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"Seeing the Elephant"

"Seeing the Elephant": Raw Recruits at the Battle of Shiloh

Joseph Allan Frank
George A. Reaves
Copyright Date: 1989
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    "Seeing the Elephant"
    Book Description:

    One of the bloodiest battles in the Civil War, the two-day engagement near Shiloh, Tennessee, in April 1862 left more than 23,000 casualties. Fighting alongside seasoned veterans were more than 160 newly recruited regiments and other soldiers who had yet to encounter serious action. In the phrase of the time, these men came to Shiloh to “see the elephant." Drawing on the letters, diaries, and other reminiscences of these raw recruits on both sides of the conflict, “Seeing the Elephant" gives a vivid and valuable primary account of the terrible struggle. From the wide range of voices included in this volume emerges a nuanced picture of the psychology and motivations of the novice soldiers and the ways in which their attitudes toward the war were affected by their experiences at Shiloh.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09804-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    At last Ambrose Bierce could hear it, “a dull distant sound like the heavy breathing of some great animal below the horizon” (Bierce 1966: I, 235).¹ It had a mournful, yet ominous groan, as it rose and fell on the wind. The column listened, shivered, and shook itself back into motion, plunging on. Bierce, an Indiana volunteer, was exhilarated and eager at the prospect of “seeing the elephant” (Bierce 1966: I, 235).² As he and his comrades approached Shiloh from the opposite bank of the Tennessee River, the moans of distant battle became more distinct, the muffled rumble became a...

  5. Historical Prologue: The Shiloh Campaign
    (pp. 11-16)

    Major General Don Carlos Buell, who had commanded the Army of the Ohio, called Shiloh “ ‘the most famous and most interesting [battle] of the war’ ” (Nixon 1958: 144).¹ It is not hard to find reasons for its uniqueness: in numbers engaged, in intensity of fighting, and in the realization after the battle that the war would be fought differently than the volunteers had assumed. Rather than heroic brief engagements and grand strategic maneuvers, warfare had one objective: killing as many enemy soldiers as possible. In size and intensity, Shiloh signalled the change. In this respect, the clash at...

  6. 1 Mobilization
    (pp. 17-46)

    The men who enlisted to later fight at Shiloh were swept up by patriotic fervor. “The Fort [Sumter] has surrendered…. We now have terrible times … the war feeling in the North is immense. We are United,” wrote Saul Howell in his diary (April 16 and 25, 1861). Son of a Pella, Iowa, physician, Howell was about to get his degree at Central College, but after Sumter he was enlisting instead. In the South, the same atmosphere prevailed. Citizens everywhere were taking up arms. Militia outfits were being forged at town meetings throughout the land. Even little Arkansas, with its...

  7. 2 “The Tented Field”
    (pp. 47-64)

    The soldiers began campaigning in autumn 1861. Some of the troops went to what is now West Virginia, others to Kentucky, and still others to Missouri. The recruits that are the focus of this study saw little fighting in the early operations while they were becoming acquainted with life in the field, where they had to cope with inclement weather, learned field crafts, and endured life without any privacy. They also came in contact with the new camp mores when young men are turned loose on their own for the first time. And above all they became acquainted with the...

  8. 3 Campaigning
    (pp. 65-86)

    The Western armies at last shook themselves into motion and headed toward the front. We will look through the eyes of the soldiers to see how they reacted to the people and places of the war zone and to see how this affected their morale. “All things look like marching,” wrote a soldier to Howard County, Indiana, as the regiment’s baggage was lightened, the men were issued their forty rounds of ammunition, and they embarked on steamers (The Howard Tribune, November 12, 1861). The army of volunteers were at last en route to the war zone.

    No one would have...

  9. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  10. 4 “Seeing the Elephant”
    (pp. 87-128)

    “The left of our regt [the 70th Ohio] rests on a log church called Chilo Chapel,” wrote Colonel D. C. Loudon to his wife. He described it as “a hard looking structure[.] From its appearance, I judge it to belong to the Baptists of the Hard shell persuasion” (To Hannah, March 23, 1862). By mischance, Loudon and his men were camped at the very vortex of the coming storm, the place where one of the bloodiest engagements of the Civil War took place. More were killed and wounded in the two days at Shiloh, than were lost in the entire...

  11. 5 Tactical Reappraisals
    (pp. 129-166)

    Shiloh’s volunteers had no rigorous training program to prepare them for their initiation to combat. Their military rite of passage was combat itself, and this crucible fostered their shared identity and unit pride. After battle studies have shown, most soldiers gain confidence in themselves and in their units’ tactical abilities (R. Holmes 1986: 47, 218). Shiloh’s soldiers were no exception. Their correspondence reflected a rising esteem for their regiments. Their letters lauded their units’ achievements to the people back home so that they could share in its accomplishments. They also vigorously defended their regiment against any criticism in the hometown...

  12. 6 Strategic and Political Assessment
    (pp. 167-184)

    “This is the hardest faugh Battle Ever faugh on this Contanent,” or for added emphasis, “in Erope,” Captain Jim Lawrence, 61st Illinois, wrote about assessing the scope of the engagement (To wife and children, April 8, 1862). The letters and diaries are replete with allusions to the enormity of the battle. An Alabamian boasted that it was said to be “the bloodest battle ever was fought. The manases battle is not a circustance to it” (J.M. Stevens to Mary (wife], April 8, 1862). By comparison, Fort Donelson was merely described as an “interesting fight … a mear skrimishe to what...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 185-200)
  14. Index
    (pp. 201-215)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 216-216)