A Scene of Desolation – A Missouri Soldier Visits the Shiloh Battlefield in June 1862

The Hornet’s Nest as it appeared in the wake of the Battle of Shiloh. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

On the morning of June 16, 1862, Pvt. Robert Goodman of the Seventh Missouri Infantry left his unit’s encampment to take a stroll. The last couple of weeks had been particularly hard for the men of the “Irish Seventh” regiment, who had just arrived at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee. Mostly made up of St. Louis’ Irish populace, the Seventh had served throughout Missouri in the first year of the year and by the early summer of 1862, had joined what would be named the Army of the Tennessee. Not only had they dealt with the monotony of camp life and fatigue duty at their new post, but just a week before, a captain in the regiment had accidentally killed a fellow soldier who “incurred the displease” of the captain. To Goodman, the affair “cast a gloom over the camp, as he was a brave and faithful soldier.”

Now, Goodman needed a respite from the “dull and lifeless” camp life to explore the battlefield around Pittsburg Landing, where the vicious battle of Shiloh took place only two months prior. In his diary, he wrote a description of what he saw:

“The country here is very hilly and broken and in some places, quite level. The ground is literally covered with broken guns and knapsacks and other accoutrements and clothing scattered over the field of battle. The sight is horrible and here the horrors are plainly visible and is a heart rendering sight to behold. The woods (for the battle was fought in the timber) is literally torn to pieces  by the shot and shell from artillery, and ground for miles is strewn with Pea Jackets and Pantaloons pierced with bullet holes, stained with the life’s blood of the slain, and the graves of the poor fellows may be seen on every side, having apparently been buried wherever found, while all around are scattered muskets, bayonets, cartridge boxes and all the paraphernalia or appendages of the soldiers. Oh! What a scene of desolation and sorrow this is as the Field presents itself to the spectator! Friend and foe in one common ruin blent!” 

Having only seen some skirmishing and light combat during his first year of soldiering, Goodman was deeply disturbed by the sights he saw there at Pittsburg Landing. Like with many soldiers and civilians who were personally affected by the Battle of Shiloh, Goodman saw firsthand the devastation of Civil War combat and the sheer toll it would take to end the war. In approximately one year, he and the rest of the Seventh Missouri would face the elephant at Raymond, Champion Hill, and Vicksburg. There is little doubt that Goodman would have seen, experienced, and felt similarly to that of when he witnessed the “scene of desolation” at Pittsburg Landing in 1862.



Diary of Robert P. Goodman, 1861-62, The State Historical Society of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri.


5 Responses to A Scene of Desolation – A Missouri Soldier Visits the Shiloh Battlefield in June 1862

  1. After the bloody April 1862 Battle of Shiloh, a steady stream of arrivals stepped from paddle steamers (the only way one could make the journey) onto the sticky clay of Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee. Major General Henry Halleck arrived 11 April, reorganized the massive Federal Army (eventually numbering about 100,000) and set off end of April for Corinth Mississippi, 22 miles away. Others arrived about the same time as Halleck, and for weeks afterwards: family members from the North, searching for “missing” loved ones… that was the way their status had been reported in local newspapers. Others knew their sons, brothers and husbands had succumbed to wounds and made the pilgrimage in order to retrieve hastily buried bodies for “proper graves” close to Home. And still others were ghouls, intent on acquiring relics of battle and souvenirs: Shiloh Church, so loudly proclaimed by newspapers as “site of the battle,” was hacked away into pieces so efficiently that before the end of 1862 there was NOTHING left. (The current Shiloh Church is a recreation.)
    And then there were the soldiers, such as Edward O. C. Ord, Philip Sheridan, and Robert Goodman who arrived at Pittsburg Landing (which had become a massive Military Stores Depot, as well as the place where the direct line of the Telegraph connecting Henry Halleck to Edwin Stanton crossed the Tennessee River), in order to join General Halleck’s campaign.
    In 1866 the National Cemetery was established on an old camp of the 12th Iowa Infantry, atop the bluff just north of Pittsburg Landing. All of the remaining Union burials were disinterred and reburied in the Shiloh National Cemetery: after four years, the original wooden grave markers mostly disappeared (and over half of the Union burials at Shiloh are today, “Unknown.”) The Rebel dead were hastily collected on the battlefield and buried in mass graves before the end of April 1862: possibly a dozen long trenches were filled with Rebel bodies. An unfortunate incident in 1929 led to the loss of records… Today, only five trench grave sites are definitely known.

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