Report of Colonel William Preston, C. S. Army, Aide-de-Camp to General Johnston

 

CORINTH, MISS., April 20, 1862

General THOMAS JORDAN

    GENERAL: This morning you requested me to give you such information as I possess in relation to the events which occurred at the battle of Shiloh before the death of the commander, General Johnston.
    The general having determined to attack the enemy, near Pittsburg, on the Tennessee River, moved the forces under his command through Monterey and by a farm-house called Mickey's, in the direction of a little country chapel called Shiloh, in the vicinity of which they were encamped. On the morning of the 5th of April the rains were excessive, so that the movement was greatly retarded, but on the afternoon of the same day our advance was within 3 miles of the enemy, who evidently did not suspect that we were in force in the neighborhood.
    Strong reasons demanded an immediate attack, as delay increased the danger of discovery, but the exhaustion of the men and the hour of arrival required it to be deferred till the following morning. Men and officers bivouacked for the night.
    The morning of the 6th of April was remarkably bright and beautiful. The country towards Shiloh was wooded, with small fields interspersed, and with bold undulation, from the hills bounding the river. The troops moved in two parallel lines, with the brigades under General Breckinridge arranged on either side of the wood as a reserve.
    Between dawn and sunrise sharp skirmishing was heard rather more than half a mile in advance in the forest. General Johnston rode forward when we found the action commenced by General Hindman's brigade, which was suffering under a heavy fire. There were many dead and wounded, and some stragglers breaking ranks, whom General Johnston rallied in person. I rode forward, and found General Hindman rallying and animating his men who were advancing towards the camp. General Johnston then, through me, ordered General Bragg, who was half a mile in the rear, to advance, but it had been anticipated, and the order, having been given by Captain Wickliffe ten minutes before, was being executed. Our forces then entered the enemy's camp under a heavy fire of musketry and artillery.
    Passing to the left, General Johnston reconnoitered, from two cabins at the edge of a large field of about 150 acres, the position of the enemy in front. This field extended toward the river and beyond was fringed with a woodland, and 200 or 300 yards beyond was the enemy's camp. Through this field General Cleburne's brigade moved in fine order, with loud and inspiring cheers, to attack the camp. The surprise was complete. It was carried between 7 and 8 o'clock, and its colors, arms, stores, and ammunition were abandoned. The breakfasts of the men were on the table, the officers' baggage and apparel left in the tents, and every evidence remained of unexpected conflict and sudden rout. It was occupied, as I learned from the wounded and dying and from the colors taken, by some troops from Wisconsin.
    During this time heavy continued musketry and artillery fire, with receding sounds, attested the steady advance of Generals Bragg and Hardee on the center and left. General Hardee reported in person to General Johnston about 9 o'clock at the Wisconsin camp, and they reconnoitered a second line of camps 600 or 800 yards farther on, in the direction of the river. The enemy then, apparently attracted by the staff, commenced shelling the camp where we stood, and some heavy gunboat shells burst over us. At the same time the enemy deployed their forces in the wood near the advanced camp. Captain Lockett, about haft past 9 or 10, sent a report that the enemy were strongly posted on the left. General Johnston then determined to order forward the reserve, under General Breckinridge, to the right, so as to force and turn the enemy's left. Captain Wickliffe and I were ordered to indicate the positions to General Breckinridge. General Johnston joined Bowen's brigade. The movement was masked by the forest, and the troops moved so as to occupy a position oblique to the general line, and extending eastward to the river, in en échelon of brigades, with Chalmers' on the right near the river, Bowen's 800 yards in rear of Chalmers', and Statham's 800 yards in rear of Bowen's. Statham's brigade was then moved forward, and at about 12 o'clock or 12.30 it occupied the point of the hill so as to attack the advanced camp. Meeting you, we found it halted, and, after consulting a moment with me as to the importance of immediate advance, you put it in motion against the camp, and Rutledge's battery was put in position at the same time on an adjacent hill.
    Riding back toward the advanced camp, I found Breckinridge's men entering it and engaged with the enemy. Turning down the ravine, I reported the condition of affairs to General Johnston. This was between I and 2 o'clock. He was with Bowen's brigade, and ordered me to direct General Bowen to ground on which he could deploy and support Breckinridge, who I understood was with Statham's brigade in the enemy's camp. This was done, and General Johnston advanced with Bowen's brigade in person. He directed me then to bring over Rutledge's battery, which I did, to the opposite field.
    In the mean time Breckinridge was hotly engaged and Bowen's brigade vigorously supporting him. Riding forward in the direction of the enemy's fire, I halted at the flank of the Washington Battery. I believe, of New Orleans, then actively served and engaged with the enemy. Two small cabins were near, and from a ravine about 100 yards to the north of the cabins, where I was, Colonel O'Hara rode, informing me that General Johnston was wounded and lying in the ravine. He conducted me to the spot, and went for a surgeon, whom he could not obtain until too late.
    Descending the ravine I found the general lying on the ground and near his head Governor Harris, of Tennessee, and only one or two other persons. He had neither escort nor surgeon near him. His horse was wounded and bleeding. He breathed for a few minutes after my arrival, but did not recognize me. I searched but found no wound upon his body. I attempted to revive him, but he expired without pain a few moments after, and about fifteen minutes after he received his death-wound.
    Immediate information of the fact was transmitted by me through his volunteer aide-de-camp, Governor Harris, to General Beauregard His remains were taken to his camp and left in charge of a friend, Mr. Throckmorton, and Captain Wickham. The other gentlemen of the staff reported to General Beauregard for service, and remained until the close of the day, when his body was taken by them to New Orleans.
    General Johnston died at half past 2 o'clock, the artery of his right leg having been severed by a ball. He was also struck by two other balls, and his horse was wounded twice.
During the day General Johnston was actively and efficiently assisted by Colonel Gilmer, his chief engineer; Captain Brewster, assistant adjutant-general; Capt. N. Wickliffe, assistant adjutant-general; Lieutenants Jack and Baylor, aides-de-camp; Captain O'Hara, assistant inspector-general; Maj. Albert J. Smith, quartermaster; Captain Wickham, assistant quartermaster, and by Surg. D. W. Yandell, who was with him in the morning.
Governor Harris, of Tennessee, and Messrs. E. W. Munford, D. M. Hayden, Calhoun Benham, and myself served as volunteer aides-de-camp during the day.
I have the honor to remain, your obedient servant,
W. PRESTON.

 



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