Report on the Battle of Shiloh
Headquarters, 77th Pennsylvania, March 20, 2007
Sir: I have the honor to report that, on the 16th instant, after a late start and traversing headwinds all the
way from Indian Territory, the 77th Pennsylvania arrived on the field of battle in the earliest hours of the morning.
Short on rest, but encouraged by the example of Lt. Col. Gross, we took the field shortly after daybreak.
Though we suspected the Rebel Army was in the area, we took advantage of the lull before contact to sharpen our
skills in School of the Battalion. The 77th fell in as second company, with our brothers the Second Colorado
on our right (first company) and the First US on our left (third company). The lead element of the 25th
Missouri, awaiting the remainder of their regiment who had yet to arrive, formed as the right end of the second company.
The air was cool and the wind blustery when the bugle blew To The Colors. Reports of Rebel movement sent
us marching through an empty field, flecked with white balls left over from the previous season's cotton. Singing the
Battle Cry of Freedom, we were in high feather in anticipation of meeting the enemy.
The Johnnies took to their holes when they heard the strains of righteousness. Our cavalry leading the way, we
traversed fields and hillsides. Crossing and recrossing a small stream, its gentle gurgle soothed our nerves as we took
rest briefly along its treelined banks.
Nerves tightened as the third company was called to deploy skirmishers. The Cesh minions were close, but scurried
away at the very sight of us. We moved forward, finally taking lunch on the shady side of a bridge as the cavalry moved
across it. We lounged amongst the conifers and hardwoods, the sun touching us with golden rays of warmth, its fingers
reaching to us through the branches. It was a sublime prelude to the chaos of combat.
Pop. Pop. The sharp crack of musket fire brought us alert. A battalion line of Johnnies appeared
in the mist as our men hustled back across the bridge. Stopping long enough for a volley, the Rebs cleared the far side
of the creek. Our barricades across the mouth of the bridge did not hold them long. They came with power.
Attention, Battalion! Ready! Aim! Fire! Our first volley caught them full force.
Their lines wavered and hesitated, but only for a moment. They pulled themselves up, stood firm and spit murderous iron
into our ranks. The forest floor, colored with the greens of spring shoots, the browns of the previous autumn's leaves
and the yellows and golds of sunshine, added the grays and blues of fallen uniforms and the dark red of ebbing life.
The second battalion (we were first) was catching the brunt of the rebel hell. As the enemy came toward us, for
a moment they exposed their flank. Just as we were poised to hammer them, the General rode up and ordered the Colonel
to fall back, lest the entire battalion be cut off.
By the Right of Companies to the Rear! Accompanied by a cacophony of explosions, shouts and whistling
lead, we filed through the tangle of trees and bushes, vines grabbing at our ankles with every step. Ordered again to
halt, we fired with gusto at the advancing Johnnies.
But no matter how accurate or intense our fire, we could barely slow the traitorous hordes. On they came, grim,
determined, unstoppable, like a massive gray ocean wave moving irresistably toward its sandy destination.
We fell back again and again, stopping each time to deliver our volleys into their oncoming ranks. Finally, as
we reached the banks of the meandering creek, the General rode up to me and ordered, "Hold your Battalion here!"
Since I am merely a company commander, I halted my men along that line and determined to pass along the instructions when
the Colonel arrived. The third company came up and the General spoke to Captain Prendergast, passing along the same
instructions, I believe. I heard Capt. Prendergast reply to the effect that he (not sure if he was referring to himself
or the General) was not the Colonel. I distinctly heard the General retort, "He is the Colonel, but I am your G--
D--- Commanding General!"
At any rate, we halted along the banks of the creek and formed a line of defense. Col. Gross by then had taken
charge. The cavalry and the second battalion retreated across the creek behind us and up a very steep hill on the other
side. Once all our other forces were across and safe, we were ordered to cross the stream and take positions on the
We did so, just as the Cesh came up to the creek. We were barely in place as they surged across. But their
energy was spent and our firing spots were excellent.
Some Rebs poured across a makeshift bridge, while other Johnnies waded through the icy water. Our first murderous
volley exploded through the leaves, dropping many a Cesh soldier dead on the spot. From there, it was a turkey shoot
as our boys poured death and destruction into their ranks, dropping Rebels with practically every shot. Pity tinged
with pride clenched my heart as I watched those gallant men--disloyal though they were--courageously approach our unassailable
positions without flinching.
They threw themselves at us three times, their dead piling up with every attempt. Finally, as the clear water flowed
red with Rebel blood, the assault faltered and the enemy fell back to the trees. It was not long before they came forward
under flag of truce and asked for a halt in the firing to recover their dead. Since we were exhausted and low on cartridges,
we were happy to oblige. We needed the respite, too.
But we kept a suspicious eye on them from our perches above, watching their toils with intense interest. No more
had the white flag of truce come out than they sneakily pushed scouts across the creek and toward our lines. They did
gather their dead, but at the same time their engineers commenced building a bridge so they could cross the creek in force.
On our side, as we watched their movements, we spent a few shots, just to keep their heads down. It was obvious
they were building up their forces for a powerful assault on our positions. To keep up a scare and to keep us busy,
they would rotate fresh companies through their forward positions.
The entire battalion was becoming low on cartridges. We had taken positions along a trail that ran along and up
the hillside, with the first company farthest forward, that is, lowest along the hill and trail and closest to the enemy.
Because of their forward and slightly exposed position, Col. Gross ordered them to fall back up the hill, slightly on our
As we observed the enemy's activities, the Colonel came up with a plan. He turned to me and asked, "Are your
boys up for a little mischief?" Indeed, they were. The second company was ordered to stay in place along
the road, observe the enemy and make them believe a larger force was on hand, and hold them back for as long as possible.
When it was no longer possible, our orders were to fall back to the crest of the hill, where the rest of the Union Army would
be building fortifications. We watched the Rebs for a while, then the rest of the Battalion pulled out, leaving us alone
against the enemy.
There was no hint of trepidation among my command. With pride and eagerness, each man embraced the assignment with
a wicked smile. As for myself, I was more concerned. We had lost many brave men, and I hated to risk the lives
of such gallant and valiant soldiers. And risky it was! If the Cesh had any idea how few of us there were, they
could have overwhelmed and overrun us with their scouts alone. Added to that, our cartridges were running lower and
lower as we plinked to keep their heads down.
We could observe the enemy scouts as they probed our positions. Continually, they tried to move around us, looking
for a weak spot. Many of those scouts lost their lives. Pennsylvania boys don't miss. We weren't too concerned
with our left flank, as the hill was far too steep for the enemy to approach at that point, though they did continue probing
there. But, on our right, the elevation was much lower. Reb scouts kept moving that direction.
Pvt. Jonathan Siltman was put on the right to observe the enemy movement in that direction and to keep their scouts at
bay. Potshots kept the Johnnies on their toes, but Siltman reported a lot of enemy activity. At that point, Pvts.
Plunk, Kane and Hudgeons came up, having previously been dislocated from the company and aggressively searching to rejoin
the group. The reinforcements arrived at a most opportune time. Their added fire convinced the enemy, who seemed
about to make a heavy push in that direction, to change their mind.
Higher command never expected the second company to fix the enemy for more than a few minutes. But the accuracy
of our fire and bravery of our men held the enemy for close to two hours. But it was obvious we could not hold them
eternally. Once they finished their brigde, we saw massive movement, estimated to be at least two battalions, cross
the creek below us.
We expected to be overwhelmed by superior force, and I had given orders to fire and fall back by squads, each taking
position at the top of the hill. Due to the width of the trail the Cesh battalion immediately in front had to march
by the flank to approach us. Around the curve of the hill, out of our sight, I fully expected another battalion to approach
us from that direction. The other squads had pulled back. With my last squad, composed of men from the 25th Missouri,
we held the trail. To my astonishment, the Johnnies stopped, evidently afraid to expose themselves to our fire.
Only four of us stood between an entire Confederate battalion and the crest of the hill behind. But well above them,
we held for several minutes sighting down our barrels at them.
When I was sure the rest of our men had time to be safely in positions on the crest, and after several minutes facing
the Rebels, I concluded it was time to leave. My men fired and skedaddled toward the top, and I stood staring for a
moment at the oncoming ranks. It was as if in a dream, seeing this long column of men in butternut and gray that snaked
back through the trees until they were out of sight.
When the muskets of the front file leveled in my direction, I snapped out of my haze and skedaddled up the hill, no doubt
setting the footrace record for the Captain's Uphill 100-yard Dash.
I found my command at the ready, behind a line of hastily-erected breastworks, determined to face the enemy. From
a line of sturdier vestments behind, Col. Gross ordered me to fire two volleys to stay the Johnnies, then fall back to the
Our first volley halted the Confederates in their tracks. Their battalion deployed in front of us and we could
see other Rebs coming up on the right. Rather hastily, we unleashed our second volley and ran back to the second line.
Taking our place in the works, we could see the gathering strength of the enemy before us. The battalion we had
faced was now deployed in our front, with a second battalion on the right and a third to the far right. Their numbers
were supremely greater than ours.
Our men didn't hesitate, but hurled a murderous blast into their ranks. Butternuts fell by the score. Splinters
from our breastworks exploded on us as their first tremendous volley hit barricades. But we were hunkered down and few
of our men were hit.
We kept up a continuous fire, extracting a lethal toll on the Cesh, their dead piling up before us like wood stacked
for winter. Col. Gross called for a truce to evacuate the wounded, but the Rebs would have none of it and sent him back
to our lines. In their treachery, they readjusted a battalion while the truce flags were out, and hit us from a different
angle immediately when firing commenced.
Minie balls buzzed around us like swarms of maddened hornets. The readjusted battalion and the power of the Confederate
attack was too much for us. We were forced from the works and across an open field, alternately turning to march and
turning to fire, loading all the while. By those tactics, and with the heavy toll on their numbers, the Cesh attack
slowed and stalled, finally falling back to the trees and out of sight.
Retiring to lick our own wounds, we found ourselves harassed by Reb cavalry. Improvising an old-time infantry "square",
we drove them from the field.
Exhausted, nearly out of cartridges, the men collapsed where they were. The whine of the minie ball and the deadly
song of lethal lead called many a boy home that day. The eternal sun shone bright and beautiful above the bloody fields.
A brisk wind gently spirited away the moans and groans of the wounded, cleansing the air of mortal sound, to be replaced by
a tranquil whisper.
Inexorably, the life-sustaining orb moved toward the horizon. One company, too exhausted to continue, was ordered
to sleep on their arms while the rest of the battalion was allowed to march back to camp.* Weary soldiers slept soundly
Reveille came well before daylight the next morning. As the battalion formed, we could hear the sharp
crack of musket fire in the night. We were in high feather as we marched to the Battle Cry of Freedom.
Called to the sound of the guns, we hurried to rescue our comrades. But a Cesh battalion stood in our way.
We deployed to face them and opened fire. The butternuts fell in droves, but they came on regardless. On
our right, a second battalion of Johnnies, masked by Reb cavalry, came into view. Our cavalry, both mounted and dismounted,
engaged them, but couldn't hold for long. With a second enemy battalion coming up on our right, we were forced to fall
back. They kept coming and we fell back again.
As the Johnnies closed in on us a third time, we retreated to a treeline perpendicular to our line of march. There,
in the trees, we loosed a volley that finally stopped the Rebels in their tracks. Seeing a green Irish flag among the
Rebs, and aware it was St. Patrick's Day, the Irishmen in our battalion began taunting the Secesh with Gaelic calls of, "Aaaarrroooo!"
There behind the trees, we were lined along a dirt road. Some distance to our right along that same road was another,
unidentified unit of blue.
A particularly daring company of Rebs, enraged by the Gaelic harassment, detached themselves from their battalion and
crossed the treeline on our right. Blinded by their anger and intent on stopping the taunts, they hadn't noticed the
other Federals on the road. The Johnnies who lined up to fire on us were square in a crossfire, their backs to our comrades.
Our company fired first and cut many of them down. They barely got off a shot when they discovered their predicament
via a cruel volley into their backs. A few of them escaped with their lives, abandoning their dead and wounded in the
Our whoop of "Aaarrroooo!" only intensified. We grimly braced ourselves, expecting the Rebels to come
at us through the trees. To our surprise, they abandoned the field and marched away.
We came out to the center of the field where we were happily rejoined by the men who survived the night on the forward
line. Resting near our weapons, we expected any minute to see the Johnnies come toward us. But, after some time,
we realized it was not to be. We were able to retire to our camp for lunch and a well-deserved rest.
President Lincoln visited us in camp, heightening our spirts and urging us to continue our fight for freedom and Union.
He was kind and patient enough to enable our photographers to take his picture with us. I wanted to discuss the Anaconda
plan and how our troops were faring on other fronts, but he was too pressed to spend much time with a mere Captain.
Nevertheless, it was a pleasure I will never forget and, if I should survive this war, tell to my grandchildren.
Meanwhile, the First and Second Battalions of the Frontier Brigade faced off in a game of Rounders. The
Second Battalion carried the match, though some of the best players from the First were absent on other duties. The
First Battalion demands another chance to even the score.
To the Colors sounded again at noon. Confederates had been spotted moving toward the camp. The 77th
Pennsylvania and elements of the 14th Illinois and 173rd New York, formed the second company. The
battalion crossed the fields we had vacated and stopped well on the left, near a treeline. A fence across the field
to our front looked to be an impediment to the Johnnies that we could exploit.
Several hundred yards to our right, the second battalion was attacked by Rebel cavalry, who were screening a battalion
of Johnnies. The engagement was on. We watched, as if at a sporting event, as our comrades engaged the enemy.
But the Reb fire was too much and the second battalion was forced to back up, grudgingly, little by little.
The Rebel cavalry paid us a visit. They rode at us, but two full volleys emptied so many saddles that their ferocious
charge became a mere distraction. The gray and butternut bodies strewn before us belied the old adage that one never
sees a dead cavalryman.
An even more disturbing distraction greeted us from the rear. Off inside the treeline behind us, we could hear
the steady tromp of marching infantry. Occasionally we could catch a glimpse of gray moving inside the trees.
With the second battalion being pressed on our right and enemy movement behind us, the first battalion wisely fell back
by wings to a slight ridge in our rear. With that, Col. Gross had outmaneuvered the Rebs. When they came out of
the woods they were to our front, not on our flank. Our first volley dropped Johnnies by the score. But with the
second battalion forced back on our right, we could not hold our ground.
Again we retreated by wing to another slight rise. From there we slugged it out with the Rebs, murderous iron singing
through the air in both directions. A carpet of blue and gray bodies piled up between the lines, the moans of the wounded
adding to the deathly chorus.
Suddenly the Confederates broke off the engagement and fell back, melting into the trees. We were grateful for
the respite. Moving to the edge of the field we took the opportunity to eat something and rest for the next engagement,
which we knew would surely come.
After an interminable pause, in response to the commotion of cannon in our rear, we moved through a gap in the trees
into another open field. There we faced more Confederates. But the contact here was insignificant. We fired
little, but moved across the field toward rail breastworks in our front, leaving the second battalion to deal with the Rebs
in our rear.
Cannons belching fire and brimstone erupted on our right and left. Before us, far across a field, were Rebel soldiers
without end, more numerous than sands on a beach. Secesh artillery hurled their deadly iron at us. The crack of
the musket mingled with the thunder of the cannon to create a din almost too loud for the human ear to tolerate.
Orders, however, could still be heard, though barely. As enemy infantry marched towards us, Col. Gross put Capt.
Kinzer in charge of the right wing of the battalion with orders to fire by company. The crisp volleys of the second
company went through the ranks of the Johnnies like a scythe through wheat, only instead of cutting down stalks of green and
gold it cut down men in gray and brown.
But the enemy fire was cutting into our ranks, too. The angry whine of minie balls buzzed like hornets about our
ears. The air was so thick with lead if one could have held up his forage cap, it could have been filled in an instant
with the deadly metal.
Behind us, the stretcher bearers were busy bringing the wounded to the surgeon. He, in turn, was up to his elbows
in blood in his attempts to mend the torn and mangled bodies.
Our volleys continued crisp and clean as the Cesh minions piled up in droves. But the Johnnies only reformed and
hit us again, like a pugilist that won't go down. Over and over they came at us, each time leaving a carpet of gray
and butternut behind. The tortured writhing of the wounded gave motion to the scene; a crawling effect that sent shivers
down the spine of the staunchest heart.
My men were concerned with the events behind us as well as those ahead. The Rebels had forced our rearguard so
close they were almost in the works with us. I gave the order to face forward and continue firing.
Like a spring storm the clouds of war flashed lethal fire and rained droplets of death across the battlefield.
After what seemed like hours of a steady shower of murderous metal, a long line of cannons that surrounded the field thundered
at us in a continuous hail of iron. Exploding shells tormented the ground in front of us to the point it began to look
like the scarred face of the moon.
The cannons stopped. From across the field a sea of Secesh marched determinedly toward us, their banners waving
an angry taunt. That hellish Rebel Yell pierced our souls, sharpening every nerve to its very edge. We fired for
all we were worth, cutting them down with every volley. But there was no stopping them.
Behind us our rear guard had collapsed. There was no one left. Contemptuous of our fire, the Johnnies came
over the works. Surrounded, we were forced to suffer the utter humiliation of surrender.
During the evening, the Cesh let their guard down. Many of us escaped. By daybreak, more of us had escaped
than I ever would have suspected. Union reinforcements had arrived during the night, as well, and when the bugle called
us together practically the whole first battalion were able to fall in. The 173rd New York again joined
with the 77th Pennsylvania to form the second company in line of battle.
We were one of three battalions as we crossed the field toward battle. We began marching by the flank, then went
into a column of companies, as we approached a line of trees. Some pesky Cesh popped up in front of us, but we formed
a battle line and drove them quickly off. We crossed through the treeline into another field.
Reb cavalry tried to impede our advance, but a crisp volley drove them away, too. As the Johnnies tried to circle
behind us, we somehow became inverted, our only mistake in maneuver throughout the three-day battle. Once we had straightened
that out, no Rebels could challenge us.
We steered toward some rail breastworks astride our line of march. When we got close, with hardly an order the
men surged into the works, taking firing positions. Across the way, we could see the movement of butternut and gray.
On our right, our artillery cleared their lethal throats, erupting in angry iron at the Rebs.
Before us, Johnnies on horseback came to challenge our ranks. Our own cavalry came up behind, and we opened the
way as they vaulted the works to get at the Rebs. But the Cesh horsemen seem to be faster than ours, for they had already
circled behind us by the time ours had crossed the works to face them. An infantry volley drove their horsemen, however,
and our own cavalry came to grips, forcing them from the field.
The Rebels then fleshed out skirmishers to irritate us, but our boys casually took aim and fired a few potshots at them.
They were as calm and cool as if on a squirrel hunt.
Behind the skirmishers, the Rebel hordes curled into a powerful, massive fist, ready to slam into us and pound us into
submission. But our boys were confident, our spirits were high, and we stood our ground with a grim resolution.
I don't know how many Johnnies there were. Thousands at least. We held our fire until they were close enough
to see their eyes. Then, with a single order, we mowed them down. Our first blast ripped through their ranks,
dropping Rebs by the score. Our second felled as many more. Our third caused them to falter, their dead laying
in great gray heaps before us. A fourth volley and they fell back, too shattered to hold.
Forward, Men! Out of the works and into the field, vaulting past the dead and dying, we surged at them like
a ferocious beast tearing at the juglar. They stopped to deliver a disorganized volley, but we kept on them, sure of
a righteous victory. A final blast and they melted from the field, leaving us to savor the fruits of victory, aid the
wounded and bury the dead. We had seen the last of this Disloyal Army for some time.
It is an officer's duty to censure any soldiers who shirked their duty and to praise any men who displayed special gallantry.
Not a single soldier from the 77th Pennsylvania, nor any of those from other units that fell in with us, neither
the 14th Illinois, 25th Missouri nor the 173rd New York, showed the least evidence of cowardice.
On the contrary, every man did his duty to the fullest, displaying gallantry and courage above reproach. It is my great
priviledge to attest to the bravery and steadiness of all the men under my command throughout the arduous three-day battle.
While it seems unfair to single out any men among such stalwart, brave pillars of the Union, I would be remiss if I did
not point out the continuous displays of devotion shown by Sgts. Cleon Plunk and Jake Krumwiede, Cpl. Earl Rice and Pvts.
Frank Siltman, Jonathan Siltman, Devon Woodruff, Blaine Plunk, Frank Olivera, Scott Sproat, Ryan Pendergraft and Joshua Kane.
Others merit praise who did not carry a musket. Though they carried only instruments midst shot and shell, Musicians
Calvin Lamoreux, Claude Lamoreux and Conner Flansburg never shrank from their duty. Sgt. John Miller and Pvt. Wayne
Hood, unable to take up arms through no fault of their own, toiled ceaselessly in camp. Laundresses Anita Butterworth,
Vaunda OIivera and Kailey Pendergraft also toiled without complaint and brightened up our otherwise dreary surroundings.
Surgeon Major Jim Langley, aided by bearers Michael Hudgeons and Trevor Okerstrom, spent most of the battle deep in blood
and exertion, valiantly attempting to save the wounded, regardless of loyalties. Cpl. Scott Gray volunteered to guard
President Lincoln as he toured the field.
It is with regret that I only know the first names of the men who fell in beside us, save one, Mike Strange, though every
single individual deserves the highest praise.
I have the honor to be your most humble and obedient servant,
Capt. Rex Griffin
Coy. E, 77th Pennsylvania
The Bell Guards
PRESS ON REGARDLESS!
First Sergeant Plunk's report on the company that remained on the front line Friday night:
Under the capable hands of Captain Landen Wilson, we faced a cold and dreary night near the enemy. He ordered us
to build a line of breastworks in the woods to our north about twenty feet away. We built the work and dug in. Firewood
details kept the flames stoke for cooking supper, cleaning weapons and keeping the men warm through the bitter night.
When the chores were done the men had time to relax. Some men played cards and checkers. Others sang. Some reread their
letters and talked of home. Some told tall tales. And some spent the evening in quiet reflection.
After the long fight that day the men were exhausted and all were in the blankets by 2200 hours. Captain Wilson ordered
me wake the men at 0530.
During the night we heard shots that seemed very close. The rebels kept us on edge all night. Between the rebs and
the cold we didn't get much sleep. Aroused by me that morning, before we could wipe the sleep from our eyes, the Rebs hit
us with three brigades from three directions. Our total forces were just 45 men. We got off two shots before they were in
our camp stealing our breakfast and rifling our gear. They told us to surrender or be killed to the last man. Captain Wilson
had no choice but to surrender the command. We were marched out an hour later after the sun came up. We marched south toward
the sounds of fighting.
The Johnnies were evidently pressed, as they paroled us on our honor not fight any more. Then they let us go.
We marched until we were out of their sight. Seeing our boys engaged with the enemy, we hit the Johnnies in their exposed
left flank. We tried but we didn't have enough men. We were pushed back and retreated, then pushed back again. The Rebs
lost interest in us and we were able to work our way around until we were finally able to rejoin the battalion.
Sunday morning, the 17th instant, the 77th Pennsylvania went to Shiloh National Military Park to hold a ceremony
at the 77th Pennsylvania monument. Besides members of the group, we were accompanied by surgeon and Major Jim
First Sgt. Cleon Plunk, with a lump firmly in his throat, read the prayer of Jacob Isenberger of the original 77th
Pennsylvania, given on the occasion of the dedication of the monument. Capt. Griffin then delivered the words of
William L. Woodcock, also of the original 77th, spoken at the monument's dedication. Cpl. Earl Rice then uttered
a heartfelt prayer to the spirits of the men of the original 77th. We finished by singing the theme song of
It was a very moving ceremony that left none of us untouched. We felt immersed in pride.
I have the honor to be your most humble and obedient servant,
Capt. Rex Griffin
Coy. E, 77th Pennsylvania
The Bell Guards
PRESS ON REGARDLESS!