Reports of Colonel James M. Tuttle and Colonel William T. Shaw on the Fighting at the Hornet’s Nest at the Battle of Shiloh
Following the initial successful Confederate assault at the opening of the Battle of Shiloh on April 6th, 1862, Union forces set up a defensive position in a tree line along a farm road (popularly called the Sunken Road, although it may not have actually been sunken). This Union line was approximately a half mile long, with about 11,000 soldiers backed with 38 artillery pieces in seven batteries.
The right flank of this Union line was manned by the 1st and 3rd Brigades of the Army of the Tennessee’s 2nd Division, under the command of Brigadier General William H. L. Wallace (not to be confuses with General Lew Wallace, who was also at Shiloh). Colonel James M. Tuttle of the 2nd Iowa Infantry commanded the 1st Brigade, which consisted of the 2nd, 7th, 12th and 14th Iowa Infantry regiments. The Confederates attacked the Union line repeatedly, but each assault was repulsed in furious fighting and heavy casualties. The Union position would later be nicknamed the Hornet’s Nest for its intense fighting. Eventually, Union positions on the left and right of the Hornet’s Nest began to be pushed back. The Confederates concentrated artillery fire on the Hornet’s Nest, and infantry began to surround the Federals.
The Union defenders had held the line for six hours, but it was time to get out before being cut off. The 2nd and 7th regiments managed to fight their way out, but in the process, General Wallace was mortally wounded, and Colonel Tuttle assumed command of the 2nd division. The 12th and 14th Iowa were unable to withdraw before being surrounded, and were part of the approximately 2200 Union soldiers captured at the Hornet’s Nest. But the stubborn and costly defense at the Hornet’s Nest line had bought enough time for Major General Ulysses S. Grant to form another line closer to the Tennessee River, under cover of Union gunboat artillery. The next day, aided by reinforcements from Major General Don Carlos Buel’s Army of the Ohio, Grant counterattacked, driving the Confederates from the field and securing victory.
Colonel Tuttle submitted this after action report for the Battle of Shiloh, also referred to as the Battle of Pittsburgh Landing:
HEADQUARTERS FIRST BRIGADE, SECOND DIVISION,
Pittsburg, Tenn., April 10, 1862.
GENERAL: I have the honor to report the part taken by the First Brigade in the action of the 6th and 7th instant, as well as such other regiments and corps as were under my command during the engagement.
On the morning of the 6th I proceeded with my brigade, consisting of the Second, Seventh, Twelfth, and Fourteenth Iowa Infantry, under the direction of Brig. Gen. W. H. L. Wallace, and formed line on the left of his division. We had been in line but a few moments when the enemy made their appearance and attacked my left wing (Twelfth and Fourteenth Iowa), who gallantly stood their ground and compelled the assailants to retire in confusion. They again formed under cover of a battery and renewed the attack upon my whole line, but were repulsed as before. A third and fourth time they dashed upon us, but were each time baffled and completely routed. We held our position about six hours, when it became evident that our forces on each side of us had given way, so as to give the enemy an opportunity of turning both our flanks. At this critical juncture General Wallace gave orders for my whole brigade to fall back, which was done in good order. The Second and Seventh Regiments retired through a severe fire from both flanks and reformed, while the Twelfth and Fourteenth, who were delayed by their endeavors to save a battery which had been placed in their rear, were completely cut off and surrounded and were compelled to surrender.
In passing through the cross-fire General Wallace fell mortally wounded, and as you were reported wounded, and Captain McMichael informing me that I was the ranking officer, I assumed command of the division and rallied
what was left of my brigade, and was joined by the Thirteenth Iowa, Colonel Crocker; Ninth Illinois, Colonel Mersy; Twelfth Illinois, Lieutenant-Colonel Chetlain, and several other fragments of regiments, and formed them in line on the road, and held the enemy in check until the line was formed that resisted the last charge just before dark of that day.
On Monday morning I collected all of the division that could be found and such other detached regiments as volunteered to join me, and formed them in column by battalion, closed in mass, as a reserve for General Buell, and followed up his attack until we arrived near the position we had occupied on Sunday, when I deployed into line in rear of his force, and held my command subject to his orders. The Second Iowa and Twelfth Illinois were called on at one time. The Second was sent to General Nelson’s division, and was ordered by him to charge bayonets across a field on the enemy, who were in the woods beyond, which they did in the most gallant manner, the enemy giving way before they reached them. The Seventh Iowa, under orders from General Crittenden, charged and captured one of the enemy’s batteries, while the Thirteenth Iowa rendered General McCook valuable service near the close of the engagement.
On Tuesday, the 8th, when our forces were again called to arms, I called out the Second Division, and all obeyed the call with alacrity except Col. Crafts J. Wright, of the Thirteenth Missouri, who refused to obey orders, and did not make his appearance during the day. The division remained on the field all day, and were ordered to return to camp after dark.
The officers and men under my command behaved nobly and gallantly during the whole time, with the exception above named. The officers deserving special mention in this report are so numerous that I will confine myself to field officers alone: Lieutenant-Colonel Baker, of the Second Iowa; Lieutenant-Colonel Parrott and Major Rice, of the Seventh Iowa; Colonel Woods, Twelfth Iowa; Colonel Shaw and Lieutenant-Colonel Lucas, of the Fourteenth Iowa, particularly distinguished themselves for bravery and ability on the field. Colonel Crocker, of the Thirteenth Iowa, although not belonging to my command originally, was attached to it on Sunday evening, and remained with my division until Monday evening. He proved himself to have all the qualities of a good and efficient officer, and was prompt to duty when the enemy was to be met. Colonel Mersy, Ninth Illinois, also proved himself a brave and efficient officer. Colonel Morton, commanding Second Brigade, and Colonel Baldwin, Third Brigade, on the last day turned out their brigades promptly and marched in column to the outposts. Colonel Woods, of the Twelfth Iowa, was twice wounded, and when the enemy was driven back on Monday he was recaptured, and is now here, unfit for duty.
Appended I send you a list of the casualties of the brigade only, as others will report directly to you.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. M. TUTTLE,
Colonel, Commanding First Brigade, Second Division.
Brig. Gen. JOHN McARTHUR,
Commanding Second Division.
Colonel William T. Shaw was the commander of the 14th Iowa, and was captured along with his regiment. He was paroled, meaning he was returned north but could not act in any military capacity until formally exchanged. While waiting to be exchanged, Shaw wrote an unofficial report on the 14th at Shiloh for the governor of Iowa:
ANAMOSA, IOWA, October 26, 1862.
SIR: As by the terms of my parole I am precluded from making as yet any official report of the part borne by my regiment, the Fourteenth Iowa, in the battle of Shiloh, on the 6th of April last, and as I feel it due alike to the regiment and to myself, after so long an imprisonment, that their conduct shall be fully reported, I take the liberty of laying before you, unofficially, the following statement:
You will remember that the regiment then formed a part of the brigade of Gen. W. H. L. Wallace, included in the division of Gen. Charles F. Smith. On that day, however, in consequence of General Smith’s illness, General Wallace commanded the division, and Colonel Tuttle, of the Second Iowa, our brigade, which consisted of the Second, Seventh, Twelfth, and Fourteenth Iowa Regiments. Our division occupied the center of the line, having that of General Prentiss on its left, with General Hurlbut beyond him, while the divisions of Generals Sherman and McClernand were on its right. Our brigade occupied the left of the division, and was arranged in the order given above, from the right, so that the Fourteenth occupied the extreme left of the division, next to General Prentiss’ command.
Our line of battle was formed about half past 8 o’clock a.m., about 500 yards from the enemy’s artillery, which at once opened a severe fire upon us. The ground was rolling and wooded, but free from underbrush, interspersed here and there with cleared fields and cut up by several roads.
In a short time the enemy’s infantry made their appearance, advancing in line of battle. I at once perceived that the line of our brigade was not parallel with theirs, but inclined to it at an angle of about 45 degrees, the left in advance, thus exposing my left flank to the enemy some distance in advance of General Prentiss’ line, upon which it should have rested, and about 200 yards from his extreme right. After consulting with Colonel Woods, of the Twelfth, who was next to me on the right, I threw back my regiment and the left wing of the Twelfth, so as to bring our part of the line parallel to the advancing enemy and in line with General Prentiss’ division, but still failing to connect with it by an interval of about 200 yards. This also improved our position, which had previously been directly upon a ridge, exposed to the enemy’s artillery, and gave us that ridge as a partial shelter. The enemy advanced steadily in two lines, about 200 yards apart. I ordered my men to lie down and hold their fire until they were within thirty paces. The effect of this was, that when the order to fire was given, and the Twelfth and Fourteenth opened directly in their faces, the enemy’s first line was completely destroyed. Our fire was only returned by a few, nearly all who were not killed or wounded by it fleeing in every direction. I then immediately advanced my regiment, in which I was gallantly joined by the left wing of the Twelfth. Passing almost without opposition over the ground which had been occupied by the first lines, we attacked and drove back their second for some distance, until I was forced to recall my men for fear of my left flank being turned, no part of General Prentiss’ division having advanced with us. In this movement we took a number of prisoners, including I captain, whom I sent to the rear. Returning, the Fourteenth took up its old position in the line of battle, and Colonel Geddes, of the Eighth Iowa, now formed his regiment on our left, in line with us and General Prentiss’ division, filling up the gap which had previously existed there. That division, however, with the one beyond it, materially changed its position in the course of the forenoon, its left falling back repeatedly, until the line of these two divisions had swung around almost at right angles to us. I now perceived a large force of the enemy approaching from the left and front, and immediately reported the fact to Colonel Tuttle, who, at my request, sent me a couple of brass 6-pounders, which were near by. These I got into position just in time to receive the enemy. They advanced with the most desperate bravery, the brunt of their attack falling upon the Eighth Iowa, by whom it was most gallantly borne. I have good authority for saying that the firm resistance of the center at that time was the chief means of saving our whole army from destruction. The fighting continued with great severity for about an hour, during which we repelled what General Beauregard in his official report counts as three of the five distinct charges made by the rebels that day upon our center, and at the end of that time the enemy facing us fell back fully repulsed. Colonel Geddes now withdrew a short distance to take care of his wound, and at his request, as his position was more important and exposed than my own, I moved to the left and occupied it, thus leaving an interval on my right between us and the Twelfth. When Colonel Geddes reformed it was on the right of General Prentiss, with whom Colonel Geddes fought during the rest of the day.
General Prentiss’ line had now swung around so far as to be almost parallel with ours, and back to back with us, about 150 yards in our rear, at our end of the two lines. In this position he was again engaged by a large body of the enemy, who had advanced from the left, having driven in General Hurlbut’s division. At about a quarter to 5 p.m. I received an order from Colonel Tuttle to about-face and proceed to engage the same body of the enemy. In order not to interfere with General Prentiss’ lines I marched by an oblique, passing close to the Eighteenth Wisconsin in his line, and here for the third time that day the Fourteenth engaged with the enemy. After less than half an hour we repulsed them and made a short advance, which revealed to me the facts of our position. The enemy’s center had advanced over the ground defended by us before our change of front and were now attacking us in the rear. Both wings of their forces had advanced so far as to form a junction between us and Pittsburg Landing, their right, which we were now facing, meeting at an angle with their left, which had driven in McClernand’s and Sherman’s divisions on our right, and into this angle we were about being pressed by this new attack on our rear. General Prentiss having already surrendered with a part of his command, the Fourteenth was left in advance of all that remained, but completely inclosed, receiving the enemy’s fire from three directions. The regiment still kept its ranks unbroken and held its position facing the enemy, but the men were almost completely exhausted with a whole day of brave and steady fighting and many of them had spent their whole stock of ammunition. It was therefore useless to think of prolonging a resistance which could only have wasted their lives to no purpose, and at about a quarter to six p.m. I surrendered them and myself prisoners of war. I have only to add that I feel under the deepest obligations to both officers and men of my regiment for their admirable conduct through the day. This was so complete and free from exception, that it would be impossible to mention individuals without doing injustice to the rest. Their steadiness and courage, the accuracy of their fire, and precision of all their movements entitle them to the highest credit, and their general demeanor, both upon the battle-field and in the trying scenes through which we passed as prisoners of war, will always be remembered by me with pride and gratification.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
WM. T. SHAW,
Colonel Fourteenth Iowa Volunteers.
Hon. SAMUEL J. KIRKWOOD,
Governor of Iowa.
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