The Death of General W.H.L Wallace at the Battle of Shiloh
On the morning of April 6th, Confederate forces under General Albert Sidney Johnston attacked the Union camps from the southwest, overrunning them and driving the Federals east and northeast. Wallace’s division was camped in what was the rear, near the river and Pittsburgh Landing; but he ordered his men to form in line and prepare for action. He sent one of his three brigades off to support another Federal division, and advanced with his two remaining brigades under the commands of Colonel Thomas W. Sweeny and Colonel James M. Tuttle to a wooded location along a sunken road where a Union defensive line was being established. Wallace’s brigades were on the right flank of this line, and were in position by about 10 a.m.
The Confederates attacked this Federal position that would became known as the Hornet’s Nest over and over with infantry and concentrated artillery fire, but the defenders held on. Around 4 p.m., the line began to collapse as the Rebels fought their way around the Union flanks, and placed additional pressure on the center of the Hornet’s Nest. With the Rebels closing in, and after fighting a successful six hour delaying action, Wallace decided to have his men fight their way out and pull back towards the river, where the Federals were regrouping and setting up another defensive line.
As his men were fighting their way out, Wallace’s aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Cyrus E. Dickey (who was also Wallace’s brother in law), pointed out some enemy troops to the general. The two were on horseback, and Wallace rose up to get a better view. As he did so, a bullet hit him in the head behind the left ear and exited out his left eye. The general immediately fell to the ground.
Dickey believed Wallace was dead, and along with three others attempted to remove him from the field. They had only carried Wallace about a quarter mile before they were forced to leave him behind, as the group was in the line of intensive fire from both sides and was also in danger of being overrun by the Confederates. Wallace was placed near some ammunition boxes, in the hope he would not be trampled on by horses and soldiers.
A Federal counterattack on April 7th turned the tide of battle, and the Confederates were driven from the field, giving the Union a very costly victory in the Battle of Shiloh. About 9 a.m. that morning, Union soldiers found Wallace where he had been left. Incredibly, despite the severe head wound and the fact that he had lain outside in heavy overnight rains, Wallace was still alive. He was placed on board a river transport and taken to Cherry Mansion, Grant’s headquarters in Savannah.
Also on board the transport was Ann Wallace, the general’s wife. She had arrived on a surprise visit just prior to the battle, but the two had not gotten together. She had been told her husband was dead, and was elated to see he was alive. The gravely wounded general also recognized Ann, and was able to speak with difficulty. Wallace appeared to improve, but then took a turn for the worse. Ann recalled the end:
He seemed so happy and satisfied to have me near him, but lay in calm self-control even in death, conscious that his moments of life were continued only by this rest. Hope with us grew brighter until a periodical delirium, caused by excessive inflammation, passed away and his pulse began to fail; we knew his moments with us were few. My darling knew he was going and pressed my hand long and fondly to his heart. Then he waved me away and said, “We meet in Heaven.” They were the last words upon those loved lips, and he faded away gently and peacefully, and hopefully.
General W.H. L. Wallace died on April 10th, 1862. He was buried in the family cemetery in Ottawa, Illinois.
Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner
The Life & Letters of General W.H.L. Wallace by Isabel Wallace
Shiloh: The Battle That Changed the Civil War by Larry J. Daniel
Shiloh: Bloody April by Wiley Sword