Colonel Benjamin Allen’s Report on the 16th Wisconsin Infantry at the Battle of Shiloh
The 16th Wisconsin Infantry was organized in January of 1862 and departed the state for St. Louis in March of that year. The regiment left St. Louis on March 15th, traveling down the Mississippi, and up the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers until arriving at Pittsburgh Landing near Savannah, Tennessee on the 20th of March. Major General Ulysses S. Grant was concentrating a large Union army at Pittsburgh Landing, for an eventual march on the important railroad center at Corinth, in northern Mississippi.
The 16th Wisconsin was assigned to the 1st Brigade of the 6th Division of the Union Army of the Tennessee. Brigadier General Benjamin M. Prentiss commanded the division and Colonel Everett Peabody was in charge of the brigade, which also included the 12th Michigan and 21st and 25th Missouri Infantries. The brigade’s camps were located on the west side of the Federal position, with the 16th Wisconsin on the left side of Peabody’s command.
Early in the morning of April 6th, 1862, portions of Peabody’s brigade were the first to encounter Confederate forces advancing toward the Union position from the southwest. Peabody had ordered five companies from the 12th Michigan and 25th Missouri to move forward beyond the brigade picket line and investigate reports of Rebel soldiers in the vicinity. They did indeed make contact the approaching Rebels, and were driven back. The units on the picket lines, which included four companies of the 16th Wisconsin, were ordered to support the Michigan and Missouri men. Captain Edward Saxe was killed leading his Company A into action; he, along with Sergeant J.K. Williams were the first members of the 16th killed in action. Meanwhile, the remainder of the brigade including the rest of the 16th was ordered into action as the Confederates advanced and the fighting intensified into a full battle.
The 16th Wisconsin saw extensive action on April 6th, stubbornly holding its ground before dropping back and then repeating the process. The unit was less involved in the fighting of April 7th. Colonel Benjamin Allen, who was in command of the 16th until he was wounded, filed this after action report:
SIR: Having heard various and conflicting reports in regard to the part taken in the engagement of the 6th and 7th of April by the regiments comprising General Prentiss’ division, I deem it my duty to myself and command to submit a statement, which I should have done sooner but for the painfulness of a wound received on the battle-field. The regiment which I have the honor to command formed the left of Colonel Peabody’s brigade, and was encamped on the south road leading from Pittsburg Landing to Corinth. On the evening of the 5th four companies of my regiment and two companies of the Twenty-first Missouri, under the command of George K. Donnelly, acting assistant adjutant-general, First Brigade, Sixth Division, was sent, by order of Colonel Peabody, on picket duty. At about 5.30 a.m. on the 6th a part of this force discovered some of the enemy’s cavalry about 1½ miles in front and to the right of our camp, and while advancing upon them came upon a large force of the enemy concealed behind a fence and were fired upon by them. This was the first fire of the enemy. Captain Saxe and Sergeant Williams, of Company A, in my regiment, were killed, and Colonel Moore, who had just arrived with re-enforcements from the Twenty-first Missouri, was wounded. After firing they retreated, followed by our men, but they were soon re-enforced, and our men fell back toward our camp.
At about 6 o’clock I was ordered by General Prentiss to form my regiment and advance on the enemy. This I did, taking my position in a thicket of small timber about 80 rods in front of my camp. After remaining in this position about thirty minutes, waiting the approach of the enemy, I was ordered by General Prentiss to change front to the right, which I did, and in this position received the fire of the enemy, who appeared simultaneously on my front and left flank. We held this position, and delivered our fire with great effect, checking the advance of the enemy on our front, until we were ordered by General Prentiss to fall back, which I did, forming my second line about 40 rods in front of my camp. At this time the regiment on my right and left had fallen back, and we were entirely unsupported by any force. We maintained this position against a greatly superior force of the enemy until again ordered to fall back.
I made my next stand directly in front of our camp. While holding this position I was re-enforced by party of Company A, who were out on picket. A desperate conflict here ensued, in which Lieutenant-Colonel Fairchild was wounded in the thigh and carried from the field. I also had my horse shot under me, and my second horse was shot dead as I was about to remount. I was again ordered by General Prentiss to fall back, take to the trees, and hold the enemy in check as much as possible until re-enforcements could arrive. My men immediately took to the trees and fell back slowly, firing upon the enemy, until the advance of General Hurlbut’s division made their appearance. I then fell back to the rear of his lines and formed my men, but finding them out of ammunition, I drew off for a fresh supply. My men were nearly exhausted, having been engaged since 6 o’clock without food or water, contesting the field inch by inch with a greatly superior force of the enemy.
After receiving a fresh supply of ammunition, and while waiting orders from General Prentiss, I was requested by a field officer to take the place of an Indiana regiment he said were out of ammunition and were falling back. I immediately complied with his request, and opened fire on the enemy. This position we maintained until we were flanked by the enemy on our left and were compelled to fall back. In this engagement I received a wound, the ball passing through my left arm, a little below the elbow, and I was obliged to leave the field about 3 p.m.
Of my regiment there were 46 killed, 176 wounded, and 23 missing. Of the wounded several have since died.
I cannot speak in too high terms of commendation of the bravery and endurance of both officers and men in my command, although never before in action. They with very few exceptions exhibited in an eminent degree the qualities of veteran soldiers, and in the last engagement I lost some of my brave and valuable men, among whom was Capt. O. D. Pease, of Company D, who received a wound that caused his death.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Colonel Sixteenth Regiment Wisconsin Volunteers.
Maj. Gen. U.S. GRANT.
Casualties figures for the 16th Wisconsin were revised to 40 killed, 188 wounded, and 26 missing or captured, for a total of 254 casualties. Only three Union regiments had more casualties at the Battle of Shiloh than the 16th Wisconsin. The regiment continued to serve throughout the rest of the war.
Fox’s Regimental Losses in the American Civil War 1861-1865 by William F. Fox
The Military History of Wisconsin in the War for the Union by E.B. Quiner
Shiloh: The Battle That Changed the Civil War by Larry J. Daniel
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion Series I , Volume X, Part 1.