The 15th Illinois Infantry was organized shortly after the Civil War began, and was mustered into service in May of 1861. The regiment spent the second half of the year at various points in Missouri, seeing little action. In February 1862, the 15th was ordered to Tennessee to reinforce Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s army, at that time attempting to capture Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River. The regiment arrived at Fort Donelson on the 16th of February, a few hours after the Confederate forces had surrendered.
The 15th Illinois did not return to Missouri, but was instead assigned to the 2nd Brigade of the 4th Division of Grant’s Army of the Tennessee. This brigade, under the command of Colonel James Veach, also included
the 14th and 46th Illinois and 25th Indiana Infantry regiments. Coincidently, the 4th Division commander was Brigadier General Stephen Hurlbut, who had helped organize the 15th before being promoted to General. In March, the brigade was part of a general movement of the Army of the Tennessee up the Tennessee River to Pittsburgh Landing, roughly 25 miles from Corinth, Mississippi. By the first week of April, the Army of the Tennessee had arrived and was encamped in the Pittsburgh Landing area, on the west side of the Tennessee River, and an additional force, Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio, was on the way. Once the army was fully assembled, Grant would strike at Corinth, a strategically important railroad center.
But before Buell could arrive, the Confederate Army of Mississippi under General Albert Sydney Johnston attacked from the southwest on April 6th. The Federal forces were taken by surprise and driven back towards the river. After this initial setback, the Union troops put up a stubborn defense but still lost ground to the attacking Confederates. Near Pittsburgh Landing, the Federals established a strong defensive line, and aided by the heavy guns of gunboats on the river, managed to stop the assault as the day drew to an end. During the fighting, Johnston was killed, and was succeeded in command by General P.G.T. Beauregard.
Beauregard was certain he could renew the attack in the morning and finish off Grant. However, Buel’s army arrived overnight, and in the morning of April 7th, the Federals attacked. Beauregard counterattacked, and the battle went back and forth until the Confederates, who were outnumbered and low on everything from food to ammunition, withdrew towards Corinth. The Battle of Shiloh, named after a small church called Shiloh Church, (also referred to as the Battle of Pittsburgh Landing), was the costliest battle in American history up to that point. Union casualties were 1754 killed, 8408 wounded, and 2885 missing or captured. Confederate losses were 1728 killed, 8012 wounded and 959 missing or captured.
The 15th Illinois Infantry, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Edward F.W. Ellis, and the rest of Veach’s brigade, was on the Union right and ordered into position to reinforce Brigadier General William T. Sherman’s division. The 15th battled an attack by Brigadier General Sterling A.M. Wood’s brigade of Major General William J. Hardee’s corps, before withdrawing to the defensive line at the Landing. Both Ellis and Major William Goddard, second in command, were killed in the fighting and Captain Louis Kelly filed this report on the 15th Illinois’ action at the Battle of Shiloh: