Captain Louis Kelly’s Report on the 15th Illinois Infantry at the Battle of Shiloh
HDQRS. FIFTEENTH REGIMENT ILLINOIS VOLUNTEERS,
Pittsburg, April 10, 1862.
SIR: As senior officer in command I report to you the part taken by the Fifteenth Illinois Volunteers in the battle at this place on the 6th of April.
Soon after breakfast heavy firing was heard to our left, and about the same time we received orders to fall in and take our position in your brigade. Our regiment numbered about 500 men; a heavy detail for fatigue duty had been made from our regiment early in the morning, reducing our numbers somewhat. After taking our position in the brigade we were ordered to advance in the direction of where there was heavy firing. Advancing a short distance, we were ordered to load our pieces and form in line of battle. We were drawn up in line directly in the rear of one of our batteries, numbering six pieces. No sooner had we prepared for operation than the battery gave way, part of the guns being taken by the enemy and the rest taken away by horses without riders, who dashed through our ranks with great speed. Although our lines were broken several times by horses and mules running away, yet they were immediately closed up again.
At the time the battery gave way a regiment in front of us (placed there, I suppose, to support the battery) gave way also; one at our right was seen to break and run without firing a single round. We immediately received orders to open fire upon the enemy. Although everything was confusion around us and without supports, yet we maintained our position for some time against superior numbers, who had all of the advantage they could wish in the lay of the ground. Our men fired from 10 to 15 rounds each. Lieut. Col. E. F. W. Ellis, commanding the Fifteenth Regiment, and Maj. William R. Goddard fell early in the fight while cheering the men. They were frequently heard to say: “Stand firm;” “Do your duty, boys;” “Stand your ground;” “Take good aim.”
Colonel Ellis was wounded in the arm severely at the first fire of the enemy upon us, but he paid no attention to that, and it was not till a ball penetrated his heart that he ceased to cheer on his men. Major Goddard fell a few moments before Colonel Ellis, a ball passing through his head. Two braver or better officers never lived. They were dearly beloved by all their men and by all who knew them. They were kind-hearted, and their loss will be a severe one to the regiment and to the service. Although our field officers were killed and all our captains but two shot down, besides several lieutenants, yet the men stood their ground like veterans amid a perfect storm of shell and bullets, and not until it was found impossible to maintain our position and keep from being taken prisoners did the regiment leave the ground. About 200 of our killed and wounded were left upon the field. After falling back some distance Captain Rogers (who had been wounded by a piece of shell in the breast and arm), Adjutant Barber, and myself rallied what men we could, and started in search of the brigade, but being unable to find it, and having but a little over 100 men, we fell in with parts of other regiments and prepared to meet the enemy.
In this position the enemy advanced upon us with a battery and a superior force of infantry. Had those with whom we had connected ourselves kept their ground I have no doubt we could have maintained our position and kept the enemy at bay, but they ingloriously fled, leaving us alone. Not one of the Fifteenth left until ordered to do so by myself. Several times did we fall in with other regiments, and as many times were we left in the same way. At last we took a position alone behind a rail fence and but a little distance to the rear of our sharpshooters. Here we could have done good execution and maintained our position against superior numbers, but one of our own batteries, mistaking us for the enemy, opened fire upon us, wounding several men. I was absent for a few moments at this time watching the movements of the enemy, and Captain Rogers, who was in command, ordered the regiment to fall back a few rods, at the same time displaying our colors, when our battery ceased firing upon us.
At this time General Grant rode Up to us and ordered us to take a position to the left, where there was heavy firing, but after reaching the position we met several regiments or parts of regiments retreating. We fell in with them and formed another line. Here we were soon deserted again and left to fight alone. After consulting with Captain Rogers and several lieutenants it was thought best to move to the left and join some cavalry we saw on an open field. We had hardly joined them when they were ordered away. Finding it impossible to keep up with them; we filed to the right, in the direction of the Landing, where our forces were said to be. We had marched but a short distance when we found there was a panic among some of our forces. Cavalry, infantry, and teamsters came running by us at the same time, reporting that the Landing was in possession of the enemy. Our men being exhausted and night coming on, it was thought best to move a little under the hill, near where we were, and give the men some rest. Just as we were moving under the hill we were informed that the Landing was in our possession still. We then about-faced, and moved to the rear of the siege guns, near the Landing, where we bivouacked for the night.
On the morning of the 7th we saw General Hurlbut. He informed us where we could find you. We immediately reported to you with about 212 men, many having joined us in the night previous. I believe you have a list of the killed and wounded. All, both officers and men, dead and living, as far as I know, behaved with great gallantry.
With much respect, I remain, yours, &c.,
L. D. KELLEY,
Captain, Commanding Fifteenth Illinois Volunteers.
Col. J. C. VEATCH,
Comdg. Second Brig., Fourth Div., Dept. of the Mississippi.
The 15th Illinois lost 49 men killed and had 117 wounded at Shiloh, the unit’s highest number of casualties in any of its actions in the war. The regiment served until the end of the war (though for a time it was combined with 14th Illinois Infantry and renamed the Veteran Battalion of the 14th and 15th Illinois) participating in the Vicksburg and Atlanta Campaigns, as well as Sherman’s March to the Sea and the Carolinas Campaign.
Army Memoirs of Lucius W. Barber 15th Illinois Volunteer Infantry by Lucius Barber
Compendium of the War of the Rebellion by Frederick Dyer
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume X, Part 1
Shiloh: The Battle That Changed the Civil War
by Larry J. Daniel
Shiloh Bloody April by Wiley Sword
Amazon affiliate links: We may earn a small commission from purchases made from Amazon.com links at no cost to our visitors. For more info, please read our affiliate disclosure.