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A Close-up View of Shiloh

The Civil War shelf in a bookstore or library features multiple volumes describing various battles in detail: Gettysburg, Chickamauga, Antietam, and many others. Most of these battles lasted one or two days and left thousands dead and wounded.

The war last around 1450 days. It’s pretty clear that the great majority of those days were consumed by training, marching, and guarding various critical points.

Yet the few days of battle described in the letters and diaries of survivors are so horrendous, it is not surprising that they dominate the story. The Civil War Diary of Cyrus F. Boyd, published by Louisiana State University Press is an example.

Cyrus Boyd was 24 when he enlisted in Company G of 15th Iowa Infantry. His regiment was in the Battle of Shiloh and he describes their advance:

The roar of the artillery and the crash of the musketry was close at hand We came to the edge of a large field and as we crossed a little Ravine the bullets and a few shells passed over us making some of us dodge. Here we deployed by the right flank to come into line of battle but did not get that accomplished until we were out in the open field and in fair view of the enemy. A heavy shower of bullets riddled the ranks and threw us into some more confusion and being jammed into masses we were in poor shape to return he fire—some were wounded and a few killed before we could come to a front. Here I noticed the first man shot. He belonged in Co K Capt Hedricks. He was close to us and sprang high in the air and gave one grown and fell dead. Our company had to pass over him and each man as he came up seemed to hesitate and some made a motion to pick him up—but the officers sternly ordered them “forward” The men all gave a cheer ad rushed on in line of battle with bayonets fixed.

The enemy opened on us with artillery at close range using grape, cannister and shell and all manner of deadly missiles. Above the roar of the guns could be heard the cheers of our men as they gained new ground. At last we could see the enemy and they were advancing around our left flank and the woods seemed alive with gray coats and their victorious cheer and unearthly yells and the concentrated fire which they had upon us caused somebody to give the order for retreat. The word was passed along—and we went off that bloody ground in great confusion and had to fall back over the same open ground by which we came.

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