Sunday, April 28, 2013

Shiloh Battlefield Revisited (G.W. Askew and Blythe’s Mississippi Regiment)

Last Fall I had the opportunity to revisit the Shiloh Battlefield with my father … we were able to spend several hours at the Shiloh Battlefield National Park.  We took our time and followed the route of Blythe’s Mississippi Regiment aka 44th Mississippi of April 6 and 7, 1862.  We purchased a Park Map from the Visitors Center, found the battlefield markers related to Blythe’s Mississippi Regiment and Bushrod Johnson’s Brigade, and set out to retrace their steps.  Of course, Blythe’s Mississippi Regiment holds a special place in our hearts as this was the unit that my GGGrandfather George Washington Askew volunteered to join at the outset of the Civil War and served with A Company known as the “Tombigbee Rangers” until May of 1862 when he was elected as a second lieutenant with the 42nd Alabama.  I have a previous Blog Post which addresses his entire time with this unit:

G. W. Askew and Blythe’s Mississippi Regiment (44th Mississippi Infantry Regiment)

Shiloh being the bloodiest and largest battle at that point in the Civil War must have been very trying for my ancestor and his regiment … prior to Shiloh the unit had participated in the action at Belmont Landing in Missouri … but, it was no comparison to the violent conflict at Shiloh.

Based on the unit markers that we found and the times depicted we followed in their footsteps through those two days of fighting.  After our visit, we took the time to review the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, studying commanders after action reports, in order to further understand the actions of Blythe’s Mississippi Rifles during those fateful two days.  This Blog post recounts our visit and the actions of Blythe’s Mississippi Rifles during the Battle of Shiloh.

I have combined the reports and paraphrased the action in order to reconstruct the timeline and unit locations.  This is not an easy task or exact science … Shiloh was a very difficult battle for command and control … the terrain was swampy, thick with vegetation, and broken … several key leaders were killed or wounded during the two day battle.  No one commander had a full view of all the actions of the unit during those two days, several commanders after action reports had to be reviewed in order to piece together the story.  This is the timeline as I can best understand:

5 APR – General Bushrod Johnson’s (Brigade Commander in which Blythe’s Mississippi Rifles was a part) report – The brigade arrived from Purdy, within about 2 miles and a half of the enemy’s encampment, after dark on the evening of the 5th instant.

6 APR 5-8 AM:  General Cheatham’s division (Johnson’s brigade belonged to this division) advanced and formed in two Brigades on either side of the Pittsburg Road (depicted as the Corinth Road on the Map) … I believe Johnson’s Brigade was on the right wing of the Division. The brigade moved at daylight of 6 April …placed on the left of Clark’s division in this order, from right to left 154th  Tennessee, Blythe’s Mississippi Regiment, Polk’s battery, 15th Tennessee Regiment, 2nd Tennessee Regiment.  COL Preston Smith of the 154th Tennessee Regiment, Blythe’s Mississippi Regiment’s ‘sister’ regiment, reported ‘In obedience to the order of Brigadier General Johnson I moved forward my command, the One hundred and fifty-fourth Senior Tennessee Regiment, at daylight on Sunday morning, on the road leading to Pittsburg, and proceeded to form a line of battle, my regiment (154th Tennessee) being on the right and Blythe’s Mississippi regiment on my left; these two regiments forming the right wing of BG Johnson’s brigade, this wing resting on the right of the road and the brigade held in reserve to support Brigadier-General Clark’s brigade.’ (OR p. 447Chapter XXII Report of Col Preston Smith 154th Tennessee Infantry Headquarters 1st Brigade, Second Division, First Grand Division, Army of the Mississippi)

6 APR 0830: The First Brigade (Johnson’s Brigade, Blythe’s Regiment) came under artillery fire at 830 and was continually employed during the entire day; ordered first to support the left flank of the forces already engaged … After 15 minutes it moved into line of battle.  The ground was broken and marshy, and movement was obstructed by a small stream, which caused delay in passing the artillery and infantry of the left wing.  Blythe’s regiment had advanced obliquely to the left and attacked the enemy in position near an encampment.

6 APR 11 AM: General Bushrod Johnson is wounded …

6 APR 11-12: It was at this time that General Johnson and half his brigade, Polk’s artillery battery, and Blythe’s unit were detached from the brigade by order of General Bragg and placed in action on the right.  Blythe’s Regiment advanced to the left and attacked the enemy’s batteries, with its support, from its position; but, as it advanced upon the enemy COL Blythe was shot dead from his horse while gallantly leading his regiment forward to the charge.  General Frank Cheatham, Division Commander stated, “Colonel Blythe and his lieutenant-colonel, Herron, sealed their devotion to their country with their life’s blood.”  (OR p. 443 Chapter XXII Report of Major General B. F. Cheatham, Commander Second Division, First Grand Division, Army of the Mississippi)

COL Preston Smith (154th Tennessee Commander) is placed in charge of the Brigade as General Johnson is incapacitated by his wounds …

COL Smith formed the brigade on the right of the avenue leading by the second encampment of the enemy, on the Pittsburg road (Now the Corinth Road on the map), and just beyond the cross-roads. His report states, ‘On my arrival there I found about 200 of Blythe’s Mississippi Regiment fit for duty.’ (OR p. 447Chapter XXII Report of Col Preston Smith 154th Tennessee Infantry Headquarters 1st Brigade, Second Division, First Grand Division, Army of the Mississippi) The Union forces, probably the 45th Illinois Infantry’ shortly thereafter advanced from the North to the South … Blythe’s Mississippi Regiment and the 154th Tennessee advanced to meet the enemy (Blythe was already KIA as well as his second in command).  This action occurs at the North portion of Wolf Field.  After 30 minutes of conflict; the entire Brigade advances after severe casualties.  Ammunition is running low and most of the brigade needs to resupply from the Ammo Wagons ….Blythe’s Regiment remains, at the North end of Wolf field, in order to support Polk’s Battery placed at this point … while the other regiments conducted ammo resupply from the supply wagons.  The enemy advanced on the battery and Blythe’s regimental sharpshooters on the road just ahead of the battery.  Blythe’s Regiment held the ground while the other regiments resupplied.  Blythe’s Regiment was supported by Co L of the 154th Tennessee armed with Maynard Rifles.  As the other regiments began to return from resupply, they successfully repelled the attack.  The Brigade was ordered to move West toward the River and to support the 38th Tennessee to the left of the road leading toward Pittsburg landing.  The Brigade then moved forward and occupied the last encampment of the enemy in the direction of the river.  At sunset the entire command was ordered to retire. 

The exact accounts for Blythe’s regiment are not detailed, at some point after the fighting in Wolf Field, Blythe’s Regiment is sent for ammunition resupply.  It is assumed that after this resupply the regiment moves back up to link up with the brigade; but, it is difficult to know for sure .. because after the fighting at Wolf Field the brigade turns and moves West toward the River … COL Smith doesn’t receive any reports from Blythe’s regiment until he discovers them at midnight on April 6.  In addition, Blythe’s regiment has lost both its Commander and Deputy … now being under the command of Major Moore.  With the difficulty in terrain and communications it is hard to truly know the exact position and timing of Blythe’s regiment.  In addition, at some point, late on the evening of April 6, the regiment is apparently split in two separate locations … further confusing the situation.  However, it is assumed that the regiment links back up with the Brigade at some point and defended, along with the remaining units of the Confederate Army of the Mississippi, along the Dill Branch, until ordered to retire on the evening of 6 April by General Beauregard.  The order to retire was not an order to retreat, at this point, General Beauregard was very confident of a victory, he merely wanted to pull back in order to regroup for a final assault on April 7. 

6 APR Late Evening: COL Smith finds Blythe’s regiment encamped not far from General Beauregard’s Headquarters.

7 APR Early Monday Morning – Vicinity of Beauregard’s Headquarters: At an early hour, heavy firing is heard to the right (toward Pittsburg Landing, this is most likely the Union counter attack) and the Brigade moves toward the fighting.  The brigade formed in line of battle, in the vicinity of Sarah Bell’s old Cotton Field, with several other regiments and moved forward under the command of General Cheatham.  The brigade pushed the enemy, after suffering severe casualties and running low on ammunition, the brigade retired for resupply.  After resupply and upon returning to the field … COL Smith is wounded and the remaining soldiers of the Brigade fell in with Brigadier General Wither’s command until General Beauregard ordered his entire command to retire from the field toward Corinth, Mississippi.

Beauregard’s withdrawal order came at 2PM on April 7, thus ending the actions for Blythe’s Mississippi Regiment at Shiloh …

In addition, mentioned in COL Preston Smith’s report is Captain Sharp of A Company, Blythe’s Mississippi Rifles, my GGGrandfather’s company commander.  Captain Sharp would later become General Sharp and after the Civil War his daughter marries G.W. Askew’s brother, J. H. Askew.

As a side note, the battle flag of A Co, Blythe’s Mississippi Rifles is now on display at the Stephen D. Lee House in Columbus, Mississippi; this could very well could be the flag that my GGGrandfather followed during the battle of Shiloh.

Map depicting the movements of Blythe's Mississippi Regiment during the Battle of Shiloh
Click to make larger

Jacob Sharp served as the Company Commander for my GGGrandfather's unit, A Company, Blythe's Mississippi Rifles during the Battle of Shiloh
Battle Flag of A Co Blythe's Mississippi Rifles

Brigadier General Bushrod Johnson - Brigade Commander  
Colonel Preston Smith (assumed command of the Brigade when Johnson was wounded)

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