Actions took on the grotesque forms of - seeing the elephant at Shiloh


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Jul 23, 2017
Southwest Missouri

These batteries drew not only the artillery fire of the enemy, but they furnished a point for the concentrated fire of all the infantry in front. To be in supporting position was to receive all the bullets that were aimed at the battery, and which, of course, usually vex the rear. The shells intended for the battery in your front have a habit always of flying too high or bursting just high enough in air to make it pleasant for the troops who are held in comparative inactivity. Under these conditions, we hugged the ground very. closely, and fallen timber of every kind was most gratefully and thankfully recognized.

It is amazing how rapidly time flies under these circumstances. I am sure there were occasions that morning when twenty minutes' exposure to fire behind these field batteries seemed to me an entire week. Everything looked weird to me an entire week. Everything looked weird and unnatural. The very leaves on the trees, though scarcely out of the bud, seemed greener than I had ever seen leaves, and larger. The faces of the men about me looked like no faces that I had ever seen on earth. Actions took on the grotesque forms of nightmares. The roar and din of the battle in all its terror outstripped my most fanciful dreams of Pandemonium. The wounded and butchered men who came up out of the blue smoke in front of us, and were dragged or sent hobbling to the rear, seemed like bleeding messengers come to tell us of the fate that awaited us.

By his orders, we pushed across a deep ravine which ran parallel with our front, and in five minutes we had taken up a position on the bank of this ravine, facing the enemy. Everybody felt that the critical moment had come. The terrible nervous strain of that day was nothing compared with the feeling that now the time had come for us to show our mettle. The faces of that regiment were worth studying at that moment. Not one that was not pale ; not a lip that was not close shut ; not an eye that was not wild ; not a hand that did not tremble in this awful, anxious moment. Presently the messengers came - pattering shots from out the dense growth in our front, telling of the advance of the skirmish line. On our part, no response.

No enemy could be seen, but the purple wreaths of smoke here and there told of the men who were feeling their way toward our lines. A nervous man, unable to stand the strain, let off his musket in our lines. This revealed our presence. With a suddenness that was almost appalling, there came from all along our front a crash of musketry, and the bullets shrieked over our heads and through our ranks. Then we delivered our fire. In an instant, the engagement was general at this point. There were no breech-loaders in that command, and the process of loading and firing was tedious. As I delivered my second shot, a musket ball struck a small bush in my front, threw the splinters in my face, and whistled over my shoulder. I may say that I was startled, but I kept loading and firing without any idea whatever as to what I was firing at. Soon the dry leaves, which covered the ground about us, were on fire, and the smoke from them added to the general obscurity. Two or three men bad fallen in my vicinity.

At this moment, the young lieutenant who had my descriptive list in his coat bosom, and who was gallantly waving his sword in the front, was struck by a bullet and fell instantly dead, almost at my feet. Then it was that I realized my utter isolation, and shuddered at the thought of the fate impended "Dead and unknown."

Drummer Cockerill had been separated from his regiment, grabbed a rifle and fell in with another regiment. If this account sounds familiar, it was copied in numerous publications, most notable the Battles and Leaders series.

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