Role of the US Navy at Shiloh

Ole Miss

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Like many, I have always read about the role the US Navy played at the Battle of Shiloh, that the 2 gunboats fired every 15 minutes into the Confederate positions all night. Invariably every story or article claims the destructive fire from the USS Lexington and USS Tyler disrupted the Confederate positions, causing casualties and interruption of the Johnnie’s sleep. But was this true? I thought I would read the words of the effected individuals to discover the truth.

Looking through the Official Records, I discovered comments about the gunboats in 19 Confederate commander’s reports with various degrees of concern. I am listing the reports below for those are interested in what aftereffects, if any the, USS Tyler and USS Lexington had on the Confederates the night of Sunday, April 6, 1862. I look forward to interest and hopefully discussion on this thread.
Regards
David

Report of Brig. Gen. James R. Chalmers, C. 8. Army, commanding Second
Brigade.

After about an hour’s hard fighting the enemy again retreated, leaving many of his dead on the field. About this time the gunboats from the river began to throw their shells among us, and we pressed rapidly forward in line of battle toward the center, where the battle seemed to be raging fiercely.

Report of Leonidas Polk Maj. Gen. Comdg. First Corps, Army of the Mississippi
At this juncture his gunboats dropped down the river, near the Landing, where his troops were collected, and opened a tremendous cannonade of shot and shell over the bank in the direction from where our forces were approaching. The height of the plain on which we were, above the level of the water, was about 100 feet, so that it was necessary to give great elevation to his guns to enable him to fire over the bank. The consequence was that shot could take effect only at points remote from the river’s edge. They were comparatively harmless to our troops nearest the bank, and became increasingly so as we drew near the enemy and placed him between us and his boats.

Report of Col. R. M. Russell, Twelfth Tennessee Infantry, commanding
First Brigade.
Headquarters First Brigade, First Division,
After waiting in this position for some time orders were received from General Bragg to fall back out of the range of the gunboats and encamp for the night. Retiring a short distance to the next encampment, I halted the men and quartered them in the tents.

Report of Lieut. Col. T. H. Bell, Twelfth Tennessee Infantry.
Headquarters Twelfth Tennessee Regiment,

About this time the enemy retired under the protection of their gunboats. We were then led in the direction of the gunboats by General Cheatham, where we met Colonel Russell and a portion of the brigade. We remained under the fire of the gunboats for some time, when we were ordered back to the camps, where we remained for the night.

Report of Col. A. J. Vaughan, Jr., Thirteenth Tennessee Infantry.
Here I received an order from Colonel Russell (Commander 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 1st Corps and 22nd TN) to fall in the rear of his regiment and proceed down the river until we came under the fire of the enemy’s gunboats. It being now near about dark, I was ordered to fall back to an encampment, where we took up quarters for the night.

Report of Brig. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart, C. S. Army, commanding Second Brigade.
Headquarters First Division, First Corps, Army of the Mississippi,
We finally took position, under the orders of General Breckinridge, to aid in the pursuit of the enemy, which was checked by the fire from the gunboat.

Maj. James A. McNeely, Thirteenth Arkansas Infantry.
Just at our arrival the scale turned in our favor, and we received orders to pursue the enemy near the river, which we did, and remained there under the bombs from the gunboats until dark. We then repaired southwest, near General Stewart’s brigade hospital, at which we encamped during the night.

Report of Lieut. Col. C. D. Venable, Fifth Tennessee Infantry.
I then flanked to the left about 300 yards and halted to rest; but in a very few minutes the shelling from the gunboats was so as to be unbearable, killing and wounding several of my men. I thereupon retired to a ravine and remained until dusk, and then moved back and encamped for the night.

Report of Maj. Gen. B. F. Cheatham, C. S. Army, commanding Second Division.
The day was now far advanced, and before proper preparations were made darkness prevented further operations that day, and all commands were withdrawn for the night out of range of the shells from the enemy’s gunboats.

Report of General Braxton Bragg, C. S. Army, commanding Second Army Corps.
The enemy had fallen back in much confusion and was crowded in unorganized masses on the river bank, vainly striving to cross. They were covered by a battery of heavy guns, well served, and their two gunboats, which now poured a heavy fire upon our supposed positions, for we were entirely hid by the forest. Their fire, though terrific in sound and producing some consternation at first, did us no damage, as the shells all passed over and exploded far beyond our positions.

Report of Col. Randall L. Gibson, Thirteenth Louisiana Infantry, commanding First Brigade
I was again commanded by Brigadier-General Buggies to retire my command from the fire of the gunboats. In this movement considerable disorder ensued, owing to the fact that all the troops were closely massed near the river.

Report of Brig, Cen. Patton Anderson, C. S. Army, commanding Second Brigade.
The enemy’s gunboats now opened fire. General Ruggles directed me to move forward a short distance, and by inclining to the right to gain a little hollow, which would probably afford better protection for my men against shell than the position I then occupied. I gained the hollow and called a halt; ordering the men to take cover behind the hill and near a little ravine which traversed the hollow. We occupied this position some ten or fifteen minutes, when one of General Ruggles’ staff directed me to retire to the enemy’s camp, beyond the range of his floating guns. In filing off from this position several men were killed and many wounded by the exploding shells of the enemy.
It was now twilight. As soon as we had placed a hill between us and the gunboats the troops moved slowly, and apparently with reluctance, from the direction of the river.

Report of Capt. W. G. Poole, Florida Battalion.
My command then, with a portion of the brigade, proceeded forward as far as within range of the heavy guns on the Tennessee River, where we were for some time exposed to the enemy’s shells. One or two of my command were either killed or mortally wounded while under this fire. We then fell back to the enemy’s camp and bivouacked during the night

Report of Col. W. A. Stanley) Ninth Texas Infantry.
We were then ordered to join the command in that direction, which was reported to have the enemy badly routed and driving them toward their gunboats. After proceeding some distance we found ourselves in the range of shot and shell fired from the boats and vicinity.

Report of Col. Marshall J. Smith, Crescent {Louisiana) Infantry.
After their retreat the gunboats opened a most destructive fire, which we endured for some time, not being able to reply r and under orders we retired in good order from the point gained, and took up our quarters for the night in one of the enemy’s encampments.

Report of Brig. Gen. John K. Jackson, C. S. Army, commanding Third Brigade.
My brigade was ordered to change direction again, face towards Pittsburg, where the enemy appeared to have made his last stand, and to advance upon him, General Chalmers’ brigade being again on my right, and extending to the swamp of the Tennessee River. Without ammunition and with only their bayonets to rely on, steadily my men advanced under a heavy fire from light batteries, siege pieces, and gunboats.

Report of Col. Joseph Wheeler, Nineteenth Regiment Alabama Infantry.
During all of this movement (30 minutes after Prentiss surrender) the regiment was under a heavy fire from their gunboats and other artillery.

Report of Brig. Gen. P. R. Cleburne, C. S. Army, commanding Second Brigade.
It was now dark, so I returned, and encamped in one of the enemy’s encampments near the Bark road.
It rained heavily during the night. Every fifteen minutes the enemy threw two shells from his gunboats, some of which burst close around my men, banishing sleep from the eyes of a few, but falling chiefly among their own wounded, who were strewn thickly between my camp and the river. History records few instances of more reckless inhumanity than this.

Report of Col. John D. Martin, Second Confederate Infantry commanding, Second Brigade.
When within 300 or 400 yards of the river the enemy opened on us with their gunboats and two batteries in position near the river bank, which sounded terribly and looked ugly and hurt but few. Our men began to discover this fact.
 

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Ole Miss

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#2
The USS Lexington was a built in 1860 was a converted gunboat 177.7’ long with a displacement of 448 tons and a draft of about 6’. She was armed with one twelve-pounder howitzer, four eight-inch guns, and one thirty-two-pounder and two thirty-pounder Parrott rifles.

I have listed the Official Report of Lieutenant below along with a picture of the Lexington.
Regards
David

U. S. GUNBOAT LEXINGTON,
Pittsburg, Tenn., April 8, 1862.

SIR: On the morning of the 6th instant, while lying at Crump's Landing, I heard severe cannonading in the direction of Pittsburg. I got underway and stood up the river to communicate with Lieutenant Commanding Gwin, of the Tyler.

Upon my reaching this place I found that an attack had been, made upon our army by the rebels in force. I returned to Crump's, to support the division under command of General Lew. Wallace, when I found that his division had proceeded to join the main force back of Pittsburg Landing.

I then steamed back to this place, and no instructions reaching the gunboats from the commanding general on shore, we were forced to remain inactive hearers of the desperate fight until the left wing of our forces, having been forced back and completely turned, and the rebels getting so near the river that the missiles from their batteries fell thick and fast over and around us, enabled us to use our great guns with such effect that the fire of the enemy was silenced in thirty minutes.

This was between 4:10 and 4:40 [p.] m. Again, at 5:35 [p.] m. the enemy having gained a position on the left of our lines, within an eighth of a mile of the landing and of the transports, we again, with the Tyler, opened fire upon them, silencing the enemy, and, as I hear from many army officers on the field, totally demoralizing his forces and driving them from their position in a perfect rout in the space of ten minutes.

The firing on the part of the land forces then ceased. At 8 o'clock I went down to Crump's Landing, and finding that everything was quiet there, returned to this place.

At 1 a.m. on the 7th I relieved the Tyler, Lieutenant Commanding Gwin, in a position immediately above the landing, and fired, until daylight, a shell every fifteen minutes into the enemy's camp.

Yesterday, at daylight, the fight recommenced between the two parties on shore and continued until 5 p.m., when the enemy left in a hurried retreat.
The gunboats occupying a position on the left of our lines not being allowed to fire. I spent the morning and part of the afternoon in acts of mercy, picking up the wounded who had found their way to the river and conveying them to the hospital boats.

I must say that the gallantry and good conduct, of the officers and men whom I have the honor to command, displayed upon this occasion, as often before, are beyond all praise.

I have the honor to be, sir, your most obedient servant,
JAMES W. SHIRK,
Lieutenant, Commanding.

Flag-Officer A. H. FOOTE, U. S. Navy,
Comdg. U. S. Naval Forces, Western Waters, Cairo, Ill.



1550794139414.png
 
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#3
Wow! Great post. Thank you for all the research. For the most part, a completely overlooked aspect of the war, when in reality, without the naval blockade, the rest of the Union Campaign would have been met with much more resistance.
 

Ole Miss

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The USS Tyler was a shallow draft, 8', 180' long, 577 ton gunboat which provided valuable service to the Union. She was armed with six eight-inch smooth-bore cannons and one thirty-two-pounder. She along with the Lexington provided the Union army support the night of April 6-7, 1862.

Lieutenant Gwin's report and a picture of the Tyler are posted below.
Regards
David

Report of Lieutenant Gwin, U. S. Navy, commanding U. S. S. Tyler.
U. S. GUNBOAT TYLER,
Pittsburg, Tenn., April 8, 1862.

SIR: I have the honor to inform you that the enemy attacked our lines on our left the morning of the 6th instant at 6:30 and by his overwhelming numbers forced our men to fall back in some confusion. At 9:25. finding that the rebels were still driving our left wing back, I steamed up to a point 1 mile above Pittsburg, taking a good position to support our troops should they be forced down to the banks of the river. At 10:15 the Lexington, Lieutenant Commanding Shirk, joined me, having come up from Crump's Landing. After a short time she returned for the purpose of supporting the command of General Wallace, which occupied that point. Not having received any instructions from the commanding general in regard to the service to be rendered by the gunboats, I awaited them patiently, although for an hour or more shot and shell were falling all around us. Feeling that could some system of communication be established the Tyler could be of great advantage to our left wing, at 1:25 p.m. I sent an officer, requesting that I might be allowed to open on the woods in the direction of the batteries and advancing forces of the rebels. General Hurlbut, who commanded on our left, sent me word to do so, giving me directions how to fire, that I might do it with no damage to our troops, and expressing himself grateful for this offer of support, saying that without reinforcements he would not be able to maintain the position he then occupied for an hour. Therefore, at 2:50, I opened fire in the line directed with good effect, silencing their batteries on our left. At 3:50 ceased firing and dropped down opposite the landing at Pittsburg; sent Mr. Peters, gunner, on shore to communicate with General Grant for further instructions. His response was to use my own judgment in the matter. At 4. p.m. the Lexington, Lieutenant. Commanding. Shirk, having arrived from Crump's Landing, the Tyler, in company with the Lexington, took position three-fourths of a mile above Pittsburg and opened heavy fire in direction of the rebel batteries on their right, the missiles of which were falling all around us. We silenced them in thirty minutes. At 5:35, the rebels, having succeeded in gaining a position on the left of our line, an eighth of a mile above the landing at Pittsburg and a half a mile from the river, both vessels opened a heavy and Well-directed fire on them, and in a short time, in conjunction with our artillery on shore, succeeded in silencing their artillery, driving them back in confusion.

At 6 p.m. the Tyler opened deliberate fire in the direction of the rebel right wing, throwing 5-second and 10-second shell. At 6:25 ceased firing.

At 9 p.m. the Tyler again opened fire by direction of General Nelson (who greatly distinguished himself in yesterday's engagement), throwing 5-second, 10-second, and 15-second shell, and an occasional shrapnel from the howitzer, at intervals of ten minutes in direction of the rebel right wing until I a.m., when the Lexington relieved us and continued the fire at intervals of fifteen minutes until 5 a.m., when our land forces having attacked the enemy, forcing them gradually back, it made it dangerous for the gunboats to fire. At 7 I received a communication from General Grant (enclosed is a copy) which prevented the gunboats from taking an active part throughout the rest of the day. Lieutenant Commanding Shirk deserves the greatest praise for the efficient manner in which the battery of the Lexington was served.

At 5:35 p.m. the enemy were forced to retreat in haste, having contested every inch of the ground with great stubbornness during the entire day. The officers and men of this vessel displayed their usual gallantry and enthusiasm during the entire day and night.

Your old wooden boats, I feel confident, rendered invaluable service on the 6th instant to the land forces. Gunner Herman Peters deserves great credit for the prompt and courageous manner in which he traversed our lines, conveying communications from this vessel to the commanding generals.

The rebels had a force of 100,000 men, A. S. Johnston (killed, body found on the field), Beauregard, Hardee, Bragg, and Polk, being their commanding generals. Governor George W. Johnson, provisional governor of Kentucky, is a prisoner in our hands, mortally wounded. Loss severe on both sides; ours, probably 10,000. The rebels suffered a much greater one. I think this has been a crushing blow to the rebellion.

I am happy to state no casualties occurred on either of the gunboats.

The Tyler expended 188 shell, 4 solid shot, 2 stand of grape, and 6 shrapnel. Enclosed I send you Lieutenant Commanding Shirk's report.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
WM. GWIN,
Lieut., Comdg. Division o/Gunboats, Tennessee River.

Flag-Officer A. H. FOOTE,
Comdg. Naval Forces, Western Waters.

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