It is an unfortunate circumstance of history that wars are fought by young men who are enthusiastic but ill prepared. For the thousands of soldiers in the ranks of the Union Army of the Tennessee and the Confederate Army of the Mississippi, the April 6-7, 1862, Battle of Shiloh would be like nothing they had ever witnessed.
Many of the participants, new to war and brimming with untested patriotism, were naive about what they would encounter. Even veterans of the war with Mexico had never been involved in a battle of this scale. Private Henry Stanley of the Sixth Arkansas recalled that before his unit advanced toward the Hornets' Nest a young comrade next to him placed some violets in his hat.
Unfortunately Stanley's young friend was horribly wrong. Major General William Hardee's Corps, to which the Sixth belonged, suffered more than two thousand casualties as it hurled itself repeatedly at the Federals holding the Hornets' Nest. Thousands of others on both sides would be killed as the two inexperienced armies bludgeoned each other. By the end of the battle, more than twenty-three thousand soldiers had become casualties--greater losses than America had suffered in all her wars up to that time. An additional casualty was the belief that winning the war would be an easy affair.
General Ulysses S. Grant recalled that after the battle had been won, "I gave up all idea of saving the Union except by complete conquest." Gone was the innocent notion that placing flowers in your cap would provide protection from enemy bullets.
Although he survived the attack on the Hornets' Nest, Stanley was captured the next morning. While a prisoner of war at the notorious Camp Douglas in Illinois, he decided that his desire to live was stronger than his devotion to the Confederacy. Stanley "galvanized," voluntarily enlisting in the First Illinois Light Artillery as a means of escaping confinement.
Three days after his release, however, he contracted a fever that led to his discharge in June 1862. Having had his fill of army life, Stanley went to sea and served on board merchant vessels and United States Navy ships until 1865, when he deserted from the USS Minnesota and traveled to New York to begin a career as a journalist.
Had the twenty-four-year-old Stanley, a veteran of the Confederate army and the Union army and navy, settled down in New York rather than continuing his varied travels, he would have lived a more adventurous life than many of his contemporaries. Stanley, however, was not content to be idle, and as a roving reporter for the New York Herald he reported on events in the American West, Turkey, Asia Minor, and Africa.
Although he gained renown for his reporting, he was haunted by what he had seen at Shiloh, remarking that he would never forget the stare of a dead Confederate lieutenant he stumbled upon during the battle. One wonders if Stanley recalled the tangled thickets of the Hornets' Nest as he traveled through the rugged terrain around Lake Tanganyika in search of the Scottish missionary Doctor David Livingston or during his further adventures as one of the greatest explorers of the Victorian Age.
The stories of ordinary people like Henry Stanley who accomplished extraordinary things is one of the reasons that the study of the Civil War is so compelling, and it is our intention to continue to provide our readers with such remarkable stories in future issues. Columbiad is pleased to announce that assisting in our efforts will be the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War and its director, Dr. Mark Snell. Dr. Snell has joined us as editorial consultant.
Also, joining our editorial advisory board with this issue is Dr. Peter S. Carmichael, assistant professor of history at Western Carolina University. We hope that these additions and the continued participation of our readers will give us an opportunity to tell many, many more of the Civil War's extraordinary stories.