Turning the Tide: Col. Samuel Beatty's experience at Shiloh
Reversing momentum is a crucial element that is necessary for success, whether on a football field or a field of battle. Often, however, those involved in these critical moments do not realize their own significance. On April 9, 1862, Colonel Samuel Beatty, of the Nineteenth Ohio Infantry submitted a report which detailed the actions of his regiment during the Battle of Shiloh two days earlier. Beatty’s regiment of volunteers had crossed the Tennessee River at midnight the previous night, after the surprise Confederate attack on 6 April had nearly overwhelmed Grant’s force at Pittsburg Landing. Beatty’s regiment was a part of Major General Buell’s force, which provided major reinforcements for General Grant’s dilapidated army and helped turn the tide of battle during the second day into a clear Union victory.
Col. Beatty was straightforward in his report, but was also anxious to emphasize that he and his men took an active role in the battle itself. After being organized and then re-organized by different commanding officers, Beatty sent two different sets of skirmishers out to engage Confederate forces, capture prisoners, and gain knowledge of the enemy position. Eventually, the entire regiment advanced along with a larger Union force that “remained at the brow of the hill under an artillery fire,” and finally ended up advancing “under fire of musketry, by which several were wounded, and delivered well-directed volleys with apparent effect, and then fell back halfway up the hill.” As the confederate forces fell back on 7 April, Beatty’s force was not ordered to advance any further, and remained encamped on the battlefield for the next few days.
This report outlines what is perhaps the most critical moment at Shiloh: the Union Army’s utilization of the night to regroup, reorganize, and ultimately reverse the fate of the battle. Buell’s army helped Grant and Sherman’s forces recover from the massive death toll of the first day of fighting. It was this turn of events that seriously affected subsequent events on the western theatre and memories of war. Sherman became convinced that only “total war,” focusing on economic interests as well as armies, could effectively defeat the Confederacy. Also, Grant was able to prove his worth as a general by standing firm in his last lines of defense (thus securing permanent control over Western Tennessee) before fresh troops from Buell arrived in the night. Finally, the widespread carnage at Shiloh forced a restructuring of historical memory; artists’ depictions gradually became more realistic, the death of one single person lost some of its significance in the face of the 24,000 lost within the two days of battle. Thankfully, Beatty’s report shows that in spite of the carnage he was still keenly aware of the loss of every one of his men, some 4 dead, 44 wounded, and 8 missing.
Samuel Beatty had raised his regiment of volunteers from his home in Stark County, Ohio. After serving as his regiment’s elected Colonel at Shiloh, he was promoted to brigadier general and took part in several major battles in the western theatre of the Civil War. At the time when Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Beatty was being considered for promotion to major general. After the end of the war, he returned home to his farm in Ohio and lived peacefully for the rest of his life.
- Report of Col. Samuel Beatty, 19th Ohio Volunteers, 11th Brigade, 5th Division, Army of the Ohio, Official Reports, Series I, Vol. X, April 9, 1862 (Washington D.C.: The United States Government, 1884), 362-264, http://digital.library.cornell.edu/m/moawar/.
- Victor Davis Hanson, Ripples of Battle: How Wars of the Past Still Determine How We Fight, How We Live, and How We Think (New York: Doubleday, 2003), 12, 71-169.
- Brooks D. Simpson, America's Civil War (Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1996), 55.
- Author Not Listed, "Beatty, Samuel," in Encyclopedia of the American Civil War, Volume I, ed. David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLO, Inc., 2000), 197-198.
- Peter Cozzens, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume I (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2002), 68-70.