Emerging Civil War is pleased to welcome Greg Mertz, author of the forthcoming ECWS title Attack at Daylight and Whip Them: The Battle of Shiloh and recipient of ECW’s 2018 Thomas Greely Stevenson Award for contributions to Emerging Civil War.
My interest in the Battle of Shiloh was sparked by the annual visits to the military park that my Boy Scout troop made. Because a scout leader near the battlefield had laid out six different history trails on the battlefield, each visit offered a new experience for members of the troop. So, each spring, Troop 782 from Ellisville, Missouri made the drive down on a long Friday evening, sent its scouts out on Saturday to hike a trail they had not taken before, and then drive back on Sunday.
As with each of the first five Civil War national parks, Shiloh has hundreds of monuments and scores of artillery pieces dotting the battlefield, and even without knowing a thing about what happened during the battle, it’s appearance alone cannot help but strike any visitor that it is a place of great significance. Fortunately, the leader who laid out the trails had a goal that the Shiloh experience would be a meaningful one for the scouts, and he had separate required readings for each trail, and he turned the hike into a scavenger hunt with a questionnaire to complete for which the answers were derived from reading the plaques, exploring the monuments or examining the cannon.
The careful planning to help the scouts gain an understanding of the battle indeed netted positive results in me, but I also have a distinct memory of an event which caused me to elevate my interest and appreciation of the battle to a higher plain. During one of my return visits to the battlefield several scouts were riding through the park in the station wagon of one of my favorite adult scout leaders, Bill Hess. I had asked if we would be driving past “the long row of cannon” or words to that effect. Mr. Hess knew exactly what I meant and responded that we would indeed be going past that landmark.
But then, one of the best of the youth leaders, who was also in the car, named Jody Bearden (my apologies if I spelled the name wrong – this was some 45 years ago) responded too, by saying “It’s called ‘Ruggles Battery.’” Even though he was probably only a year older than me, that is a huge difference for the lower end of the teenage spectrum. Jody was the best patrol leader that I ever had and I held a distinct level of respect for him. His comment stung a bit – (thank goodness for me). I had long been attracted by the grandeur of the highly monumented park, and I had a good understanding of the battle, but I had missed out on a lot more than just that the name of the long row of cannon was called “Ruggles Battery.”
I have lost contact with Jody, and he has no idea how his role as my patrol leader and his brief comment on the Shiloh battlefield has influenced me. Soon I had made up index cards of any of the generals at Shiloh that were covered in the encyclopedia we had. I had bought all of the 35 cent booklets covering the Civil War in the historical handbook series – including the one that was required reading for Shiloh hike #1. I subscribed to Civil War Times Illustrated magazine and I started my Civil War library with the four-volume set on Battles and Leaders of the Civil War by the time I was sixteen.
When I first visited Shiloh, Ruggles Battery was said to have been a row of 62 cannon and was the largest concentration of artillery ever assembled on the continent at the time. The left end of that artillery line has about a dozen cannon imposingly arrayed side by side, which had so impressed me in my youth. Subsequent scholarship suggests that the grand battery likely numbered 53 cannon – still believed to be the largest such collection of cannon in the young history of American.
Recent research also questions the true role of the namesake of the artillery position. Daniel Ruggles was a Massachusetts native, whose marriage to a Virginia woman would also connect him with the South and the Confederacy. As a Confederate general commanding a division at Shiloh, he took command of the sector of the battlefield opposite the Union position along what has become known as the Sunken Road. After repeated Confederate infantry attacks against the Sunken Road had failed, Ruggles had been credited with deciding to instead mass artillery to crack the Union stronghold. But historians now believe that artilleryman Major Francis Shoup may be the individual who made the greatest contribution toward the buildup of the large number of Confederate guns.
The number of cannon making up Ruggles Battery and the possibility that Ruggles was not the key Confederate officer in accumulating that cannon that had so intrigued me back when I was a boy, are just a pair of the many things that I had once learned about the Battle of Shiloh, that I have since discovered are not as they had first appeared. But delving further into the fight at Shiloh and the Civil War as a whole has not just been the pursuit of a curiosity. Since 1980, I have been an interpreter and historian with the National Park Service. Except for a brief stint at the Eisenhower National Historic Site, all of my service has been on the Civil War battlefields of Gettysburg, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House. My initial interest in the Civil War as well as my last duty station are both connected with Daniel Ruggles. His bride was from King George County, just east of Fredericksburg, and a house that Ruggles had owned as well has his final resting place are both within a mile of my office.