I am infuriated by false charges about Shiloh made by a lying politician. I have written a letter to rebut his false charges in the newspaper. I will have my Brother in Law Phil send it to be published.
TO BENJAMIN STANTON
Camp in the Field near Chewalla, Tennessee
June 10th, 1862
Lieutenant Governor. B. Stanton
I am not surprised when anonymous scribblers write and publish falsehoods or make criticisms of matters of which they know nothing, or which they are incapable of comprehending. It is their trade. They live by it. Slander gives point and piquancy to a paragraph and the writer being irresponsible or beneath notice, escapes a merited punishment. It is different with men in high official station who like you descend to this dirty work. You had an opportunity to learn the truth, for I saw you myself at Shiloh soon after the battle and know that hundreds would have aided you in your work had you been in search of facts. You never enquired of me concerning the truth of events which you must have known transpired in my sight and hearing, but seem to have preferred the “camp stories” to authentic data then within your reach.
A friend by mere accident has shown me a printed slip of newspaper dated April 19th, 1862, styled “Extra,” published at Bellefontain, Ohio, and signed B. Stanton. I am further told, you are the man. If so, and you be the Lieutenant Governor of Ohio, I hold that I am your peer as well as Generals Grant, Hurlbut and Prentiss, all of whom you directly charge with conduct on the Field of Shiloh which deserves a Court Martial, whose sentence if you have not become false witness, would be degradation or death.
The accusatory part of your published statement is all false. False in general, false in every particular, and I repeat, you could not have failed to know it false when you published that statement. To prove what I say, I quote the concluding part of your paper:
Some complaints have been made about the conduct of a few of the new regiments in this battle, including the 54th and 57th. It must be remembered that these are new regiments, that not only have they never seen any service, but that they never received their guns until they arrived on the Tennessee some two or three weeks before the battle. So with Myers Battery, it has been more than six since they had their horses. Yet these regiments, and this battery were put on the extreme out side of our camp, and were consequently first exposed to the enemy’s fire. Add to this that our lines were so carelessly and negligently guarded that the enemy were absolutely on us, and in our very tents before the officers in command were aware of their approach. The wonder therefore is not that these regiments were finally broken and routed, but that they made any stand at all.
But the loss sustained by these regiments and especially by Captain Starr’s company in the 54th, show that they made a noble and gallant stand, and that their ultimate retreat was not the fault of the men, but of the blundering stupidity and negligence of the General in Command,
There is an intense feeling of indignation against Generals Grant and Prentiss, and the general feeling amongst the most intelligent men with whom I conversed, is that they ought to be court-martialled and shot.
Yours &c. Signed
With Myer’s Battery I have nothing to do, as it was in General Hurlbut^s Division who has made his Official report which proves yours untrue. For instead of being kept on the “extreme outside of our Camp^ it was at the beginning of the battle more than a mile to the rear of mine and McClernand’s and Premiss’s Divisions. The 54th, T. Kilby Smith, and 57th, Colonel Wm. Mungen did form a part of my command. No one that I ever heard has questioned the courage and gallantry of the 54th unless it be inferred from your own apology for them. And I know that I speak the mind of the officers of that regiment when I say they scorn to have their merits bolstered up by your loud and impotent conclusion. As to their being on the outer line, it was where they wished to be. And so far from being surprised, they were by my order, under arms at daylight, and it was nearly ten A.M. before the enemy assailed their position. This was so favorable that Colonel Stuart with his small brigade, of which the 54th formed a part, held at bay for hours Hardee’s whole Division composed of infantry, artillery and Cavalry.
The 57th was posted on the left of Shiloh Meeting House which I say, and in which Beauregard concurs with me, was the key to the whole position. It was in the very front, the place of honor to which Colonel Mungen, or his men could not object. Their front was guarded by themselves and if negligence is charged, it belongs to the regiment itself. And so favorable was the ground that although the regiment lost but two officers and seven men, Colonel Mungen has more than once assured me that he counted fifty dead secessionists on the ground over which he was attacked.
As to the enemy being into their very camp before the Officers in command were aware of their approach, it is the most wicked falsehood that was ever attempted to be thrust upon a people already sad and heart-sore at the terrible but necessary casualties of war. That the cowards who deserted their commands in that hour of danger should in their desperate strait to cover up their own infamy, invent such a story was to be expected. But that you should have lent yourself as a willing instrument in perpetuating that falsehood, is a shame from which you can never hope to recover.
The truth is now well understood. For days we knew the enemy was in our front, but the nature of the ground and his superior strength in cavalry prevented us from breaking through the veil of their approach, to ascertain their true strength and purpose. But as soldiers we were prepared at all times to receive an attack, and even to make one, if circumstances warranted it.
On that morning our pickets had been driven in, our main guards were forced back to the small valley in our front. All our regiments of infantry, batteries of Artillery, and squadrons of Cavalry were prepared. I, myself, their Commander, was fully prepared, rode along the line of this very regiment and saw it in position in front of their Camp, and looking to a narrow causeway across the small creek by which the enemy was expected and did approach. After passing this regiment I rode into Applet’s position and beyond some five hundred yards, when I was fired on and my orderly Holliday killed. After that, I gave some directions about Waterhouse’s Battery, and again returned to Shiloh Church in time to witness the attack there.
It is simply ridiculous to talk about a surprise. To be sure, very many were astonished and surprised, not so much at the enemy’s coming, as at the manner of his coming. And these sought safety at the river, and could not be prevailed on to recover from their “surprise” til the enemy had been driven away by their comrades after two days hard fighting.
I have never made a question of the individual bravery of this or any other regiment, but merely state facts. The regiment still belongs to my command and has elicited my praise for its improvement and steadiness in the many skirmishes and affairs during our advance on Corinth, and I doubt not the people of Ohio will yet have reason to feel the same pride in this regiment as they now do in many others of that same state of deservedly high repute.
As to the intense feeling against General Grant or Prentiss, could anything be more base than that? Grant just fresh from the victory of Donelson, more rich in fruits than was Saratoga, Yorktown, or any other ever fought on this Continent, is yet held up to the people of Ohio, his native state, as one who in the opinion of the intelligent cowards, is worthy to be shot. And Prentiss who is absent and a prisoner, unable to meet your wicked and malicious shaft, also condemned to infamy and death. Shame on You! And I know I tell you an unpleasant truth when I assure you, neither he nor his men were surprised, butchered in their tents &c. But on the contrary were prepared in time to receive the shock of battle, more terrible than any the annals of American history have heretofore recorded. He met it manfully and well. For hours, they bore up against the superior hosts, fell back slowly and in order until he met the Reserves under Wallace and Hurlbut, and fought till near four P.M. when he was completely enveloped and made prisoner. Well do I remember the line after line of steady troops displaying the bloody banner of the South, and to me the more familiar Pellican of Louisiana, bearing down on Prentiss who was to my left and rear and how though busy enough with my own appropriate point, I felt for his army and dispatched to him my aid, Major Sanger, to give him notice. My Aid found him in advance of his Camp, fighting well but the shock was too great. And he was borne back step by step till made prisoner six hours after your supposed informants had sought refuge under the steep banks of the Tennessee. So much for the history of events you did not behold and yet pretend to comment on,
You came to Shiloh on a mission of mercy, after the danger was over and before a new one arose. You tarried a few days but I Cannot learn from Ohio Colonels how you dispersed your charitable trusts. That is none of my business, but I do know you abused your opportunity and caught up vague, foolish camp rumors from the region of the steam boat landing, instead of seeking for truth where alone you did know it could be found, among the thousands of brave Ohio men who were in my camp, who can and will boast of never having seen the Tennessee River since the day we disembarked.
You then returned to your state and in an obscure printed paper, circulate libels and falsehoods whose location and distance made it highly improbable that you could ever be held to an account.
You knew that we were in the presence of a fierce, bold and determined enemy, with hundreds of miles of ambush before us, from which a few stray shots would relieve you of your intended victims. You knew our men were raw and undisciplined and that all our time was taken up in organization, drill and discipline, leaving us no time to meet your malicious slanders, and resent your insults. The hour of reckoning therefore was distant and uncertain. You have had your day. But the retreat of the enemy and a day of comparative rest has given me the leisure to write this for your benefit. Grant and Hurlbut and Prentiss still live and will in due time pay their respects to you. If you have no respect for the honor and reputation of the Generals who lead the Armies of your Country, you should have some regard for the honor and welfare of the country itself.
If your paper could have had its intended effect of destroying the confidence of the Executive, the Army and the people in their Generals, it would have produced absolute and utter disorganization.
It not only placed courage and cowardice, stubbornness and enduring valor and ignominious flight upon the same base, but it also holds up to public favor those who deserted their colors, and teaches them to add insubordination to cowardice.
Such an Army as your military morals would produce could not be commanded by any General who hoped to win reputation or who had reputation to lose.
Our whole force if imbued with your notions, would be driven across the Ohio, and even you would be disturbed in your quiet study where you now in perfect safety write libels against the Generals who organize our Armies, and with them fight and win battles for our Country,
I am &c,
W. T Sherman
Major General Commanding