“After mature deliberation [Colonel Everett Peabody] decided to do as above stated – attack, and thus give the alarm to those in our rear, so that they could turn out and make some resistance to the overwhelming force, and not be captured or attacked in their quarters. This move seemed to be the only way to convince General [Benjamin] Prentiss that there was an army between us and Corinth.”
In the late 1880s, Union Civil War veteran James Newhard of Company H, 25th Missouri Infantry recalled his unit’s desperate attempt to make contact with the vanguard of the Confederate Army of Mississippi. Colonel Everett Peabody, commanding officer of the First Brigade, Sixth Division, sent a small patrol of men from the 25th Missouri and 12th Michigan to establish contact with the enemy and send alarm to the rest of the army.
The night before on April 5, 1862, Peabody’s men heard suspicious noises in the woods near their camps. The Union high command, including Brigadier General Benjamin Prentiss, was skeptical to the fact that General Albert S. Johnston’s Army of Mississippi could be lurking nearby. Unable to sleep, the Missourians’ restless brigade commander finally decided to send an additional patrol out the next morning. Unbeknownst to many students of Shiloh, there were actually several patrols sent out in the night of April 5 and in the morning of April 6. In the early morning of April 6, Peabody and his men were determined to prove to the Union high command that the enemy was between them at Pittsburg Landing and the vital railroad juncture at Corinth, Mississippi.
Around 3:00am on April 6, Peabody – without orders – deployed his 250-man patrol under the command of Major James Powell from the main Federal encampment to scout out the area along the Seay Field Road. Sometime between 4:55am and 5:15am, at Fraley’s Field, the patrol made contact with Confederate pickets of the 3rd Mississippi Battalion under Major Aaron Hardcastle. Colonel Francis Quinn of the 12th Michigan Infantry described the work of the patrol that morning, “Our brave boys marched out, and had not over 3 miles to go before they met the enemy, and immediately a sharp firing commenced, our little force giving ground.” “We quietly passed through our single line of pickets a short distance in front of our camp guard, drove in Johnston’s pickets, and fell onto his whole army about a mile and a half from our camp,” Newhard recalled. Newhard was right – the Confederate Third Army Corps was in the woodlot in front of them. The battle of Shiloh had officially begun.
As the fight erupted at Fraley Field and the Third Corps under William Hardee advanced to their front, the men of Powell’s patrol were trying to simply hold on until able to safely fall back to the main camp. Pvt. Daniel Baker of Company F, 25th Missouri Infantry remembered that Powell “ordered the men to deploy into line and shield themselves behind trees as well as they could, for they found that the whole rebel army was there … I am satisfied that if Major Powell had not made this reconnaissance our army would have suffered much more.” Powell immediately sent word of the engagement back to camp.
Back in camp, “General Prentiss shook himself out of his blankets when he heard the racket, and was shortly convinced that Colonel Peabody was right … This move seemed to be the only way to convince General Prentiss that there was an army between us and Corinth.” Peabody’s heroic, yet bold, move was taken harshly by Prentiss, who wanted his subordinate court martialed. However, the chaos of battle forced Prentiss to face the task at hand, particularly in having to defend the left flank of their line, rather than deal with insubordination.
With a 9,000-man corps to their front, the 25th Missouri’s line was pushed back past Seay’s Field. Peabody’s brigade and the rest of the division came to their assistance, but were soon pushed back to their camps. Peabody was soon shot in the head and killed at the Federal camps. “He was a brave soldier and a good man,” recalled Quinn. The men of Peabody’s old regiment were unable to get to his body until the next day, as stated by Newhard.
“After having driven the enemy back over our ground, we found Colonel Peabody lying on the line of the officer’s tents and near the tent where he had passed the night before. It was too bad he was not allowed to live and get the credit he was entitled to.”
Unfortunately, the heroic actions of Peabody were never reported by Prentiss in his after-action report. In 1889, the veterans of the 25th Missouri Infantry wrote in great detail about their fallen, beloved commander in their regimental history, entitled, An Illustrated History of the Missouri Engineer and the 25th Infantry Regiments. Many of the quotations by Newhard were out of a larger effort to honor Peabody.
Along with the rest of Prentiss’ Division and the Federal line, the men of the 25th Missouri Infantry continued to attempt to make a defensive stand wherever they could. Dozens of Missourians became casualties through the first day’s fight, particularly the officers. Some of them included: Lt. Thomas Dunlap of Co. D (killed), Pvt. Samuel L. Leffler of Co. E (wounded), Lt. Fred Klinger (wounded), Maj. James Powell (killed), and Capt. Charles Wade of Co. C (killed).
Shiloh was certainly not the last battle the 25th Missouri Infantry would fight in. Within one month after Shiloh, the unit saw action at Corinth. They would later serve on garrison duty and fighting guerrillas in Missouri until February 1864, when they consolidated with Bissell’s Engineer Regiment of the West and created the First Missouri Engineers. They would go on to fight throughout the Atlanta Campaign, the March to the Sea, and the Carolinas Campaign.
Baker, Daniel. “How the Battle Began.” The National Tribune. April 12, 1883.
Neal, W.A. An Illustrated History of the Missouri Engineer and the 25th Infantry Regiments. Chicago: Donohue and Henneberry, Printers, 1889.
Report of Col. Francis Quinn, in The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, ser. 1, v.10, pt. 1 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1885), 280-281.