After Action Report for the

5th Indiana Light Artillery

at the Battle of Shiloh

March 30-April 1, 2012

 

 

To:     Colonel Charles Warnick, Chief of Staff, Army of the Tennessee

CC:   Major Loren Feldkamp, Commander, 1st Artillery Battalion

Captain Kent Johnson, Commander, Battery B, 1st Battalion

From: First Lieutenant Kermit Hilles, 5th Indiana Light Artillery

 

 

Friday March 30

Training in the Rain

 

After a confusing, but ultimately successful, search for the registration site, we arrived at the camp of the Army of the Tennessee on Thursday evening, March 29. We brought two guns to camp and were assigned as the middle section of B Battery, 1st Artillery Battalion. Although designated as the middle section, we were never actually deployed in the middle of the battery, and eventually were left, through no fault of battalion or battery officers, to fend for ourselves.

 

Those present with the section included 1st Lieut. Kermit Hilles, 1st Corporal James Borland, 2nd Corporal Rick Grove, and Privates Robert Burd, Sr., Robert Burd, Jr., Dan Brechner, Ron Grove, Chris Johnson, Nick Johnson, Bill Krebs, and Doug Sterpka. Members present on the field, but not serving with the battery were Bill (E.W.) Baas, Eric Essex, Chuck Warnick and Mike Zimmer.

 

It began raining early Friday morning. Because several veteran members of the organization were detailed to general staff for the duration of the event, and because we had a number of new recruits, we felt we had to devote much of the morning to the school of the piece. By early afternoon, having sufficiently trained the fresh fish, we returned to our tents. Shortly after that it stopped raining, but by then sufficient mud had been created to make things messy for most of the rest of the event.

 

That night, the boys slept soundly, secure in the knowledge imparted by general headquarters that there were no rebels closer than Corinth, Mississippi, thirty miles away.

 


Saturday March 31

A Desperate Last Stand Around Old Glory

 

In the morning, we learned that either general headquarters was in error or that the rebels could march further and faster overnight than anyone had heretofore given them credit for. The 1st Battalion was wakened before dawn and after a hasty breakfast, we were called to arms right outside a nearby infantry camp where we were posted as the right section of Battery B. The battle began to our right and we could hear the Godawful rebel yell and rolling volleys of rifle fire and booming artillery long before we saw a single rebel.

 

Federal infantry soon filed into our rear to support us, and shortly after that we came under fire from rebel artillery posted at the edge of a nearby woods. After we had exchanged several rounds with the rebels, our infantry moved forward, blocking our fire, as is their custom, and engaged Confederate infantry approaching the camp. The morning was damp and almost  without a breeze; I have never before seen smoke lie so heavily on a battlefield. Many times our vision of the enemy was completely obscured.

 

The Johnnies were in high feather that morning and soon moved forward in an irresistible mass. Our infantry broke and fled, leaving us unsupported. The section was then overrun by those lowdown bushwackers of the 4th Kentucky Infantry (CS) who chased us through the camp and into the woods beyond. Their captain yelled something about our guns being his (which is, of course, literally true).

 

By the afternoon, Federal resistance began to stiffen. The section, now reduced by casualties and captures to one gun, was moved along with the rest of 1st Battalion to what they called The Peach Orchard (though I saw no peach trees there) where we set up a strong gun line several hundred yards from the 2nd Artillery Battalion. From our position we could see Confederate artillery which, though obviously inferior in quality, was greatly superior in quantity.

 

Then, about a half an hour before the suspected attack, word came that 1st Battalion was in the wrong place. We were supposed to be at the Hornets Nest, not the Peach Orchard. The term SNAFU leaps to mind in describing this occurrence. Apparently someone had misread a map. You notice, Colonel Warnick, that we mention no names here.

 


A panicked movement ensued with guns being withdrawn to the Hornets Nest as quickly as transportation could be arranged. They moved the guns beginning from the right. Battery B was on the left of the Battalion, and we were deployed as the left section of the battery, so we were the last gun to be moved.

 

And, as it turns out, we didnt move very far. Before we had gone even a hundred yards, word came that the rebels were coming and that it was too late to move any further.  They dropped the gun there, told us we were on our own, and drove off into the distance. Someday we will probably laugh about all this at GAR reunions.

 

We unlimbered the gun and then, with morale already low and mutters of discontent being uttered, an officer rode up and shouted that we shouldnt be here (Duh!) and that we had to move the gun immediately (Huh!!). Seriously, Sir, this really happened. I dont have enough imagination to make this stuff up.  

 

I am aware that there are rumors accusing Cpl. Grove of being insubordinate to this officer, an allegation we deny. I will concede, however, that his comments were blunt and, perhaps, intemperate. And to be truthful with you, as I always try to be in these reports, he used more profanity than was absolutely necessary. One or two expletives would probably have sufficed.

 

In our defense, the officer should have come to me rather than accost a corporal. I would have told him much the same thing Cpl. Grove did, but in a more polite and less profane manner. Moreover, an officer who expects to be treated with respect and deference should not issue orders that are incapable of execution. Even an infantry officer should have known at a glance we couldnt move the gun. In any event, it appears that talk of a court martial has died down, so we will speak no more of this incident.

 

The enemy artillery soon opened up. The 2nd Battalion engaged the right half of the 64 guns the Confederates arrayed against us while we took on the left half, including The Twenty Four Pound Howitzer, the pride and joy of the Confederate Artillery corps.  It was a target rich environment. The rebel firing line was a truly impressive sight, but it was depressing to be in front of it.

 

The artillery fight was going about as well as you could expect a duel between one gun and 32 guns to go when Federal infantry finally arrived to support


us. As is their custom, they moved in front of us, blocking our fire. But since this also protected us from Confederate fire, I personally forgave them on this occasion.

 

Unfortunately, our infantry did no better than they had done earlier in the day. They soon departed in some haste in the direction of the Hornets Nest, abandoning us to our fate. It wasnt a good day for infantry support. Perhaps my horoscope would have mentioned that fact had I bothered to read it.

 

The rebel infantry also appeared to have withdrawn, so we stood down and attempted to avoid drawing attention to ourselves. Then we heard a loud rebel yell in the distance, and soon saw an infantry battle line stretching at least a half mile as far as the eye could see advancing on us. It was an impressive sight, the Army of Mississippi coming to assault the Hornets Nest. We increased our efforts to be inconspicuous.

 

As the Johnnies marched past us by you could tell from the looks on their faces that they were wondering what kind of dd fools would leave a lone unsupported artillery piece in such an exposed position. We also wondered the same thing. We heard the subsequent Confederate attack on the Hornets Nest, where we should have been. We lost that one too, I am told.

 

We returned to camp where we had an excellent meal. To further console ourselves, we distributed a ration of pound cake along with its attendant concoction of rum soaked peaches. It was the high point of the day.

 

 

Sunday April 1

The Army of The Ohio Saves the Day

 

Because both guns had been overrun and captured on the first day and as a result of casualties, illness, and other losses, the middle section was disbanded and the surviving member reassigned to one of Battery Bs other sections. The tactical situation had improved over night with the arrival of fresh troops from the Army of the Ohio. Today, it was our turn to attack.

 


The Federal cavalry moved out first, supported by the 1st Artillery Battalion, and soon drove in the rebel pickets. Then fresh infantry from the Army of the Ohio moved through our gun line and drove the enemy from the field. Among this host I saw Cpl. Tim Varvil, who we have been carrying on our rolls as AWOL. He says he wanted a branch transfer to the infantry in order to get a ride on a river boat; that is his story, and he is sticking to it. The Army of the Ohio also contained the gallant heroes of the 4th Kentucky Infantry (US). It is amazing what a difference a change of clothing can make.

 

Both of our guns were recaptured by our advancing infantry and we were able to load them on the trailer for the return to Mill Springs. We also participated in the high point of the event (from the treasurers point of view), and were issued 30 pounds of powder as a bounty.

 

 

Conclusion

Back Home Again in Indiana

 

No one in the section suffered any serious injury, our canvas was brought home dry, we ate well and had pound cake for desert, we left the event with more powder than we brought, our battery and battalion officers were great to work with, and the battle ended with the Federal army in possession of the field.  Accordingly, despite the mud and some administrative and tactical SNAFUS, I consider the event a success.

 

 

Your Obedient Servant

 

Kermit R. Hilles

1st Lieutenant USV

5th Indiana Light Artillery