Sam K. Cox at Shiloh
Updated: Mar 22
Below I have shared the Diary of Samuel K. Cox, a young soldier in the 17th Kentucky Infantry, while the regiment was at Pittsburg Landing. Cox and the 17th fought at Fort Donelson, and so, were some of the veteran troops Grant had at Shiloh. He offers key details that are corroborated by other accounts, which helps in understanding the complex movements of Lauman's brigade on April 6th and 7th, 1862. Next week, I will share some of that information to add context to Cox's writings. Enjoy!
If you would like to begin with Cox's experiences at Fort Donelson, click here!
This is again Sunday. How time flies by. We had Sunday inspection. I received some cigars and tobacco today, sent me from home, and also received a letter from Sister Jennie which I answered immediately.
We had new jackets issued today.
Last night about 7 o'clock, we heard for the first time the "long roll" and our boys immediately responding to the call and were formed in line in ten minutes. We were then informed that our lines had been attacked some two miles from here, to which point we marched immediately. We did not reach the scene of action as it was only a skirmish and lasted only a few minutes. We then returned to camp and slept one more night in peace.
We have heard today that the enemy intended to attack us at this point. How true the report is we will soon know. We were brushing up for Sunday morning inspection when, to our very great surprise, the cannon and small arms opened not a mile distant and in ten minutes that everlasting long roll was beaten and we gathered our guns and formed in line. In a few minutes we were seen winding our way to the point from whence the music of musketry came.
We arrived there in a few moments, and found our forces falling back gradually. Our Brigade, consisting of the 17th Kentucky, 44th Indiana, 31st Indiana regiments were formed in line of battle close to the edge of a field. We had been there but a few moments when the enemy opened a "G" and wounded several. While this was going on, a continual roar of musketry both on our right and left proved the battle was raging at every point. In a few moments, the enemy attacked the 31st and 44th Indiana, which was on our right. We could easily see the fight, it being but a few rods away, but not close enough for us to participate. We had to wait but a short time, however, as they appeared in front of us in the field spoken of above. Our order was not to fire until the command was given, which was obeyed almost to the letter. They had probably gotten halfway across, when General Hurlbut gave the command, "Now, boys, give it to them." Our regiment opened and "Great God!" I never saw men lie down faster when not skirmishing than they did. It seemed to me that the whole line fell. Every man in forty yards of the flag was either killed or wounded. The flag bearer, however, walked coolly across the field waving his color. He excited the admiration of all for bravery and coolness. I suppose he had at least five hundred shots fired at him, but Providence seemed to be on his side as no person touched him. At this point, we had one or two of Company A wounded. One ball struck Captain Morton squarely in the breast, but being a spend ball, it did no damage. We remained at that place some two hours and the Brigade which was fight on our left, from some cause or other, gave way and we had to leave our position which we had so nobly held to hold them in check at that point.
Soon arriving on the ground, the enemy made its appearance and a most desperate struggle ensued. For five long, weary hours, did we stand under a terrific fire both from musketry and shell. We advanced inch by inch on the enemy and man a poor soldier "bit the dust" trying to maintain his position. We gained on them gradually until nearly every cartridge in the regiment had been sent on his mission of death, when we were outflanked by ten times our number and compelled to fall back, which was done, thank God, in good order. At this point, a few minutes before our ammunition gave out, our gallant Captain Morton fell, mortally wounded. I was close by his side and took him on my back and started for the landing which was a mile distant.
By the time I had arrived, the Regiment had taken a position behind some heavy siege guns, which had been mounted as a last resort to hold Pittsburg Landing. In a very short time, they were belching forth their missiles of death which held the enemy in check until night closed and put a stop to the butchering of human lives.
I have no idea of the number killed and wounded but know the loss was heavy on both sides. I was of the opinion that we would never see a harder fight that we had at Donelson, but that was nothing in comparison to this. There has been one continual roar of musketry and big guns ever since the commencement this morning. I will now quit and hope for the best. General Buell's forces are now crossing the river by the thousands so we may expect war times tomorrow morning.
Last night it rained all night and the men were compelled to lie down on the cold, wet earth while they enemy had possession of our camps and were sleeping comfortably. Our boys, being very tired and hungry, went to sleep, notwithstanding the rain, which was descending in torrents. They lay anxiously awaiting the return of daylight so that they might know the result. At last it came. The rain, however, had held up and directly after day light, General Buell's forces opened the fight. They crossed all night; soon afterwards, General Grant's command went in. The firing was tremendous, I believe equal to yesterday, although the artillery was not so heavy. Our brigade, at least the remainder, was ordered on the right a distance of three miles where we arrived and soon were engaged. We fought at this point until about four o'clock in the afternoon when the enemy gave way, and soon afterwards was in full retreat toward Corinth. Our soldiers sent up cheer after cheer.
I firmly believe that General Hurlbut's Division saved the day on yesterday and gained it today. They outflanked the enemy which caused them to retreat in great disorder. Our troops were too much exhausted to follow up their retreat and consequently, did not capture a great many prisoners.
After the battle closed, I took a stroll over the field. It was horrible. The men were thick, some wounded and some in the cold arms of death. I could tell from the dead where the battle had raged more fiercely. Federal and Confederate soldiers were lying in the agonies of death.
We area again in camp, but how changed the scene! Only two days ago we were in high spirits and confident of getting home soon without any more hard fighting; but alas, we were mistaken and many brave man in that short time has found a grave in the soil of Tennessee. Among the killed is our brave and kind Captain Morton. He died that night at 9:30 PM. It is useless for me to undertake to do him justice for I cannot. My pen is inadequate to the task. He was, however, a brave, cool man, always at his post and more especially when danger was high. He fell while leading his company gallantly on to battle. He was kind to his men and they all loved him and were willing to obey his command. They stood by him like heroes during the day when he fell. They seemed to fight more desperately to avenge his death. I cannot force his words to me when he fell. He put his arm around my neck and said, "Well, Sam, they have killed me at last." I immediately took him on my back and carried him through a perfect shower of cannon balls. I was determined to take him from the field or perish in the attempt, and, had the enemy overtaken me, I was resolved to remain a prisoner with him. But kind Providence seemed to favor me, and I arrived at the Landing where I had his wound dressed and immediately moved him on a steamer which was at the Landing. He talked to me freely on the road and told me what disposition he wanted to make of his property. He also remarked that "Many a better man had fallen that day." I told him that a better man never lived, and I am sure there was never a better man.
This regiment has lost its brightest ornament, and one, too, that can never be replaced. His remains started home today in charge of his faithful servant, Horace. He will be buried in the church yard of the village of Hartford, Kentucky, his home. There, he will repose amid the scenes of his early labors and triumphs, away from the busy hum of life far away from the thunder and conflict and not clarion note will ever more disturb his slumbers or call him forth to battle. Peace to his ashes, and may the undying laurel of glory grow green over his grave.