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Iowans at the Battle of Shiloh

“No figure of speech would be too strong to express the deadly peril of an assault upon this natural fortress whose inaccessible barriers blazed for six hours with sheets of flame, and whose infernal gates poured forth a murderous storm of shot and shell and musket-fire which no living thing could quell or withstand.” -William Preston Johnston. (Rich, 1911) There were many Iowa regiments who fought and served in the US Civil War. The majority of Iowa regiments played a similar role in the Civil War. This role was campaigning in the Deep South. The most famous battle that Iowa Regiments were involved in was the Battle of Shiloh, specifically the Confederate attacks on the “Sunken Road”. In April, 1862, the Union forces were surprise attacked by around 44,000 Confederate troops in the southwestern portion of Tennessee. Union General Grant was camped at Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River. The first wave of attacks proved successful for the Confederacy, but there was a stand in the center of Grant’s last defense line against CS forces. This line of defense took up positions in what is called “Sunken Road”. One this line consisted regiments from Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, and Iowa. The regiments involved at Sunken Road were the 2nd, 7th, 8th, 12th, and 14th Iowa Regiments. A total number of 2,493 Iowans. The 8th Iowa Regiment didn't show up to the battle until later. (Dosch, 1978) These men were the last line between the CS forces and General Grant’s headquarters in Pittsburg Landing until Grant could muster a new line of defense. The Union were also holding out for General Buell’s 25,000 reinforcements. This line at Sunken Road had to hold in order for this to occur. Luckily Sunken Road had natural protection. It was only a small divy in the road, but it gave the Union an advantage against the charging CS troops. There were also tons of dense brush that protected the Union forces and also made it difficult to see how many troops the Union had. Throughout the day, the Union, including the five Iowa Regiments, experienced constant Confederate charges. They maintained control of the Sunken Road. The battle to take the Sunken road was nicknamed “Hornet’s Nest” due to the sound of all the bullets whizzing across the air towards the Confederate attackers. (Dosch, 1978) The charges were hours apart and many casualties occurred. The Union held off for as long as they could, and even got partially reinforced by the 8th Iowa Infantry Regiment. One piece of the story is that a Confederate Lt. Col., Lt. Col. Dean from the 7th Arkansas, led a charge against the 12th Iowa’s line. He was shot and killed. After the charge, members of the 12th Iowa actually ran to his body, straightened it out, and put a handkerchief on his head to pay respects to the high ranking soldier. (Dosch, 1978) More charges were thrown at the line, and eventually the line became a “horseshoe shape”. It became surrounded by CS forces and they had to retreat back to General Grant. Luckily the Union line held on long enough at Sunken Road that Grant was able to muster his final defense line and also get reinforcements from Buell. The Union soldiers had done their job at Sunken Road. The next day, the Union were able to defeat the Confederate forces at Shiloh, thus winning the battle. As for the 8th, 12th, and 14th Iowa, they were captured before they could retreat back to General Grant. The remaining Iowa Regiments would fight the next day and help bring a defeat to the Confederacy in the Battle of Shiloh. (Dosch, 1978) For any use other than instructional resources, please check with the organization that owns this item regarding copyright restrictions.
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This story connects to the following standard: Standard SS-US.9-12.2 Iowans Influence US History: A lesson could be created on the Iowa Regiments' involvement during the Battle of Shiloh. This lesson could include Iowa's impact on the battle, as well as details of the battle at Sunken Road. Summary Resource and Additional Information from Donald F. Dosch Article Summary Resource and Additional Information from Joseph W. Rich Article Bibliography: Dosch, Donald F. “The Hornet’s Nest at Shiloh.” Vol. 37, no. 2 (Summer, 1978): 175-189, Accessed April 10, 2019. https://www-jstor-org.proxy.lib.uni.edu/stable/42628322?seq=11#metadata_info_tab_contents Rick, Joseph W. The Battle of Shiloh. Iowa City, IA: The State Historical Society of Iowa, 1911. Accessed April 10, 2019. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101017394741;view=1up;seq=15