The 9th Illinois Infantry at the Battle of Shiloh

Brig. Gen. John McArthur

The 9th Illinois Infantry began the Civil War as a three months’ enlistment unit in April 1861. Upon the expiration of that term, it was reestablished as a unit for a three year enlistment. The 9th saw heavy fighting in the February 1862 capture of Fort Donelson, Tennessee; following that in March, the regiment was moved to Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, in the Southwest part of the state a little north of the Mississippi border and on the west bank of the Tennessee River. At this time, the 9th Illinois Infantry was in the 2nd Brigade of the 2nd Division of Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Union Army of the Tennessee. Brigadier General W. H.L. Wallace commanded the division, while Scottish born Brigadier General John McArthur commanded the brigade. Colonel August Mersy was in charge of the 9th Illinois.

Early on the morning of April 6th, Confederates under General Albert Sydney Johnston attacked the southwest side of the U.S. position, catching many regiments by surprise. The 9th Illinois was in camp about ¾ of a mile west of the river, away from the initial action, but at 9:00 the unit was formed and marching toward the fighting. The brigade deployed in a wooded ravine on the left of a line (known as The Hornet’s Nest) defended by other elements of Wallace’s division along with Brigadier General Benjamin Prentiss’s division, who was in command at the Hornet’s Nest.

With the 12th Illinois Infantry on its left, the 9th went into position and began to take heavy fire, which they returned. Confronted with stiff resistance, the Rebels halted their advance and exchanged gunfire with the 9th and the other Union regiments. The 12th Illinois “fell back three hundred yards, after being exposed to the fire of the enemy for over an hour. Thus our left flank was exposed to a flank movement of the enemy” recalled the 9th’s regimental historian. “Of this they soon took advantage, and poured a murderous fire down the ravine which we occupied. After holding this position until a new line was formed, three hundred yards in the rear, the Regiment fell back hastily behind it.” The 20th Tennessee Infantry, of Colonel Winfield S Stratham’s brigade had forced the withdrawal.

Brig. Gen. W.H.L Wallace

By this time, the 9th Illinois had suffered over 250 casualties and was running low on ammunition. General Wallace (who would soon be mortally wounded) ordered the regiment back to camp for more ammunition and to ready itself to go back into action where needed. Later in the afternoon, the regiment went into action again, this time in support of General William T. Sherman’s division. The Federals ended the day forming a highly fortified line near the river, with 52 land based cannon supplemented by the gunboats Tyler and Lexington on the river itself.

Confederate forces were prepared to resume the attacks on April 7th, but overnight Major General Don Carlos Buell arrived with his Army of the Ohio. Grant and Buel launched a counterattack in the morning of the 7th, driving the Rebels from the field and ending the Battle of Shiloh. The 9th Illinois was held in reserve for much of the 7th.

Colonel Mersy filed this after action report on the 9th Illinois at the Battle of Shiloh:

Pittsburg Landing, April 13, 1862.

SIR: The following is a report of the part taken in the action of the 6th and 7th instant by the Ninth Regiment Illinois Infantry, which I have the honor to command:

About 8 o clock on Sunday morning, there having been heavy firing in progress for some time previously along the left or center of our lines, the regiment was ordered to form and await orders. We formed with the brigade on the open ground near the camp of the Second Iowa Infantry, and found our force to be an aggregate of 600 officers and men. At 9 o’clock the regiment, in company with the Twelfth Illinois Infantry were ordered by Brigadier-General McArthur to a part of the lines about one-fourth of a mile in advance of General Hurlbut s headquarters. We there formed, and afterward marched about half a mile by the left flank, when we encountered a heavy force of the enemy, strongly posted in a deserted camp and skirt of timber.

Battle of Shiloh April 6th 1862 by Cosack and Company Lithographers

While taking up a position in a ravine to the left of the Twelfth Illinois we received a severe fire of musketry and shell, which killed and wounded a number of men. After taking up this position we maintained a steady and destructive fire upon the enemy for an hour and thirty minutes, when our ammunition began to fail, and at the same time a most murderous cross-fire poured into our ranks from the left, which we were unable to silence by a partial change of front of the two left companies. We were then compelled to fall back some five hundred yards to the rear. The enemy were constantly re-enforced during this period, and fresh regiments were seen deploying to relieve those which had been some time under fire. Our loss up to this time was about 50 killed and over 200 wounded. We were ordered at this time by General W. H. L. Wallace, commanding our division, to retire to our camp, replenish the cartridge-boxes, clean the guns, and be in readiness for action as speedily as possible.

At about 3 o clock p. m. we were again ordered forward to support the right wing of General Sherman’s division. Here we again entered action, our regiment numbering about 300 men, and for about an hour aided in checking the advance of the enemy s force, disputing the ground inch by inch, until compelled to retire on account of a flank movement of the rebels and a destructive artillery fire, in all which the enemy suffered terribly.

On Sunday night the regiment laid in line of battle near the camp of the Fourteenth Iowa Infantry, on the main road leading to Pittsburg Landing, and during the greater part of Monday were stationed as a reserve on the right of the Forty-first Illinois Infantry. At about 4 o’clock we were ordered forward, but the enemy having been driven from our lines, we were ordered to return and re-enforce the position of Colonel Marsh, after which we were ordered to our camp.

The gallantry of all the officers under my command admits of no discrimination, and I bear cheerful testimony to the heroic courage and fortitude with which they, without exception, stood the enemy s fire, the severity of which is fully attested by the loss of our regiment. This terrible destruction was only caused by the most determined bravery, such as I have never seen equaled.

To the men under my command I must also award the praise of bravery not excelled by their officers. They stood unflinchingly until ordered to retire, and 1 have to state that but very few were to be numbered among the stragglers.

I have only to add that the report of casualties was forwarded several days ago, but regret to say that since that time or 8 of my wounded have died of their wounds.

Respectfully submitted.

Colonel, Commanding Ninth Illinois Volunteers.

A.A.A.G., Second Brig., Second Div., Dist. West Tenn.

As Colonel Mersy mentioned in his report, the 9th Illinois sustained very high casualties. The final total was 61 killed, 300 wounded, and five missing, for a total of 366 casualties. Forty-two of the wounded later died of their wounds. The number of killed, wounded, and total casualties were the most of any U.S. regiment at the Battle of Shiloh. But the delaying action fought by the those at the Hornet’s Nest and its associated lines gave Grant the time needed to organize a final defensive line that would halt the Confederate attack and lead to victory the next day.


A History of the Ninth Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry by Marion Morrison

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume 10, Part 1.

Regimental Losses in the American Civil War, 1861-1865 by William F. Fox

Shiloh: The Battle That Changed the Civil War by Larry J. Daniel

Shiloh: Bloody April by Wiley Sword

Staff Ride Handbook for the Battle of Shiloh, 6-7 April 1862 by Jeffrey J. Gudmens

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