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 24, 2012

The Battle of Shiloh Begins: Fraley Field and Colonel Everett Peabody

To resume my series of posts on Shiloh, stemming from my recent visit there and leading up to the 150th anniversary of the battle two weeks from now, I thought I would start getting in to some of the stories and people from the battle itself. Previous posts have covered the National Cemetery, Confederate Burial Trenches, and the Confederate Memorial at Shiloh.

Following a several day long march north from Corinth, by the evening of April 5, 1862, Confederate forces were bivouacked just a mile or two away from the Federal campsites surrounding Pittsburg Landing. The southernmost Union campsites, those who would feel the initial brunt of the Confederate attack the next day, were those of William Tecumseh Sherman's Fifth Division and Benjamin Prentiss's Sixth Division. Both commanders repeatedly dismissed evidence and warnings of the approaching Southern force (more on Sherman's role to come).

While many Union officers felt the odds of a Confederate attack at Pittsburg Landing were virtually nonexistent, one who did not believe that an attack was beyond the pale was Colonel Everett Peabody of the 25th Missouri Infantry. As the ranking officer in his brigade, Peabody was the commanding officer for the First Brigade of Prentiss's Sixth Division.

Born on June 13, 1830, Everett Peabody graduated from Harvard in 1849, and soon began work as an engineer. A native of Springfield, Massachusetts, Peabody set out for the west to make his living and ply his engineering skills in the construction of railroads. Finding himself in Missouri at the start of the war, Peabody's initial service was as a Major of volunteers in the 13th Missouri. Known for impetuousness and a hot temper, Peabody was wounded twice during the siege of Lexington in September 1861, where he was also captured. After being exchanged in December of 1861, Peabody found himself assigned to Prentiss's division in early 1862. Having been in a battle where he was both wounded and captured, Peabody was one of the few Union officers at Shiloh who could claim actual battle experience.

 During his time in the army leading up to Shiloh, Peabody had a persistent belief that he would not survive the war. Writing to his family in late 1861, Peabody proclaimed, "I have a sort of presentiment that I shall go under. If I do, it shall be in a manner that the old family shall feel proud of it." Just a few days before Shiloh, Peabody predicted his impending death in a letter to his brother: "Say to them all at home, that if we have good luck, I shall win my spurs." (Sword, 139-140)

Colonel Everett Peabody

Colonel Peabody was quite nervous on the evening of April 5. The first few days of  April were filled with repeated skirmishing south of Union camps, as well as reported sightings of Confederate cavalry, infantry, and artillery. Not being able to sleep, Peabody went to the tent of Captain Simon Evans, and together they discussed their apprehensions of a Confederate attack. Peabody had requested that artillery be placed in front of his campsites, but Prentiss had dismissed it as unnecessary. Without authorization from Prentiss, Peabody sent for Major James Powell of the 25th Missouri, ordering him to take a patrol consisting of three companies from the 25th Missouri to reconnoiter out past the army's pickets, hoping to discover exactly what was going on to the south. Several companies of Michigan infantry would end up accompanying the patrol as well. As the patrol headed out at 3 a.m. on the morning of the 6th, Peabody was there to see the men off on their mission, predicting to them that he would not survive the day (Sword, 141).

Fraley Field

That morning, in Fraley Field, Powell's patrol discovered the front lines of the looming Confederate attack, consisting of troops from William Hardee's Corps of the Army of the Mississippi. Just after 5 a.m., Powell's patrol entered into a skirmish fight with Confederate pickets from the 3rd Mississippi Infantry Battalion.

 As sounds of skirmishing began filtering back to Prentiss's camp, Peabody sent several companies from the 21st Missouri to Powell's assistance. These reinforcements would be far too few, as by 6:30 a.m. the main Confederate battle line began to emerge from the distant tree line. Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard described the Confederate advance that morning as "an Alpine avalanche." The masses of attacking Confederates quickly pushed back the relatively small Federal patrol. 

Together, Powell's men, along with Colonel David Moore's five companies from the 21st Missouri made several brief stands on their way back to their campsites, slowing the Confederate advance in small increments. Soon, in the manner of a gathering storm, the battle began to draw in various regiments from Prentiss's division. Angered with what he believed to be the unnecessary start of a major battle, Prentiss lectured Colonel Peabody on his patrol, telling him he was "personally responsible for bringing on this engagement." Peabody, never one to back away, responded that he was indeed responsible, as he was for all of his actions.

 Regimental marker for the men of the Union patrol at Fraley's Field

While it isn't my intention here to provide a blow by blow detailed account of Prentiss's fight during the first few hours of the battle, it is sufficient to say that it was highly confusing for both Federal and Confederate soldiers alike. Much of the fighting occurred in a disjointed manner, as various regiments had difficulties linking up due to their separate campsites and the confusion of what was for many their first major battle. This would be a common theme for the fighting that day. Hardee's corps crashed headlong into Prentiss's camp, and tangled terrain, camp sites, and battle lines meant that the fighting largely occured at a regimental and brigade level. The first officer of the battle to fall was Confederate Brigadier General Adley H. Gladden, who was struck squarely by an artillery shell while riding his horse. Gladden's arm was ripped to shreds, and despite being evacuated to Corinth, he would die six days later.

Mortuary monument for Brigadier General Adley Gladden

As the battle swirled around him, Everett Peabody did what he could to solidify the Federal lines. Prentiss sent word to other division commanders, informing them of the Confederate attack and requesting reinforcements. Riding through the camp of the 25th Missouri, attempting to rally the men, Peabody was in great pain. He was suffering from four wounds: one each to his neck, hand, thigh, and torso. It was here, in the clearing shown in the photo above, where Peabody's premonition of death came true. A fifth ball struck the colonel squarely in the face, knocking him from his horse. Peabody was dead upon hitting the ground. By 8:45, Confederates had overrun the camps of Peabody's brigade, and a desperate retreat had begun.

 Mortuary Monument for Colonel Everett Peabody

While Peabody died early on at Shiloh, his contributions at the battle were great. Union forces were certainly not prepared for a major battle, but they were not caught entirely unaware. Thanks to Peabody's early morning patrol and vigilance, Prentiss was alerted of the Confederate attack before it reached his camp in full force. Nearby, Sherman was likewise able to begin gathering together his men before his camps were overrun. Despite their warning, Prentiss's Sixth Division was pushed back, with various elements soon regathering along a slightly sunken road to make a defensive stand at the center of the Union line (more on this to come). Indeed, while their fight had been intense, the day was just beginning for Brigadier General Benjamin Prentiss and the men of his Sixth Division.

Immediately following the battle, Everett Peabody was buried close to where he fell. His remains were later re interred in his native Massachusetts.

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