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This Country of Ours - H. E. Marshall

Lincoln—The Battle of Shiloh and the Taking of New Orleans

With Grant other successes soon followed the taking of Fort Donelson, and many places both in Kentucky and Tennessee fell into the hands of the Federals.

By the beginning of April Grant with an army of forty thousand men lay at Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River. At Corinth, about thirty miles to the south, the Confederates were gathered in equal force. But although the Confederates were so near and in such force the Federals took no heed. They had of late won so many easy victories that they had begun to think lightly of the foe. So no attempt was made to protect the Union army. No trenches were dug, and but few scouts were sent out to watch the movements of the enemy. The Confederate leader, General Johnston, therefore determined to creep up stealthily, and attack the Federals where they lay in fancied security.

As secretly as possible he left Corinth, and marched towards Pittsburg Landing. The weather had been wet, the roads were deep in mud, but in spite of dreadful difficulties for two days the army toiled silently on. At length on the night of Saturday the 5th of April they arrived within four miles of the Federal lines.

Here they halted for the night. The men had brought no tents, they dared light no fires lest they should be seen by the foe. So, weary, wet, and shivering they lay on the cold damp ground, awaiting the dawn, while secure in the comfortable shelter of their tents the Federals slept peacefully. So secure indeed did Grant feel his position to be that he was not with his army that night, but at Savannah some miles distant.

At daybreak the Federal camp was astir. Men were washing and dressing, some were cooking or eating breakfast, most of the officers were still abed, when suddenly the sound of shots broke the Sunday stillness, and the wild "rebel yell" rent the air.

A moment later the surrounding woods seemed to open and pour forth an army. With tremendous dash the Confederates flung themselves upon the half dressed, weaponless crowd of men who fled before them, or were bayoneted before they could seize their muskets. Thus the greatest battle that as yet had been fought on the continent of America was begun.

Soon the roar of cannon reached Grant at Savannah. He knew at once that a fierce battle had begun, and flinging himself on his horse he hurried back to the camp. At eight o'clock in the morning he arrived. But already it seemed as if his army was defeated. It was, however, to be no easy victory for the Confederates. Many of the Federals were only raw recruits, but after the first surprise and flight they rallied repeatedly, making many a stubborn stand against the onslaught of the foe, which from the first great charge of early dawn till darkness fell never seemed to slacken.

In many coloured uniforms, with many coloured pennons waving over them, the Confederates charged again and yet again. And with each charge the air was rent with their wild yell, which could be heard far and wide, even above the roar of the cannon. Bit by bit the Union army was pressed back. They fought doggedly as they went while from division to division rode Grant cheering them, directing them, urging them to greater and ever greater efforts.

Some of the fiercest fighting raged round the little log meeting house called Shiloh, and from this meeting house the battle takes its name. Sherman commanded here, and he held his untried men together with marvellous skill, handling them as no other commander on the field could have done, said Grant later.

On the Confederate side through the thickest of the battle rode Johnston. More than once his horse was shot under him, and his clothes were torn to pieces, but still through the fray he rode unharmed. At length a ball hit him in the thigh. He paid no heed. Still his tall soldierly figure dominated the battle, still his ringing voice cheered on his men. Then suddenly the voice grew faint, the tall figure bent, and a deathly whiteness overspread his cheeks.

"General, are you wounded?" asked one of his officers, anxiously.

"Yes," he answered, faintly, "and I fear badly."

They were his last words. Gently he was lifted from his horse and laid on the ground, and in a few minutes he died.

When the sun went down the Confederates claimed the victory. But if victory it was it was too dearly bought with the death of their commander-in-chief. Nor did the Federals own themselves beaten. They were dumbfounded and bleeding, but not shattered. They felt that the struggle was not over, and still facing each other the weary armies lay down to rest on the field, under the lashing rain, each side well aware that with the morrow would come the decisive contest.

All through the night the guns from the river boomed and crashed, and rain fell in torrents, adding to the discomforts of the wearied men, making sleep almost impossible.

When day dawned rain still fell in a cold and dismal drizzle. The Federals, however, rose cheerfully, for the inspiriting news that twenty-five thousand fresh troops had arrived ran through the lines. Before the sun had well risen the battle began again, but now the advantage was on the Federal side.

The Confederates fought bravely still. To and fro rode General Beauregard cheering on his men, but step by step they were driven backward, and by noon were in full retreat. Then as the Federals realised that the day was theirs cheer after cheer went up from their lines.

The second day's fighting had turned the battle of Shiloh into a victory for the Union, although not a decisive one. On the same day, however, the navy captured a strongly fortified island on the Mississippi called Island Number Ten, with its garrison of seven thousand men and large stores of guns and ammunition. This considerably increased the force of the victory of Shiloh, and gave the Federals control of the Mississippi Valley from Cairo to Memphis.

Meanwhile command of the lower Mississippi had also been wrested from the Confederates by General Benjamin F. Butler in command of the army, and Commander David Glasgow Farragut in command of the fleet.

Captain Farragut who was already sixty-three at this time was a Southerner by birth, but he had never faltered in his allegiance to the Union. "Mind what I tell you," he said to his brother officers, when they tried to make him desert his flag, "you fellows will catch the devil before you get through with this business." And so unshaken was his faith that he was trusted with the most important naval expedition of the war, the taking of New Orleans.

New Orleans is about a hundred miles from the mouth of the Mississippi and the Confederates, who were aware even more than the Federals of the importance of the great waterway, had from the very beginning done their utmost to secure it. Seventy-five miles below New Orleans two forts named Jackson and St. Phillips guarded the approaches to the city. These the Confederates had enormously strengthened, and had stretched a great chain between them from bank to bank, to prevent the passage of hostile ships. They had also gathered a fleet of ironclads and gunboats further to defend the city.

But in spite of all these defences the Federals determined to take New Orleans and on the 18th of April the Union ships began to bombard the forts. The Confederates replied fiercely, and for four days the sky seemed ablaze and the earth shook. Then having succeeded in cutting the chain across the river Farragut determined to sail past the fort and take New Orleans.

At two o'clock in the morning the ships began to move. The night was dark but very still and clear, and soon the noise of slipping anchor cables warned the enemy of what was afoot. Then a very hail of shot and shell fell upon the Federal boats. Burning fire ships too were sent down upon them, and the red light of battle lit up the darkness. Yet through the baptism of fire the vessels held on their way undaunted. The forts were passed, the Confederate fleet disabled and put to flight, and Farragut sailed unhindered up the river.

At his approach, New Orleans was seized with panic. Filled with a nameless fear women and children ran weeping through the streets, business of every kind was at a standstill. The men, mostly grey-haired veterans and boys, turned the keys in their office doors, and hurried to join the volunteer regiments, bent on fighting to the last for their beloved city. Thousands of bales of cotton were carried to the wharves, and there set on fire, lest they should fall into the hands of the enemy. Ships too were set on fire, and cast loose, till it seemed as if the whole river front was wrapped in flames. Thirty miles away the glare could be seen in the sky, and at the sight even strong men bowed their heads and wept. For they knew it meant that New Orleans had fallen, and that the Queen of Southern cities was a captive.

But there was no fighting, for General Lovell who was in command of the city marched away with his army as soon as the Union ships appeared. The citizens who were left were filled with impotent wrath and despair. They felt themselves betrayed. They had been assured that the city would fight to the last. Now their defenders had marched away leaving them to the mercy of the conqueror.

The streets were soon filled with a dangerous, howling, cursing mob many of them armed, all of them desperate. Yet calmly through it, as if on parade, marched two Federal officers, without escort or protection of any kind. The mob jostled them, shook loaded pistols in their faces, yelling and cursing the while. But the two officers marched on side by side unmoved, showing neither anger nor fear, turning neither to right nor to left until they reached the city hall, where they demanded the surrender of the city.

"It was one of the bravest deeds I ever saw done," said a Southerner, who as a boy of fourteen watched the scene.

By the taking of New Orleans Farragut won for himself great fame. His fame was all the greater because in his fleet he had none of the newly invented ironclads. With only wooden vessels he had fought and conquered. "It was a contest between iron hearts and wooden vessels, and iron clads with iron beaks, and the iron hearts won," said Captain Bailey who served in the expedition under Farragut.

After taking New Orleans Farragut sailed up the river and took Baton Rouge, the state capital. So at length the Federals had control of the whole lower river as far as Vicksburg. The upper river from Cairo was also secure to the Federals. Thus save for Vicksburg the whole valley was in their hands, and the Confederacy was practically cut in two.

But Vicksburg stood firm for the South. When called upon to surrender the governor refused. "I have to state," he said, "that Mississippians do not know, and refuse to learn, how to surrender to an enemy. If Commodore Farragut, or Brigadier General Butler, can teach them, let them come and try."

At the time soldiers enough could not be spared to help the fleet to take Vicksburg. So for the time being it was left alone.