George interrupted.

“Always deals to be made,” Skull said.  “Especially to armies.  Some Confederate big-wigs went to the old Alamo and got the Federal commander to surrender the arsenal, hand over ten thousand rifled muskets.”

“That’s good,” St. George said, eyes always on the immediate.

“Let me finish,” Skull said.  “There was another Fed officer there, Robert Lee, a Virginian.  I heard of him from the Mex War and he the one that trapped old John Brown.  And I could tell he was surprised things was happening so fast.  Heard him talking to another officer, saying the secces was fools.  When they paroled him, he went back to Virginia, back to the Union.  Struck me as a sensible man.  And Sam Houston, the governor, let me tell you, he fought a lot of battles and he a smart man too and he was against seceding.”

“Why?” St. George asked.

In response, Skull reached into one of the many pockets on her dress and retrieved a folded newspaper article.  “Here what Ole Sam said and the damn fools still out-voted him to secede:  ‘Let me tell you what is coming.  After the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives you may win southern independence, but I doubt it.  The north is determined to preserve this union.  They are not a fiery impulsive people as you are for they live in colder climates.  But when they begin to move in a given direction, they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche and what I fear is that they will overwhelm the South with ignoble defeat.’

“’Ignoble’?”  St. George spit.  “I don’t know what that mean, but it sound bad and he damn wrong.  Any southerner worth ten Yankees.”

“Houston’s right,” Skull said.  “And that’s why I’m here.  Your tit at Palatine is going to run dry.”

“We can grow cotton forever,” St. George argued.

The steamer rounded the bend and Vicksburg was behind them.  The sound of revelry from whiskey, gambling and other dark arts echoed up from the main deck.

Ulysses S. Grant on Traitors & Patriots

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

Galena, IL

April 21st 1861

To Jesse Root Grant from U.S. Grant

Dear Father,

We are now in the midst of trying times when every one must be for or against his country, and show his colors too, by his very act.  Having been educated for such an emergency, at the expense of the Government, I feel that it has upon me superior claims, such claims as no ordinary motives of self-interest can surmount.  I do not wish to act hastily or unadvisedly in the matter, and, as there are more than enough to respond to the first call of the President, I have not yet offered myself.  I have promised and am giving all the assistance I can in organizing the Company whose services have been accepted from this place.  I have promised further to go with them to the state Capital and if I can be of service to the Governor in organizing his state troops, to do so.

Whatever may have been my political opinions before, I have but one sentiment now.  That is we have a Government, and laws and a flag and they must all be sustained.  There are but two parties now, Traitor & Patriots and I want hereafter to be ranked with the latter and, I trust, the stronger party.

Write soon.

Yours Truly

U.S. Grant