The Unlucky 13th at Shiloh
Updated: Aug 5, 2022
The number 13 in western culture is considered by some to be unlucky. The reasons are unclear. For Christians it may be because the thirteenth guest at the Last Supper was Judas; for Scandinavians ancient Norse lore holds that evil and turmoil were first introduced in the world by the appearance of the treacherous and mischievous god Loki at a dinner party in Valhalla. He too, was the thirteenth guest, upsetting the balance of the twelve gods already in attendance. My high rise does not have a thirteenth floor designated as such (a rather silly notion as the Fourteenth floor is indeed the Thirteenth - just who are we fooling here?). Many couples will not marry on the thirteenth.
For some men of the 13th Ohio Battery perhaps they thought that their battery designation would prove to be unlucky as well. The battery was formed from men of central Ohio, mostly from the counties of Champaign, Hardin, Logan, Shelby, and Union. Under command of Captain John Blymier Myers, they would muster into service at Camp Dennison near Cincinnati on February 16th, 1862. Shipped to the front shortly thereafter they would earn a perhaps undeserved reputation for cowardice at Shiloh. Much maligned by their performance on April 6th, 1862, the 13th Ohio Battery would be broken up and the men sent to other batteries. In Timothy B. Smith's Shiloh - Conquer or Perish, Smith takes the view of divisional commander Stephen Hurlbut in describing the 13th's performance as being one of cowardly conduct.
Charles Milton Adams was 35 years old when he joined the 13th Ohio Independent Battery on February 15th, 1862. Left behind at home in Ohio was his wife and three young boys, aged 6 to 11. After Shiloh Adams would be assigned to the 10th Ohio Battery, and would be discharged for disability on January 15th, 1863. On May 5th and 6th, 1862 Adams would pen this letter to his family.
Dear Wife and Children,
I take my pen in hand this evening on a rail in the fence corner, with my last sheet of paper and without a cent of money in my pockets to write to those I hold most dear. I received letters from you today, dated March 24th inclosing a postage stamp which is all the one I have. You had better not send any more stamps as the letters might never reach me, and the Captain can frank my letters and you can pay postage there, that is if you can get the money to pay with. There is now some prospect of our getting our pay soon. We are encamped in the southern part of Tennessee, 10 miles from Corinth where the rebels are said to have a heavy force, and are strongly fortified. It was the calculation to attack them today, the rains have rendered the roads impassable for our heavy guns.
May 6th. I had to stop writing last night in consequence of its getting dark, and having got my washing out this morning, and as there appears to be no more work for me at present, I resume my pen to write a little more. This is a beautiful day. The sun shines bright and clear, a balmy breeze floats through the air. The wild birds are warbling cheerfully among the leafy trees and all nature seems at peace, but the shrill notes of martial music, and the grand parade of military show, indicates that man alone is at war. Here are two powerful armies, in close proximity to each other, both of the same nation, speak the same language and closely allied by the ties of blood, often father against son and brother against brother, the one contending for the perpetuation of the vilest crime that ever cursed the earth, the other for the preservation of the best government the sun ever shone upon. May the God of battles give victory to the right, and may Union and peace again soon! be restored.........
We have not heard anything reliable from the enemy for several days, but it is rumored and extensively believed in camp that they are evacuating Corinth. If this is the case we will have to follow them up but if they stand battle here and get whipped, as I think they will, it seems to me they will have to give up, at least in the west........
I don't know as I have informed you of exactly of our condition. The 13th Ohio battery is disbanded through the rascality of General Hurlburt, to whose division we were attached, the officers are sent home, and the men divided among the 7th, 10th, and 14th Ohio batteries. I am in the 10th under Captain White. The Captain, one Lieutenant, the Orderly Sergeant and a few others appear to be very respectable men. The majority of the men however are pretty hard, nearly all use profane language, and nearly all are gamblers, the consequence is there is a great deal of quarreling among them and they are not so well drilled as they should be. For my part I hope it will never be my lot to go into an engagement with them, and I hope that matters will soon be arranged so that I can get out of their company.
You say in your last letter that you have never got any money from the county, yet I would like to know the reason, for if I am rightfully informed it is there for you and I should think that those into whose hands the business is intrusted would see that you get it. As soon as I get my pay I will send you some, though it is risky business, sending money by mail. Hoping this will find you all in good health and spirits, I subscribe myself as ever, truly and affectionately your
Husband and father.
C. M. Adams
Direct your letters to C. M. Adams, Camp Shiloh c/o Capt. White.
10th Ohio Battery.
One man's opinion of General Hurlbut does not make Hurlbut's alleged "rascality" a fact. However, appearing in the May 14th, 1862 edition of the Urbana Union is this editorial that was previously printed in another local newspaper.
[The following article is an editorial of last week's Mac-a-cheek Press, from the pen of Lieut.-Governor Ben Stanton, and is a full vindication of the men of the 13th Ohio Battery, against the charges made by the drunken and incompetent General commanding. We shall have more to say on this subject hereafter. - Ed. Union.]
The Thirteenth Ohio Battery.
No more flagrant injustice has been committed against any portion of the Ohio volunteers, engaged in the recent battle of Shiloh, Pittsburgh Landing, than the ruthless assault made by Gen. Hurlburt, in his official report, upon the conduct of the 13th Ohio Battery, recruited mainly in this county, and commanded by Capt Myer, of this place.
The Company was mustered into the service, and ordered to Camp Dennison sometime about the 1st of January last, - They did not receive their guns till some time in February, nor their horses until the forepart of March.
Immediately after they received their horses, and before they had ever been hitched to a gun, they were ordered into service, and taken to Pittsburg Landing, in Tennessee. Upon their arrival, the Captain reported himself to the commanding General for orders. He was told to take his company on shore at the Landing, and go up on the bank and search out ground for his camp wherever he pleased, and wait for further orders. This was about the 20th of March. He obeyed his orders, camped in a convenient position, and waited for further orders. He was attached to no Regiment, Brigade or Division.
A week elapsed, and he had no notice whose command he was attached to, or to whom he was to look for orders: nor was any notice taken of the fact that his company was in the service.
About a week before the battle there was a night alarm, the long roll was beaten, and the army was formed in order of battle. - He received no order, not knowing what else to do, he called out his company, took his guns and marched to the front - sending a Lieutenant in search of somebody who could tell him to what Brigade or Division he belonged, and to bring him orders to govern his action. After an absence of some hours, his Lieutenant returned, and told him that be was informed that they were attached to Gen. Hurlburt's Division. Capt Myers then inquired for Gen. Hurlburt's Head-quarters, and ultimately, with the assistance of a guide, succeeded in finding them. He reported himself to the General as Capt. Myers, of the 13th Ohio Battery, and told him he was informed that he belonged to his Division. "Ah," said the General, I do not know about that! The 13th Ohio Battery, you say?" "Yes." "Captain Myers, you say?' "Yes." "Well I will see."
He thereupon called his Adjutant, looked up his papers, and after completing his examination, said, "Why, yes, Captain, you do belong to my Division. Whose orders have you been acting under to-night?" "I have not had any orders." "Where have you been with your company?" "As I could get no orders, I called them out and ordered them to the front, supposing that was the place where they would be needed." "Well, Captain, bring your company into my Division in the morning, and I will send a man to show you where to camp." This was done, and the company camped on ground pointed out by Gen. Hurlburt's Aid.
This was the last heard from Gen. Hurlburt, or any officer in his command, until the battle commenced on Sunday morning, the 6th of April. There was no inspection of the guns, horses, equipments, or review, or inquiry as to their drill, discipline or efficiency.
On the morning of the battle they were ordered into position in a large field, on the right wing of a regiment of Infantry, within range of the enemy's guns. The left wing of the regiment of Infantry was thrown a little forward, so that their fire would reach the enemy, if they should charge upon the battery.
In front of them was a regiment of rebel Infantry, open in the center: and fifty yards in the rear of the rebel Infantry, or of the space in the center, though which they could fire, was a battery of rebel Artillery. The 13th placed their guns in position, had unlimbered five of them, when the untrained horses to the sixth gun, became wholly unmanageable under the fire of the enemy, broke from the men in charge of them, and left the field a good deal faster than "double quick. "
While this was in progress, the enemy had fired three rounds upon them - the first going entirely over their heads, the second much nearer, the third killing one man instantly, wounding some seven or eight, killing and disabling fifty-four horses, and the Infantry Regiment on their left had fallen back two hundred yard, to the timber in their rear. In this condition of things, these raw and undisciplined men did retreat, and they did right in doing so!
Artillery men are not armed with rifles or muskets, to repel charges of infantry. It is the business of the officer in command to provide a sufficient force of infantry to protect his artillery against a charge or the fire of the enemy's infantry.
And now when the consequences of Gen. Hurlburt's gross negligence and total incompetency is exposed to the world, he seeks to throw the responsibility upon the officers and men of an undisciplined Artillery company, who were left wholly unprotected by the proper support of infantry, and when their only alternative was retreat or surrender. And these officers and men, it is now said, are to mustered out of service; and sent home in disgrace. while this blundering ignoramus of a General is suffered to strut around in his brass buttons and epaulettes as though he had inherited the genius and had courage of Napoleon.
We should be glad to know where the commanding General gets the power, what authority of law he has, to dismiss and cashier commissioned officers, without a court martial, or other authority recognized by law, or the Army Regulations.
And we now give notice to Gen. Hurlburt, and all whom it may concern, that if these officers are sent home in disgrace without the judgment of a proper and competent Court, that he will hear from them again before the war is over.
The above was admittedly written by an Ohio politician who was undoubtedly taking up for the men (and voting constituents) from his state, but one who was said to have been on the field and a witness to the events described. And now we have two accounts of the battery being treated unfairly in the opinions of two writers.
Lanny Smith in his recent two volume set on the Union Army at Shiloh gives a bit more insight to the 13th Ohio Battery's story:
General Hurlbut reported that he ordered the 13th Ohio Battery on the right and somewhat advanced in cover of timber, so as to concentrate the fire upon the open ground in front. He further described the position to which Captain Myers was directed to take up position as on the reverse slope of a crest of ground and in an open grove of trees.
One phrase leaps out: "somewhat advanced in cover of timber." Was the battery therefore forward of Hurlbut's infantry line and hence placed in an exposed position? Artillery typically does not fare well in timber. When the 13th moved into position the 3rd Iowa Infantry did shift its left company to allow the battery to the front, but was that front beyond the main line? If so, that could have been a factor in the battery's performance. Sergeant Thomas Jeffery of the battery would write "From the time the battery received its horses and guns to the arrival at Pittsburg Landing, the battery did not have its horses hitched more than a half dozen times." And it is unknown if the battery had any opportunity to fire its guns. Captain Myers wanted to place his guns in the open but was denied this right by one of Hurlbut's staff officers.
Lanny Smith will go on to write:
"The officers and men of the 13th Ohio Battery were no less patriotic and brave than the tens of thousands of their comrades who suddenly found themselves in the heat of battle that Sunday morning. Rushing to the front, ordered into position on ground not of Captain Myers' choosing, and before the guns could all unlimber and go into battery, Rebel artillery shells were bursting in their midst."
Robertson's Alabama Battery opened with four guns on the Buckeyes with shot and shell and within a few moments the sergeant of Myers' gun number two was killed and another eight men were wounded about the same time. Then another round struck a caisson which in turn exploded. Large tree limbs were falling on the battery, and some of the battery horses became entangled in the timber. By this point, the remaining men of the battery did panic, leaving five guns in their haste to flee the turmoil surrounding them. The horse team of the sixth gun, untrained as they were, broke and left with the gun attached. It was not an auspicious day for the 13th.
Shortly after Shiloh the men from the battery were redistributed to the 7th, 10th, and 14th Ohio Batteries, and 13th was no longer in existence. Captain Myers was mustered out by Special Field Order #17 on April 30th, 1862. Although initially included in the budget proposed by the Ohio Shiloh Commission, there is no monument for the 13th Ohio Battery on the field, just a campsite tablet (A-54) and a position marker (172) that denotes their participation at Shiloh.
Much like the 71st Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment, who has had of late their Shiloh reputation somewhat restored by additional research, perhaps the 13th Ohio Battery's performance was not as horrific as the "blundering ignoramus" General Hurlbut made it out to be. Untrained in many ways, placed into a position that was seemingly in advance of the main line and not where the battery commander wanted to locate his pieces, and ordered to deploy in timber, these factors resulted in an unfortunate outcome. Has the 13th also been wrongly maligned like 71st? Will their story some day be re-written as well?
UPDATE: Check out a follow up post about the Thirteenth that provides a bit more insight to the battery's actions at Shiloh.
American Civil War Research Database
Civil War Battles website
Smith, Lanny - The Battle of Shiloh - The Union Armies - 6 April 1862 - Vol I
Smith, Timothy B. - Shiloh: Conquer or Perish