In a previous blog post we considered if the 13th Ohio Battery had perhaps been unfairly treated by General Hurlburt in his report on Shiloh by stating "...officers and men, with a common impulse of disgraceful cowardice, abandoned the entire battery, horses, caissons, and guns, and fled, and I saw them no more until Tuesday." Two newspaper articles were provided in that post that both posited an opposing view of the battery's performance. This post includes a few more sources that may help to dispel or at the very least question the alleged cowardly acts of the 13th.
First we have an article that appeared in The National Tribune on July 3rd, 1884:
SOME INTERESTING LETTERS FROM SURVIVORS
OF THE BATTLE
Curtis Buck, Cedar Springs, Mich., writes as follows of the abandonment of Myers' battery by officers and men referred to in Hurlbut's official report:
I have been very much interested in your report of the Shiloh battle, which is very accurate. I was a member of Boss' battery (B, 1st Mich.), and in Gen. Prentiss' brigade. We heard the firing from our camp at about sunrise Sunday morning, and we were immediately marched to the front, which was near an old log house in a peach orchard. The 13th Ohio battery was in our rear in coming on the field, and as soon as they couId pass us they double-quicked by us, passed through our skirmish line, which was failing back, about one-third the way across the peach orchard. They passed up into the woods on the other side of the field and unlimbered, and I do not think they had been there three minutes before every man ran and left the battery. I was young and inexperienced, this being my first taste of battle, but I thought it strange that those men should leave that fine battery for the enemy; so I called on the boys, and said: "Let's go up there and see what the matter is." One or two of our men followed, and when we got there we found the battery so tangled up in the woods that we were unable to get out a single piece, so I spiked two of the guns, and then I looked over in a ravine about 20 rods distant, where, as it appeared to me then, the whole rebel army was massed. Up to that time I had never seen so many armed men. I looked about me for a place of escape. I found that the men who had come with me had gone. Looking in another direction I saw a finely dressed rebel officer, mounted on a horse, looking at our line. I cut one of the artillery horses loose and got out of there as quick as I could, but the horse had not run over ten rods before he fell, and I crawled in on my hands and knees. When I came in the picket-line the boys cheered me. I had not more than got back to my battery before the ball opened hot, and there we were oat in the open field without any protection. I have been in a great many battles since, but that was the hottest of all. We held our ground until about 4 o'clock p, m. Our ammunition was then all gone, as well as most of our men, and we were trying to find a road back to the landing that was not full of rebels, when we were taken in by a regiment of rebel cavalry and kept prisoners until the following June, and then paroled at Chattanooga, Tenn.
The writer makes two statements I find interesting. One, "...they double-quicked by us, passed through our skirmish line, which was failing back, about one-third the way across the peach orchard" infers that the Federal skirmish line was already in the process of retreating, and hence the 13th Ohio was moving into a position that skirmishers could not hold. Bear in mind that in the previous post it was mentioned that the battery was being posted in a place not of the battery commander's choosing. This statement may support this advanced posting of the battery.
The second comment that stands out to me is "...when we got there we found the battery so tangled up in the woods that we were unable to get out a single piece,..." The battery was posted in a woods which is not an ideal location for artillery in most cases. Did the men leave their guns because the pieces were so tangled up?
There is a bit more to this story. From the 10th Ohio Battery unit history we have this snippet:
"The 10th Ohio received 20 plus men from the 13th Ohio Battery at this station. The officers of the 13th Ohio had been discharged because, in attempting to obey orders, they had lost their guns."
There is another account written by Warren Olney of the Third Iowa Infantry:
"As we gazed at the enemy so coolly standing there, an Ohio battery of artillery came galloping up in our rear, and what followed I don't believe was equalled by anything of the kind during the war. As the artillery came up we moved off by the right flank a few steps, to let it come in between us and the Illinois regiment next on our left. Where we were standing was in open, low-limbed oak timber. The line of Southern infantry was in tolerably plain view through the openings in the woods, and were still standing quietly. Of course, we all turned our heads away from them to look at the finely equipped battery, as it came galloping from the rear to our left flank, its officers shouting directions to the riders where to stop their guns. It was the work of but an instant to bring every gun into position. Like a flash the gunners leaped from their seats and unlimbered the cannon. The fine six-horse teams began turning round with the caissons, charges were being rammed home, and the guns pointed toward the dense ranks of the enemy, when, from right in front, a dense puff of smoke, a tearing of shot and shell through the trees, a roar from half a dozen cannon, hitherto unseen, and our brave battery was knocked into smithereens. Great limbs of trees, torn off by cannon shot, came down on horse and rider, crushing them to earth. Shot and shell struck cannon, upsetting them; caissons exploded them. Not a shot was fired from our side.
But how those astounded artillery men - those of them who could run at all - did scamper out of there. Like Mark Twain's dog, they may be running yet. At least, it is certain that no attempt was ever made to reorganize that battery - it was literally wiped out then and there."
Interesting enough, there are even more details about the battery on Civil War Talk as well as a blog entitled Civil War Journey, both I wished I had come across before writing my first post on the 13th as it would have made for a more complete post. In taking the various sources in total, I am of the belief that the 13th's performance was not cowardly, but one of poor positioning, little training, and being under fire while still deploying the guns. Some men went on to serve the one surviving piece, which indicates that the men were not cowards, but victims of other circumstances.
Born in Connecticut, Curtis Buck was a member of Battery B, First Michigan Light Artillery. Captured at Shiloh, he would later be paroled and promoted to corporal, then sergeant. Wounded at Bentonville, after the war he would be a member of two GAR posts in Michigan, serve as a judge, and also serve as president of the Michigan Shiloh Monument Commission. He is buried at Riverside Cemetery in Ironwood, Michigan.
Warren Olney enlisted as a private on May 21st, 1861 and was mustered in Company B of the Third Iowa Infantry the following month. He was discharged for promotion in January 1864 to serve as a captain of Company G of the 65th USCI. He is buried in Mountain View Cemetery, Oakland, California.
American Civil War Research Database
Civil War Journey blog
Civil War Talk
Library of Congress Chronicling America website
Official Records - Series I Volume X