Our Country's Fiery Ordeal

A blog about the American Civil War, written and maintained by historian Daniel J. Vermilya, author of The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (History Press, 2014) and James Garfield and the Civil War (History Press, 2015)

Dedicated to my great-great-great grandfather, Private Ellwood Rodebaugh, Company D, 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, killed at the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.

"And may an Overuling Providence continue to cause good to come out of evil, justice to be done to all men where injustice has long prevailed, and finally, peace, quiet, and harmony to come out of this terrible confrontation and our country's fiery ordeal." -- Albert Champlin, 105th Ohio, Diary entry of June 19, 1864 (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Sherman Arrives at Pittsburg Landing

150 years ago today, Brigadier General William Tecumseh Sherman wrote a letter to his wife Ellen from the Steamboat Continental, anchored on the Tennessee River at Pittsburg Landing. A few days earlier, Sherman had led an expedition up the Tennessee in an effort to damage the Memphis and Charleston Railroad. However, due to torrential rains causing impassible mud and flooding creeks and rivers, Sherman's force turned back, instead setting up camp at the site of Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River. In the letter, Sherman briefly described the expedition, as well as the circumstances facing his command at Pittsburg Landing. Sherman believed the area around the landing to be well suited for a campsite of over 100,000 men, thus making it an ideal point for Federal forces to gather for the eventual campaign against Corinth, Mississippi, one of the key railroad junctions of the Western Confederacy. Sherman, a man who northern papers had declared insane just a few months before, was now at the forefront of the largest Federal advance into the South thus far in the war. It was Sherman who was the most influential in the placement of the Federal campsite at Pittsburg Landing, and in the days and weeks to come, he would play a pivotal role in the survival and success of Federal forces. As Sherman wrote this letter to his wife 150 years ago, the stage was being set for the Battle of Shiloh.

Pittsburg Landing

Pittsburg Landing
March 17, 1862

Dearest Ellen,
I wrote you from Savanna Landing sending you a Paymasters certificate for my months pay. I started in command of eleven Regiments, landed at Tylers Landing 18 miles above this and in the midst of a perfect flood attempted to cross over the intervening space of 17 miles to break the Memphis and Charleston Road. The rain fell in torrents and streams began to rise, and the Cavalry which led had to turn back for the swollen water. It was very unfortunate, so I had to return the Boats. The Tennessee River rose 15 feet in one day and the Landing was under water. I was compelled to drop down again to this place where there is a high Bluff Landing.

After describing reconnaissance efforts made by his cavalry and infantry near Pittsburg Landing, Sherman went on to elaborate on the situation of the Union forces at the landing, giving hint to the looming danger of a Confederate attack.

Generals Grant and [C.F.] Smith are at Savannah 19 miles below, and I command here, but as the Force has swollen to 25,000 men, and more are coming I take it for granted that some one else will come to command. I hear Halleck is coming, may be Grant, and on the whole we are furthest advanced into Secession. In a circuit of many miles I find houses abandoned, the People having fled, because they are told, we take everything we can lay our hands on, all the pretty girls and leave the Old Ones for the negros. I had an old man who really believed this, and was much assured when I said if he would stay at home and mind his own business I would not permit the Soldiers to disturb him. Upon going to his house, his wife and children had fled to the woods as though we were savages—Our soldiers do in spite of all efforts burn rails, steal geese chickens &c. &c.
The boat is ringing her bell, and I must ashore to my tent.
I am very tired having ridden for two days, the enemy under Bragg and Beauregard are to our front from Florence to Corinth with the country full of never ending cavalry. We may have fights at Purdy [TN] and Corinth [MS]. My love to all.
W.T. Sherman

Sherman's Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman, 1860-1865, Edited by Brooks D. Simpson and Jean V. Berlin (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), 197-198.

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