James Wall Scully’s Unpublished Battle of Shiloh Letters

A recent post provided by Anthony McCan highlighted some previously unpublished letters from Kilkenny native James Wall Scully which related to the Battle of Mill Springs, Kentucky. Anthony has kindly passed on another series of unpublished Scully letters which were written around the time of the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee in April 1862. Having served as a courier at Mill Springs, Scully travelled to Nashville to reunite with his friend Alvan Gillem in the Army of the Ohio and continue his search for a commission. However, he had not received one by the time of the battle, and Don Carlos Buell refused to allow him to participate directly as he was technically still a civilian. Nonetheless Scully visited the field soon after the engagement, and his letters capture some of the excitement, rumour, confusion and expectation that followed a major battle.

Camp near Savannah, Tenn.

 8 0’clock P.M.

Monday, April 7th

My Dear Wife,

I wrote to you today at 2 o’clock p.m. while the battle was raging – I am happy to be able to tell you that our troops have gained the most brilliant victory that was ever known since the world began.

They commenced to run about the time that I finished my letter today and General Buell is after them yet.

They had one hundred and ten thousand men, we had upwards of ninety thousand engaged, Thomas or Wood did not get up on time. Prisoners report Beauregard dying, he had a leg and arm shot off. They also say Jeff Davis was badly wounded and that Sam Jones was killed. Waterloo was only a skirmish compared to this battle – the prisoners say that the Tenesseans are going to seek for pardon now and to give up. I just got a message to strike tents at four o’clock tomorrow morning and to follow the General. The loss is immense on our side but terrific on the Rebels – Awful! Conquering!. Beauregard is whipped at last and by our own brave Army of the West. Your Yankees are nowhere, I think I will turn Hoosier, Buckeye or Quaker. I think Secession is about played out now, they based all their hopes on this battle and lost and are now utterly dispersed.

I will now close as I must go to bed so as to start at four o’clock in the morning. I will say nothing about my commission for I haven’t got it yet but I know I will soon see you. Kiss Sissy for her pa and give my love to Ally and the young ones and with my best love,

I remain Your Husband.

The Rebels attacked us on Sunday and of course got beaten. 

Battle of Shiloh (Chromolithograph by Thure de Thulstrup, 1888)

Battle of Shiloh (Chromolithograph by Thure de Thulstrup, 1888)

Camp on Pittsburgh Battlefield

Sunday, April 11th, 1862

My Dear Wife,

 …We had an awful battle here on Sunday and Monday – our troops under Grant were “whipped” on Sunday, but Buell arrived on Monday and gave Beauregard as good a licking as he ever got. The Rebels are moving away to make another stand somewhere else they are within about seven or eight miles of us. There were a great many killed and wounded, about 10000 on our side… I don’t know when I can get my com– I send you a slip of paper showing you the names of the “Mill Springs” officers promoted –you see, I am left out. There are two names in it that were never under fire at all that day… I am very downhearted today for I expected it in the mail…But however I got two letters from my Dear Wife…

Your own true and loving

Scully.

Camp on the Battlefield of Shiloh,

Sunday, April 13th 1862

My Dear Wife,

It is just one week today since that awful battle was fought on this ground, when hordes of Rebels stood on the same ground which I now occupy… I don’t know the exact number of killed or wounded on either side yet but I suppose you will see by the papers. I suppose they will give all the glory to Grant, but I assure you, there never was a worse “whipped” army on the face of the earth than Grant’s was on Sunday night and were it not for the timely arrival of Buell, would have been utterly annihilated…Gen. Halleck is here now and takes command of both armies.

I told you of Gillem’s promotion, he is Brevet Major. He got a letter from Genl. Meige last night in answer to the one he wrote about me. He said that my name had been already on the list for First Promotion in the Adj’s Office and that he would use his influence to have me appointed immediately and dated back…

I will have so much to tell you about when I see you about the “Battlefield” I have had occasions now on both battles to have some business on the field about 12 or 1 o’clock at night and by moonlight too. Gillem will make you laugh when he tells you about me trying to wake up a dead Secesh thinking it was one of the Escort who was loafing under a tree…

Kiss Sissy for me and accept the imperishable love of your true and devoted,

Scully.

Camp Shiloh, Tennessee.

April 14th 1862.

My Dear Wife,

I wrote to you on yesterday, but as there is another mail leaving tonight I thought you might like to get “another” letter even if it came only one day after- Of course, I have not much more on account of sending all about the battle in my last, but Genl. Halleck is now in command here, and will move “upon the enemy’s works” at Corinth in a very few days.  I believe the next battle will be even greater than this last one. Indeed if it had not been for the timely arrival of Buell, the Rebels would have gained a victory which would add another year to this deplorable war. Only think of them encamping on Sunday night in the tents of Grant’s Army. The fields and woods were literally covered with dead men and horses and they are even now finding dead men lying around in the brush outside of our lines. As it may be a long time before MAJOR Gillem sees you, I will relate to you the story of myself and the dead man :-  (G. says he must tell it to you himself )… On the night of the battle of the second day (Monday) about half past 12 o’clock as I was bringing up the Headquarters team of wagons from the steamboat landing to the Camp ground (about 4 miles) three of our wagons got stuck in the mud and we could not get them out. I had an escort of ten men of the 19th Infy. with me and it not being enough I started for the Camp so as to get more men.  On my way thither, I got lost in the woods and came up to a man sitting up against a tree, he had a black slouch hat on and I thought he was one of the escort who was loafing there and not with the wagons. I says: Hello! what are you waiting for? No answer. I repeated Hello there ! Why ain’t you with the wagons? No answer. I then dismounted off “Zolly” and went over to him, placed my hand on his head and gave him a shake when “HORROR!” he fell over, stone dead. I tell you I mounted “Zolly” in double quick and never drew rein until I got to Camp. When I arrived Cl. Oaks, Capt. Gillem, Fry, Gilman, Gilbert and a great many others were sitting around a camp fire (Having no tents). Gillem remarked that I looked pale, that I must have seen a ghost. When I innocently told them about it and ever since they rigg me about it -but I dared any of them to go back with me and shake him up as I did. It seems laughable to me now, but at the time, not knowing it was a dead man, I was terribly shocked-As I could not send you any trophies from the Battlefield in a letter I send you the leaves of some flowers which I plucked from within a few yards of where the Provisional Governor (Rebel) of Kentucky fell, mortally wounded. I also send you a five dollar Treasury note, which I received today for copying a map of the Tennessee River for Genl. Nelson, it will go towards buying the spoons. Did you get the “scrip” or the copy of Genl. Meig’s letter I sent you from Nashville? You never mentioned whether you got them or not.

You must give my love to all and kiss Sissy for me and I am

Your true Husband,

J. W. Scully.

Field of Shiloh, Pittsburg Landing Tennessee.

April 20th, 1862

My Dear Wife,

I wrote to you a few days ago enclosing a small amount of money to you- I have received no letter from you this week but am expecting one today, that is, if a mail arrives. I tried to get leave to go see you and told G. that you were sick, but I could not go as he is appointed Inspector General of Artillery on General Buell’s staff. He is now brevet Major and feels very proud of it. I suppose “Maj” feels the same. Col. Oakes told me yesterday that he had a letter from Washington and that the new list of appointments is out. I suppose it will be some time before it will arrive here, but I will have patience. You can tell Maria’s husband to see the list for they will have it in the Adjutant’s Office at Fort McHenry long before it can get to here.  The Col. also told me that there are a great number of Lieuts. appointed, all of whom are from the Army and such as have seen service, and that they are the first appointments made this year- so, If I am amongst them, mine will date from the Battle of Mill Springs, the 19th of January, and I will get my rank and pay from that date. G.’s promotion and all the new Brigadiers that were made from that Battle, are dated from that time.

I don’t suppose we will move from here in some time, as it has been raining continually for the last two days and the roads are in a dreadful condition… Beauregard moved out to within six miles of us last Sunday morning, for the purpose of making another attack, but he heard that here was a Union force took possession of the railroad behind him, so he turned back… Genl. Michell had advanced as far as Hunterel, Alabama and destroyed the railroad bridge, thereby cutting off reinforcements for Beauregard from Virginia. The Rebels seem to be very partial to attacking on Sunday and, of course, getting licked.

If I can, I will go see you about the 1st of May whether my appointment comes or not. I will be just six months away then, and I think that is long enough to stay away without seeing my family, and remember how I left you, thinking I would be back on the following  [illegible] from Harrisburg. Besides that, think of all you have suffered since I left you, I WILL NOT stay away any longer that the last of the month… I know Gillem will not refuse me leave for about 20 days after sticking to him so faithfully since he was made Q.M.. At the end of this month I will have just $250.00 clear- I should have more but it cost me a great deal in Louisville and Nashville. I think I can get home free, what ever I may do coming back. I suppose Tully is at Key West by this time. It is singular that he never wrote to me.  You remember I wrote to him from Fort McHenry and he never answered it… I hope Ally is well and doing well as usual. Tom must be a great big fellow now. I guess Sissy will know me when she sees me. You will recollect that poor little Maggie never called “DADA” until she saw me.

This is a very unpleasant Sunday, it is raining and very chilly. It will be of great benefit though, for it will be likely to drive away the bad smell that infected the Camp since the battle.  Everyone from the General down got sick with diarrheoe but me and some of them went home on sick leave.

James Wall Scully would go on to receive his commission and would continue to serve in the military, retiring with the rank of Brigadier-General in 1900.

Further Reading

McCan, Anthony 2002. ‘James Wall Scully- A Kilkenny Soldier in the American Civil War’ in Ferguson, Kenneth (ed.)The Irish Sword: The Journal of the Military History Society of Ireland, Vol. 23, No.91, Summer 2002, pp. 141- 154

Civil War Trust Battle of Shiloh Page

Shiloh National Military Park

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Categories: Battle of Shiloh, Guest Post, Irish Colonels, Kilkenny

Author:Damian Shiels

I am an archaeologist based in Ireland, specialising in conflict archaeology.

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. James Wall Scully’s Unpublished Letters: Field of Shiloh, April 1862 | Irish in the American Civil War - February 28, 2012

    [...] Wall Scully. The first dealt with the Battle of Mill Springs while the second gave account of his experiences at Shiloh. Anthony McCan who has conducted the research on Scully has kindly provided further letters which [...]

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