72nd Ohio nearly uncovers pre-Shiloh Confederate plans

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Battle flag of the 72nd Ohio OVI

Prior to the Confederate attack on the Union camps along the Tennessee at Pittsburg Landing, there was an accidental meeting between a picket relief from the 70th Ohio Infantry and a troop of the 1st Alabama Cavalry under Lt. Colonel Clanton marching up the West Corinth Road to the intersection of the Bark Road. Two companies of the 72nd Ohio were drilling nearby and an alert Major Pickerel from the 25th Missouri directed them to push up the Corinth Road to investigate.

In most books I’ve read about Shiloh, this little incident gets a sentence or two or this little skirmish is barely a footnote. Yet, for those who were captured, killed, and wounded this was not just another day in the war.

What is ironic about this skirmish is how close the companies from the 72nd Ohio, 70th Ohio, and 5th Ohio Cavalry came to discovering what it was behind the 1st Alabama Cavalry screen at Michie’s. The fight was brief but no less full of drama. I discovered this incident while researching for the next novel in my Shiloh series, A Certain Death. Like most historians, I gave this incident barely a mention in the first in the series They Met at Shiloh myself, a happenstance in the story. But, to give it its due, it is drawn out in detail in A Certain Death.

April 5, 1862 in a communication to his superior, Henry W. Halleck in St. Louis Grant had this to say after reporting on the incident.

General: Just as my letter of yesterday to Captain McLean, assistant adjutant-general, was finished, notes from Generals McClernand’s and Sherman’s assistant adjutants-general were received stating that our outposts had been attacked by the enemy, apparently in considerable force. I immediately went up, but found all quiet. The enemy took 2 officers and 4 or 5 of our men prisoners and wounded 4. We took 8 prisoners and killed several; number of the enemy wounded not known. They had with them three pieces of artillery and cavalry and infantry. How much cannot of course be estimated.
I have scarcely the faintest idea of an attack (general one) being made upon us, but will be prepared should such a thing take place…
U.S. Grant, Major-General

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Battle flag of the 5th Ohio OVC

General Sherman’s report of the incident adds further detail:

Sir: I have the honor to report that yesterday about 3 p.m. it was reported to me that the lieutenant commanding and 7 men of the advance pickets had imprudently advanced from their posts and were captured. I ordered Major Riker, of the Fifth Ohio Cavalry, to proceed rapidly to the picket station, ascertain the truth, and act according to circumstances. He reached the station, found the pickets had been captured as reported, and that a company of infantry sent by the brigade commander had gone forward in pursuit of some cavalry. He rapidly advanced some 2 miles and found them engaged; charged the enemy and drove them along the ridge road until he met and received three discharges of artillery, when he very properly wheeled under cover and returned till he met me. As soon as I heard artillery I advanced with two regiments of infantry and took position and remained until the scattered companies of infantry and cavalry returned. This was after night.
I infer that the enemy is in some considerable force at Pea Ridge; that yesterday morning they crossed a brigade of two regiments of infantry, one of cavalry, and one battery of field artillery to the ridge on which the Corinth Road lays. They halted the infantry and artillery at a point about 5 miles in my front, and sent a detachment to the lane of General Meeks, on the north of Owl Creek, and the cavalry down towards our camp. This cavalry captured a part of our advance pickets and afterwards engaged the two companies of Colonel Buckland’s regiment…
We lost of the picket: 1 first lieutenant and 7 men of the 70th Ohio Infantry, taken prisonersl 1 major, 1 lieutenant, and 1 private of the 72nd Ohio Infantry taken prisoners, and 8 privates wounded. I have the honor to be, your obedient servant, W. T. Sherman

Of the official reports, the real action comes from the reports of Colonel Buckland of the 72nd and Major Riker of the 5th Ohio.

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Battle flag of the 1st Alabama Cavalry

On the 4th of April, a Major Pickerel of Peabody’s 25th Missouri was out inspecting the picket posts of his brigade as officer of the day when he bumped into Lieutenant Herbert of the 70th Ohio with his picket relief marching up the Corinth Road. As Pickerel was making his way he happened to notice the presence of horseman through a line of trees in an adjacent field. Curious, he picked his way closer when he noticed that they were rebel horseman and they were relieving the picket relief of their weapons. Having heard the commands of a unit at drill close by he raced through the trees until he ran into Major Crocket drilling several companies of the 72nd Ohio Infantry. Informing Crocket that there were rebel horseman just down the road he suggested that he move his companies to disperse them. As they were equal in rank and in different commands, he could not order Crocket to comply.

After dispatching a lieutenant to report to General Sherman, Crocket marched companies H and B down the Corinth Road and was soon pushing a troop of the 1st Alabama Cavalry back down the Corinth Road. It was here that, convinced that this was just a small force of the enemy, Crocket split his battalion with company B on the right of the Corinth Road and H on the left. After marching and lightly skirmishing for two miles they came face to face with the whole of the 1st Alabama Cavalry and a battery of artillery. With horseman moving on their flanks, Captain Raymond of company B moved his men onto a hill that commanded the road and hunkered down while Major Crocket found himself captured as company H became surrounded.

With his regiment formed on the field, Lt. Colonel Clanton had easy pickings until Colonel Buckland arrived with an additional one hundred men of companies A, D, and I of the 72nd Ohio. Surrounded on the hill, Captain Raymond weathered an assault on foot by Troop I of the 1st Alabama and turned his company about and charged for the rear, breaking up an attempt by the 1st Alabama to block his egress. Captain Raymond would return his company mostly unscathed while company H would lose several more men in their attempt to escape.

With the arrival of reinforcements from the 72nd Ohio, the skirmishing became desultory until the arrival of the 5th Ohio Cavalry, who secured the Union hold of the field and pushed the 1st Alabama all the way to the artillery battery when they prudently turned around and marched back to camp.

It is intriguing to read the account by Colonel Buckland in The war of the rebellion; Series 1 – volume 10 (part 1) pg. 91 when you understand that just one more day later the great battle of Shiloh will occur. Other signs were clearly visible that a grand movement of Johnston’s Army of Mississippi was happening and this was not just a random skirmish but an accidental blundering of forces. The two companies of the 72nd, separated and surrounded at one time were close to revealing an attack that would dwarf any battle that had been fought to this time in the war. The numbers of troops involved were small but the obvious impact of this event, if it had been evaluated differently, are immense.

The first novel in the Shiloh Series, They Met at Shiloh, will be free for Kindle on 10/10 to 10/12.

They Met At Shiloh

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