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Odd Wisconsin Archive

No Email from the Front in 1862

What was it like to be a Wisconsin teenager caught up in the Battle of Shiloh?

In early April of 1862, Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was moving through western Tennessee hoping to defeat a Confederate army of 35,000. With Grant were the Wisconsin 14th, 16th, and 18th Infantry regiments mostly untested young men from Fond du Lac, Milwaukee, and other points in southeastern Wisconsin who had enlisted only a few months before.

On April 6th, Confederate troops attacked Grant and the Wisconsin regiments at Shiloh and quickly overwhelmed them. When darkness fell and the shooting stopped, the Union forces had been pushed back more than a mile and hundreds were dead. But reinforcements arrived in the morning, Grant counter-attacked, and after eight hours of bloodshed the Confederates, outnumbered and exhausted, retreated. In only two days more than 10,000 men on each side had been killed, captured, or disappeared.

These two letters written shortly afterward by Wisconsin recruits describe it well. A reporter from the State Journal visited the battlefield a month later and sent back this description of the countryside, the terrain, and the battle-scarred landscape around Shiloh.

Before CNN live reports, email, and cell phones, letters and reports like these were the main way that loved ones back here in Wisconsin could learn what their soldiers were going through. You can see what happened to each regiment in Charles Estabrook's guide to Wisconsin units in the Civil War, and you can learn the fate of each individual Wisconsin soldier in our online Roster of Wisconsin Volunteers.

To see more firsthand reports of Wisconsin soldiers during the Civil War, visit the Civil War page of Turning Points in Wisconsin History.

:: Posted in Curiosities on April 7, 2005
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