The following letter was written by Thomas Chinn Robertson of Company C "Delta Rifles" of the 4th Louisiana Infantry of his experience at the Battle of Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862). His letter appeared in the Woman's Enterprise on April 7, 1922. The below post is Robertson's account of April 6th. Robertson's account of April 7th will follow in a later post.
Background information: The 4th Louisiana was attached to Colonel Randall L. Gibson's Brigade. Gibson's Brigade consisted of the 4th, 13th and 19th Louisiana Regiments and the 1st Arkansas Regiment. Gibson's Brigade was in the second line and advanced in support of Woods' and Shaver's Brigades. When these two brigades pushed Preteniss' division from his line, they were turned to the left oblique to advance through Lost Field. This left Gibson's Brigade, ordered to act as a support, left alone in Barnes Field. At about noon, Major General Braxton Bragg, commanding the II Corps that Gibson belonged to, to attack the Union line across the Hamburg-Purdy Road to his front.
Dear Mother- Here I am at our old Camp after a week's absence, and I hasten to give you a description of the "firey ordeal" through which we passed during that week; and fought the Battle of Shiloh on April 6th. I do this on Yankee paper and with a Yankee pencil.
April 6th, 1862.
We left Monterey on the evening of the 4th, and marched about three miles, when we halted for the night and were obliged to sit up for two reasons: first, we were momentarily expecting to receive orders to march forward; and secondly, the rain which poured down in torrents would have prevented us from sleeping, had we been disposed or permitted to do so. The next day we advanced slowly and camped within less than a mile of the enemy's camp. That night we could plainly hear their bands playing tattoo and taps.
The morning of the 6th we were aroused very early, but had not been up long when the report of musketry told us that the enemy's pickets were being driven in, and that the battle was about to begin. We were immediately formed in line under command of Colonel Gibson.
The Washington Artillery on the left, our regiment, the Fourth Louisiana Infantry next, then the 13th Louisiana and 1st Arkansas. We advanced about half a mile, when a Federal Battery opened fire,on us, and we, for the first time, heard the shrill whistle of a shell, which soon became familiar. The Washington Artillery was immediately gotten in position and replied promptly and with good effect. We then filed across an open field, and although within about three hundred yards of the battery, which continued to shell us all the time, yet the ranks were not once broken, but the most perfect order prevailed. We then flanked it, and would have taken it easily had it not been for a most unfortunate accident. While charging it, young Vertner, an Aid of General Hardee's, galloped in front of our ranks with the "stars and stripes" around his waist, and a Yankee cap on, both of which he had captured. Some one cried out, - "Here's your Yankee," and immediately a hundred guns were leveled at him and he and his horse fell riddled with balls. The 4th Tennessee, seeing this, thought that we were the enemy and opened upon us with terrible effect, killing and wounding one hundred and five of our regiment, five of whom were in our Company. Colonel Gibson's horse was shot under him, and fell within five feet of me. This, of course, created great confusion and we were ordered to fall back and reform, which we did. But all this time we were still exposed to the fire of their battery, and while falling back I saw a shell fall into the ranks of Captain Dubroca's Company, and of the 13th killing six men, and scattering their brains and blood over him, though he was unhurt. As soon as we were drawn up again, General Bragg rode up to us, changed our direction and told us that the enemy were in front of us, to march forward until we drove them from their position. Before going any further, I will endeavor to describe their position, They were posted on the crest of a steep hill in an old road, which by frequent travel had become worn about three feet deep, consequently they could lie perfectly concealed and protected while they could see everything. Besides this, the hill was covered with the thickest undergrowth of blackjack I ever saw. It was all most impossible for a man to walk through it under ordinary circumstances. On their right was a heavy masked battery, and in the road which I have been speaking of, were twenty I seven regiments, and yet with only THREE regiments we charged this almost impregnable position under a terrible fire of musketry and grape; and I am confident that we would have taken the battery but a Colonel rode up and told us that we were firing on our own men. The order was immediately given to fall back, which we did in good order, but not before the ground was strewn with our dead and wounded. It was here that Captains Hilliard and Taylor fell; both gallantly leading on their respective commands.
As soon as we ascertained that they were really the enemy, we charged again. The enemy reserved their fire until we were within about twenty yards of them, and then the whole line simultaneously, with their battery loaded with grape, opened on us, mowing us down at every volley. We still pressed on until the under growth prevented us from going further; and besides, we did not have room to form in two ranks, and our men in rear killed a great many of those in front. I cannot imagine how I escaped being killed as I was in the front ranks all the time. We remained in this slaughter pen about five minutes, when General Bragg, seeing the dreadful havoc, ordered us to fall back and told us he would take us where we could see our enemy. We then marched around to their flank by this time had them completely surrounded. They fought desperately, but were at last obliged to surrender after being nearly cut to pieces. Colonel Allen acted with the greatest gallantry and coolness. I expected to see him fall every minute, but fortunately he only received a painful flesh wound in the face. By this time the enemy were in full retreat, and we in full pursuit. We followed them within half a mile of the river, when their gun-boats opened on us with their Columbiads and thirteen-inch mortars.
The shells fell around us like hail as we could do nothing against the "rascals," we retreated back about two miles. The cannonading was terrific, and yet we marched in perfect order and common time.
Much to our relief, night ended this bloody Sunday, and we retired to rest in Yankee tents and under Yankee blankets, but not before we supped sumptuously on Yankee provisions. You cannot imagine how comfortably they were fixed up. They all had either Sibley or Fremont tents, each man had two comfortable and very pretty uniforms, a large army overcoat, two blankets, an oil cloth to spread on the ground, oil cloth caps, oil cloth haver sacks and everything else that anyone could need or wish. They had any quantity of fresh beef, coffee, sugar, rice, flour, crackers, corn meal, hams, cheese, apples, candy, torpedoes. (to amuse themselves with, I suppose), sundries, and butter. Besides these, they had all sorts of little Yankee knickknack paper and envelopes, with a hundred different devices on them, some of which I send you. In fact this army seemed to be the pet child of the Federals, upon which they heaped every luxury and allowed every indulgence.
The enemy were confident of success, as their officers told them that we were badly armed, badly fed and in a state of mutiny. That night the rain poured down in torrents, but we safely housed in Fremont tents kept perfectly dry. Every fifteen minutes we could hear the signal guns of the enemy as their reinforcements came in.