6th Mississippi Infantry Regiment
Shiloh . . .
The overall commander at Corinth was General Albert Sidney Johnston and the army was called the Army of the Mississippi. There were about 40,000 soldiers under Johnston's command in the Corinth area. The 6th remained with Cleburne and was placed in General William Hardee's corps. The other corps commanders were: Braxton Bragg, Leonidis Polk, and John C. Breckinridge.
On April 3, the 6th received orders to prepare 5 days rations, carry 100 rounds of ammunition per man and be ready to march at any time. The 6th was soon on its way to Pittsburg Landing in Tennessee. Information had been received that Grant had set up his headquarters there. The 6th's orders were to retrieve the wounded from the battlefield and assist the surgeons at the landing.
The 25 mile march was along narrow, winding country roads not meant for efficient troop movement. To make matters worse, it began to rain the next day thus turning the dust to mud. This made progress slow and even to a complete stop as some of the roads became impassable.
On April 5, most of Johnston's army was in position with Grant's army along the front. The 6th left the main road and stopped about 2 miles from the enemy camps. They were close enough that they could hear the voices of the Union soldiers. Cleburne's Brigade silently prepared for the inevitable battle. The men settled down for the night with orders to sleep on their arms. Sleep was difficult on the wet ground on that cool spring night added to the anticipation of what will inevitably happen tomorrow.
The weary men were roused hours before sunrise and prepared for battle. Colonel Thornton read their orders:
"Soldiers of the Army of the Mississippi: I have put you in motion to offer battle to the invaders of your country. With the resolution and disciplined valor becoming men fighting, as you are, for all worth living or dying for, you can but march to a decisive victory over the agrarian mercenaries sent to despoil you of your liberties, property and honor. Remember the precious stake involved, remember the dependence of your mothers, your wives, your sisters and your children on the result; remember the land;, broad and abounding and the happy homes and the eyes that would be desolated by your defeat. The eyes and hopes of eight millions of people rest upon you; you are expected to show yourselves worthy of your race and lineage --- worthy of the women of the South, whose noble devotion in this war has never been exceeded in any time. With such incentives to brave deeds, and with the trust that God is with us, your general will lead you confidently to the combat --- assured of success.
A. S. Johnston
Four hundred twenty-five of Mississippi's finest men and boys listened to Johnston's speech. This was their first battle, the first time they will see the elephant and receive their baptism of fire. They were ready.
Cleburne's Brigade was on the left flank of Hardee's Corps Cleburne's 15th Arkansas was out front as skirmishers. The other regiments were as follows:
Including Cleburne's Brigade, the front line was three miles in length and consisted of Woods, Hindman's Brigades and Gladden's from Bragg's Corps. Behind Hardee, was Polk's Corps with Breckinridge in reserves.
At daylight, the front line advanced toward the enemy. They started slow at first, but before lone, the pace quickened almost to a run. It was noted that Cleburne's Brigage "moved in beautiful order and with loud and inspiring cheers" as it advanced toward the enemy. The 6th gained momentum in open ground and was in good formation. Upon entering the woods, they began to lose order. Many men fell behind. To add to the growing confusion, the Union pickets began firing at them.
Finally, the 6th came upon Union encampments upon the hill in front of them. The camps belonged to the 53rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry who was under the command of General William Tecumpseh Sherman. The 53rd had formed a line of battle behind their camps and was supported by artillery. Not only was the enemy at the top of a hill shooting down at the Confederates, there was also a swamp in the middle of the Confederate line. This obstruction caused the troops to split as they moved forward.
Once around the swamp and back in loose formation, the 6th closed in on the camps. Confederate artillery (Twiggs) was behind the infantry and began firing. The woods were too thick to see where to fire most effectively. The Confederate guns were answered by Union artillery, forcing Twiggs to reloate. Once Twiggs moved, Cleburne had no artillery support.
Colonel Thornton halted his men and redressed the lines. By now, they are receiving heavy fire from the enemy skirmishers and line. This did not discourage Colonel Thornton. The order to charge was given at about 7:45 a.m. As the Confederate line moved forward, the Union pickets quickly retreated to the safety of the main line.
Despite the tough travel through the thick under brush and incoming enemy fire, the 6th was the first to reach the edge of the camps, followed closely by the 23rd Tennessee. As the 6th broke into the clearing, they gave a hearty Rebel yell. Moments later, the 53rd, accompanied by Waterhouse's artillerly, opened fire on the oncoming Rebels. The results were devastating as men fell leaving gaps in the Confederate line. The Confederates pulled back to the woods to regroup. They attacked again and were repulsed. Those who were able, charged once again and were once again by the 53rd. The time now is about 8:00 a.m.
When a color bearer fell, Colonel Thornton picked up the colors of the 6th and carried them forward when he was severely wounded. In all, seven color bearers were shot down. Of the 6th's gallant effort, Colonel Cleburne wrote, "Again and again the Sixth Mississippi, unaided, charged the enemy's line, and it was only when the regiment had lost 300 officers and men killed and wounded, out of an aggregate of 425, that it yeilded and retreated in disorder over its own dead and dying. Colonel Thornton and Major Lowry, the field officers, were both wounded. It would be useless to enlarge on the courage and devotion of the Sixth Mississippi. The facts recorded speak louder than any words of mine."
The men of the 6th and those of the 23rd Tennessee, who fared little better than the 6th against the 53rd, held the line at the edge of the woods. By then two of Bragg's Brigades had made their way up. The men of the 6th and 23rd reluctantly joined them along with the 5th Tennessee and 15th Arkansas and successfully routed the stubborn, hard fighting 53rd Ohio. To sweeten the victory, two guns were captured.
The battle moved away from the hard fought hill, leaving the dead and dying behind. It said that the blood of the 6th Mississippi ran down the hill in the aftermath. Colonel William Preston Johnston wrote of the scene, "The impetuous courage and tenacity of this magnificant regiment deserved a better fate."
The sixty able bodied men of the 6th and those of the 23rd Tennessee who went with Bragg's Brigades, fought with the 8th Arkansas for a few more hours. When ordered to the rear, they had just assisted in successfully turning Union General Prentiss' right flank at the Hornet's Nest.
Thus ended the 6th's fighting at Shiloh. The 6th received their baptism of fire on a hill trying advance into galling fire from the 53rd Ohio. Because of the resulting blood letting, the regiment became known as "The Bloody Sixth."