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In Their Own Words...The Kentucky Brigade at Shiloh

Report of Col. Robert P. Trabue, Fourth Kentucky Infantry, commanding First (Kentucky) Brigade. Hdqrs. First Kentucky Brig., Reserve Corps, Corinth, Miss.

April 15, 1862.

Sir: I have the honor to submit the following report of the conduct of this brigade in the actions of the 6th and 7th instant, at Shiloh, and during the few days succeeding:

Accompanying this will be found the reports of the various regimental and battery commanders, together with detailed statements of the killed, wounded, and missing. The brigade was composed of the Third Kentucky Infantry, Lieut.' Col. Ben. Anderson commanding; Fourth Kentucky, Lieut. Col. [A. K.] Hynes; Sixth Kentucky, Col. Joseph H. Lewis; Fifth Kentucky, Col. Thomas H. Hunt; t Fourth Alabama Battalion, Maj. J. M. Clifton; Hale’s Thirty-first [Fifty-second?] Alabama Regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel Galbraith; a battalion of Tennessee infantry, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Crews; battery of light artillery, Capt. Edward P. Byrne; battery of light artillery, Capt. Robert Cobb, and Capt. John H. Morgan’s squadron of horse, amounting in all to about 2,400 men, exclusive of the squadron, which did not receive orders from me.

The Reserve Corps, commanded by General Breckinridge, having moved on Friday morning at daylight from Burnsville in the rain, bivouacked that night, after a day’s march of 23 miles, near Monterey.

On the next morning, shortly before daylight, after having been exposed to the rain during the night, the corps was moved up to near Mickey’s house, where it became necessary to halt until the roads were cleared of the troops in front, which, occurring in the afternoon, enabled General Breckinridge to march on the neighborhood road to the right of Mickey’s house to a point within 3 or 4 miles of Pittsburg Landing, where on Saturday night we again bivouacked.

On Sunday morning, the 6th, having advanced about 1 mile from place of bivouac, with this brigade leading, the command was again halted at the intersection of the Bark, and interior roads until the front was cleared by the march forward of a portion of the command of General Polk, who was to precede the Reserve Corps. When this occurred I received General Breckinridge’s order to move forward in a condition for easy deployment in rear of General Polk’s line, and almost immediately afterward was commanded to form line of battle and advance in that manner. The line having been instantly formed, the Third Kentucky on the right and the Fourth Kentucky on the left, with the batteries in the rear and opposite the center, the brigade was put in motion, following General Polk’s command. Having proceeded thus a short distance, General Breckinridge communicated to me an order, just then received by him, to move with his two rear brigades on the Hamburg road, which led far to the right of the position first assigned to him. He at the same time directed me to continue moving forward on the line previously indicated, inclining to the left of the principal line of battle, in the rear of General Polk, and he then parted from me. ^ Moving forward as directed, I came under the enemy’s fire at 9.30 a. m., having reached the verge of a long, crescent-shaped open field, which was without fencing, about one mile and a half from Pittsburg Landing. The shot and shell from the woods on the opposite side of the field fell thick and fast around us, but caused very few casualties.

Gov. George W. Johnson and Col. Robert McKee, volunteer aides, here lost their horses, when the Governor shouldered a musket and joined the company of Capt. Ben. Monroe, Fourth Kentucky.

I here halted the command for an instant in a slight depression of the ground, and rode forward on the open field to observe what might lie before and around me and to place Cobb’s battery in position, which I did, but it was afterward moved under orders from some one and without my knowledge.

Position of Cobb's Battery on April 6.

Shortly before this, by order of General Beauregard, I had detached the Third Kentucky, Fourth Alabama Battalion, and Crews Tennessee battalion, with Byrne’s battery, to the right to support General Anderson, and in the engagement Lieutenant-Colonel Anderson, commanding Third Kentucky, and Major Johnston, of the same, were wounded.

Captains Stone, Pearce, and Emerson; Lieutenant Bagwell, commanding company, and Acting Lieutenant White, of that regiment, were killed.

Captain Bowman, Adjutant McGoodwin, and Lieutenants Boss and Ridgeway were wounded; the adjutant severely.

My aide, Charlton Morgan, was also wounded here, and my volunteer aide, John Hooe, had his horse killed.

Not having been specially informed of the casualties that occurred here in the Alabama and Tennessee battalions and Byrne's Battery, I am unable to speak definitely of them.

The examination which I made from the old field showed it to have been the scene of recent conflict, but at that time our lines there seemed to have been broken, and no troops of ours were in sight. I discovered also to my left and front two camps of the enemy still occupied by his troops, and I saw them also in the woods across the field in front of his camps. I immediately moved by the left flank to the left and confronted him. I had scarcely taken my new position—in fact was changing the front of the left wing—when he deployed before me. I opened my fire on him when he was thus employed, and soon received his in return. The combat here was a severe one, and lasted an hour and a quarter. I had only three regiments in line—the Fourth, Sixth, and Fifth Kentucky—the Thirty-first [Fifty-second] Alabama in reserve, and no battery at command, both of my own having been sent farther to the right, at which point we seemed to be pressed. The enemy appeared to out-number us greatly.

Ignorant of the topography of the country, and not knowing his force, I was for a while reluctant to charge, and as he was in the woods, too, with some advantage of position, I fought him, as I have said, for an hour and a quarter, killing and wounding 400 or 500 of the Forty-sixth Ohio Infantry alone, as well as many of another Ohio regiment, a Missouri regiment, and some Iowa troops, from all of whom we eventually took prisoners.

It would be impossible to praise too highly the steadiness and valor of my troops in this engagement.

I lost here many men and several officers, among whom were Capts. Benjamin Desha and J. W. Caldwell severely and Adjt. William Bell mortally wounded, all of the Fifth Kentucky; also, in the same regiment, Capt. James B. Bright, Lieuts. J. L. Moore and B. M. Simmons were wounded. In the Fourth Kentucky, Capt. John A. Adair, First Lieut. John Bird Rogers, commanding Company A, and Lieut. Robert Dunn were severely wounded, while in the Sixth Kentucky Capt. W. Lee Harned was wounded mortally. The Thirty-first [Fifty-second] Alabama, on the left, lost several officers and men, and elicited general praise for its gallantry.

During the engagement the men of no part of the brigade at any time faltered or fell back, while the enemy had to reform more than once.

At length, after having extended my line by adding my reserve to the left of it and obtaining as a support General Stewart, with a part of his brigade, and a part of General Anderson’s command, which I found in my rear in a wooded ravine, I gave order to fix bayonets and move forward in double-quick time at a charge, which was executed in the handsomest manner and with complete success. The enemy, unwilling and unable to stand this charge; ran through their camps into the woods in their rear, whither we followed them. They were, however, too badly routed to make a stand, and for several hundred yards I moved forward without opposition. These woods intervene between the field and camps I have described and the field and camp in which General Prentiss surrendered, and are about three-quarters of a mile in width.

Soon after having entered the woods I found the ground broken and covered with a thick undergrowth, so that I was obliged to move cautiously and with my front covered by skirmishers. I was likewise delayed and embarrassed by some Louisiana troops, who were off to my left, and dressed in blue colors, like the enemy, as also by a battery which was firing across my front from the right. I sent out an aide to learn the identity of the Louisiana troops and a detachment to ascertain the character of the battery, and, having had the fire of this changed, I moved forward to the verge of the field in which General Prentiss surrendered, having encountered and dispersed a regiment, said to be of Missouri, and taken several prisoners, who were sent to the rear.

At this field General Breckinridge and others were hotly pressing the enemy on the right, many of whom attempted to gain the woods through which I had passed, and at one time I was apprehensive they would turn my left, but by altering my position and delivering several well-directed fires they were turned back upon their camps, into which also, for some time, I directed my fire with effect.

The lines being gradually, after much hard fighting, drawn more and more closely around this camp, forced the surrender of General Prentiss, who seemed to be the last of their generals who made a stand. This brigade entered the camp nearly simultaneously with General Breckinridge and others from the right. I was halted here for a moment by order of General Hardee, and directed to send a regiment back in charge of the prisoners, and I assigned to this duty Lieutenant-Colonel Crews, who had rejoined me with his battalion.

Finding the troops who had come in from my right halting 100 or 200 yards in my front, I allowed the Sixth and Fifth Kentucky Regiments hastily to exchange their guns for Enfield rifles which the enemy had surrendered, and I then moved up and rejoined General Breckinridge, who, with Statham’s and Bowen’s brigades, was occupying the front line, being on the crest of the hill (or high land) overlooking the narrow valley of the Tennessee River, on which and near by was Pittsburg Landing. Having been halted here for more than an hour, we endured a most terrific cannonade and shelling from the enemy’s gunboats. My command, however, had seen too much hard fighting to be alarmed, and the Fourth Kentucky stood firm, while some of our troops to the front fell back through their lines in confusion. In company D, of this regiment, I lost at this place 11 men, and Lieut. H. M. Kellar, of the Fifth Regiment, was wounded.

From this position, when it was nearly dark, we were ordered to the rear to encamp, which movement was effected in good order. I followed in the darkness of the night the Purdy road, after having reunited to my command Byrne’s battery and the others of my troops who had been detached to the right, not including, however, Cobb’s battery. This battery, after having been moved from the position in which I had placed it (as previously stated), maintained itself with extraordinary gallantry, as I am informed, against a large force, which, however, killed in the contest nearly all of its horses, and killed and wounded 37 of the men. Having been thus disabled, Captain Cobb moved his battery off the field with mules to the rear, under orders to do so, all danger being past.

My command occupied the vacated camps of the Forty-sixth Ohio and Sixth Iowa Regiments on the Purdy road near the bridge over Owl Creek, but the tents having been mainly destroyed, my men were again exposed to rain, which fell during the night. The camps, however, were rich in subsistence, as in almost everything else. After a bountiful supper they slept, despite the rain. After having obtained returns from the whole command, I myself rode till 11 p. m. to find a general officer to whom to report for orders, and then sent an aide, with a mounted escort, for the same object, who rode all night without success. Thus closed Sunday, with a loss to this brigade of about 75 killed and 350 wounded.

The Kentucky Brigade camped in this area on the night of April 6-7.

Early Monday morning, having caused the arms to be discharged and cleaned, I prepared to renew the contest. Soon hearing firing to the right and somewhat to the front, and seeing General Ruggles’ division marching to my rear to form off the right, as I understood, and being also informed that the enemy was to the left, I ordered Byrne’s battery, in position at the Owl Creek Bridge and formed in line parallel to the road.

In a short time my volunteer aide, Capt. Samuel Gray, of Kentucky, whom I had dispatched to the front for orders, returned, with directions from General Beauregard to move forward to whatever point the firing seemed heaviest. I accordingly moved forward on the road, marching by the flank at a double-quick, and having passed Shiloh Church, leaving it to the right, I advanced about three-quarters of a mile beyond it. At this point I met General Bragg, who ordered me to form line perpendicularly to the road and to the left of it, which I did by fronting the brigade and then changing front forward on first battalion. While this movement was being made I rode forward and placed Byrne’s battery in position on a slight eminence or ridge at the edge of a field, behind which (and at its base) the change of front would bring my line, thus being myself at the same time at a point where I could observe the execution of this movement. In this position Captain Byrne served his guns with skill and gallantry, silencing one and greatly damaging another battery of the enemy. The enemy’s right wing was in our front, and for four hours, in the presence and under the orders of General Bragg, we checked his advance at this quarter. The battery of Byrne drew the continuous fire of several guns from the enemy, by which I lost several men. It was pleasing to see with what alacrity my men volunteered to aid the battery as its men were wounded or became exhausted.

Meanwhile the firing had been approaching nearer and nearer to us from the right and center, and I was ordered to move from my position to the support of these points of our line. In advancing to the right I perceived that our forces were passing from their right toward the left, while the enemy were moving on parallel lines with them and in a corresponding direction. In proceeding I became engaged with the enemy in the woods to the right and a little in rear of the position I had just left, and bordering upon an old field, in which was a house that seemed to have been used as a forage depot. In and around this the enemy seemed well posted in strong force, though much concealed behind logs and bags, apparently of corn, which appeared to have been arranged with that view. While I was moving to my new position the Fourth Kentucky Regiment and Fourth Alabama Battalion, by General Bragg’s order, and without my knowledge, were moved out of the line, and advanced against overwhelming numbers at the north side of the field and to the north of the house just spoken of, being advised that . they would be supported in the movement by General Anderson’s brigade. At this time I was with the Sixth and Fifth and a remnant of the Third Kentucky Regiments on the west side of this field and to the west of the house. The enemy was posted in the form of a crescent, the inner side being the front. The Fourth Kentucky Regiment and Fourth Alabama Battalion, having approached to within 100 paces of the enemy’s line, opened fire upon him, and received in turn a destructive fire from both the wings and the center. The contest was here continued for about twenty minutes, when the enemy fell back on their reserve, and the Fourth Kentucky Regiment and Fourth Alabama prepared to charge them with the bayonet, but before this could be done the enemy again advanced with redoubled forces, and they fell back on General Anderson’s brigade, 400 or 500 yards in rear. United with this they again drove back the enemy, and thus forward and backward was the ground crossed and recrossed four times. This engagement is represented as having been most terrific, and, judging from results, could scarcely have been excelled in the courage and heroism displayed by our troops.

Position of the Kentucky Brigade facing the enemy in Duncan Field.

Here that matchless officer Thomas B. Monroe, jr., after performing prodigies of valor, was killed near the close of the scene. Here, too, Adjutant Forman was killed, as was also Lieutenant Dooley. Lieutenant-Colonel Hynes, whose conduct was most cool and 'courageous, was here slightly wounded. Senior Capt. Joseph P. Kuckols, who had been wounded, was likewise, after the most decided coolness and gallantry, severely wounded. Here also were wounded Capts. Benjamin J. Monroe, Thomas W. Thompson, and Joseph M. Fitzhenry. Lieut. Thomas Steele was severely wounded and made prisoner, while Lieuts. John B. Moore and George B. Burnley were seriously and Lieutenant Peyton slightly wounded. All these officers were of the Fourth Kentucky, which went into action Sunday morning with 431 men.

Many officers also of the Fourth Alabama Battalion, whose conduct was excellent, were among the wounded; for more definite mention of whom reference is made to the report from that battalion. This small command behaved extremely well. And here also fell that noble patriot Gov. George W. Johnson, after having fought in the ranks of Capt. Benjamin J. Monroe’s company (E, Fourth Kentucky) with unfaltering bravery from early Sunday morning to this unhappy moment.

Eventually, seeing that they must be overpowered, these troops were withdrawn and ordered a short distance to the rear, where they remained until reunited to the command.

With the Sixth and Fifth Regiments on the west side of the position I have described I was hotly engaged for an hour at and during the time just mentioned above, when I had occasion often to admire the courage and ability of Cols. Joseph H. Lewis and Thomas H. Hunt, as well as the steadiness of their men. Our forces here were insufficient for a charge, and seeing the enemy’s masses moving to his right, as also our own troops—being ordered by General Breckinridge, to whom I had reported here, he stating at the same time that he could maintain himself to the right where he was, but the enemy’s movements required more troops of ours on the left—I followed the movement, and soon reached the brow of a hill on the main road to Pittsburg Landing, and about 150 yards to the right of Shiloh Church. At this point, upon my instance, Colonel Marmaduke, with his Arkansas regiment, united with my command in support of the two 12-pounder howitzers which I had obtained from General Polk some 300 yards in the rear and had brought up to that position.

The fragmentary forces of both armies had concentrated at this time around Shiloh Church, and, worn-out as were our troops, the field was here successfully contested for two hours, when, as if by mutual consent, both sides desisted from the struggle. Shortly before the close of the combat, having heard from one of my aides that some troops were in line a few hundred yards in rear, I left Colonel Hunt, Fifth Kentucky, in command, and galloped back to urge them to come up, intending with such a re-enforcement to charge the enemy with the bayonet, but I failed to secure their assistance.

Returning, I found that in my absence Colonel Hunt, with his usual gallantry, had ventured upon a charge, but found the enemy too strong for him, when he retired to the west side of Shiloh Church, where the command remained long after all other troops had been withdrawn, except a small force with Colonel Tappan, of Arkansas. In the conflicts of this day Lieut. Col. Robert A. Johnston, after exemplary conduct, was wounded, Capt. William Mitchell was killed, and Capt. George A. King and Lieutenants Gillum, Harding, and Schaub were wounded; all of the Fifth Kentucky.

In the Sixth Kentucky, Lieutenant-Colonel Cofer, a cool, brave, and efficient officer, was wounded; Capt. W. W. Bagby and Lieut. M. E. Aull were mortally wounded; Capts. D. E. McKendree and John G. Hudson were likewise wounded, as were also Lieuts. L. M. Tucker and Charles Dawson, the last named of whom was taken prisoner.

The Thirty-first [Fifty-second] Alabama Regiment behaved with praiseworthy gallantry, for the losses of which in this day’s conflict reference is made to the regimental report. And here, though out of place, I will mention that of the Fifth Regiment 4 color-corporals were killed and 3 color-corporals and the color-sergeant were wounded. Late in the evening, my command being reunited, we rejoined General Breckinridge, with Statham’s brigade, and halted at the junction of two roads, both apparently leading from Pittsburg Landing, and about 1 miles west of Shiloh Church, in the direction of Corinth. With this force and some cavalry General Breckinridge undertook to check any pursuit of our retiring army and cover the retreat. This was a hard duty, exposed as the command had been and wasted as they were by the loss of more than half their numbers; but the general was equal to the great undertaking, and his officers and men shared his devotion to duty.

Here we bivouacked in the mud and were exposed to the rain, which fell during the night. General Breckinridge had in some way provided subsistence for the command sufficient for the night and morning. The enemy did not appear that night, and the next morning we slowly moved off 3 miles to Mickey’s house, taking with us the wounded whom we found in abandoned wagons and in the houses on the road-side, as well as some captured property, which had been abandoned by other Confederate troops. Arrived at Mickey’s house (where was a large hospital with 400 or 500 wounded men, a part of whom were Federal prisoners), we remained there three days, laboriously engaged in removing the wounded, burying the dead, and sending forward captured property. All having been accomplished, upon receiving orders from General Beauregard, General Breckinridge, with his command, moved into Corinth, arriving there on Friday. While at Mickey’s house we had been advantageously posted to avoid surprise and repel attack.

On Tuesday General Sherman’s brigade, of the enemy, came to within a mile and a half of us, but being attacked by our cavalry, which General Breckinridge had stationed in the rear, that brigade was routed, losing 40 or 50 killed and about 75 prisoners, who were sent to Corinth.

Here I must be permitted to bear testimony to the resolution, ability, and endurance of General Breckinridge, which in these last days were severely taxed, but were not wanting to the demands of the occasion.

Thus I have given an account of the conduct of this brigade in the battle of the 6th and 7th instant and in three or four days succeeding.

I cannot too highly commend the gallantry and steadiness of these brave men. The courage, coolness, and ability of Colonel Hunt, of the Fifth Kentucky, were conspicuous, as were also those of his lieutenant-colonel, Robert A. Johnston, who was wounded on Monday morning, but kept his place.

No man could have possessed more gallantry than was shown by Colonel Lewis, of the Sixth Kentucky, and his lieutenant-colonel, Cofer.

Major Hays, too, of the same regiment, behaved well.

I had occasion often to remark the self-possession and ability of Lieutenant-Colonel Hynes, in command of the Fourth Kentucky, who was wounded, but did not leave the field, as also the conduct of Capt. Joseph P. Kuckols, of this regiment, who had been wounded.

The conduct of the lamented Monroe, major of this regiment, was unsurpassed, and challenged the admiration of all.

The conduct of Lieutenant-Colonel Anderson, commanding the Third Kentucky, is reported to me by one of my aides as having been extremely gallant, as was that of Major Johnston, both of whom were wounded.

Lieutenant-Colonel Crews, commanding Tennessee battalion, behaved well.

Major Clifton, commanding Alabama battalion, detached from me early on Sunday, did not again come under my notice, but is said to have done his duty.

Lieutenant-Colonel Galbraith, commanding Thirty-first [Fifty-second] Alabama Regiment, executed to my satisfaction several orders I gave him, and in the early fight Sunday, although not drilled, his regiment did excellent service.

Captain Byrne, as I have already said, managed his battery with skill and fought with great gallantry.

Captain Cobb, commanding light battery, unfortunately lost most of his horses and two of his pieces, but is represented to me as having fought with great courage and skill. Capt. John H. Morgan, with his squadron, was not under my immediate control, and has only to-day returned from the scene of conflict. On receiving his report I will add a supplement to this. His conduct is represented to have been such as all expected of so gallant a commander.

The captains and subalterns of the command who fought with distinguished courage are too numerous to be mentioned in this report. Regimental reports are referred to for justice to them. It may not be out of place to say, however, that the Third Kentucky came from the battle-field and from Mickey’s house under command of First Lieut. C. H. Meshew.

I am under obligations to my adjutant, Joseph Linden Robertson, and my volunteer aides, Samuel Gray, John Hooe, Thomas B. Darragh, Robert W. McKee, and Charlton Morgan, all of Kentucky (the last of whom was wounded on Sunday morning), and Charles J. Maston, of Alabama, all of whom exhibited decided gallantry. But I have to mourn the loss of many who were very dear to the command, among whom Major Monroe is very deeply lamented. He fell nobly at his post. No officer of his rank could have been his superior, and no man in the army could have possessed more merit as a gentleman.

At the same place fell Gov. George W. Johnson, whose death will be mourned by thousands of his countrymen.

The command went into action with something less than 2,400 men, and the table of casualties shows an aggregate loss of 844. The list of missing is 97, all of whom were probably killed or wounded.

The losses of the different regiments, &c., were as follows:

All the horses of the command belonging to the field and staff engaged in the action, with one or two exceptions, were either killed or wounded.

Respectfully, your obedient servant, R. P. TRABUE, Colonel Fourth Kentucky, Commanding Brigade.


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