James Wall Scully’s Unpublished Letters: Field of Shiloh, April 1862

Two previous posts on the site have reproduced unpublished letters relating to Kilkenny native James Wall Scully.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 carry the story forward from late April 1862, while still on the Shiloh battlefield; Scully is desperate for a commission in the regular army, and his hopes for an appointment dominate his thoughts. 

Field of Shiloh,

 Tenn. river April 24,

 My Dear Wife,

I wrote to you several letters but owing to the irregularity of the mails to and from the point, I have got none from you of a later date than the 30th of March. I don’t blame you for the delay, as I know that you have sent me one for one and that they are all on the way now. The new appointments are out, and (as the paper says) on the way to the several “appointees”.  Genl. Thomas says that I may be sure of mine… the Sergeant Major of the 4th Cavalry and an Orderly Sergeant of one of the Companys here are also expecting appointments, as they were recommended some time since.

James Wall Scully in later life (Photo Courtesy of Anthony McCan)

James Wall Scully in later life (Photo Courtesy of Anthony McCan)

Who do you think was here at our camp today ?  Bill Mumes … he belongs to the 4th Regular Cavalry and is at present  one of the Sergeants of Genl. Halleck’s Body Guard. He looks MAGNIFICENT and has not tasted a “drop” of liquor since  he left Company K.  He was splendidly dressed and looked “every inch” a soldier. I felt proud of him. He was astonished to see me. He never mentioned a word about Mrs. M. He had along with him that Jim Davis you used to speak so much about, he is Orderly Sergeant of a Missouri Vol. Battery.

I have been sick for the last two days but I am much better this evening, all in our camp are more or less sick. We will change camp in a day or two. The Rebels are still at Corinth but we have them nearly surrounded now… the first thing you know you will hear of the crowning feat of the war, by our Western Army. I will try to go see you on the 1st of the month… I cannot stay any longer. I hope that thing will come before then, but come or come not, I will try to go.

Mrs. Gillem is still at Nashville, the Secesh are annoying her very much. I suppose you were worried when you first heard the news of  our great battle, but I had a “narrow escape” like the Irishman that had such a narrow escape  from being drowned when the steamboat was lost. He “didn’t go in the boat”. I did not go into the battle, because I was not let, but I got there just as they were firing the last rounds after the “flying foe”, and I was sorry that I did go up there, for I saw the most heart-rending sights I ever saw in the course of my life.

I expect to get a letter from you tomorrow and I will write again soon. In the meantime give my love to Ally and the children. Kiss Sissy ten times for Papa and I will do all the kissing for you when we meet. Until then, of course I am,

Your Dear,


Field of Shiloh,

Tenn. river,

25th April 1862,

My Dear Wife,

… I sent you a slip of paper with the names of those brevetted at Mill Springs, but of course my name could not be amongst them as brevetted — I have hopes yet. You say Col. Morris’ son received an appointment. I want you not to make any fuss over mine  until I get it, for those Big Officers are so prejudiced against a poor person getting up with themselves that they might use their influence to keep us down and Col. Morris is one of that kind. Why, the very worst thing that I could, or rather you could do, would be to write Secretary Stanton such a letter as you say.

In the first place it would be telling him that I had a wife, although they pretend to say that it makes no difference in time of war, still it might have an influence against me. It certainly would not be in my favour.

None of my recommendations mentioned about me having a wife. In the next place, after letting him know that I had one, you would be making him think that I had deserted you by not informing you of my whereabouts and how I never etc. etc..  It would never do — I will wait for time to develop my good or ungood fortune.

I am going to try and go see you after the first of the month. I think I may get leave, although G. [Gillem] hates to let me out of his sight, particularly in THAT direction, for fear I might not come back. He is confident that I will get a commission. If I don’t, Secretary Stanton and all his proclamations are sheer humbugs.

That is an excellent letter that my “Teutonic” brother had written for me — Why was it that he did not send it?  If I get to vacate this place, I will try to get it for him, although the only objection I would have to it would be to bring Maria within range of  Mrs G.  You can form an idea of the result. I am very glad to hear of Julia being so good at the piano. I hope she will be able to play “Dixie” for me when I go there. I am more comfortable today than I have been for some time although it has been raining all night and up to this time. I have a stove in my tent and a table to write on, which I have not had since I left Nashville.

Since writing the above, I have been to dinner, and such a dinner! Some fried pork, some fried  Hominy and a biscuit and not even a cup of coffee. G. myself and Capt. Gilbert mess together, Capt. Gilbert is caterer and is the stingiest individual you ever saw, he has us almost starved out, but anyway we can’t get much good things out here and if they can stand it, I can also. It will all come good when it comes to settle the bill.

We will soon have another big battle, although some are of the opinion that the Rebels will evacuate Corinth. Only for the rain we would be after them today —a reconnoitring party went out yesterday about six miles and came on a camp of about 3000 Rebels.  Our party killed fifteen and took 24 prisoners, the others ran away, leaving their camp and everything in it. We collected all the property of any account and then burned the camp and returned to  this place last night… Gen Halleck was to advance this morning but for the rain. We will move our camp in a day or two also for last night the most awful stench my proboscis ever encountered prevailed throughout this Camp — we must move.

I will now close by sending my love and also to Sister and the young ones, and, expecting soon to have the pleasure of pressing you to my heart,

I remain,

Your loving husband, 


The next series of letters will appear in a follow-up post, as the army moves camp, and pressure is applied to the Confederate forces in Corinth. James Wall Scully still seeks his long hoped for commission.

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


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Categories: Guest Post, Kilkenny

Author:Damian Shiels

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

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6 Comments on “James Wall Scully’s Unpublished Letters: Field of Shiloh, April 1862”

  1. March 2, 2012 at 4:07 am #

    Hi Damian,
    One of my best friends, was related to James Wall Scully. His late father did a very extensive genealogy on the Scully family, which I have a copy of. Mr. Scully did extensive work on the genealogy all his life. They visited Ireland and the Scully Cross, which was knocked down in a lightning storm. The family history makes quite a story as they told it to me. Sadly, my friend and his dad have both passed away.

    • March 3, 2012 at 6:03 pm #

      Hi Brad,

      I am really sorry to hear that they have both passed away- they had quite an amazing ancestor- his progress in the army after the war is testament to determination of the family to get where they want to go, as comes across as he seeks a commission in his letters.

      Kind Regards,


    • Mary C Nolan nee Scully
      September 24, 2015 at 1:15 pm #

      I’m a Scully from Kilkenny! I wonder what are the odds that James Wall Scully was an Ancestor of mine.? I would love to know. I can only go back to my great Grandad John Scully married to a Bridget Moore who were married in St Mary’s Kilkenny , can’t remember date. He had brothers Canice, Louis/Lewis, Mary Ann, etc.

  2. March 2, 2012 at 8:28 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Pam Needham
    July 21, 2012 at 9:58 pm #

    I am very interested in your findings since we live not far away from the Battle of Corinth and Shiloh as well as Brice’s Crossroads. Is there any way that I could get a copy of your book?


    • July 22, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

      Hi Pam,

      The letters aren’t actually published (apart from on the blog that is!) although there is a paper on Scully that was published in the Irish Sword if that would interest you? I can pass on contact details on where to get that if you are interested.

      Kind Regards,


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