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Battle of Shiloh12834 Reads  Printer-friendly page

Civil War On the 5th day of April 1862, the army had marching orders and we took up the line of march toward the Tennessee River. Late in the evening we arrived within less than a mile of the enemy camp and put in line of battle where we remained all night with orders for the men to lie on their arms and while it was quite cool weather, fires were all extinguished at nightfall.

Early on the next morning we were on our feet and ordered forward in line of battle. Up to this moment I didn't remember to have heard a gun fired, but we felt the real tug of war was upon us. And I venture to say that not one percent of the men in line of battle has ever been under fire in battle before.

I remember to have been very anxious for the ball to open and to realize what is was to be in the rush and storm of the conflict of arms. Our line of battle was several miles long and our part of the line, as we advanced was over an undulating wooded country and the line marched in perfect order and on the right and left as far as the eye could see, the line of battle and the regimental battle flags were waving in the calm morning breeze.

Having advanced some three quarters of a mile, we came upon an elevation and looking down the decline some four hundred yards there stood a yankee line of battle.

We had orders to hold our fire till within good shooting distance. When we had advanced to within 200 yards of their line they fired on us. We at once returned the fire. After exchanging a few rounds we were ordered to lie down which the men very promptly did and after continuing the fire for a little while, we were ordered to charge and up we got and at them we went with what was afterword known in army circles on both sides as the "Rebel Yell" and they instantly took to their heels.

Our regiment ran into an artillery camp and as an evidence that we had taken them by complete surprise we found their breakfast cooking on their campfires and such camp equipage, we had not dreamed of such as clothing, blankets in large boxes not even opened and an endless variety of eatables with fruits, pickels, etc and any amount of glass and silver ware. This detained our onword movement for some half hour during which time the enemy had reformed just over the hill and opened on us with their artillery.

I will say just here that the yanks having the first fire on us, gave them somewhat the advantage in cutting down our men. Our Brigadier General (Gladden) was mortally wounded by the first volley as well as a number of other officers and men. General Gladden was just in rear of our regiment when he was wounded - he was carried to the rear and if I remember his leg was amputated from which he soon died. Colonel Zack Deas being the Senior Colonel of the brigade took command.

I will here relate a little incident of a man in my company. In the summer of '61 when the company was being raised at Oak Level one B.J. Waddell who had just returned from Texas joined our company and had a fine rifle gun which he had secured in the west and insisted that he must carry it to shoot yankees and in our first engagement which I have already described, having shot his rifle a few rounds and while on his knees trying to reload, a yankee bullet struck him in the heel, which disabled him in the balance of the war and while he is still living and resides near Anniston, Alabama. I don't think he has ever recovered from that gun shot.

Our lines were reformed at the yankee camp and we were ordered forward upon the enemy and we soon repulsed them the second time and during the live long day we would charge and counter charge and the rush and storm of battle seemed to make the ground beneath us tremble.

My information is that the official reports of that historic battle gives the casualties in killed, wounded and captured at about ten thousand on each side, aggregating twenty thousand fell in one day.

Among the killed on our side was General Albert Sidney Johnson, our Chief Commander. I do not remember to have seen him during the battle that day, but I remember to have seen a member of his staff Governor Isham G. Harris, then Governor of Tennessee and into whose arms General Johnson fell when he was shot.

I remember also that during the hottest of the fight was the first time I saw Colonel T. Hindman who commanded that day an Arkansas Regiment and who was afterword a Major General in the Army of Tennessee. Captain Harper of Company "A" in our regiment was killed outright. Lieutenant T.G. Slaughter, one of the bravest of the brave fell seriously wounded on that day from which he has never recovered till this day, but has been for forty years an efficient and honored itinerant Methodist preacher.

Just before night we had driven the enemy for over two miles back to Pittsburg landing on the Tennessee river. So near were we to the river that they shelled us from their gunboats with their mortar guns. About two hours by ---. Colonel Prentiss with his Kentucky Brigade were captured and marched to the rear.

About dark the firing ceased and it began to rain and rained nearly all night. And so far as I could see or hear the army rested for the night without being reorganized or without orders of any kind for the next day.

Early next morning, we were attacked by fresh troops, but owing to the exhausted and disorganized condition of our troops we fell back that afternoon to the community of Corinth. The Federal army approached cautiously toward that point and laid seige to that place, but we held it till sometime in May when we fell back to Tupelo, Mississippi.

During that spring we had many volunteer recruits. At this stage of hostilities it became apparent that many able bodied men within the military age would be forced into the army, hence many preferred to volunteer. Among these recruits were my youngest brother Milton Howell and my two brothers-in-laws, John A. and Samuel A. Parker, besides a number of my neighbors boys from about Oak Level. All of whom joined my company.

I believe it was during our stay at Corinth that our Brigade then commanded for a time by General Gardner was joined by the 39th Alabama Regiment commanded by Colonel Henry D. Clayton who became Major General during the war and who was for many years Circuit Judge in Southeast Alabama and who I believe died while he was President of the State University. His son, H.D. Clayton Jr. is now a member of Congress from the Eufaula District.

My memory may be at fault as to the time Colonel Claytons regiment joined us, but I remember distinctly they were with us during our Kentucky Campaign in the fall of 1862.

I believe it was while we were at Tupelo, Mississippi that Capt. Alexander of Company "I" resigned and I was promoted to the Captaincy just before we started into Kentucky.

I shall always remember with a degree of sadness of a pathetic and sudden death in my company during the seige of Corinth. Our regiment was sent out one night on picket or out post duty and one young man, Asbury Coppock was quite unwell and the Doctor for reasons but known to himself did not excuse from duty this young man. So he had to go out with the regiment, but I excused him from guard duty after we got to the picket line and the weather being pleasant he lay down in a quiet place near the line and the next morning to our great astonishment he was dead.

I think it was along about this time that Capt. Edwin C. Turner of Company "H" resigned and he was succeeded by the 1st Lt. Wm. Spence. I think too that Captain Wiley H. Pope of Company "C" resigned and that company was commanded till the end of the war by Lt. Willis Pledger of Columbiana. Up to this time, middle and west Tennessee and North Alabama were occupied by the Federal troops, and General Braxton Bragg who had been in command since the Shiloh battle planned his Kentucky Campaign to draw the enemy out of this territory.

So in August, the movement of the troops began. The infantry were removed by rail from Tupelo by way of Mobile, Montgomery, Atlanta to Chattanooga and so soon as the army could all reach the neighborhood of Chattanooga sometime in the early part of September 1862 we crossed the Tennessee river above that place across Walden's Ridge to Pikesville crossing the Cumberland river some distance above Nashville and into Kentucky.

During that March, Company "I" was detailed to guard the wagon train of the regiment. I remember soon after we reached Kentucky, we were marching along one evening and we met a U.S. Mail rider on horseback and of course the rider was released, but the mail was detained.

It was soon ascertained that a considerable force of the enemy were encamped at Munfordville. Where the railroad running from Louisville to Nashville crossed the Greenbriar river and General Bragg had planned for their capture by sending General Chalmers of Mississippi to make demonstration in their front, while the other part of the army would go around in their rear and demand their surrender.

General Chalmers moved onto their front and offered battle and the yanks came out and give Chalmers and his force quite a thrashing. It was said that Chalmers attacked of his own accord and without orders from General Bragg.

During the night after the fight a large force marched to the rear of Munfordville and the next morning Bragg demanded an unconditional surrender, which was accorded to. There were 4,000 surrendered.

The army was there pushed on toward Louisville but encountered a heavy force at Perryville where a considerable battle was fought at which only a part of the army was engaged. Our men suffered considerable loss, but no decisive results secured.

The 25th Alabama was not in the Perryville battle. Detached at time with General Kirby Smith (OWR, Serial 23, page 923). Bragg pushed onto Harrisburg, Kentucky and by this time the enemy had withdrawn from Tennessee and North Alabama and concentrating a force in Kentucky too formidable for our forces.

On leaving Chattanooga, we were required to leave behind all surplus baggage and clothing and at this time the men were getting bare of shoes and clothing as were many of the officers and winter was approaching and it was thought the better part of valor to get nearer our base of supplies and we began to move in that direction.

The enemy in the mean time had blockaded our line of retreat which we had came and our only way out was by way of Cumberland Gap into East Tennessee and Eastern Kentucky through which we came out being a barren country the army suffered for rations.

We had secured a fine lot of Kentucky beefs, but we got out of bread and salt and for 4 or 5 days we were without bread or substitute therefore. While this was the fall of the year and gathering time, there was but little or no corn in that region. As about the only substitute for bread, was to pick up white oak acorns during the day and roast them at night when we camp. Now and then we would get a few ears of corn and parch and eat and occasionally find in some deserted field a pumpkin and roast it.

Our Army wagons had been sent on far in advance to prevent them being raided by the federal cavalry. For several days our Brigade was the rear guard of the army and they pressed us hard and fighting was kept up, more or less day and night and but for the vigilance of General Joe Wheeler who was now in command of a part at least of our cavalry, the army would likely been captured.

We finally overtook the wagon train just before we reached Cumberland Gap and the teamsters having anticipated our destitution had cooked up a lot of cold water biscuits and thrown them in the army wagons among the pots and when we reached them, upon a fair division of bread, there was one biscuit apiece and I thought then and still think it was the best bread I had ever tasted.

We soon crossed the Gap into East Tennessee and came within a few miles of Knoxville and went into camp and the first night there fell a heavy snow (this was the first of November) and I suppose fifty percent of the army were shoeless and coatless and the Confederate government was unable to supply us. One man from each company was at once sent to the community where the companies were raised to get shoes and clothing for the men.

I came home to get supplies for Company "I". In coming home I took the train at Knoxville and come to Chattanooga thence to Rome, Georgia, which is the nearest railroad point to Oak Level 40 miles. On arriving home, I soon learned that the young ladies of White Plains and Robbietown, 15 miles below Oak Level had during that fall, organized themselves into a society to raise funds and material and make clothing for the soldiers. I at once went to White Plains and ascertained that they had just finished a fine lot of winter clothing. Coats, pants and vests from thick home made jeans.

The society was called together to whom I made a statement as to the destitution of my company and they cheerfully gave me a fine lot of clothing sufficient to supply the entire company. I purchased a good lot of home made shoes from one Wm. Stewart who ran a shoe shop at Ladiga, Alabama and within ten days or two weeks I had supplies for the company.

During my absence on this trip the army had moved round from Knoxville, by way of Chattanooga to Murphreesboro, Tennessee. So when I got ready to return, I employed a man with oxen and wagon to carry the supplies to Rome, Georgia where I secured a box car to put my things in and got aboard the car and headed for Chattanooga.

When I arrived at that place I found I would have to remain there several days. The transportation facilities were so deficient that they were several days behind in shipping troops and army supplies. There was but one railroad into Middle Tennessee where the army had gone and another impediment was the yankees. While they occupied that section the spring previous had burned the railroad bridge which spanned the Tennessee River at Bridgeport and the cars had to be floated across the river on a steam boat.

Finally I reached the army at Murphreesboro sometime in December.

Note: by Captain W.P. Howell, 25th Alabama, Company I


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